The Englishman's tendency to mentally block out crap weather is the secret to why the country has outdoor music festivals when common sense should dictate otherwise. This odd relationship with climate also explains why, when the sun comes out—like it did at Bestival—the effect is like slipping Prozac into the town's water supply. With uninterrupted sunshine beating down for almost four days straight, the vibes at this year's event were always going to be good: regardless of who played or what actually happened there. The fact that Bestival had some undeniably fantastic music on offer simply tipped the general good mood towards full-on euphoria.
Photo credit: Vaid Bharath
Musically, the obvious standout moment was Stevie Wonder's headline performance. His two-hour long slot was near enough perfect. It's a good starting point that his music has an almost unmatched universal appeal. After all, if you want to get both your Grandma and ten year old nephew dancing at a wedding you can do a lot worse than reach for "Sir Duke" or "Superstitious." The fact that Wonder puts so much extra into his performance is the reason his shows rise to another, almost unmatched level. Amazing cover versions of records by Michael Jackson, The Beatles, John Lennon and Marvin Gaye added unexpected twists, while the sheer funkiness of his backing band was at times ridiculous. They have to be the tightest group of musicians I've ever seen.
The only minor quibble might be that when Stevie initiated the crowd to join in with "My Cherie Amour," big sections of Bestival simply didn't know the words, causing Wonder to stop midway through sheer confusion. But that only reflects badly on the crowd's pop-knowledge rather than the man himself. As the set closed out with "Isn't She Lovely," one particularly burly bloke stood behind me mentioned to a friend how he was holding back tears. You can bet he wasn't the only one.
Photo credit: Victor Frankowski
New Order were also excellent in their main stage slot. Bernard Summer would likely to be the first to admit he's not a virtuoso singer, but he hit his vocal marks remarkably well on the night. Ploughing through some of their biggest hits, New Order also performed more Joy Division material than might be expected: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Isolation," in particular, sounding phenomenally good.
The XX, however, were an altogether less exciting prospect the previous night. Although they drew what seemed like biggest crowd of the weekend, their performance lacked the urgency needed to move a crowd of that size. You have to give the band credit for sticking to their guns—they don't beef up their trademark muted sound at all. In-house producer Jamie XX may have spent the last year making "music you can dance to," but it hasn't rubbed off on his bandmates one bit. Even an impromptu rendition of Jamie's "proper" dance single, "Far Nearer," was wrapped in a feeling of melancholy. Put simply, The XX make great music but their sound just isn't suited to huge stages.
Photo credit: Josh Jasper
Away from the main stages there was plenty to keep you entertained. Greg Wilson laying down party anthems and classic soul, David Rodigan preaching his reggae mantra for what seemed like the whole day and the Secretsundaze guys spinning some particularly tasteful house and techno were all particularly good. DJ-wise, Daphni and Four Tet's genre-bending performance was the pick. Any set that mixes the garage version of "The Boy Is Mine" into Basement Jaxx into a Daphni techno burner and then into Roy Davis Jr.'s "Gabriel" is nothing to be sniffed at.
Photo credit: Victor Frankowski
But to be honest, and this isn't a criticism, Bestival is not really just about the music. More people talk about the costume they're going to wear than they talk about the acts they're going to see. (Funny enough, despite the Wildlife fancy dress theme, the unifying concept of this year's event seemed to be red skin as festival-goers ditched bulky costumes and gave their milky English skin a toasting).
Bestival is just as much about fun than anything else. How else can you explain the appearance of a '90's fitness instructor on the main stage or knees-up-cockney folk singers Chas And Dave? Even the usually grumpy MF Doom seemed in high spirits when he ended his set with Mo Farah's "Mo Bot" sign, claiming that this was the new "official" MF Doom pose. Bestival rarely fails to deliver on a promise of a good time. And in a year where a number of high profile UK festivals flooded or simply flopped, Bestival remains a brand you can trust.