sun 21/07/2024

theartsdesk at Bestival 2009 | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk at Bestival 2009

theartsdesk at Bestival 2009

Ming the Merciless sees Lily Allen, Kraftwerk and The Ragga Twins

Bestival was the first festival to embrace fancy dress and, five years into its career, still does it best. This year the theme was "Out of Space" and with the weather delivering gorgeous Indian summer sunshine, a welcome contrast to Bestival 2008’s deluge of wind-blown sleet, a contagious carnival of intergalactic characters extended across the site.

Most attendees regarded it as mandatory to make some effort for the big Saturday dress-up and a few, such as the gent who’d carved a cargo-loading exoskeleton, as worn by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, from polystyrene, had really gone beyond the call of duty.

Wandering about, a casual glance might catch Mr Spoon of long lost childrens’ programme Button Moon sharing a falafel with three astronauts, multiple Darth Vaders jigging to dubstep, or Little Boots and Lily Allen appearing onstage respectively as Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds and Barbarella. Not being one to shirk my responsibilities I attended as Ming The Merciless in full imperial regalia. Who’d have know that men of a certain age respond to the chief baddy from Flash Gordon with such guileless primal enthusiasm? I don’t think I’ve ever drawn so much pleasure from a fancy dress costume. In marquees fuggy with DJs and dancing, the slaps on my back and cries of "Ming!" from fellows whose eyes were both glazed and steely determined proved a tonic as the night wore into its slippery leg-aching later hours.

Those marquees were where the action occurred long after the sun went down, where Belgian brothers 2ManyDJs span a set synchronized with giant screen visuals - for example, a Michael Jackson sample accompanied by animated Jackson visuals - making the crowd roar with approval, even at 3am. The predominant sound of the festival, however, was drum & bass, a music recently reignited by dubstep and rave nostalgia, whether via original hardcore troopers The Ragga Twins sending the outdoor Rizla club space ballistic or new boys Chase & Status achieving the same goal to a packed mid-evening Bollywood marquee. Most festival-goers will treasure such frenetic dancing moments as much as memories of any headline act, or alternatively, perhaps, their journey up the forested track onto the hill overlooking the festival, where rustic calm contrasted with the frazzled cacophony and heroic hedonism below.

The Bestival main stage was beset by multiple sound problems on the opening Friday, making a mockery of MGMT’s electro-tinged pop-rock and even rendering Massive Attack little more than a tepid squib of their potential dub-soul majesty. The stage was also far from loud enough, even when it was working properly, but on Friday night the problems were more than simple volume. Fortunately by Saturday, the day with the weekend’s killer line-up, most of these issues had been cleared up, although the sound was still being unfortunately blown around even by small gusts of wind. Welsh hip hop jokers Goldie Looking Chain didn't care a hoot. They may be past their sell-by date but rampaging around the stage eleven-handed their good-natured combination of marijuana jokes and swearing went down a treat.

Lily Allen, however, was in a different league. Her latest album pegs her as a sharp ladette-feminist pop-culture commentator with sufficient punchy songs to back her play. As her band whip up her Number 1 hit "The Fear" it’s a joy to see hundreds bellowing along with a number that so astutely and tunefully skewers the banality of modern celebrity. The Klaxons will shortly return with the follow-up to their Mercury Prize-winning 2007 debut album and hence gave the crowd a few juicy tasters but, for the most part, they energetically hammered through familiar material, persuading even non-believers to join in with their punky attack on Grace's nineties dance hit "Not Over".

Kraftwerk followed, headlining Saturday night to a crowd of aliens, astronauts and bodies covered in silver spray-paint. Their music was coldly beautiful, and the four figures silhouetted onstage, of whom Ralf Hutter is the only member remaining from the classic Seventies/Eighties line-up, moved not a jot from their positions at podium-mounted laptops. They were not, however, a draw. During their set, those who had attended out of curiosity drifted away for Kraftwerk’s music, after hours of guitar bands and modern dance music, initially sounded almost lethargic. Yet those who stayed were rewarded as the quartet elegantly glided through synth classics such as "The Model" and "Tour De France" accompanied by stylised retro-futurist imagery.

A hypnotic quality enraptured the remaining audience until, for their encore, the band were replaced by an android Kraftwerk. The song in question? "The Robots", naturally. When they finished it was not to mass audience bellowing but to the quietness of the awed and the bored, most of whom then headed into the night to blather pleasing gibberish with friends while sloshing back cocktails under the stars, or squeezed into various dance tents to flail eagerly, perspire and go a little crazy for a few more hours.

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