A minimum of mud and a maximum of fine music

Bestival 2011, headlined by The Cure, Pendulum and Bjork, has marked the official end of the summer festival season. The Isle of Wight festival, curated by Rob da Bank, passed this year with a minimum of mud and a maximum of fine music and fancy dress.

Crawley’s finest, The Cure, played a memorably uplifting headline show on the main stage on Saturday night. An enormous crowd gathered to see the band and were treated to a typically long set studded with all the hits from an esteemed 30-year career, including ‘Friday, I’m in Love’, ‘Just Like Heaven’ and ‘Lovecats’.

At twilight on Saturday PJ Harvey captivated a main stage audience eager to hear songs from her Mercury-winning new album, ‘Let England Shake’. Decked out in black, crowned with a headdress of black feathers and gripping the autoharp that stars so prominently on her latest record, Harvey presented an imposing gothic vision and confirmed her place as one of the best British musical artists of her era.

Santigold’s Thursday night set in the Big Top attracted thousands of punters who crammed into the big blue tent to hear hits including ‘Lights Out’ and ‘L.E.S Artistes,’ while popstar Robyn delivered an energetic performance on Sunday night. The Swedish singer had the buoyant crowd singing along to tunes including ‘Dancing on My Own’ and ‘Call Your Girlfriend’, making it clear that her popularity in her homeland has definitely gone global.

Brian Wilson brought out the sun on Friday afternoon with his retro-set of Beach Boys classics, including ‘I Get Around’ and ‘Surfin’ USA’. More good vibes came from English antifolk artist Johnny Flynn who charmed a decidedly young-looking crowd early on Sunday afternoon. On the whole, the Bestival roster saw more hits than misses, but Brooklyn indie outfit The Drums (who would have perhaps preferred a slot later in the day) failed to shine in their Sunday set.

Bjork closed the main stage with her spectacular Biophilia show that starred an Icelandic female choir as well as hallucinogenic visuals that soar from the outer cosmos down to cellular microcosms. Fans of the avant-garde artist were rewarded with set-closing renditions of early hit ‘Hyperballad’ and ‘Declare Independence’ from 2008’s ‘Volta’.

Some of the best fun to be had at Bestival is away from the Main Stage and the Big Top in Bestival’s hidden corners. Drum and bass fanatics spent plenty of time in the far-flung White Campsite, where DJs including Andy C played at Arcadia’s impressive steampunk-inspired, flame-shooting stage The Afterburner. The latest festival space to debut at Bestival was the shaking Swamp Shack, sitting in the backblocks of the Wishing Tree Field via the bayou and hosting everything from gospel to jive to jungle.

The fancy dress theme of Bestival 2011 was popstars, rockstars and divas. Freddie Mercury was a popular choice for the lads, with numerous vacuuming housewives from the ‘I Want to Break Free’ video spotted around Robin Hill Country Park as well as loads of moustachioed lads in Freddie’s famous yellow jacket and white trousers. Vogue-era Madonnas, Jedwards and Michael Jackson homages were other fancy dress favourites.

Ex-hurricane Katia held off the worst of her stormy weather until the early hours of Monday morning when the rain set in. While Bestival revellers should be happy to have enjoyed a dry and even sunny (at times) festival, it was grim faces all round when the time came to pack up tents and trek out to queue in long bus and ferry lines. There’s no doubt though that Bestival 2011 was a winner.

Words by Nicola Heath

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