Bestival 2010: The Year of the Fantastic Review

This year Rob da Bank invited Bestival goers into Robin Hill Country Park on the Isle of Wight to live out their fantasies in one of the biggest fancy dress parties on the planet. The three days of music, comedy, cabaret and art was attended by a biggest-ever crowd of around 48,000 revellers, and they let their imaginations run away with them while enjoying a selection of the finest acts - old and new.

Thursday has become an increasingly popular time to arrive on the Isle of Wight and reports were that the island has been besieged by eager Bestivalers keen to arrive before the first main day of music. Some of the campsites had become full and there was the opportunity to explore the country park ahead without the distraction of the main acts. The late night entertainment came from Back to the Phuture, a collective who specialise in melding the 1980s with today’s electro sounds, and headlined by Steel City synth svengalis Heaven 17. Sadly it was a disco treat I would miss out on, instead arriving on Friday afternoon as Bestival was bursting into life.

Finding my way to a tent space protected against all-comers in what had been a busy day for arrivals, the queues for the toilets were already winding back from the doors. It seemed everyone had decided to hit the main arena and kick start their day if it hadn't begun already. The Zero 7 DJs were providing the grooves at Chai Wallahs while Mixhell, the married duo of former Sepultura drummer Igor Cavalera and Laima Leyton, were smashing drums and laying down the electro. Meanwhile, The xx proved to be one of the most sought after acts of the evening, forcing the Big Top to be closed as thousands tried to pack in to see the Mercury Award-winning band. One of the most entertaining performances of Friday would be in the Cabaret Tent where a normal game of bingo was transformed into the tongue-in-cheek epic of The Underground Rebel Bingo Club. This top secret sect spend their time at hush hush locations around the UK bellowing out numbers with vulgar references while whipping the crowd into a frenzy over the prizes on offer. Tonight the rewards for filling lines on your bingo card included a panda outfit and a twinkling umbrella - all present in a fashion that you couldn't help but desire one more than any of the latest model of iPhone or a hot shower after a night sweating on a festival dancefloor. Yes we screamed for a twinkling umbrella, especially when they killed the lights and paraded around on stage with them, and yes we so wanted a panda outfit to live out our bamboo-eating fantasies the following day. Alas, we left the tent with nothing except a lot of smutty and downright dirty images of how the ball-callers like to get their kicks. You'd need a hot shower after five minutes with those kinky lasses.

Hawtin stood between his musical machines and laptops surrounded by a tower of LED lights

A stiff drink later and it was time for Flying Lotus, the LA musician and producer of deep, experimental beats which were ripping through the Big Top as he beamed behind his laptop while swinging from left to right. Over on the main stage Hot Chip were warming up for the headliners Dizzee Rascal, but it was the Big Top that proved too alluring on Friday as Magda of the M_NUS label spun the minimal techno ahead of Richie Hawtin's special live performance as Plastikman. Magda drew a mixed reaction with some saying her style was not lively enough while others saw it as a much needed audio palette cleaner ahead of label boss Hawtin's 60-minute masterpiece and proved to be debated throughout the rest of the weekend. The aformentioned Plastikman set arrived in spectacular style: Hawtin stood between his musical machines and laptops surrounded by a tower of LED lights that lit up with shapes and images matched to the sounds he was creating. A building synth lead into a thumping beat as he took in his back catalogue including "Ping Pong" and his signature tune "Spastik", wild shapes appearing on the screens before us and offering a mesmerising show to go with the captivating techno served up by the man sometimes silhouetted amid all his technology by back-lighting through the screen. For an encore Hawtin emerged from behind his screen to take to the stage front centre for a final blast of sonic energy before heading off the stage. Seth Troxler took up the reins with his lively techno sound before Dave Clarke rounded off the techno assault with pounding yet lifeless set muted by a soundsystem that was not allowed to play at full whack. Making our way back to the tent we felt Friday had been a success, though we agreed it was time to leave the 4/4 beats behind and find some non-electronic music on Saturday.

And then came the rain. A lot of it. Though I had slept through the sound of raindrops pattering against the tent, the evidence of a downpour was clear in the tent porch which had been helpfully left open to the elements that night. That also meant my Incredible Hulk purple shorts had been left dripping wet and were in need of urgent attention in the form of the car heaters. Seeing Rolf Harris was sacrificed for a much needed dry-out and the Hulk muscle suit was donned to join my fellow campers including The Blues Brothers, Boba Fett, the Cheshire Cat's smile, the Goblin King, Princess Lily, a dragon, writer Hunter S. Thompson and a butterfly. Ambling down to the main stage we were surrounded by all kinds of wild fantasies ranging from a man was Penthouse magazine and thousands of Marvel superheroes to He-Men aplenty, an Evil Edna and many more weird and wonderful creations you needed to see to believe. Given the number of people who had gone to great lengths to make their own costumes such as a pair of Ents and a giant mushroom, overnight Bestival had become a mythical place of wondrous, unique characters.

The Countryside Alliance Crew were ripping through their rural anthems

Angry at missing Rolf Harris and his wobble board (as well as the satisfied smiles of those who had), The Wailers lifted my mood. Fittingly the sun had started to shine and blue skies had appeared to bring a spark to their reggae as Bob Marley favourites "One Love", "No Woman, No Cry" and "I Shot the Sheriff" boomed out from the main stage. Soon everyone had forgotten about the mud underfoot and the need for wellies, embracing the sunshine vibes. Jaguar Skills took to the mixing desk next with his mash-up style taking in seemingly every genre in just 30 minutes with Faithless, The Prodigy, Madness and Pendulum getting a look-in. It was a hit-and-miss affair though and our motley crew grew restless so sought out alternative entertainment in the form of Gilles Peterson in the Bollywood Tent. Sadly the tent was too full to make an attempt to enter so we opted to go to the Sailor Jerry bar opposite where a pitcher of Sailor Jerry and ginger beer was enjoyed while Bestivalers piled in when A-ha's "Take on Me" bellowed out. It wasn't long before we opted to explore the rest of Robin Hill Country Park to make the most of the Saturday sun, winding up the path alongside the industrial, fire-breathing Arcadia spider stage to the woods where we found a flower garden, got lost in a maze and explored a mini village. The panoramic views over the festival from the top of the hill the village sits on offered sight of the Big Top lit up and the comforting yellow circles of the campsite blubs above the walkways, inspiring us to get back to the action, so we headed to Mount Kimbie who were serving up their bass heavy tunes to a packed Rock n Roll Stage, the perfect soundtrack for the fast-encroaching darkness.

Next up was a trip to Arcadia where the fire-show was in full force for Alex Metric's live show. Metric's band see's him take centre stage behind a synth armed with a vocoder and placed alongside a drummer and guitarist. The resultant sound is a grinding electro noise with 80s influences that might start out like a cheesy number but by the breakdown are transforming into a dancefloor monster. As the fire bellowed out the gigantic spider stage, arms waved in the air. When Doorly took to the stage we couldn't stay long as demands to see Uffie came - a somewhat disappointment in the Big Top with none of the spiky verbal delivery that sounds so promising on her records. Instead her singing was drowned out by the well-produced Ed Banger beats so it was a relief when Mylo took to the decks with his disco tunes getting everyone in the dancing mood. While Bryan Ferry had taken to the main stage with Roxy Music and the Flaming Lips were putting on a spectacular show that included lead singer Wayne Coyne emerging on-stage in a giant zorbing ball, our attentions turned to the tiny venue the Bimble Inn. There Wrong Music's Countryside Alliance Crew were ripping through their rural anthems such as Wurzzi Rascal's "Conkers" and Cow Eyed Peas "Moo Moo Cow". Given they suffocate the stage with wacky purveyors of dance music including Shitmat (AKA Farmer Gilles Peterson) and stop their sets to make farming references and give away t-shirts to the muddiest people (of five t-shirts, only one was won given no one was muddy enough), there was a vibrant energy in the tent and rowdy, raw sound that proved deliriously fun. Now past midnight, the dance vibe was maintained as we headed back to the Rock n Roll Stage to see the Japanese Popstars behind the decks for a change as the trio drilled out the pumping techno. To round out the night we headed back to Arcadia where the Audio Bullys invited us to "Break Down the Doors" amid another fire-lit set while the usual finish in the Big Top on the Saturday saw it rammed to the point of spilling outside to see Sub Focus although the muted sound again disappointed. Note to Bestival: if you're to keep the Big Top open until 4am next year please organise the same soundsystem as Arcadia which was booming until 3am.

It's often hard to know how to approach the final day of a festival. Sometimes you want to take it easy after a heavy night, sometimes you feel the need to keep up the pace. This Sunday was one that start relatively quietly then soon became a juggernaut at the last minute before a sudden escape from the Isle of Wight. Waking up to the heat of the sun was a welcome relief after Saturday's rain which, after dozing for an hour, eventually energised me to make an earlier start on proceedings. Country folk band Tunng were the first port of call in the Big Top where their dreamy songs were ideal for a suddenly very sleepy soul. A thought turned towards the Big Wheel next to Arcadia for a wake up spin which proved to be an inspiration. As we arrived to board the wheel, famous synths could be heard - it was a secret set by Snap! playing their most famous tune: "Rhythm is a Dancer". Boarding the wheel the duo kept the tune playing, one of the highlights of the weekend and unlikely to ever be experienced in such a random moment ever again. Newly refreshed, we listened to the Disco Bloodbath on Arcadia briefly before heading back to the Big Top where Beardyman was giving his vocal chords a work out. Ever the showman he took in all kinds of classic tunes old and new amid loops of his voice with effects beefing up the tracks. He's a one-man show who sounds like a whole bank of synthesisers or even a whole band. Impressive.

A secret set by Snap! playing their most famous tune: "Rhythm is a Dancer"

Following a reluctant trip to camp and a packing up of the tent, we went for one last hurrah: Rob da Bank and, ultimately, the first and only main stage headline slot of the weekend: The Prodigy. I had been looking forward to seeing The Prodigy since arrival, keen to hear them meld the old skool of rave with the nu skool of live drums and guitars. However, en route back to the arena, there were rumours flying around. "The Prodigy have cancelled" one person said to another. "They've closed the main stage" was overheard. "Surely not?" I thought, surely the one act I'd been waiting for today had not been consigned to the "if only" bin? Thankfully as we neared the arena a green laser blazed into the air as Rob da Bank took the slot between Chase & Status and The Prodigy. Unleashing all kinds of drum & bass goodness, he rounded off his short spurt with a trio of more casual dancefloor favourites: Justice vs. Simian's "We Are Friends", Friday headliner Dizzie Rascal's "Bonkers" and then The Bloody Beetroots "Warp 1.9". Though the latter was killed mid-flow as filler music, it didn't matter, the crowd was pumped and when Liam, Keith and Maxim piled on stage it was a crazed reception. Girls on shoulders, stuffed horse heads on sticks and flares were lit as the dance act thundered through "Poison", "Invaders Must Die" and "Firestarter" with the soundsystem given a monstrous workout. By far the best reaction was met with "Warrior Dance". "Where are my warriors?" Maxim asked, and the crowd showed them with a manic mosh pit at the front of the stage and wild scenes. Their only fault was not finding time for tunes from their breakthrough Experience album save for "Outta Space" which was cut short in the encore as if it was just a peace-meal offering for older fans. This was definitely geared towards the Pendulum generation of rock-infused dance music which captures raw energy though lacks the good humour of the samples The Prodigy were once so fond of - Charlie Said? - yet you can't deny they put on a explosive show. So explosive in fact it was capped off by an out-of-place cabaret performance on stage as a prelude to fireworks and a giant bonfire. The main stage finished for 2010, the Big Top welcomed Fever Ray and LCD Soundsystem while elsewhere Aeroplane and the Dub Pistols capped off Bollywood and Arcadia respectively. Sadly I was already on a boat back home on the big blue watery road to the mainland.

Thinking back
Bestival 2010 once again proved to be a spectacular show with the fancy dress of Saturday an undoubted jewel in its crown with an atmosphere that is not replicated at any other festival. Though it felt a little too busy this year and there certainly needs to be more effort made to encourage Bestivalers to explore beyond the main stage and Big Top over to the north field which was eerily empty this year despite the presence of two stages, the event is just in need of fine tuning. The campsites could also do with a rethink as some are a bit distant from the main arena, though it's not worth complaining too much. Bestival capped off the festival season in style once more and giving eager music lovers one last hurrah.

- Photography by Freya van Lessen