Rob Da Bank is famed for the Balearic beats and chilled out tunes he plays on his Radio One show alongside Chris Coco and releases through his Sunday Best label, but now he has taken the sound of the white isle to the Isle of Wight for the first ever Bestival festival. All of this has evolved over the past decade from a club night that charges 1.99 to get in and plays a similarly silly array of hands-up party music and grin-inducing downtempo tunes.
This happily unhinged approach is evident as soon as we arrive at the Robin Hill Country Park, being welcomed by masked freaks on mini motorbikes who look like they have just escaped from Royston Vasey. We head to the camping area to the sounds of D-Mob‘s We Call It Acieeed and Pump Up The Jam by Technotronic, wandering past peacocks, human-sized rabbit warrens and a wooden, Wendy-house style, Bestivillage on the way.
Although the weather is dark and threatening the festival spirit seems to be light, if a little surreal.
The campsite is on the lumpiest, rockiest field on the island and pitching quickly descends into bitching as we try and stick the tent into the granite-like ground. This, coupled with a late running ferry and even later running shuttle bus, means that we miss out on Rob Da Bank’s opening set, Kate Bush impersonator, Fake Bush, and eighties rude girl Neneh Cherry‘s DJ set amongst others.
Thankfully the main hub of the Bestival site is relatively small so it is easy to hop from the bring-your-own-tune anarchy of Stick It On in the Cocomo Bollywood Cocktail Bar to the tea-obsessed Mr Scruff‘s extended eclectic selection in the Big Top and on to the main stage to see the herb-heavy, blissed out dub of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and his devoted disciple, The Mad Professor. It is questionable whether a 68-year-old space cadet should be allowed to roam free on a site bearing several magic mushroom vendors but Perry’s enthusiasm, whatever is behind it, seems to be bursting out of every pore as he sings, shouts, swears and reminds us repeatedly that this is the first ever Bestival, as the line between genius and madness appears increasingly blurred.
Order is restored when locals The Bees take to the main stage for their varied, genre-defying set; whether playing dubbed-up skanking psychedelia or rocked-out seventies retro, the crowd lap up every note. Playing material from latest album Free The Bees, they skip from style to style indulging in some laid back balladry onto a slow, folky, Beatles-echoing number and then into full-on fret-tickling rock. The problem is they cannot quite seem to make up their mind what they want to be, one minute sounding like The Doors and the next sounding like Ocean Colour Scene. Rather than being refreshing as the band may hope, this pick ‘n’ mix approach results in a sound that lacks focus but it is pleasant and entertaining enough to keep the shivering crowd’s spirits up all the same.
Meanwhile, back in the warmth of the Big Top, the silver-suited Mixmaster Morris plays everything from Dub Be Good To Me to deep house through uplifting electronica to dub and ambient noodling and provides an uplifting end to a somewhat short day. Unofficially the music continues way after the 2am ‘curfew’ but we attempt, largely unsuccessfully, to indulge in some shut eye for a few hours so we can truly get the best from Bestival on day two.