Bestival is one of the last festivals of the summer calendar and being late in the year, always gambles with the weather, especially when August was generally poor. As we hit September the sun has started to venture out from behind its clouds, and as Bestival was being set up, the sun came out and basked the the site in a warm September sun, though you can always be sure of cold nights.
Bestival 2015 theme is Summer of Love, but seeing the site and line-up for the first time didn't generate a lot of love form me. 2015 has seen Bestival turn back towards its roots with an increased number of dance acts and DJs on the line-up as opposed to the usually well-balanced mix of dance, electronica and guitar acts. The biggest disappointment though is the loss of The Bandstand, a stage that over the years has showcased the best of local acts matched with up and coming acts from round the country, Additionally it was ideally placed to sit back and soak in the music while taking in the view of Bestival spreading out across the valley while enjoying a cup of tea and cake form the nearby legendary WI tent. The replacement stage is further down the hill and just a little too far away to truly get the full benefit.
Arriving on site early afternoon Thursday, traffic seemed very clear and we were surprising to see just how many people were already on site. Over recent years Thursday has been building up to almost another full day with now only the main stage and Bollywood/port areas closed, given that most people arrive on site on the Thursday now this lack of alternatives left the main arena pretty packed and almost too crowded. I think the organisers will need to decide whether upgrade this day to a full programme, if only to spread the crowd out round the site.
This year the Invaders of the Future Stage has moved form he campsite into the Magic Meadow and here we caught Roseau, a young electro-soul singer who has a fantastic voice, but seemed held back by a relentlessly downbeat sound. Another new area for 2015 is the Commune, an area where festival goers are encouraged to explore themselves through craft activities and open mike sessions. Bordering the commune is a stunning fire garden featuring a giant flower made of hundreds of small fires.
The main focus of the Thursday evening is the Big Top, who this year was a succession of DJ sets form the likes of Rudimental, and Jamie XX. Closing the night were Underworld, whose typically energetic performance set the crowd up nicely for the weekend ahead.
One of the things that Bestival excels at is the small and eccentric, and the micro-venues mean that every time you venture away from the main stage it's easy to discover something new. Tonight for us it was The Swamptruck Goodtime Band, a classic slice of Americana and country that got the small crowd dancing and made the highlight of the evening.
You don't mind cold nights when you can wake up to warm mornings, and as Friday arrived the sun was fighting its way through. We started our day at the Big Top for Drenge, a band we have managed to miss on several occasions before, and whose performance didn't disappoint.
After catching festival veterans The Cuban Brothers (who as always seem to fascinate with their dancing and performances while equally repulsing with some of their mental images - this year they introduced us to lead singer Miguel 'mind-bumming' the entire crowd), we set off to explore the site, starting with a now-customary Mojito form the cocktail bar by the Bollywood Lounge. Drinks in hand our plan was to visit the Ampitheatre to catch a performance of Shit-Faced Shakespeare, unfortunately for us it seemed as if half the site had the same idea, and we were unable to get anywhere near. So heading on through the Ambient Forest, we came to the top of the site and inevitably to the WI tent. The area below definitely seemed odd without the Bandstand and the new stage the Kaleidoscope just doesn't have that same atmosphere.
It was back to main stage for Lianne La Havas. With a strong vocal and tight band this is a very confident performer who comes across very modest when interacting with the crowd, and she really got the crowd into the event, ending with the bombastic 'Forget'.
With a no-show from Wiley due to a sandstorm. the acts on the main stage got an extension. Of the afternoon acts, Charli XCX was impressive with a loud pop-punk sound, and hip-hop legends Jurassic 5 put on a captivating performance.
After this it was time to take our first sample of the food on offer. This year with the changes in layout some of the food stalls have been relocated and a few new ones seem to have emerged. In the main arena are the usual staple of noodles, pies and all things fried. Our interest was heightened by a very local producer – The Garlic Farm with a portion of chilli and some garlic ciabatta. Priced at £8 each it is typical for festival prices, and it was really nice and cooked fresh which is always a bonus.
The penultimate act on Main stage was Flying Lotus, and I have to say I really didn't get it, not helped by the ramped up bass that just reverberated beyond belief. I couldn't work out whether the crowd really enjoyed it, or were already camped in wait for the headliner and refusing to move. Finally for many what the day has all been about, headlining main stage were Duran Duran. It was evident that this was the act that the crowd had been waiting to see as the atmosphere became electric. The 80s stars did not fail to deliver. Opening with 'Wild Boys' and a full quota of flame-throwers, their set was full of the big anthems like 'Ordinary World' and 'Notorious' alongside their new material which sounded pretty good too. One of the highlights of the set for me though was when they broke into Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer' in the middle of 'Girls on Film'. This act was certainly the crowd pleaser of the evening, and quite possibly the weekend, filling the main arena to capacity.
We snuck off a little before the end of their show, heading off to the Bestiversity tent to catch the end of the returning comedy acts, in time to see Isle of Wight performer Andy Askins, and the return of firm favourites Abandoman whose quick minds and improvised set never ceases to entertain and amaze. The end of the evening saw the weather start to deteriorate so we headed back to the tent at a comparatively early 1am (Bestival can go on until 4am for those who want to party through the night). Whether or not the changes on site meet our expectations or not today it is still hard to say, but so far Bestival 2015 has been a performance that has delivered.
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