Bestival 2011: The Bands, Et Cetera

In this final post on Bestival, we finally get around to addressing the bands that were actually playing. You know, the reason we were there in the first place.

The variety was bewildering, broad and mostly enviable: witness Public Enemy rubbing shoulders with Brian Wilson; DJ Shadow with Boys Noize; awful Adele dubstep remixes with awful Adele Drum ‘n’ Bass remixes.

Out of bloody-mindedness, the following article is presented in a series of notes and bullet points.


Yuck proved to be all you’d hope for in a young, new band – bright, noisy, carefree and juggling a handful of good tunes. Most bands struggle after being the bloggers’-flavour-of-the-month band, but Yuck seem to be dealing with it in the right way: heads down, performing their throwaway lo-fi songs, waiting for the hype to pass.

They’re also a band who are about as impressive as you’d expect in the flesh: there were few surprises, but what they did do was, at the least, very pleasant.

Old ANBAD alumni D/R/U/G/S was everywhere: playing the Red Bull stage – not once, but twice, and cropping up with a live set on Bestival Radio; he’d probably set up his samplers in your tent for a modest fee.

Cal from D/R/U/G/S has evolved his sound and his set was a loud, swirling journey through house music – albeit one which still found room for old favourites like Love/Lust. The new material he played bodes very well for the future.

Islet have a wardrobe apparently entirely culled from charity shops. I like that. Their soundcheck took surprisingly long for a small band: a sign that the band takes their sound seriously. I don’t mind that so much, but when the band began there was a strange disconnect between these ears and the band themselves.

Islet’s sound is an intricate, obtuse one – one that I usually enjoy – but this time, the chorus-less, verse-less songs seemed to be too obtuse, too testing and too angular for their own good.

I hate to criticise a band that I admire, but when you get the feeling the performers are having more fun than the audience, it’s time to go and buy another agonisingly expensive, lukewarm cider from the bar. I’m chalking this gig up as an inevitable blip in an upward trajectory.

THE OLD BANDS, bullet pointed for convenience:

  • PJ Harvey was devastatingly good, playing brilliant songs from across her career with style and panache. FACT: She has the best-dressed band in rock.
  • Primal Scream‘s attempt to perform the whole of Screamadelica was bold – brave, even -but ultimately flawed. The opening track, Movin’ On Up, ought to be a transcendental rock moment: instead it was a murky pub-rock cover version, and the set peaked – but also troughed – from that point.
  • Boys Noize, whose name was amusingly altered to ‘Boys Booze’ by my phone’s auto-correct function, played a near-endless set of thumping, slightly camp house, which may not have been perfect, but was a lot of fun at 3am.
  • Jacques Lu Cont was the best DJ amongst the clutch of big names in the Pete Tong-curated evening in the Bollywood Tent. The vibe was happy, non-aggressive and contrasted strongly with the mood at any of the crowds at the many dubstep DJ gigs.
  • Bjork was clearly brilliant, as per usual, but the new material was clearly not suited to a festival stage, and when she admitted as such, I drifted away in wait for….
  • DJ Shadow, who appeared before a mic looking like Fred Durst’ cerebral older brother, and spoke some brief, nice words about what he was about to do, before disappearing into a huge sphere onto which an incredibly clever visual show was projected whilst he cut and scratched inside. Excellent.
  • Diplo was all dip and no zip, redundantly bellowing pantomime call-and-response into a microphone for a very long hour.
  • Kelis proved how not to endear yourself to a largely ambivalent crowd when she idly mentioned after her first song that she was “not here for you guys” and was “only here to pleasure myself”, which, amusingly unintentional innuendo aside, immediately alienated a large portion of the crowd, who muttered darkly and audibly, and then slunk away.

The latter two acts described aside, the music is always on an equal footing – and dependant on – the quality of the festival it is being performed at. On both these counts, Bestival is so far ahead of the pack, it’s almost silly.

Friendly, happy, and awash with brilliant bands, clever arenas and colourful surroundings, it’s hardly a surprise that artists are keen to play, and that 50,000 punters are prepared to queue for the hovercraft to get there.

Bestival is setting the pace and leaving the rest in its rainbow-coloured, glitter-infused dust.

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