Bestival could never be described as just a music festival – its just as much about the bewitching sights as the bands. And 2011 chooses to enter the senses as if stumbling through a warren, emerging wide-eyed upon the edge of a world feeling like an Alice whose heart is as much set on exploring her Wonderland, as it is on grasping a rare chance to see Björk or The Cure.
This year Rob da Bank fashions Bestival into more of a mini Glastonbury its stages squeezed into gaps between campsites that allow more space for the 50,000 to tread. This change might not have made such happy reading for the late night noise shy, because the line up is bursting at the seams with bands as big as Primal Scream and Metronomy on the bill post-1am. But that takes away none of the magic, as the emphasis is still heavily on big boutique with plenty of extra-curricular nooks and crannies to explore between performances.
Fenech Solers electropop eases us into the festival, but Cut Copys ’80s heartthrob pop beats raise the tent, with a set straddling their three albums that finishes with Hearts On Fire, causing early Besti-euphoria. The weekends homage to legendary performers begins with Beach Boys and 1960s hall of famer Brian Wilson, whose falters are surprisingly few as he introduces tracks and banters with the crowd between hits. A sea of heads dip on imaginary boards to Surfin USA, but the vocal chords reserve most energy for God Only Knows. Next are hip hop influencers Public Enemy, who repeatedly call on people to bring the noise and fight the power, amid repeated cries of yeeaaahhh boi that conversely make Chuck Ds Twitter follow requests sound surreal. Everyone is their biggest fan for 75mins, bouncing to hits He Got Game and Welcome To The Terrordome, making even Flava Flavs efforts to palm off copies of his book endearing.
Dotted between are fleeting chances to dance with Drambuie cocktails, test the mix of high tea with burlesque, or wince as a cyclist mounts the wall of death. But Fridays child is preoccupied by main stage evening duo Magnetic Man and Pendulum, whose ballpark dance feels stale in comparison to other choices available. Elsewhere, Friendly Fires are curating The Future of Dance Music at the Rizlab Arena, with A Guy Called Gerald, TEED and SBTRKT among others. The latter feel worthy of this bills bold claim, with a sublime mix of Aaron Jeromes two-step, funky, dubstep beats that hit it off perfectly with Samphas soulful vocals and some Apple Mac tinkering from the St Albans trio.
Back up the hill Mogwai are changing the face of Bestival again with post-rock that is both gloomy and exhilarating; How To Be A Werewolfs melancholy guitars break into a Scottish wall of riffs and drums that roots the feet to floor. That leaves ample time for a whistle-stop tour of as-yet unexplored areas of the site, before kings and queens of indie twee Los Campesinos! provide ample helpings of acerbic love-lust-disaster lyrics. Prior to this, we glimpse the Cuban Brothers DJ-ing in an tent that could be lifted straight from a Wham! video set. And in the forest, scores of tired feet are resting in lazily hung humungous hammocks, just off from fairy light-lined pathways that lead to lit up ponds and a stage where German ambient electronica DJ, Ulrich Schnauss, is soundtracking the mood.
Early risers on Fancy Dress Saturday get their tired muscles gently awakened by Mr Motivator. But up on Robin Hill the Womens Institute have baked morsels en masse that go down well with afrobeat tales of Zimbabwe from Thabani Nyoni. A slack schedule at the Red Bull Music Academy stage lends a happy coincidence in the shape of Oneman an artist on his own in a sea of dubstep DJs who believe if you arent moving forward, youre moving backward. But his mix of ’90s and hype tracks instantly chimes with people. By the time D/R/U/G/S arrives, his Cafe Del Mar vibe doesnt sit as well with the still-milling crowd. His stripped down euphoric dance generates a steady bop, but it is Love/Lusts soft trance hook that is the arms-in-the-air star of the set.
From the main stage come the distinctive cries of In the navy! which tells us Village People have arrived. Swathes of festigoers finally emerge from their tents garbed as Madonnas, Björk swans and other such pop icons, to pay homage to the godfathers of dress up. Thousands of Y-shaped arms punch the air to cheesy discos soulmate, YMCA; even after years of practise there are few that can manage a mirrored C. Later, the six judge a group of four who are dressed head to toe in red and white with lights for hats – The Lighthouse Family – as the days best.
Much of the evening is taken up at the main stage, where Grandmaster Flash drops timeless chart hits, but its his old school hip hop and scratch-mixing that people come to see. And somehow, Crystal Castles translate their noise indie-electro and Alice Glass screech vocals to the early evening crowd. The 8-bit beats of Air War and Reckless, and the blissed-out keyboards of Celestica elevate the mood to ernest partying.
The familiar gothic glam feather headdress of PJ Harvey enters a stark stage where only she has the spotlight. It focuses the attention not that she needs it as the now twice Mercury Music Prize winner balances her sombre sound with a celebration of tracks from Let England Shake. The notes of her hugged autoharp sound at their most beautiful when mixed with the off-time horn of The Glorious Land. She plays a set littered with discography stand-outs that includes The Words That Maketh Murder and A Place Called Home, cementing her as one of the most important artists of this era.
The smiley faces are extinguished above the main stage for The Cure, but the two-and-a-half-hour set that spans a 30-year career is one to revel in. Robert Smith delivers his melodies over symphonic backing from his band, with plenty of time for Friday Im In Love, Lullaby and Just Like Heaven, on a long list of classics.
Before the night is over Tom Vek is on fine form to an energetic crowd that eagerly drinks in tracks from both albums, saving the most gusto for I Aint Saying My Goodbyes. And theres just about enough energy for a short blast of Metronomy in the small hours, who major on the pared down basslines of The English Riviera, sounding markedly current.
Breaking into Sunday with The Cuban Brothers is a natural option for most, as their usual brand of roller skating and breakdancing tom foolery, together with innuendo and classic covers is a worthy tonic. That mirth prepares us for a quick peek into the wooden dancefloor of Club Dada, where wellie-footed punters are trying with varying degrees of success to master hip hop dancing.
The Drums and The Maccabees might also be featuring on the main stage today, but its floor belongs to the fairer sex. Kelis is up first, with an intelligent set that blends crowd pleasers into her own material to energise onlookers. Milkshake and recent hit with Calvin Harris, Bounce, are the ones people wait for, but her adaptability to the fickle world of pop is best shown with the soulful vocals of Acapella. Later, Robyns high-octane eccentricities and writhing dance moves draw enjoyable confusion from the crowd. Dressed in a leotard, she eats a banana on stage – because she can – and proceeds to drill out a gloriously sorrowful electronic set that finishes with With Every Heartbeat.
We somehow stumble into more Mr Motivator after catching a snippet of country Alabama duo The Secret Sisters, who duly cover Johnny Cashs Big River. And The 2 Bears, it seems, are no longer a hidden gem as their crowd spills out from the Roller Disco tent, where semi-tipsy people clad in skates attempt both dance and skate to a set that, to the delight of some encostumed furries at the front, includes Bear Hug. The spine chiller though is Joe Goddards Gabriel, which sees Valentina enter stage left to lend her heartbroken vocals to the track.
In closing with Björk, Bestival reveals its true spirit, as she surpasses mere performance and reaches the echelons of visual artistry. Sir David Attenborough introduces the essence of Biophilia, before a caged Van de Graaff generator hung high sparks in time to Thunderbolt. Dressed in her outfit from the latest album cover, she dances glitchily around the stage and interacts with a choir in spangled blue and gold that provide harmonic sound effects. The screens bear no image of the singer, except for a brief moment on the video for Joga. Instead, they show writhing seabed life forms, eclipsed moons and honeycombed beats to illustrate Biophilia. For the most part she prompts quiet respect, but there are roars of appreciation for Crystalline, spellbound silence for Hyperballad, and a joyous din for Declare Independence as white powder-filled bubbles explode into the atmosphere. And not one moment after Björks set closes, the sky is filled with fireworks, while the ethereal white dancing figures of Herbert’s Dream by Quidams make their way from the opposite hill through the crowds, to end the festival on a fitting left-of-field note.