Returning to the ‘real world’ after a festival is always a bit weird, but reflecting on Bestival 2017 was made even stranger when I heard what everyone else had been saying about it.
If both the mainstream news and social media were to be believed, the event had been a bit of disaster. Both Wiley and Justice cancelled their sets only a day before the festival began, terrible weather conditions meant entire stages were evacuated, and images of festival goers caked in mud and flying tents caught in the wind were all over the internet. Then came the, now almost sadly routine, rumours of another drug related death during the final day.
So yeah, it’s admittedly quite hard to paint a picture of this year’s event as an astonishing success. Nevertheless, the negative headlines have only further compelled to write about what actually ended up being a surprising and enchanting four-day adventure.
This year Bestival relocated from its usual home on the Isle of Wight to Lulworth Estate in Dorset. The whole area, surrounded by scenic forest and overlooked by Lulworth Castle, was completely covered with an eclectic mix of stuff to do. Known for maintaining a friendly and upmarket reputation, it’s fairly obvious that the festival organisers are keen to parade their wacky jamboree as more than just a music festival.
The delightful array of distractions dotted around the grounds included the world’s largest disco ball, an inflatable church where festival-goers could get married, a giant clockwork robot, and ‘Drag Queen Bingo’, which I’m a bit gutted to have missed. Also making its Bestival debut this year was the titanic inflatable masterpiece ‘Happy Kanye’, a vivacious exhibit shipped in by Spanish art collective ‘Cool Shit’ that reflected this year’s theme of ‘colour’. All of this meant that it felt genuinely worthwhile braving the storms to get out the tent, head to the main area and have a laugh (and yes, attend a stranger’s impromptu wedding).
Just as wide-ranging was the music, which in Bestival tradition saw a dazzling patchwork quilt of artists perform across just as many elaborately designed stages. While you can say this about most festivals now, anywhere that can boast having Tribe Called Quest’s emotional last ever gig on the same line-up as Disney Rascal is pretty hard to top in terms of variety.
A personal highlight was genre-bending funk five-piece Sinkane. Performing just after midday, potentially a bit of a graveyard-shift during a busy festival, I was a little worried that the gig would be a little underwhelming. Armed with guitars, flutes and a pair of outrageous salmon coloured jeans, I’m pleased to say the band proved me wrong with a set that really encapsulated the endearing diversity of the whole festival. They closed with ‘Favorite Song’, a feel-good disco-inspired toe-tapper which I absolutely implore you to give a listen.
In terms of more familiar faces, indie heavyweights The xx looked completely at home in their role as headliners for a medium-sized festival. The London three-piece managed to take their impressive back catalogue of laid-back tunes and perfectly transfer them to the large-scale outdoor environment. The same can be said of relatively new acts like Circa Waves and Blossoms, who thrived when given a higher billing.
Closing the festival were the Pet Shop Boys, an act I can’t claim to be huge fan of, but who were unquestionably worthy headliners. What is clear to see is that in their nearly forty-year career, the synth-pop legends have learned how to put on a show. The bombastic-bonanza of a set featured as many cool set-pieces, lasers and fireworks as it did big hits, that together kept the crowd absolutely buzzing through the stormy weather.
And that was it. As the sky filled with lights, Bestival 2017 and with it another British festival season drew to a close. I’d be lying if I said the weather hadn’t put a bit of a downer on the whole thing. It meant I probably spent a little too long hiding away in the campsite, sipping warm Foster’s on the muddy floor of my mate’s tent. Seeing my own tent blown into the distance by the wind wasn’t great either. Overall however, Bestival 2017 was a real testament to the spirit of festival fun, having a good time and a bit of a laugh, no matter what the weather.