Words by Sam Pow, author of The Cool Camping Guide to Festivals, go to punkpublishing.co.uk
Photos by Bestival
New music lovers should get their asses down to Bestival on the Isle of Wight. Florence and the Machine is all over the press these days, suddenly Ms Welch is being heralded as the future queen of pop. Where did the masses see her first? Bestival. Friendly Fires are playing something close to 30 festivals this summer. Where was their festival debut? That’s right, Bestival. Chief programmer Rob da Bank has worked his way up the music industry ladder honing his love of music as a young Muzik Magazine reporter. Now an international broadcasting talent working for Radio 1, his patronage can catapult unknown bands to a world of fame and fortune thanks to televised festival broadcasts (case in point, Kate Nash). This year Rob estimates that 50% of the music will be new and his ones-to-watch tips are Polly Scattergood, Blue Roses and The Big Pink. Also worth checking out are Hockey, James Yuill, Passion Pit, Wave Machines and VV Brown. All that on top of all this merry lot: Kraftwerk, Massive Attack, Elbow, MGMT, Fleet Foxes, Doves, Seasick Steve, Klaxons, Lily Allen, Bat for Lashes, Soulwax, 2manydjs, The Beat and Squarepusher. No other festival can beat this line up! Bestival’s management team are particularly skilled at programming exactly the right sound for the right time of day. Bestival is bonkers. Everyone gets into the spirit of Saturday’s fancy dress party and the costumes are mind-bogglingly hilarious. Once the entertainment finishes in the main arena groups of friends huddle in the campsites or on whatever piece of grass they fall down on. Although no one really gets much sleep here – the truly hardcore survive four nights of Bestival and then go home and immediately buy a ticket for next year’s event.
Best with a beach within reach – BEACH BREAK LIVE
This hip student festival is so rad even the camping areas are named after surf breaks (Boobies, Sandyouth, Lustyglaze and Banjo). Popular with university students who’ve finished their exams and want to let off steam, this is a hugely fun-packed social event. Don’t think just because you need your NUS card (or other student ID) to get in that the music line up will be anything short of excellent. Dizzee Rascal, Friendly Fires, the Mystery Jets and The Zutons are a few of the many bands playing this year, with masses of breaks DJs that’ll help to expend all that youthful energy. The venue is perched on a cliff in North Cornwall overlooking a fantastic spread of white sand below where surfers can take to the waves while sun loungers soak up the rays to reggae selections. As well as a main stage, an abandoned rock mine is the setting for underground bands, and A Strictly Come Raving, and a Silent Disco also feature among the many surprises. Making new friends from all over the UK won’t be a problem, as the student friendly bar prices will help conversations to flow. Running any hangover off the next day will be easy with a variety of silly outdoor games not seen at any Sports Day we know of – Blind Fold Long Jump, the Granny Grand Prix, Zorbing and even Pole Dancing are just a few activities to try out. Check the hot tubs with a view of the ocean and join in the world’s biggest pyjama party. Let’s hope this awesome weather lasts, as the festival takes place this very weekend! Get involved pronto.
Best unusual location – BEACHDOWN
It took years for anyone to sweet talk Brighton councillors into letting a new annual music festival take place in their city. Not since the great Essential festivals of the mid-90s has there been an outdoor live music event of this scale, and its appearance has been made to feel truly welcome. Launching in style last year, Beachdown takes place on the South Downs, in a natural chalk bowl that is protected from the wind and won’t turn into a mudfest should it rain (which it’s not going to this year, so the weathermen assure us!). The lolloping green, lush moors roll their way downwards towards the city centre and the sea. These Downs are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are popular among hikers. Brighton is a notorious party playground so of course residents relish having this weekender on their doorstep. The attendance of so many music buffs creates a fantastic atmosphere; everyone’s here to have a good time. The music line up is the work of Adrian Gibson, who was the curator at Camden’s Jazz Café for 16 years so he knows a thing or two about pleasing crowds. His bookings for the August bank holiday include De La Soul, Grace Jones, The Zutons, Super Furry Animals, The Rakes, Grandmaster Flash, Saint Etienne, The Fall, Joey Negro & the Sunburst Band and Jah Shaka Sound System. Recognising that there’d be a riot if there wasn’t a clubs tent, the ravers congregate after dark in the electronic music tent, where things get nicely messy.
Best for value – SHAMBALA
For just £99 you get an awful lot of festival fun for your money at Shamabla, a festival that’s stayed away from press hype, but as one chief Virtual Festivals reviewer says, it’s so good he now doesn’t like going to any other festival. Walk on to the site and you’ll be accosted by Sham Air ‘flight attendants’ demanding you put your bags through a carousal. Once you’ve made it through the pretend strip search, you’re in. The site is so compact that setting up your tent doesn’t require a 10-mile hike back to the car for more gear. Shambala has quietly and steadily become a major highlight among a fervently loyal following who perceive it to be one of the most genuine, non-commercial and diverse weekends of the summer. And a lot of fun at that. The atmosphere is a friendly one, families love it as much as the hedonists do. The acts are great, too. This year sees Quantic, The Bays and The Egg work their festival magic on the crowds. The day can be spent sprawled out in one of the many hot tubs, trying out a workshop and dancing to dub to dubstep. Nighttime fun involves wild woodland escapades, Geisha hostesses (with a spanking machine no less), time-machines and Rio style carnival madness. Like Bestival, Shambala is big on fancy dress but instead of staging a Saturday night theme and parade, regulars arrive and stay in character for the duration of the weekend. Last year, the festival won two awards for their environmental credentials – one of only three UK events to be judged ‘Outstanding’ by A Greener Festival Awards (at the UK Festival Awards) and ‘Most Sustainable UK Event of 2008’ by the National Outdoor Events Organisation (NOEA) – for using renewable sources (wind, sun and waste veg-oil). This makes Shambala one of the leading green festivals in the UK.
Best for relaxing – THE BIG CHILL
We couldn’t really talk about relaxing without mentioning the Big Chill. If you haven’t been, don’t be put off by its title… while it is based in a glorious valley location that invites you to uncoil like cats basking in the sun, there are heaps of rabble-rousing dancing fun and games to be hunted down, too. The Big Chill took its ‘back room club’ concept to the great outdoors in the nineties and has never looked back. Once a horizontal orgy of sounds, now the line up is more mainstream, but there are pockets of underground, new talent to explore too. The site really does lend itself to an ideal escape from the humdrum of daily life, a huge centrepiece lake glistens in the day then at night the lights circling the music arenas twinkle in a vision of fairy tale loveliness. David Byrne, Basement Jaxx and Orbital are among this year’s music highlights and there’s plenty in the way of comedy. The main music generators are switched off at 2am, which is when most people retire to their tents, rising hours later to be first in line for a hot shower. For the night owls, the Media Mix tent lines up strange and bordering on weird entertainment to amuse, excite and challenge your addled mind. Then there are the art installations that are dotted about the site, which alone are sensory delights. The Big Chill celebrates its 15th year this year and will be pulling out all the stops to party in style.