Most of your plans evaporate at festivals. The so-called ‘early’ night on Thursday turns into a wake-up call on Friday morning with my face stuck to a plastic bag in the corner of a mate’s tent, eyeballs sewn in with red thread. A quick glance at the programme shows SL2 are playing in the afternoon and even the sun has got his rave hat on. We take a shuttle bus back to the hotel in Ryde town to wash away the sins, devour Tangle Twister ice lollies for breakfast and do some stretch exercises in a seaside paddle boat shaped like a swan. We’re back in a few hours and Bestival is kicking off so there’s no chance of staying on the beaten path. In less than an hour we’ve reprogrammed ourselves to dilly-dally mode in the Ambient Forest, trying to catch six lads dressed as tigers with a fishing net, stopping to watch swing jazz from JC & Angelina and hanging around the ‘Welcome’ arch for a gargle of rum. We catch the first real glimpse of the Main Stage at the bottom of the hill, with its acid smiley faces, stars and gigantic seaside windmills, and take a few moments to swing out to Kitty Daisy and Lewis’s country-tinged blues.
Confession time: I just don’t get the Beach Boys. There, I’ve said it. This’ll probably get me a kicking down a dark alley behind Whelan’s, but as they’re getting ready to wheel out Brian Wilson for another dithery run through ‘Surfing USA’, ‘California Girls’ and ‘God Only Knows’, we’re making a beeline for the Rizlab stage to catch the Good Vibrations of SL2 instead. With its 30ft Open University molecular models, LED entry tunnels and tiered steps, the circular Rizlab amphitheatre is Bestival’s dance cocoon and you can lose yourself there for hours. There’s a constant roll call of class acts, including techno don Justin Robertson, eerie French space-pop from Black Devil Disco Club and masked bass crusader SBTRKT, among others. No wonder there’s a constant queue. By 3pm on the Friday, SL2 are already making use of the surprise sunshine, with DJ Slipmatt dropping early 1990s hardcore, breaks and rave classics from the vaults, while his solo dancer pulls moves straight from the old Energy Rush TV ads. It’s not cool, it’s not clever, but there’ll never be much empty space on the floor when any DJ drops SL2’s Way In My Brain and On a Ragga Tip, or the piano motif of Strings of Life rises to the fore.
We then change gears – from carefree rave abandon to “getting’ muthafuckin’ serious” with the militant hip-hop troupe Public Enemy. Chuck D, Flavor Flav and co. have been going for 24 years (Chuck keeps reminding us) but the Prophets of Rage still have plenty of incendiary gas in the tank. Chuck doesn’t stop for a breath, tearing through Bring the Noise, Fight the Power, 911 is a Joke and all the other tracks that used to piss off your ma and da – with DJ Lord’s mangled funk samples and machine gun blasts beefed up with live drums and metal power chords. There’s plenty of pontificating too – with Chuck D warning us to “Keep your minds, hold on to your souls, question your government”. Flava Flav threatens to derail the whole thing with his non-stop “Boyeeeeeeee” and a few WTF-bombs: asking the crowd to tweet him, and plugging his book. Do we really want to hear how he lost his virginity when he was six? “It’s OK, she was six too!” he explains. Chuck D must be fucking mortified. Still, all is forgiven when they knock out the fist-pumping AC/DC mash-up Black is Back.
Politics and kiddie sex are off the menu when electro-pop chancers Chromeo bring on the night in a hail of vocoders, talk box, keytar solos and 808 cowbells, coming on like a self-styled “thugged-out Hall & Oates”. As with Har Mar Superstar, people waste too much time wondering whether the duo are “for real”, or an elaborate ’80s in-joke. They throw every single ’80s cliché at the wall and it all sticks. Dave 1 – in a red Thriller leather jacket – mouths every P-funk guitar riff and arch vocal line on throbbing electro stompers like Tenderoni and Bonafied Lovin’, channelling Rick James, Prince and the spirit of Rocky montages. It’s doing a job on the crowd too – it’s a mass dance-off, with the odd handstand, plenty of gleeful self-pics, people headbanging in feather headdresses, swapping ridiculous shades and covering each other’s faces in glow paint. There’s not much verbal crowd interaction apart from the relentless vocodered “Chrom-eee-ooooh” and “put your hands up”, but when that insane filtered guitar riff from ‘Fancy Footwork’ kicks in, there’s pandemonium. Chromeo should be mandatory at every festival.
There’s call for more fancy footwork, but we’re not really feeling Magnetic Man’s stadium-size dubstep on the main stage. We also want to avoid the dumb & bass of Pendulum, who are headlining Friday on the Main Stage for some reason. We’re caught in the Voodoo Ray from A Guy Called Gerald at the Rizlab, doing one of his on-the-fly live/DJ shows, veering more towards his Tronic Jazz-style techno rather than the acid house and sparse drum bass he made his name with in the late ’80s and ’90s. By now the queue really is round the block, with plenty of skipping and bargaining for space, as we wait for house legend Frankie Knuckles, who’s been spinning records since 1977 at the Warehouse in Chicago. There are plenty of ‘we’re not worthy’ moments from MCs and punters alike, as he throws down some epic vocal disco house tracks and some ‘boompty boomp’ numbers that Derrick Carter would love to get his hands on.
This club marathon can’t really sustain itself for the whole festival, but we remember Boys Noize is headlining the Big Top on Friday. In an interview with German techno upstart Alex Ridha before Electric Picnic, he described his set in one word: “Hard.” He also joked that he had at his disposal a “special red button, a drop the bomb button, and when it goes off, you’ll know about it”. He’s trigger happy with the red button at the Big Top, firing off splattery synth riffs and headbanging techno while he’s punching the air in silhouette, surrounded by a sci-fi pinpoint laser show Michael Bay would be proud of. The killer punked-up beats from his Oi Oi Oi and Power albums test the sound system, with ‘Starter’, ‘Arcade Robot’ and ‘Lava Lava’ bringing on a moshpit at the back of the tent. Ridha’s collaboration with Erol Alkan and Jarvis Cocker, Avalanche is a brief respite, but a surprise blast of the Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and last orders of his remix of Feist’s My Moon My Man means there’s a few thousand proper clowns staggering out of the circus tent who won’t get to sleep before the sun comes up.
Originally appeared in State