‘Is this a hippie festival?’, asks an energetic Mykki Blanco amidst a blustery Friday night set at the thirteenth edition of Bestival. With ‘colour’ as this year’s theme, Mykki can be forgiven for the assumption as revellers were resplendent in mud-splattered neon, rain-soaked flares and ever-present glitter throughout the weekend. Aesthetics aside though, Bestival can’t be pinned down to just a single epoch or genre, owing to its diverse programming. This 2017 edition has been no different, with acts ranging from A Tribe Called Quest to Pet Shop Boys, Teklife, Sinkane and Danny Brown performing at the new Dorset site.
Electronic acts formed a large part of the line-up, pushing synthetic kicks and flurries of chopped instrumentals to the fore. Playing an intimate set in the porta-cabin-cum-club-space that was the Desperados Clubhouse, Lone opened things up on Thursday night with a typically propulsive set of ‘90s rave-inspired house and breakbeats, as well as a large number of his own productions. On the Bollywood stage–a fixture of the Bestival electronic experience–Midland saw the crowd through the early hours of Friday morning with a varied selection of disco, ‘80s electro, and techno, even throwing Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place into the mix, showcasing his technical skill in the process.
Shelling Bollywood later in the weekend, the Chicago-based footwork collective Teklife played a four-hour set back-to-back between DJs Paypal, Taye and Spinn. Taye sporadically jumped onstage to perform the namesake dance of the frenetic genre. Drawing in crowds with their lightning-fast mixes and fresh edits of Everybody Loves the Sunshine, as well as Kanye West’s Fade, the Teklife crew exemplified the imminently danceable nature of their musical expression.
If footwork’s rapid mechanics represent a futuristic vision of electronic music, there was still nostalgia aplenty throughout the weekend. The boat-stage HMS Bestival played host to classic UK Garage sets from Oxide & Neutrino and DJ Luck & MC Neat, all of which had the crowds dancing in the drizzle, while disco-themed Stacey’s saw ‘70s classics spun from Artwork, as well as Motor City soul favourites from Motown Mondays.
Of course, bands still comprised a large part of Bestival. This year’s key performances included the funk-pop of Brooklyn’s Sinkane, who drew a committed singalong crowd, as well as Ninja Tune signee Romare’s blend of hardware electronics with live bass and percussion, showcasing the imaginative potential of instrumental sets. At the festival’s main stage, overlooked by Lulworth Castle, The xx headlined on Friday night, playing their blend of nocturnal R&B and monochromatic production to an enthralled crowd, yet it was their predecessors Little Dragonwho stole much of the attention with a neon-soaked set of extended percussive edits, including Ritual Union and Klapp Klapp.
Taking on the hip-hop portion of the weekend’s proceedings were DJ Shadow with his inimitable turntablism and sampling prowess, celebrating 21 years since the release of his debut LP Endtroducing…. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mykki Blanco delivered a blistering trap-influenced set of lyrical mastery, following in the same vein as Danny Brown’s Saturday afternoon barrage of maximal, falsetto-frantic productions.
It was headliners A Tribe Called Quest who took the crown for the entire festival, playing their final ever live show following the death of founding member Phife Dawg. Members Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed, and Jarobi delivered a 90-minute set for newcomers and seasoned fans alike. Drawing on their latest LP, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, they paid homage to Phife with an empty mic stand centre-stage, representing his lyrical prowess now replicated through the backing track. The trio dealt admirably with Phife’s absence, keeping up an energetic verbal back-and-forth on numbers like Black Spasmodic, Dis Generation and Electric Relaxation. Closing their set with the positivity of We The People, Tribe united the crowd in a chant of its refrain: ‘We the people/We are equal’, epitomising their 27 years of pioneering social-consciousness, Jazz-forward hip-hop.
This year’s Bestival was not without its faults; the Biblical onslaught of rain and wind caused festival-wide mud slides and the evacuation of the main arena on Sunday afternoon, cancelling crowd-pullers like Loyle Carner. Festival-goers left on Monday morning to the horrific news of a reported murder on site.
Evils aside, the musical curation was as consistent as ever, delivering a weekend of new discoveries as well as the farewell of legends.
[This piece was published in EZH Magazine on 12/09/17]