I had never been to a music festival, but the dreams of an alcohol-induced music-appreciation fest such as Glastonbury has always been a goal for this music editor! In its fifteen years since its inception Bestival is an exception to this rule, welcoming an eclectic mix of the population, from scantily dressed sixteen-year old’s drinking shitty cider to hippie mum’s covered head to toe in biodegradable glitter – a baby in one hand and a blunt in the other. This year the theme was Circus, and it’s safe to say that was an understatement.
Bestival had an appropriately diverse range of hipstery food options, including deliciously big burritos (meat and vegan), south Indian delights such as Dosa, and my favourite, “basic-bitch pad-thai”. I immediately gorged on the pad thai and we proceeded to the first act of the day, The Big Moon. Already a huge fan of the London band’s Haim vibes, I was impressed with their cool composure and lightning aesthetic even in the heat. Their rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of The Heart” was an immediate favourite of mine, a wispy-voiced cover that brought silence to the audience. In immediate contrast, we headed to The Box to check out Kojo Funds, famous for his collabs with RAYE and Giggs. He brought big energy but left the crowd awkwardly swaying and waiting impatiently for Not3s, who sung hits like “Lover” and left the stage in flames.
Bestival specialises in being an all-around experience, and this was evident in the creation of gig spaces like The House of Vans and Old Mout Cider, a favourite of mine who every evening hosted karaoke sessions and handed out free tambourines which resulted in a number of cat-fights in the audience.
welcoming an eclectic mix of the population, from scantily dressed sixteen-year old’s drinking shitty cider to hippie mum’s covered head to toe in biodegradable glitter
Up and coming artists and old-timers were designated the morning performance slots and after an uncomfortable night with the ever-present fear that someone would wee on our tent, the bar was set high. The crowd warmly welcomed The Cuban Brothers, a comedy-musical act who, dressed in red fedora’s and Hawaiian blazers, seemed at first like a group hired to entertain the older crowds. But, then the music started playing. And with a strong Latin beat, and wearing a fake heavyweight championship belt, Miguel Mantonavi (aka Mike Keat) takes to the stage. Favoured by the likes of Damien Hurst and Elton John the Cuban Brothers have unexpectedly vulgar content, ranging from dogging references to straight up penis jokes, Keat had the crowds in peals of laughter whilst bopping up and down to his s***y Lionel Richie covers. His backing dancers danced horrendously in the background, with his main protege at times wowing the crowds with his effortless backflips. A surprisingly tough act to follow, we eagerly awaited the musical genius of Mura Masa. The atmosphere was tangibly electric and yet a very low-key set was met with a sea of attentive listeners.
The main stage also welcomed newcomer Kojey Radical, whose first song was about “feeling there was always f***ery in London”. A homegrown talent, his work covered social issues from Grenfell to knife crime. “Water”, a collab with Mahalia and Swindle, reads like pure poetry; ‘I see lead showers/Codeword. Flint Michigan/Attire match my melanin/Black on Black is militant’. Dressed as a parody of an African dictator with a red beret and a gun belt, he didn’t seem to connect with the family-friendly crowd and the front of the stage was sparse with fans. Nevertheless, I definitely peg him as one to watch. Another new favourite of mine is successful Swedish duo First Aid Kit, who gave a solid performance without a note out of place. Like Haim only cooler, Johanna served a look with a red snakeskin skirt and animal patterns which channelled feminine fierceness. They performed “You Are The Problem”, a punk protest song about rape culture and the ever-present fear of ‘Some man’s sweaty desperate touch/God dammit I’ve had enough’. The entire crowd was in awe.
Next up was Grace Jones, an icon before my time. She was surprisingly banterful for a woman of seventy. The set had a clear reggae vibe harking back to her Jamaican roots. I don’t think I was prepared for what came next. Armed with a dildo, Jones paraded around the stage in an animal headdress and then proceeded to dry-hump a stripper, who reinforced her reputation as a diva who likes control. Finally, Jones jumps on a security guard’s shoulders and sways chaotically around to “Slave to the Rhythm”. We walked away from the stage, the trauma still in our eyes.
The night finished beautifully with music from London Grammar, a frankly underrated group. With stunning chromatic visuals and the deep, sorrowful voice of Hannah Reid, the entire crowd, thousands and thousands of people, were silent. They played every hit song, from “Hey Now” to “Strong” with the heart of the original recordings. Only broken by an eager beaver who climbed a nearby tree for a better view, London Grammar were decidedly the winners of Bestival and played one of the best sets I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
Armed with a dildo, Jones paraded around the stage in an animal headdress and then proceeded to dry-hump a stripper, who reinforced her reputation as a diva who likes control
Hungover from life, we decided to check out Bestival’s more niche offerings, specifically an area called Ambianceland, home to daily meditation sessions (gong sesh’s as we affectionately called them), a variety of delicious smoothies, and nutrition drips for those who were a little more than hungover. This is the new beat generation. A bunch of twenty-somethings that alternate between MD and an infusion of oolong and aloe. On day one, my troupe and I were understandably hesitant at participating in this new procrastinatory way of life and giggled on the outskirts of the yoga tent. On day three, battered by the bumps in the floor of our tent, we were willing to try anything. We lay down on yoga mats as a fairy-like woman handed out lavender weights for our eyes. I tried to stop laughing and closed my eyes. Sleep came unexpectedly fast and the sound of the gong was actually really refreshing, just in time for Exeter favourite Beans on Toast.
Jay McAllister is unusually at ease with a crowd. His political folk songs just scream good vibes, and his autobiographical lyrics make you feel at home when you’re at his gig. With his harmonica and casual attire, he feels like a mate. Or a modern-day Bob Dylan. A well-known lad on the festival circuit, Toast is immediately likeable. His relatable love ballads and a beautiful song about his daughter called “Magic” paints a picture of a man who is honest about the best parts of life. A decidedly good gig all-round. We headed to the main stage to check out every-woman Chaka Khan. With amazing stage presence, she delivered polished songs that spoke of female power. Bestival this year sets a precedence for powerful female solo artists – artists being a very key word in this case.
Khan was followed swiftly by Plan B, who got perhaps the worst reaction from a crowd that I’ve ever seen. A fan of anthems like “Love Goes Down” I was disappointed hearing his voice get lost over the noise of the crowd planning their excursions to the bar. Apart from his main songs, (of which he gave a refined acoustic version of “Love Goes Down), his set didn’t have a very consistent sound. In the main Big-Top, We Are Scientists gave a much more solid sound and were a far more “listenable” experience.
Finally, I got my chance to see M.I.A, who is currently releasing an autobiographical film on her life and her impact on the world through the story of her immigrant family. With an extraordinary outfit complete with a Sri Lankan headdress she owned the stage, performing straight to her fans. Her hits like “Paper Planes” and “Bad Girls” were performed as remixes, and she demonstrated her versatility with flair. Never shying away from her Tamil heritage, her set was complete with traditional dancers and the undercurrent in her music was unapologetically foreign. M.I.A is definitely still one to watch and was the perfect ending to a festival that can only be described as a unique experience that still manages to encompass everyone.