By Sam Cleeve
August 6th-10th, 2012
Bestival 2012 was one of polarities. For every joyous, life-affirming Stevie Wonder headline set, there was Borgore around the corner blasting the most depraved bass noises possible. For every beautiful art installation or on-site roller-disco (truth), an absolute throng of people in between you and your destination. What can’t be faulted is the booking – this year’s Bestival genuinely offered an unparalleled summer line-up, one that pitted soul legends against sweeping icelandic cinematic explorations, all the while staying faithful to its electronic and dance music roots (it was, by time we were off site, a luxury just to sit somewhere in absence of bass).
Unfortunately, Thursday turns out to be something of a non-event – by time we arrive at the Isle of Wight (turns out holding a festival on an island is something of a logistical nightmare) it seems as if the whole site had descended upon the Big Top to catch a midnight set from Hot Chip. We don’t stay long. The crowd crush is shocking – at one point a tidal wave of onlookers falls backwards, knocking hundreds of people off their feet to wholly dangerous results – and the the sound (or what we can hear through the chatter) means that the band are a mere shadow of that that I’d seen at London’s Heaven a few months earlier. The over-congested atmosphere seems to be a problem that plagues the whole weekend – we’re frankly in denial when we hear that the festival’s capacity is just 50,000. The constant churning of bodies in the main arena makes it feel infinitely busy, and trying to find decent spot from which to take in a Friday night performance from The xx (apparently a record-breaking main stage crowd) proves damn near impossible.
But never mind. Like I say, this was a festival of polarities, and there are plenty of highlights to be found elsewhere. Take Jessie Ware’s Saturday set at the Big Top. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of watching bands on the verge of huge success, playing to one of their first huge crowds. It’s what Ware deals with here, and it’s a wonder to watch a seasoned performer both fully in control of her incredible voice (and fully deserving of that Mercury nod, by the by), whilst simultaneously being so unsure as to take time between songs to gawkily apologise for ‘snot.’ Which she does. On several occasions. It’s a triumph, and Ware seems delighted and utterly surprised to hear the crowd singing the words to the likes of ‘110%’ and ‘Running’ straight back at her. That set had been preceded by an appearance from beat-boxing live sampling extraordinaire Beardyman, and while his set was less goofing around and more an uninterrupted, ADD, light-speed stream of music than I had hoped for, it was utterly compelling regardless.
– Jessie Ware
Elsewhere, a headline set from Florence and the Machine is viewed from almost as bad a vantage point as her warm-up act The xx, but we can see her dress – a little pulse of vibrant green – unrelentingly flashing around the stage, and her energy seems unstoppable for someone whose vocal health recently forced the cancellation of a couple of dates. Sigur Rós put in a set that they needn’t have apologised for – yes the visuals may not have achieved their full impact during daylight, and yes there are some visible technical problems with Georg Hólm’s bass, but it’s glorious all the same. There’s a even a surprise lunchtime set from Four Tet, whose live show contains less of the subtlety of his recorded output, but makes up for it in drama.
Nevertheless, the (predictable) crowning moment of the weekend is soul legend Stevie Wonder’s Sunday night closing headline set. On paper, it’s entirely as you might suspect – Wonder rolls out hit after hit, with an exhaustive band of consummate professionals, seemingly able to change the key of a song at Wonder’s will and whim – but it’s the sheer joy of the thing that takes you by surprise. Personally, don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much whilst watching a performer on stage. Throw in an endearing spot from daughter Aisha that a) sees Wonder make blind jokes at his own expense, and b) segues into ‘Isn’t She Lovely,’ and understandably the crowd is putty in his grasp. The opportunity for an encore is forgone, instead leading directly into the festival’s traditional firework and confetti and whatever else finale, and for a moment there, any complaints I’d had about the weekend’s proceedings – fuck it: about life – were completely forgotten.
– Stevie Wonder