Bestival 2013, Part 2 - By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret
knife

Bestival 2013, Part 2

Robin and Tayyab finalize on a wild festival. Author: and on October 23, 2013
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Saturday

Robin 

The Polyphonic Spree were one of many unofficially motivational acts booked for the weekend’s main stage; though they were the only pack of life coaches I was specifically seeking the counsel of. Sunday’s Cuban Brothers didn’t seem to give a fuck whether or not their onslaught of low-tier dick jokes were making us happier, and the dance performance of the Naval Reserves, led by their trope of teachers, was bizarre — like walking in on the sitcom version of an aerobics class. Tim DeLaughter, with his array of multi-instrumentalists and backing singers, did something else, though; the Spree brought their Bible-belt home-state’s sense of cultish fervor with them, but utilised it for their personal religion of positivity. Live, their songs felt even more combative; DeLaughter’s screams of “You’ve gotta be good! / You’ve gotta be strong!”, borrowed from Together We’re Heavy’s “Two Thousand Places”, were unrelenting, waiting for the crowd to absorb the magnitude of such simple advice. Not that any of us needed it — the dispersed crowd, with its early-morning eyes and tentative umbrella action, was waiting for “Light & Day” to bring out the sunshine. That was all the motivation needed.

The Spree’s set left me feeling spiritually unfulfilled. That sounds fucking ridiculous, but it’s the truth. It’s what music does to you; DeLaughter’s songs have made me feel around for the world quixotically in the past, hoping it was as glorious as he foretold, but the reality was an uninterested crowd and the stagnant band soliciting them. Yes, It’s True, the band’s new, aggressively confrontational record, seemed perturbing live; a weary declaration that good cosmic-times don’t last.

matthewe

The Spree began a day that promised motivational seminars you could believe in — we’ll get to the Knife later — and a whole lot of spiritual osmosis. We moved to Matthew E. White later, a country-influenced, psych-extolling preacher man with a rock band setup to boot. The crowd was tiny, humbling the otherwise cramped and slightly terrifying Big Top, but White seemed overwhelmed by the small number of interested nomads who’d come to watch. White’s music tributes his favourite genres affectionately, but also with great precision; his final song paid homage to certain stereotypes and then debased them, with chants of “Jesus Christ is the lord / Jesus Christ is your friend” echoing through the band’s final languishing exchange of riffs. The attempt by diligent sound dudes to cut his set short couldn’t have happened at a worse moment — there was still a minute or so left, and it was impossible for White to stop.

Tayyab

To sum up The Polyphonic Spree’s extravagant plea for appreciation in one word, I would say uninspiring. Perhaps I owe them more words but their drab performance doesn’t deserve much more from me. Bastille coaxed a similar feeling, but to a lesser extent; their fans, of which there are many, absolutely adored them, alleviating any doubts in the atmosphere. The most notable part of their set was when they quipped a cover of City High, catching those of us unversed in Bastille’s discography unaware. White’s world-folk accompanied with exotic percussion was the first unexpected delight of the day. Meanwhile, Zane Lowe and Mark Ronson were playing hosts to the bulk of the festival-goers. Tentatively titled as A-Yo!, the pair were forced to tear their ears from above the roof of the underground to give the people what they want; still, it was refreshing to hear “Otis” being the Watch The Throne song on rotation.

roots

The appeal of hearing Introducing recreate Daft Punk’s Discovery was foreign to me, though having said that the appeal of most cover bands is lost on me — I’d be more interested to hear the original on record. Introducing seemed adept with their instruments, enough to sate people’s nostalgic cravings at least. Many hip-hop live shows involve musicians playing out tracks made digitally verbatim, though The Roots are, fundamentally, a band. Accompanied by incredible session musicians such as the animated and aptly-named Tuba Gooding Jr., Black Thought, Questlove and company put on a show that felt more jazz and soul than hip-hop — roots, indeed. It would have been too much if Black Thought’s rugged flow was the whole show, though we should have expected the string of covers including “Sweet Child O’ Mine” what with them being Jimmy Fallon’s house band. It was a non-stop jam that reinvigorated live music with soul and funk that you could sense sans-ears.

It seemed easy, even sensible, to think Franz Ferdinand were booked for old time’s sake, evidently not an uncommon route for Bestival to take. It was nostalgia that led me to them, rediscovering why I — a man ascribed to a strictly urban doctrine — would once religiously rinse their debut. “Michael”, “The Dark of the Matinée” and other favourites convinced the Main Stage herd to brave the downpour, yet even the latter-career singles were buoyant despite my dislike for them. Alex Kapranos unexpectedly weilded presence, and we’d follow his lead through new material all the way to “Take Me Out” without question. The enchantment they had on us still feels surreal — my mind belonged to Franz Ferdinand even while my body was moving to Erol Alkan’s irresistible party vibes.

Snoop Lion, née Dogg, formerly Snoop Doggy Dogg, officially Calvin Broadus or who even knows anymore (is he taking after Diddy or something?!) was championing the Main Stage as Saturday drew towards its crux. Hordes swamped whatever was left of the grass to see the Long Beach legend take his time to get up there and live upto his name. Snoop Dogg was entirely laid back through what was a strange ordeal; it’s easy to forget the innumerable number of songs he’s been involved in and he still found time to have the DJ play out Calvin Harris for reasons incomprehensible before diving into “I Wanna Fuck You” (remember that?). Scantily clad lapdancers aside, it was enjoyable to see “Sexual Eruption” and “Signs” beside “Gin & Juice” and those other classics that always get played during [local house party]. Enough of what we knew; it was time for Shaking The Habitual.

Robin

knife

The Knife’s late night set was billed as the Shaking the Habitual show, a definitive culmination of their fascinating, interrogatively political new record. In the hour and a half they were allotted, I didn’t expect them to be able to get through the endless set of lecture slides presented in their songs, ranging in their topics from environmentalism, queer theory, intersectionality and what they refer to, in the dominant upper case, as EXTREME WEALTH. I expected generalities, at best, and music powerful enough for me to walk away with the want to do further research. I was taken aback, then, when they spent the opening third of their set on what they called “physical and political” aerobics, scored by anonymous dance music and directed at the crowd’s ability to dance, both in the literal sense and a more figurative one: did we know what we were dancing for? Did we know when to yell, arms folded, “NO”?

For the first half hour of their set, the Knife were asking its audience whether or not it even deserved them. The stakes were high, then, and the remaining hour was a blessing; we were awarded with an education. The show proper was unveiled with huge, theatrical instruments that possessed as much power as they seemed to promise; like an alternative to the curtain-call, multi-coloured, bizarrely shaped pieces of percussion were rolled into place among the stage’s backdrop. A huge wooden board, prepared with bass strings, was laid down in its centre; the sound it made rumbled through the room, performed with the slow, taunting reverence that it demanded. The Knife’s players exploited the moment’s affectation of horror, walking onto the stage like ghosts, adorned in black robes, before later dropping them for flashy, fluorescent outfits that belonged to an Alt Eurovision.

Shaking the Habitual became a theatrical piece overriding its album source, the performance trying to interpret rather than tribute. The music was thrilling, but we knew that already, and the mostly pre-recorded set was more interested in what happened when people danced to it, or arranged weird set pieces around it. For “Got 2 Let U”, a rare moment in which the show dug into the Knife’s distant, pop-pounding past, one of our players mimed Dreijer Andersson’s vocal snarls, relaying them like someone in front of the world’s most apocalyptic bathroom mirror, wielding a magical fucking toothbrush. “Full of Fire”,  a continuously developing song that switches scenes seamlessly, was re-imagined by the actors on stage, who stood in robes, gazing to the ceiling while fixed in an icy standstill. The song popped off, of course, one of the new record’s viable hits (even at its nine minute length), but the Knife were more excited to subvert our expectations, to redirect anything we assumed as a “jam” and make sure we didn’t mistake it as apolitical.

There’s a lot to unpack in the Knife’s show, and considering it presupposes our mutual interest in change — our want to be better, fairer citizens with less binaries and more heart — it was hardly fitting to witness it at a festival at all. It probably boasted the weekend’s worst crowd, if I haven’t already given that title to Every Other Act, because not everyone came to experience it. At the front, we were treated to drunk bros chanting Rugby bullshit, White Stripes lyrics and the occasional (surprisingly astute) cry for “Heartbeats”. It’s a testament to their music, though, and the sincere way they direct their hope at us, that any of these dudes could walk away with the Knife’s point of view. The show ended to the silence of a stunned crowd, and one of these hecklers, who had nearly ruined the night for me and my friends, broke the silence: “What the hell was that?”. It was a question voiced with crackling incredulity, and also admiration. The Knife have the power to make their crowd question themselves, whether they want to or not. That’s not a threat that Shaking the Habitual makes, but a promise.

Tayyab 

My biggest gripe with the execution of this year’s Bestival was a criminal clash of Scotsmen at 3am: Hudson Mohawke was playing at The Port, while Rustie took care of the proceedings curated by Numbers at the RBMA. For the uninitiated — and we all were — The Port was where an increased Bestival budget materialised in the form of a giant ship run aground, manned by fire dancers, firework launchers and other things delightfully insane. From port side of the ship, Hudson Mohawke played a set that spanned his solo output, his rambunctious TNGHT sound as well as his other contributions such as Yeezus’ loudest track, “Blood on the Leaves”. Unreleased Action Bronson and Pusha T surfaced, as did the Rustie-produced “Side B [Dope Song]” from Danny Brown’s Old. Things weren’t crazy from the offset and the pits only formed after “Higher Ground”, though it culminated in some serious seismic activity.

Sunday

Tayyab

Max Romeo kicked off the last day with reggae/dub, a generally amicable set where the Prodigy-sampled “Chase the Devil” ignited the biggest singalong. They were followed on the Main Stage by The Cuban Brothers, a troupé with some slick dance moves, questionable music and very-hit-and-miss humour. Bestival’s grime quota was filled over at RBMA, with Scruffizer appearing before his dedicated following. That’s not to say he doesn’t have many fans, as he won over plenty supporting Danny Brown’s last UK tour with his indomitable pacy delivery, coined in“Fizzy Flow”. He barely managed to avoid tripping over his own words but pulled off an admirable job in the end, performing recent hit “Kick It” and rewarding cries for “Versace” too. The set was gritty enough for me to need to cleanse myself, thus I decided the place to be was Bestival’s Hidden Disco — a relatively conspicuously concealed enclosure housing multitudes of irrevocably delighted partygoers. They had no reason not to be, as Numbers boss Jackmaster stood in an open-top bus serving up one of his special “Tweak-a-holic” sets with partner-in-crime Spencer, comprising of 80s disco and R&B curated by more creative minds than that of Magic FM. Fittingly, Chic and Nile Rodgers took to the Main Stage soon after. As Rodgers expressed during their set, he’s had his hand as a producer and writer in more funk and disco classics than you’d imagine, thus their appearance allowed them to unleash a few surprises in all their ecstasy. Admittedly, my most vivid memory of those moments was checking Twitter to discover Kanye West had announced a Yeezus tour — I guess it was my own sort of high for the afternoon.

As you should all well know by now, I was unable to keep away from the RBMA stage for extended periods due to medical, spiritual and emotional reasons among others, and Oneman had stepped up for a ninety-minute set of typically outrageous, outstanding and unrelenting genre blends. His set jumped from here and there to everywhere, whether it was his own edits, supporting Akito’s Jeremih bootleg or thrashing out the Special Request Hackney Parrot VIP. It was non-stop party time, and my personal favourite selection was Opolopo’s bassy gloss over contemporary jazz singer Gregory Porter’s “1960 What?” In a normal world, you’d find Marcel Dettmann delivering a four-hour set at some ungodly hour in Berghain. Bestival is not a normal world, for good or for ill,and Dettmann was to be found sharing highlights from his expansive minimal techno collection from a giant ship with a mermaid swinging from a crane overhead. Okay Bestival; it did all feel a little out of place — Dettmann himself was impeccable, although the setting seemed ill-fitting with its place and time.

jb

I knew James Blake in the Big Top would be a tricky one for me. When you have an artist whose music thrives on those silent pockets between beats, those echoes and reverb you’re not sure is occurring or simply lingering; listening with a few thousand others who are inebriated enough by midnight to be noticeably boisterous, it’s easy to feel your personal experience is going to take a hit. Suddenly — to paraphrase the songsmith — suddenly, we were hit. Blake began with his debut LP’s (best) track, “I Never Learnt To Share”, which shut everyone up and slapped helpless grins on their faces with its unstoppable locomotive bass-freight impact. Accompanied by bass-and-effects man Airhead and their drummer friend, the trio had for all intents and purposes perfected the art of regurgitating their heavy-hitters; Blake led with “The Wilhelm Scream” and “Limit To Your Love” but it was Ben Assiter’s driving percussion overhaul that shined on “CMYK”. The set was rounded off with unexpected fan-favourite “A Case of You” after showcasing material from Overgrown to many for the first time since release, though the inclusion that surprised most was “Voyeur”, a track that fully ascends into techno-cowbell-synth-arpeggio heaven. On his second album, Blake proved he could further merge his electronic ideas with his piano-led singer-songwriter tendencies, excelling and amping up in both areas without compromising his often-imitated, always-unparalleled sound. At Bestival, Blake simply strengthened his position, moving everyone in some way despite the challenging task of entertaining all sorts for what would be the last set of the festival for many.

parquetc

Impeccable as James Blake was, it was fortunate Parquet Courts were there to ensure the festival closed with a bang, and then some, wiping away the melancholy with the most nonchalant of arse-kickings. Bodies flung left and right, the Replay tent rejuvenated — nay, overdosed — on the effortless, lazy swings and kicks the band threw from Light Up Gold. In between lines like: “People die, I don’t care, you should see the wall of ambivalence I’m building” and “Ya know Socrates died in the fuckin’ gutter” the four-piece would blithely shrug, nonplussed to their moshing legion’s protests against stewards — “Let us crowdsurf!” It was incessant energy right up until the rousing “Stoned and Starving” that fittingly closed what was a wild ride of a festival.

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