Bestival 2011 Review: Mud-Free, Dub-Heavy and Ultra-Happy

Since music festivals became part of the summer social scene, and started to get crowbarred into mobile phone companies’ TV ads as part of yeah-we’re-down-with-the-kids campaigns, and become an item to tick off a tedious bucket list, the way they are reviewed has had to change too.

Before, you could get away with simply writing about the bands. The parameters are different now – it’s about the experience, yeah? As such, this article is about the festival itself – reports on the music will arrive tomorrow.

Here’s how to spot a music festival veteran: look at the left hand of the person next to you. If they’re holding a smartphone aloft with its glamorous, as-seen-on-TV, LCD touch-screen displaying the band as a speck on the faraway stage, you’re in the presence of a first-timer.

Because everyone who has been to a festival before will be clumsily thumbing and swearing at the buttons on an old Nokia 3210 – a phone dug out from the back of a drawer but can survive a plunge into mud, a trample in the mosh and a week without needing a £5-a-visit trip to that most modern of festival additions, the phone charging tent.

Bestival, of course, is awash with kids with fancy mobile phones. A few of these kids are interested only in scoring Ketamine, ensuring that their artfully scruffy hair is pristinely coiffed, or applying facial glitter in the belief that its presence on their well-bred, ruddy cheeks equates to ‘proper’ festival lasciviousness. Or at least, in the hope that photos of these these daubings will garner squeals of appreciation when shared on Facebook.

But at its heart, Bestival has always been the least ‘cool’ and least ‘fashion-magazine’ summer festival – and these latter attendees are the exception, not the rule – simply because Bestival has core values to shame almost all other festivals. These values are as follows: book great bands and then assemble the festival with care, love and the intention of simple fun for all.

This is not only an admirable approach, it’s the only approach that any festival ought to take: as anything is else is merely a procession of helicoptered-in bands playing in a soullessly fenced-off park - which in turn is merely a break from playing in soulless inner-city mega-dromes.

So at Bestival, it becomes easy to ignore the bits that would usually drive down the human spirit, because there is so much else to delight – the wonderful sculptures, the fantastically curated line-up, the smartly designed venues (one was inside a giant tree, another hidden behind the curtain of an innocuous-looking Photobooth leant against a fence), the excellent sound and location of the stages. 

Oh, and the LASERs in the Big Top tent. Those LASERs were incredible, and I reached for them like it was ’89 all over again. Whistles were blown. Glowsticks were snapped and waved.

I could go on, so I will: the vast selection of  music that on offer may have been weighted heavily on Dubstep’s WUB-WUB-WUB tendancies, but there was just so much of everything else that bordom really did then become the sole preserve of boring people.

Because if you did get sick of seeing tremendous, visceral live sets on the well-positioned stages, you could hop into a pub staffed by little people, or bedouin cafés with comfy sofas, or get drunk and vomit prodigeously on an old fairground helter-shelter. Et cetera.

And then when the brain’s grumpy lobe begins to idly wonder what the self-absorbed, loud-mouthed, rich kids did before summer festivals became cool, consider that Bestival has merely become a victim of its own success: a festival so good that everyone is eager to be there, burrow in and find their own furrow to roll around in for a weekend. And you’re probably one of them, getting stuck in, having a blast.

One final, scatalogical story about what festivals are. I was once reminiscing about The Good Old Days At Glastonbury with someone I met in a pub, and relayed a story about a visit to a portaloo on the Sunday night, when the toilets were at their most ironically bowel-clenching.

Using the kind of hand gestures one rarely uses in polite company, I described how the pile of human excrement rose like a hellish pyramid abover the rim of the toilet itself. “And on the very top – ” I enthused, “you’ll never guess what was perched right on the top of the pile.”

My new aquaintence leapt in: “It wasn’t a cherry Bakewell tart?” And you know what? It was. There was a cherry Bakewell tart, unsheathed from its little silver foil cup, sitting right on the top of the pile of shit.

I have no idea what the statistical likelihood is of him seeing exactly the same pile of shit, with exactly the same confectionary on the top, in exactly the same toilet. The world is a confusing place.

And that, friends, is what a music festival is all about: shared experiences to be re-told forever. Sometimes they’re about the amazing one-off gig you’ll never be able to top, or about the totally awesome LASERs, and other times they’re about cherry tarts, piles of shit, and gangly youths on the prowl for Ketamine.

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