Aqua-planing down the M3, we started to get the calls from earlybirds warning us to bring every piece of waterproof clothing we could lay our hands on. Any other festival and we might have turned back there and then. But despite Bestival and mud being new and uneasy bedfellows—two days of torrential rain caused one stage to sink and the main route into the campsite to become a treacherous ‘bridge of slime’ with people applauding if you actually made it across without coming a cropper—this is one event where you can trust camaraderie to pull you through.
The crowd were all in fancy dress, nominally adhering to this year’s theme of ’30,000 Freaks Under The Sea’, although plenty chose to freestyle. While this concept could easily be a bit student pranky, you’re won over by the sheer effort and ingenuity everybody puts into looking ridiculous—my friend Ed turned up in a home-made Predator costume complete with masks and lasers that altogether cost more than his ticket—and the lack of preciousness they have about it all falling apart in a ragged, ravey mess come midnight on Saturday. Bestival is like Burning Man with a sense of humour and better music.
Bestival isn’t so much about the bands, especially when watching anything on the main stage involved standing ankle deep in mud, buffeted by 20mph winds and the occasional flash flood. My Bloody Valentine’s feedback holocaust became a true test of brinkmanship, as did another bleary turn from Amy Winehouse. Everyone is a star at Bestival. This democratisation was underlined when we saw Eurovision star Sebastian Tellier, pointy boots covered in mud, queuing for chips on the car ferry back from the Isle Of Wight.
Even special guest Grace Jones, who had got into the spirit of things by packing about ten different costumes, found it hard to compete with anything happening inside a marquee when the heavens opened once more. Instead we found solace in the Women’s Institute tea tent, and then in a gloriously hectic DJ set by Santa-bearded DJ Tayo, who we first spotted handing out deely boppers at the ferry terminal. ‘Cockney Thug’ and the bootleg of ‘Supa Sharp Shooter’ and ‘Izzo (Hova)’ even managed to drown out the sound of the endless hissing nitrous canisters.
Roots Manuva reminisced about how he used to visit the Isle Of Wight when he was nine and then revealed that he left it so late to buy wellies this year he got stung for £55. A-Trak and Sinden unleashed a back-to-back hip-hop megamix in the (relatively) plush Bollywood lounge. Late Of The Pier struck up furiously in an Xbox tent holding about 20 people. Hercules And Love Affair turned the Big Top into a New York warehouse. Vicarious Bliss out-Edbanged his Ed Banger comrades by dropping ‘God Save The Queen’ into a set of ear-bleeding electro before Jamie Jones sent us spiraling into oblivion with his mesmeric house anthems.
We didn’t see Terry Hall play his set of Specials songs, or Chas & Dave, or Will Young on the bandstand, or Aphex Twin or George Clinton or The Human League, or all the things we might have done if it hadn’t involve a trudge through a stinking swamp. But we did see all of these crazy dudes, and that’s what made it worthwhile.