Priding itself as the last party of the summer, Bestival this year was caught with lashings of indie, pop, electronica, dance and a heavy dose of grime, with Mercury Prize nominated Loyle Carner, Nadia Rose, AJ Tracey, Wiley and Dizzee Rascal all booked to perform. However, it was Saturday’s headline set from A Tribe Called Quest that excited most, myself included, to make the trip to Bestival’s newfound home in Dorset.
Buzz-act-of-the-decade The xx stole the evening on Friday with a beautifully accomplished stage show composed of their usual glossy and intricate sound. As an artist whose sound is as much about silence as it is noise, records such as “I Dare You” and “On Hold” followed by some of Jamie xx’s solo stuff made for a stunning primer for the rest of the night.
Next up I caught Joe Goddard at the JagerHaus club, and with 150-capacity inside and a beefy sound system, it was a perfect setting to catch “Gabriel” - a track I’ve been wanting to see live for a long time and one that Valentina (who supported Goddard) absolutely nailed. Greco-Roman Soundsystem followed and the collective (made up of four to five DJs including Goddard, Full Nelson and Mr Mentsh) took turns chugging out bits of minimal and techno whilst still ensuring purposeful transitions throughout.
Bestival felt small by its usual standards but it gave an unusual intimacy that you just don’t find at other major festivals, which, all things considered, made A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘final ever show’ better than most expected. Playing to a crowd not filled with Tribe devotees but animated nonetheless, their presence was propulsive, anchored by Q-Tip’s commanding spirit. The set played a fitting homage to the late MC Phife Dawg, the founding member of Tribe, as it weaved through the classics, 2016’s “We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and finally onto crowd pleasers “Can I Kick It?” and “Electric Relaxation”. Bestival seemed like an odd choice to end an incredible 27-year long career, but with emotions running high throughout and cancelled shows this year in North America, to Tribe, it was probably the only way to go.
Annie Mac and Melé ended Saturday night at the Temple Stage and just as we arrived, the ‘world’s largest confetti cannon’ went off midway through the breakdown of Armand Van Helden’s “U Don’t Know Me” - not the production team's finest hour and a massive anti-climax. With that though, Melé took the helms pushing and pulling the crowd expertly, going from tribal house to hard Tresor-like techno and then into classics such as Ultra Nate’s “Free” - everyone was clearly having an absolute blast.
With that set in mind, I can’t go without mentioning the sound throughout the festival this year. I’ve been to many festivals where it’s let down what otherwise would have been legendary sets; Bestival, however, really outdid themselves this year with even the outdoor Temple Stage fronting a bassy and really clean sounding rig that rumbled through the crowd - I would go as far as to say that it’s one of the best festival sound systems I’ve ever heard.
Yes, it rained, it was windy and on the Sunday Bestival decided, for people’s safety, to close the main arena. Everything shut down for less than an hour and agreed, it was annoying that some artists like Nadia Rose and Loyle Carner couldn’t perform in the end, but for me, that’s just part of the parcel and you just have to get on with it. Luckily for us, we’d ordered too many cans from this years click-and-collect service from the campsite - a top notch idea that more festivals should adopt as it meant cold cans all day, every day - also saves on travelling with heavy crates which is nice.
Moving on, we started our Sunday checking out Blaenavon on the Invaders of the Future stage which was curated by Rob Da Bank and features up and coming artists that are making waves throughout the UK. To be fair, curation here was pretty spot on throughout the weekend with Stockport’s Blossoms and Black Foxxes also playing, but it was just nice to roam around a little, chill and grab a few pints of cider.
2manyDJ’s disappointed though, opting to go with a set that wouldn’t sound out of place at a freshers traffic light party. The Soulwax remix of MGMT’s “Kids” and Blur’s “Girls & Boy’s” created a sing-along style that the mainstream crowd lapped up, but I think the duo could have pushed the boat out with some tougher tracks that I’ve heard them play out before.
Closing the festival was DJ Yoda. An odd but strangely fitting choice to end the 4-day festival as he snaked his way through hip hop, grime, house, drum and bass, dubstep, reggae and everything in between effortlessly, whilst simultaneously firing edited video clips to match whatever he was playing. If there was a moment throughout the set you didn’t particularly enjoy listening to, there was always something to watch.
Bestival had a number of doubters over the past few years, many saying that the festival is in decline. The sound, lineup, atmosphere and location however has seen a return to form for Rob, Josie and the rest of the team. Next year should be a blast.
Photos courtesy of Bestival
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