Bestival 2016 Review

Bestival 2016 Review

by Paul Stafford / Sep 23, 2016 / 0 comments
Thursday, 8 September 2016 to Monday, 12 September 2016

When Bestivalites are invited to embody the festival’s annual theme in mind, body, spirit and, most importantly, dress code the results are always remarkable. This year’s future was no different as we were asked to cast our gaze towards that hazy temporal horizon and imagine what could be.

If the future to filmmakers and writers is usually dystopian, utopia was very much the vision of the future to your average Bestival goer this year. It was a future in which music pulsates, positivity reigns and where most people wear a whole lot more spandex, glitter and sequins than is normally considered socially acceptable. A future of wigs, dancing, Power Rangers and for some reason, a guy who looks a lot like Gandalf.

By the time my girlfriend H. and I had arrived, the festival was already under way. The skip beside the booze decanting station was overflowing with glass bottles; the big orange amnesty bins were starting to look like Charlie Sheen’s kitchen table and the cute little spaniel looked exhausted from a busy day of drug sniffing, or possibly just from the excitement of having made so many new friends.

Friday Night Lights

Friday evening was already in full swing. The campsite had virtually emptied as Damian Marley set the kind of tone that any festival organizer craves: peace and love. I could practically see the Bestival love-bot’s little crank turning with glee.

Bestival is the perfect antidote to those suffering from post-summer festival fatigue; the atmosphere is much more laid back. Sure, people party and rave at night and feel deep regret in the morning (at least that’s what I hope the overstimulated kid sat in front of me on the shuttle bus felt), but they also head to Bestiversity for lectures, do yoga or kick back in the forest during the day. Music festivals can rarely claim to be relaxing, but somehow Bestival manages it.

However, musically Bestival felt a little uneven this year: Although all the major genres were pretty much covered, its usual sonorous diversity seemed somewhat absent. The theme of Bestival may well have been the future, but the music was very much a representation of the past and present. Heavily skewed towards electronic, rap and hip hop, the real star of the festival was Britain’s rising grime scene. Lady Leshurr and Kano were present over the weekend, with Skepta hitting Main Stage on Friday night. But there was a notable absence of rock and indie.

Major Lazer crowned the Main Stage on Friday night, their polished live show and ever-growing list of multi-platinum singles making most people temporarily forget that Bestival was glaringly short on modern day bands with guitars or real drum kits. Perhaps the future was supposed to be an open question. What is the future of genre music? Where were all the nuanced genres in rock and indie or alternative music? Is music slowly ditching instruments for the electronic? Should we start shouting ‘Judas’ yet?

Once the Main Stage had fallen silent, it was over to the Big Top for Animal Collective’s experimental psychedelic pop phantasmagoria. It turns out those incredible vocals are done live, as are the drums, which made the show pleasing, despite the poor turnout for their 12am start. At one point a guy stood next to me leaned over, cupping the words “what genre even is this?” into my ear. Perhaps that is the future. The end of genre, with an ever complex splicing of what already exists thanks to technology and the move away from reliance on live musicians.


Thus ended the year’s final Friday festival night, before the litter is picked, the stages packed and presumably hibernated away in some giant festival storage hole for the winter. And speaking of hibernation, nature had a little fun with Bestival campers this year. Saturday morning welcomed a deluge, which somehow spawned a campsite-wide infestation of tiny spiders that had people saying “hold still, there’s a spider in your hair” for the rest of the weekend, to the point that it started to sound like a catchphrase.

Persistent rain had drawn misery across the Bestival campsites and stages like the final curtain on a tragedy. Traditionally Saturday is the fancy dress spectacle, yet very few people had ventured into the main arena still by 3pm. Only a handful of these were in fancy dress, looking more like street performers than participants in a supposedly mass-participation fancy dress event. Previous years have seen various attempts at Bestival to break the Guinness World Record for largest gathering of people in fancy dress. 2014 saw the world record for the largest mirror ball smashed with a 33ft ode to reflection. The only record likely to fall in 2016 seemed to be the largest gathering of people unintentionally falling into the mud.

Yet despite the inclemency of the Isle of Wight’s weather and plagues of tiny spiders nearing Biblical proportions, there was no doubt about the endurance of Bestival’s unswerving positivity. H. and I had followed a couple of sodden looking space folk, dressed in silver lamé and wrapped in neon light tubing for a while. Their outfits worked more as a warning than an invitation to the future until we turned up at the Women’s Institute tent. All cakes and tea £1 is a sign I imagine people who believe in heaven think will confront them on arrival at the pearly gates. Before long the word was out; the price was right, the tea was good and the warmth was reassuring enough to get back out there and watch a soggy Lady Leshurr strut her stuff on the Main Stage.

We gravitated from there to the Spaceport, where the mood was changing. It was an oddly exhilarating moment: a good number of people in ponchos (ours were rather appropriately called Regn Slags – thanks Denmark), were grooving to a collection of hits from the nineties and noughties; the Beastie Boys successfully sabotaging the dull mood. DJs at Bestival can sometimes be just as fun as the live acts. Suddenly dancing in the rain had regained its romance.

Press Rewind

Resilience crept into the crowd. Who cares about the rain, right? Craig David fans certainly didn’t. As he emerged, the slopes up from Main Stage quickly filled. “Re-e-e-ee-ee-ee-wind”! Okay, let’s do this thing! Never before has somebody seemed so full of glee to be playing to a festival crowd. Vocals en point, what ensued was a collection of Craig David’s best songs and what one festival goer described as “Craig David does karaoke on his own”. And it was brilliant. It was just what Bestival needed. As though by design, the rain finally stopped and the setting sun dropped a ray or two.

Between acts we had found Caravanserai to be one of the best smaller venues. Something that undoubtedly makes Bestival so addictive is these little sub-sections of the festival where you are suddenly transported to a completely different place. Caravanserai was built of bric-a-brac and what seemed to be former fairground rides. On stage was a gypsy band playing Portuguese and eastern European folk and people were losing their minds. We would come back to this stage time and again, never once let down by the various acts on stage.

It was all so good that we somehow missed most of Wolf Alice, which is a perpetual problem of the festival experience: you can’t do it all. But all of this felt like a prelude to Saturday night’s main act. The Cure may have been around a while but they certainly know how to put on a show still. Robert Smith might look like a fugitive scarecrow but it’s a look he somehow pulls off. His philosophy of playing hit singles to a doting crowd was also a highly popular move and there was no doubt he still loves every minute of being on stage.

The Best of Festival

Sunday morning stupor was eased by the bright sun. The tent quickly became a sauna, and all around you could see that the people who hadn’t brought a waterproof tent were having a drying out day. As we wandered over to the WI tent for a cake and tea breakfast it was clear that one act was going to be the highlight of the day. Across the camp site the lyrics “I got the right temperature to shelter you from the storm” had nothing to do with the weather. Sean Paul’s sound check came on; wherever you looked people were dancing.

We headed over to the arena, finding proof in every corner that no matter the lineup, Bestival will always be worth the effort: Keeping in line with the futuristic theme, Samsung had brought a giant cube and were offering a virtual reality experience of Biffy Clyro’s new single. Next door a real wedding seemed in full swing at the inflatable church, and the colour paint fight at the Bulmers arena proved to be the source of the green and orange people I had seen wandering around. Bubbles invaded the Spaceport as Sink the Pink brought some LGBTQ sass to the stage, while behind them in the forest what can only be described as some kind of Hare Krishna mind warp was going on in one of the pagodas. It was impossible to know what to do next. FOMO is not the kind of affliction that I’d wish on anybody at Bestival. The only consolation is that no matter where you go, something intriguing will be going on.

Kano brought the brass with his fantastic set on main stage as the afternoon bled into evening. Hit track ‘This is England’ summed up pretty succinctly the current mood and feeling in parts of London that has given rise to grime music, again drawing attention to the present and away from the future, which was far better represented in the fashion by Sunday.

The heavy hitters then came thick and fast on the main stage. Members of Bastille, emerging to a wall of female glee, were dressed in white boiler suits and masks looking as though they had either stopped en route to a painting job or had been informed of the spider infestation prior to arrival. The wasp population had also come out in numbers, excited by piles of discarded Magners cans.


When Sean Paul began his set, the main arena was busier than it had been all weekend. This was the kind of fun, far less grimy vibe people had been craving. Swinging a towel around like a tipsy gym owner, two buxom dancers doing things with their limbs that seemed to distract everybody on stage but Sean Paul himself, he led rendition after rendition of the kinds of songs DJs have loved in da club for two decades now. Hit song ‘Like Glue’, the questionable response to consent: ‘She Doesn’t Mind’, and the classic that had been heard around the festival since day one ‘Temperature’, made Paul's set feel as though it should have been the natural climax to the weekend.

Wiz Khalifa however was headlining, while The Human League in the Big Top and ESKA on the Invaders of the Future stage all clashed. The reliance on hip hop or chart-toppers of yesteryear summed up both Bestival’s attempt to get some diversity into the roster, but the lack thereof in the industry right now. It is perhaps too much to ask for consistency, but for now Bestival’s image of the future for music seems slightly bleak if this weekend’s lineup was anything to go by.

As a mighty firework display closed out the festival, practically everybody made a beeline to see Fatboy Slim, making the Spaceport seem more like a desperate crush of people trying to get onto the last rocket off a doomed planet. But the feeling was one largely of goodwill, and of a fitting end to another festival season. One thing is for sure, Bestival’s own future is safely assured.

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Rating out of 11: