Since its inception in 2004, Bestival has become one of the most respected festivals in the UK, winning Best Medium-Sized Festival four times at the UK Festival Awards. Curated by Rob and Josie da Bank and their team, the festival traditionally boasts an eclectic and often eccentric line-up. 2013 saw more than 350 acts over the four days, with this year more than ever seeming to lean towards the electronic side of the musical fence with headline acts including Richie Hawtin, Annie Mac and Carl Cox all getting in on this year’s HMS Bestival-themed antics. Setting sail with a shark onesie, I embarked on my voyage alongside 60,000 other festival-goers, celebrating the end of summer on the Isle of Wight.
Thursdays at Bestival tend to be a quieter affair, with many festival goers either staying at their campsites or skipping the day altogether. Not so for many an eager house-lovers, who raided this year’s debuted Temple Island stage to see the nineteen year old up and comer Karma Kid in droves. Dropping everything from Ben Pearce to MK, the house was bass-heavy and well-received, but unfortunately Karma Kid’s set was forced to come to an early finish, with T Williams set cancelled altogether, due to health and safety concerns according to his Facebook page; an early disappointment, perhaps due to the organisers underestimating the popularity of these artists by hosting them in such a modest tent.
Friday was my first experience of the year’s most promising new stage, a landlocked harbour with a 24m long ocean going liner as its centre piece. Rob da Bank emerged in front of the decks, signalling the ‘official’ start to the weekend, kicking off his set with Breach’s ‘Jack’ before playing a host of tunes paying homage to some of the weekend’s headline acts. Disclosure’s ‘F For You’, Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here, Right Now’, Wu Tang’s ‘Gravel Pit’, and DJ Fresh’s ‘Gold Dust’ all got an airing; reasonably predictable maybe, but Bank’s mixing was respectable and made for an exhilarating curtain-raiser.
Duke Dumont opened with his chart topping ‘Need U (100%)’ with the crowd singing pretty much every word to Storm Queen’s ‘Look Right Through’ (MK Dub III) as well his ‘The Giver’ later in his set. Dumont’s set featured one of many theatrical touches Bestival never fails to deliver: a crane pitching gymnasts across the crowd and occasionally lowering them to grab members of public before carrying them into the sky. Planted actors, naturally, but it was hard not to be impressed by the spectacle.
Disclosure’s acclaimed live act kicked off later on with the huge crowd spilling out of all sides of the Big Top demonstrating the brother’s popularity. Kicking things off with ‘F For You’, the duo emerged from a maelstrom of smoke and strobes before breaking into the garage influenced ‘Tenderly’, raising the tempo as people continued forcing their way inside the already ridiculously busy tent.
Over on the Main Stage, Fatboy Slim was banging out his Riva Starr collaboration ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’, a frankly ridiculous record which was an inescapable anthem for the weekend, its acid elements and catchy chorus acting as the mantra to many an excitable Bestivaler for the weekend. With fireworks erupting as a chorus of people sung along to ‘Praise You’, I braved the outskirts of the Disclosure mob just in time to catch the closing refrains of Latch, marking the end of their set. Closing the night, Richie Hawtin had attracted a mammoth crowd; ditto Seth Troxler who kept the techno faithfully happy with a steady pulse of booming kick drums into the small hours.
Black Butter Records was the first port of call on Saturday, the label’s bassy-garage-house pulsing across the open air of the Red Bull Music Academy stage. Drawing an impressive crowd for so early in the day, cheers were heard as the clouds parted upon the introduction of Dennis Ferrer’s ‘Mind Ur Step’ prior the summery refrains of Paul Woolford’s ‘Untitled’. Woz then donned the headphones for the second half of their showcase, moving through Shadow Child’s rendition of ‘A DJ Deep Inside’ to the ultimate crowd pleaser of Dusky ‘Nobody Else’.
Over at the Hidden Disco, Ben Pearce proved extremely popular with a reasonably varied set that took in Dan Hartman’s ‘Relight My Fire’ amongst modern house including his own Tesco-approved ‘What I Might Do’. Krankbrother followed suit, but the more underground nature of their selections seemed lost on a lot of spectators as the crowd rapidly thinned out. A lengthy queue later emerged outside for Polish duo Catz N Dogz leading to a one-in-one-out policy as they played recent summer slammers like Volkoder ‘Detroit’ and Green Velvet & Phil Kieran ‘Birds & Bees’. Meanwhile DJ EZ was at The Port playing one of his signature high energy sets dropping Wildchild ‘Renegade Master’ (Friend Within Refix), Double 99 ‘RIP Groove’ as well as a host of other garage anthems, new and old.
Hot Natured’s represented probably the biggest pop/house pull of the day at the Big Top, the huge crowd roaring their approval as front man Ali Love took to the stage with ‘Forward Motion’ followed quickly by the Anabel Englund-accompanied Reverse Skydiving’. Like most live electronic acts nowadays the set verged on the predictable, but a few tunes from their new album kept the content reasonably fresh.
Sunday began with a wave of nostalgia, as hardcore veteran Slipmatt slipped Mr Fingers ‘Can You Feel It’ and Derrick May ‘Strings of Life’ into his early afternoon set. Bicep were one the day’s undoubted highlights, the audience undeterred by a threatening black cloud overhead as they concentrated on losing their shit to ‘Vision of Love’ before thing were neatly wrapped up with their own Simian Mobile Disco collaboration ‘Sacrifice’.
Later, Kerri Chandler filled out the Bollywood tent, his reputation overloading the 800-person capacity arena, while Swamp 81 label boss Loefah demonstrated his dark and bassy London sound come midnight. The clued-up crowd roared as they recognised the tunes unfold. MC Chunky had everyone singing along to Mak and Pasteman ‘Jimmy Kendricks’ but the loudest response came at the end when Loefah dropped Zed Bias and Paleman ‘Furrball’ resulting in an insanely energetic conclusion to his hour.
The last hurrah belonged to Sunday’s headline act Carl Cox, who attracted a huge gathering. The multitude of people that arrived to see the 51 year old extended almost out of sight Coxy delivered his trademark four deck expertise, mashing up old and new deafening house and techno energetically for the final hours of the festival.
For the house and techno faithful it was hard to find fault with the wealth and diversity of artists playing this year, and once again the good vibes emanating around the Isle of White were apparent. Is Bestival in line to win Best Major Festival this year? It’s got my vote.
Words: Will Lawes