After a quiet opening on the Thursday night with a screening of This Is Spinal Tap, some DJ’s and The Cuban Brothers gracing the ten thousand capacity Big Top, Bestival 2009 starts properly at Friday lunchtime with local electro brother sister duo Arcade Eden opening the main stage to a small crowd. Like a fertilization between Crystal Castles and The Ting Tings, the Isle Of Wight bleep kids set the scene with lead vocalist Clare twirling around arms aloft and sporting the shiniest figure hugging silver dress this side of the solar system. The bands sound is achingly now, full of computerized zap that would be better suited to the dance floors than an almost empty field, but they do a pretty good job of bringing the disco outside.
“This is the start of the festival, you’ve all had a bath and now you’re ready to get dirty,” announce Efterklang from the Big Top stage. Not that their Nordic orchestrations are in any way filthy. The bands expansive organic sound is just right for a little afternoon dreaminess, the lead vocalists humbleness seeming well pitched with an audience who have yet to rise to their feet. Trumpets and violins sweep and soar till eventually everyone gets up, the bands bold warmth coming up trumps.
A few days ago Breaking More Waves saw Passion Pit play one of the most exciting gigs we have seen this year in a sweaty club in Brighton. Today at Bestival a small young partisan crowd feel that excitement at the front of the main stage, but the groups performance is also tempered by a large number of curious onlookers. The studio trickery of the bands debut album is inevitably going to be difficult to produce live, but to Passion Pits credit they manage to force a bonanza of euphoric juddering synth sounds out into the space. Passion Pit will always be a band who polarise audiences such is the nature of the squealing asexual falsetto vocals, but those who can stand it will find their schmaltzy hooks infectious. When we first saw the band earlier this year (review here) lead singer Michael Angelakos was restricted by playing keyboards. This idea has now been ditched, Angelakos storming the stage with venom, leaving the music to his band members. It gives the band an extra energy and vibrancy that they haven’t had before, meaning that tracks such as the bouncing Make Light and the kids choir pop of Little Secrets leave you feeling stupidly great.
Part of what separates Bestival from other festivals is the way it mixes comic elements amongst the coolest bands and DJ’s.Barry Peters Halifax Hospital Radio are in their own words “Wrong but correct,” a Bestival institution fitting the comic bill perfectly. Bringing dance routines from the lycra clad camp duo Double Pentration and whole chunks of DJ cheddar Barry Peters asks us to “Don’t be shy show us your pie, don’t get nasty show us your pasty,” before introducing a track by his ‘ex girlfriend’ Gloria Estefan. If you fail to laugh at Barry Peters you obviously left your sense of humour at the gate when you came in.
The main stage continues with Friendly Fires. Now, we’ve seen this band several times before but today they are a revelation bringing a colourful adrenalin rush of funky disco beats and clattering percussion to get the dancing started. Lead singer Ed has possibly the most saucy spasming hips in the world; his lack of self conciousness in his dancing generating vibration in the audiences sexual organs. The man is possessed by the rhythm. Indie dance suddenly seems like a great idea. Jump In The Pool and Paris are tight and fit, the band sounding like gay sex with a straight man. It may be formulaic but when the formula adds up this nicely, why subtract anything ?
Regular readers will know that we love Florence and the Machine, and two of our favourite performances this year have come from young Florence. Maybe it’s a case of one too many gigs or the quiet volume at the side of the stage where we stand, but this time Florence fails to move us. Both Florence and her band are glamorous in green and gold, but her deranged passion seems lacking a little today, only Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) with its Italian house piano towards the end really igniting the fire as red as Florence's hair.
Opting to miss MGMT on the main stage, we instead seek out Little Boots who is performing a DJ set in the open air Rizla Arena under a gorgeous pinky orange sky; by all accounts its a good move on our part, reports reaching us that MGMT were atrocious. We can see today why Little Boots is called such - she can hardly see over the DJ booth. Whilst she's not the greatest of DJ's, she does a reasonable job, but suggest she keeps on with her main occupation for now.
So our final live band of the day before we dance into the night at the Afterburner stage are headliners Massive Attack. The band are dark, atmospheric and brooding, frostily touching with cold beats and opiate synths. Massive Attack are probably not the ideal band for a hedonistic and by now rather drunken audience, bringing subtle politics by way of an impressive dot matrix screen behind them that flashes messages such as Wordsworths “We must be free or die,” and the universal declaration of human rights. Vibrant party classics are not what you get from Massive Attack, instead an awkward but imposing moodiness is their realm. However as the set builds and Martina Topley-Bird is reunited with the band, the feeling seems to slowly lighten, the grooves becoming more fluid. Teardrop gets a huge cheer and Safe From Harm is a fist through glass explosion that shatters the night sky. The band communicate very little with the crowd except for when Robert Del Naja quips that it’s his sisters birthday which is “quite positive actually.” Massive Attack let the music do the talking, and that talk is earnest and deep not superficial chatter.
It’s our last band of the day, and as the site really lifts off into the early hours of the morning with a booming party vibrancy, the DJ’s continue our pleasure trip bringing the night to a superb close at the Afterburner (described in Part 1 and pictured above), with explosions of fire, searching spotlights and big big tunes. Its sets everything nicely up for Saturday.