Taking place in the regal grounds of Lulworth Estate for the second year after its move from the Isle of Wight, Bestival 2018 features a characteristically eclectic line-up, where Dork’s indie stalwarts find themselves in the mix with the best of dance, electronic and roots music.
Playing to a scorched field on Friday afternoon, punters take shelter under whatever shade they can find as This Is the Kit come through a somewhat frazzled set as one member of the band arrives late due to bad traffic. Having toured and recorded for over ten years, Kate Stables has a wealth of material to draw from and is backed by a brass section that gives a bit of oomph to the Bristolian’s inventive folk rock.
Next up The Big Moon remind those present why they’re one of the most fun bands in broken Britain, offering up punky power pop with creative changes of tempo and slick guitar solos. The customary cover of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ goes down a treat (twice, they play it again on the House of Vans stage later), but their own songs ‘Sucker’, ‘Cupid’ and ‘Bonfire’ are becoming favourites in their own right. The latter sees Juliette Jackson head for the barrier to lead a dance, while her bandmates handle harmonies and riffs with playful abandon and the precision of a band twice their age. With debut album ‘Love in the 4th Dimension’ having burnt a hole in their pocket for over a year, the quartet’s next taste of new music could not come soon enough. Keep it up, and they can expect to return in a few years far higher up the bill.
In a Dork double-header on the main stage, Idles bring their chugging punk protest songs as they gear up to release their second full length ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’ this month. Vocalist Joe Talbot sports a ‘Choose Love’ charity shirt and openly exhorts the political significance of each of the band’s furious riffs before they begin playing. Guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan thrash about the stage laying waste to their instruments as the snarl out the abrasive rhythms that anchor Talbot’s diatribes. With ‘the state of things’ at the moment, bands like Idles who are pissed off and not afraid to shout about it are more vital than ever, and the Bristol rockers certainly leave their mark on burnt and boozed Bestival.
The highlight of Friday’s festivities is a masterful set from young producer Mura Masa. With two vocalists out front hyping the crowd and belting out hooks, the 22-year old (real name Alex Crossan) to flit between drum pads, synths and guitars, proving himself adept on anything he tries his hand at. Even at a young age, Crossan performs like he’s a veteran, with each song featuring a fantastic vocal hook, infectious beat and excellent instrumental loops. Having already collaborated with Stormzy and Chic, the sky's the limit for the Guernsey producer on tonight’s evidence, and the audience laps it up, giving as good as they get from Masa’s dual singers.
After an hour of electronic hits, it’s time to wander over to the Big Top for Sundara Karma, who, like Mura Masa, perform with a supreme confidence. With a second album in the bag and waiting for release, this is a band that knows exactly who they are and where they want to go. Tonight’s busy crowd is a testament to that, packing the tent and shouting back every song, rewarding the four-piece with unbridled energy. Songs from ‘Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’ are met like old classics, ‘Flame’ and ‘She Said’ going down a storm. Oscar Pollock continues to be a fantastic frontman, and the band strike that festival balance between drawing in loyal fans and enticing floating voters from the edge of the tent.
Soothing the Saturday morning hangover, Irish-born trio Whenyoung show exactly why Dork have labelled them the ‘future of indie pop’ (we love a Big Statement here at Dork). A heady mix of dreamy pop melodies and punky guitars, Whenyoung (now set up in London) are well on their way, the childhood friends already a slick live outfit with a clutch of energetic indie tunes to their name.
Black Honey will have album out by next year’s festival season, and on this weekend’s evidence, they can get used to playing bigger and bigger stages. ‘Somebody Better’ bursts over the barrier, Izzy Baxter demanding attention as she hammers through power chords and belts out a massive chorus. The years leading up to the Brighton band’s debut album have allowed them time to grow, and they’ll be emerging from the metaphorical cocoon fully formed and ready to take on the world. Closer ‘Corrine’ is the kind of woozy, fuzzed-up banger most bands would give their pedalboard for, but to Black Honey, it comes as easy as a Sonntagmorgen. With a carefully constructed aesthetic and tunes to spare, Black Honey are coming for the big time, all we can do is hang on for the ride.
First Aid Kit should probably be higher up this bill. An idyllic field on a posh estate, surrounded by wooded glades and the sound of peacocks and buzzards, the sun shining with no sign of respite. You couldn't conjure a more appropriate setting for a First Aid Kit show, and the tumbling drums and yearning harmonies of ‘it a shame’ brings the audience right under the Swedish sisters’ thrall. After ten years of performing together, Klara and Johanna Soderberg are experts at this level. Every handclap, keyboard solo and headbang arrives right on cue, and the duo’s warm stage presence invites even casual listeners to join in. In an hour packed with highlights, the standout is a terrific cover of Kate Bush’s classic ‘Running up That Hill’, possibly pinching Placebo’s crown. On the other end of the spectrum, First Aid Kit have the unlikely accolade of best punk song this side of American Idiot, with International Women’s Day release ‘You Are the Problem Here’ seemingly more furious, more potent with each performance. Klara, Johanna and their band surround a single microphone for a singalong of their drunken lullaby ‘Hem of Her Dress’. A closing burst of ‘that one from the car adverts’ AKA ‘My Silver Lining’ confirms that if any band deserves a crack at headlining a bash of this size, there are few acts more deserving than First Aid Kit.
After running into a few sound issues, The Xcerts blast through Bestival with a set that although short hits all the sweet spots. Drawing exclusively from ‘Hold On to your Heart’, the Scots shower the sweaty House of Vans stage with cheesy guitar solos, Tom Petty size choruses and the hopeless romance of their recent album. Opener ‘Daydream’ gets better with every listen while ‘Show Me Beautiful’ betrays Murray’s power ballad ambitions. The less busy arrangements allow the band to have more fun, and Murray, in particular, is revelling in his cosplay as an 80s heartthrob, leaning into the crowd, dropping to his knees to generate extra guitar power and leading the audience in the now customary final acapella cycle of ‘Feels Like Falling in Love’. That the Xcerts are able to come to festivals like this one and win first timers over is proof of the evolution the trio have gone through in the past five years.
Malian desert blues heroes Songhoy Blues get Sunday off to a smooth start, bringing their north Malian folk influences to Dorset along with some virtuoso guitar-work and rapid-fire vocals. Having been forced from their homes by jihadis who banned music, alcohol and a host of other things that make life at all tolerable, the four musicians have been touring their ‘music in exile’, aiming to allow their fellow refugees to re-live those traditional songs. They’re fantastic musicians and water-tight performers, the result of half a decade taking their message of hope around the world.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, Elvana are exactly what they sound like: a band playing Nirvana songs but with a bloke dressed as Elvis singing them. It shouldn’t work, and frankly, it doesn’t, but what crowd late in the weekend is going to turn down a chance to shout along to some songs by artists they can’t see live in the traditional sense. Full marks for commitment. Keeping up the lighthearted vibe, it isn’t really a festival if Jay McAllister doesn’t shuffle on stage to play a few of his tongue-in-cheek acoustic ditties. A Bestival regular, Beans on Toast is welcomed back to a large crowd who lap up his songs about dismantling the establishment, drinking with dead celebrities and robbing banks. There are a few more cheesy love songs in the mix (he’s a dad now everyone! Dad songs!), but Beans remains a safe bet for a late weekend chill out.
Over on the House of Vans stage, Bad Sounds are bringing the bangers. With debut album ‘Get Better’ out next week, the band are having the time of their lives, lunging across the small stage, climbing on top of monitors and getting the busy room dancing along. With huge songs like ‘Meat On My Bones’ and ‘Are You High’ already under their belt and their debut due to introduce them to a host more fans, don’t expect to see Bad Sounds on a stage this small next summer.
All the way from New York to help close out Sunday night, We Are Scientists are a perfect indie festival band. Armed with more classics than you can ever quite remember, and, as a result of being together 18 years, possessing brilliant synergy between Keith Murray and Chris Cain, they’re well equipped to get a lagging crowd back on their feet, jumping and singing along. It’s a shame they slipped slightly under the radar since their MTV2 heyday, because they remain some of the most solid songwriters in indie rock, pairing intelligent guitar work with refrains that quickly bury themselves in the brain. They’ve been doing this so long they make their set look like child’s play, confidently slotting new songs in alongside the hits. ‘After Hours’ has grown men embracing one another before ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’ sees the duo off with a bang.
Dork’s indie darlings had to fight their corner in a diverse bill of acts from around the world, but when have they ever let us down? With so much global talent amassed in the Dorset estate, our faves hold their own and deliver in spades. Sundara Karma and Black Honey will be eyeing loftier slots next time around.