Tuesday, 9 September 2008

30,000 Wet Freaks Under the Mud...

... and the occasional bout of absolute sonic perfection.
Bestival 2008 will sit in my memory as a wet and muddy one. Torrential mud and rain on a Glastonbury 2007 scale. But enough about the mud, it's been reported everywhere, so let's talk about music. Thanks to Rob Da Bank, Bestival always boasts a fucking solid line up, that ranges from latest big thing indie (Foals are in this category, even though they're pretty weak) to absolute legends (Lee 'Scratch' Perry, The Specials) and cult heroes (Grace Jones) as well as a lengthy an eclectic mix of dance DJ's and acts, that range from legendary to cutting edge.
On Friday, organisers seemed to be surprised that we were suffering a torrential downpour, and managed to delay the start of the main stage to 3.45, which was pretty shit if you wanted to see Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong. I didn't. Emphatically. So I didn't mind that, but got very worried that the following band might be cancelled, the "semi-legendary" Wedding Present. Luckily for me, the band kicked off right on time, just. The band opened with one of the best indie singles ever, the mighty 'Kennedy', but seemed to be suffering from bad sound. Somehow, one of the most energising songs about apple pie ever recorder seemed slightly lacklustre. Still, a very enjoyable set, which included 'My Favourite Dress', and some things of the new album 'El Rey' which I am yet to hear.
I then didn't really see anyone until the truly legendary My Bloody Valentine. Trying to put into words the awe, amazement and sheer joy with which I devoured the set from one of the best bands ever is a nigh on impossible task. Valentine opened the show with the mind melting combo of 'I Only Said' followed by 'When You Sleep' taken from their stonewall, dead cert classic 'Loveless' which set the precedent for the entire show. I can only imagine you all already own 'Loveless,' so imagine the wall of sound on the album, amplified so much that it filled every single centimetre of space around you. 'Only Shallow' was so loud and powerful that I felt like climbing into the sound wave. Standing as close to the speakers as you can get, I felt the physical force of the music hit me. It's impossible to describe. I wished 'Soon' could have gone on forever, even though it was already extended. Set closer 'You Made Me Realise' including the 15 minutes of White Noise, known amongst band and fans alike as 'the Holocaust section' was an absolute joy. The song itself was loud, pacey and powerful, like it should be. And as for the white noise, I could not stop smiling. You don't just hear the sound, you feel it. It is mesmerising. The show was absolute sonic perfection.
I can't imagine a better contrast to the perfection of My Bloody Valentine than watching the Human League performing the entirety of their classic 1981 album 'Dare!' in a giant Big Top on a rainy Saturday Afternoon, and this is exactly what I got. Phil Oakey has lost the weirdest haircut possibly ever and is now nearly bald but can still sing and the girls are now middle aged ladies, but other than that, it was great. The great thing about bands performing their classic albums, is that everyone knows all the words. Well, most people know all the words. My point is that the band don't indulge themselves by playing new songs that no-one particularly wants to hear at a festival. Set closer 'Don't You Want Me?' was one of the highlights of the festival, and possible the loudest singalong I have ever heard. I think. Anyway, really good art-pop fun. Following the Human League and continuing the eclectic-ness of my chosen acts, was the supreme cockney duo of Chas & Dave, who orchestrated a true cockney knees up, which included classics 'Rabbit', 'Snooker Loopy' and an even faster than usual 'Sideboard Song' which saw the guys singing so fast my ears couldn't keep up.
I then headed off to the main stage, on a bit of a whim to see who the special guests were, and it turned out to be the truly legendary Specials, albeit minus Jerry Dammers, and therefore being billed as Terry Hall and Friends. The set was made up entirely of Specials material including set opener 'Gangsters', 'Concrete Jungle, 'A Message to You Rudy', 'Blank Expression', 'It Doesn't Make It Alright', 'Do the Dog', 'Nite Klub' and 'Rat Race'. Phew. What a set of songs to be able to call your own. Everyone managed to forget the heavens had opened and skanked around like it was 1979. And how on earth do you follow the Specials? With none other than Grace Jones. Grace Jones is like a funky Kate Bush, or an 80's Bjork, or she's just Grace Jones. A totally original pop star who combines era-defining pop music, with an era defining image. She was a walking piece of art, whose record labels, photographs and music videos (check out the promo for 'Slave to the Rhythm', as it's my contender for best video ever) helped turn her into an icon. Her set at Bestival was short, but included classics 'Niteclubbing' her sassy Iggy Pop cover, 'My Jamaican Guy', 'Pull Up the Bumper' and the aforementioned 'Slave to the Rhythm'.
I then watched Hot Chip from absolutely miles away, so didn't really pay them much attention before running off to watch the absolute legend that is Lee 'Scratch' Perry doing spacious dub reggae for a little under an hour. I then went to watch the much hyped but massively disappointing laptop set from Richard D. James aka. Aphex Twin. What promised to be an exciting blend of cutting edge electronica ending up being a four on the floor standard DJ set with better lights. I didn't make it to an hour. A huge disappointment, and I know a lot of others felt the same.
Racing onto Sunday, before you all get bored with my musings on Aphex and My Bloody Valentine, I wasn't expecting that much from the day. However, it turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable. I watched a hit packed set from The Coral (again) who never fail to deliver. 'Pass It On, 'Bill McKai', 'Calenders and Clocks' and 'Wildfire' all featured, as well as indie anthem closer 'Dreaming of You'. Then came the only thing I'd really been looking forward to on Sunday, the almighty George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. 2 hours of solid grooving to psychedelic extended funk jams from the funky dog himself. Exactly what the doctor ordered after a very rainy weekend. I then watched Underworld, who surprised me with how much I enjoyed their set. Highlights for me were 'King of Snake' and 'Born Slippy' which is a bit predictable, but it was good to watch.
So musically, as ever, Bestival was a real treat. The organisation was lacking in some common sense departments this year, but they obviously couldn't help the shit weather.

Currently listening to Solid Gold by Gang of Four

Sonic Sam

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