Arthur Brown takes to the stage accompanied by magicians, circus contortionists and guitarists, his face daubed in white paint. In case the incredulity of his Crazy World show hasn’t elicited enough tears of laughter, The God of Hell Fire arranges for electrodes to be attached to his scalp, with his brainwaves apparently streamed live on huge screens either side of the stage.
All of this is only marginally more surreal than the preceding unlikeliness on the Big Top’s stage, where the Chuckle Brothers’ drum and bass version of ‘To Me To You’ sees the crowd continue the call-and-response long after Barry and Paul try to move on to their next song.
Bestival has a strange and wonderfully random line-up around all the giant boats, magical forests, crammed tents beneath mythical figurines and good old-fashioned arena stages this year. If there are two common categories, very broadly speaking, they might be bright young things and acts from at least two decades ago.
Never ones to pull their punches, howl-rock brothers Drenge mock sentimentalists by blithely dedicating ‘I Wanna Break You In Half’ to Friday headliners Duran Duran. You can almost feel the fumes emanate from the stage as Fat White Family stagger and leap through a beautifully odd set, lacking any of the slickness of Jurassic 5, whose initial 20 minutes resemble an operatic medley of all those catchy b-boy hits. Their DJs, Numark and Cut Chemist, wield gun-shaped portable Kaoss pads and scratch a giant turntable, with lead vocalist Chali 2na on word-perfect form.
Backing onto the woods, Brighton band Fickle Friends’ easy synth-pop meets an enthusiastic crowd, ushering none of the fear the angry showmen of Young Fathers inspire. During an endlessly dramatic display of deadly drumming and shamanic dancing which shows them at the peak of their forceful powers, at one point they pour expletive-driven scorn onto the government’s attitude to refugees, their sheer wrath sounding imperative rather than preachy.
Another Scottish act, duo Honeyblood, were last seen in Brighton playing a surprise free gig above The Joker a few months ago. Their rapidfire grunge rock sounds superb through the much more powerful sound system of the Invaders of the Future stage, and ‘Super Rat’ (chorus: “I will hate you forever”) hits a solar plexus punch through Nirvana-ish guitars.
Liverpool trio All We Are impress with floaty harmonies and wonky pop, and David Rodigan, playing reggae to a Bollywood tent featuring a number of people in states of spiritual confusion, constantly seeks “a signal”. Four Tet, who takes over afterwards, is more interested in heavy dance, which is also relevant to the interests of 2 Bad Mice – their rave radars undiminished since 1991 – and London Elektricity.
The only real Britpoppers playing, improbably, are Dodgy. “This one was released before you were even f***ing born,” announces singer Nigel Clark, sounding genuinely bitter as his band open the main stage on Saturday. The Chuckles – black leather jackets, sunglasses, mimed drumming and exceptional comic timing – are thrilled by their new fans, although it’s unclear whether Slaves, who scream and shout but never get their Mantaray calling card out, are quite as pleased with the state of their world.
Kate Tempest wants a revolution on the day the Labour party elects its new leader, performing incredibly intense poetry in a remarkable 45 minutes of intelligence, memory and advice to the yoof. Her nearest musical cousins here might actually be Jungle Brothers, whose initially brutal, vein-stretching rap, backed only by a turntablist, demonstrates the influence they had on the likes of Q-Tip. Later, his voice also gets heard thanks to his alliances with the Chemical Brothers, who play a greatest hits masterclass over terrifying, enormous visuals.
They could conceivably have continued all night without losing any of the crowd, which is more than can be said for Missy Elliott, whose style-and-swagger set coincides with a wave of rain. But the elements deter no-one, and the rapper’s high-energy hits and multiple, trainer-toting costume changes are pure entertainment.
It seems a shame that bleep-dance innovator Joy Orbison’s three-hour slot is scheduled in a slot when most campers are dreaming of taking their tent down a few hours later. His Hyph Myngo holiness rarely tours, which means Bollywood remains packed, conveniently allowing hundreds of weary clubbers to avoid a downpour. Even Dynamite MC, the long-serving voice of Roni Size’s Reprazent group, admits confusion and fatigue at their allotted start time of 2am on Monday morning. Futuristic 15 years ago, their drum and bass classics are unaffected by age, and Size’s latest compositions suggest a new record could offer more than mere millennial revivalism.
Bestival, Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight, 10th-14th September 2015
Words by Ben Miller
Photos by Victor Frankowski, Caitlin Mogridge, Carolina Faruolo and Dan Dennison