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The View From Far Out: 10 things we learned from Bestival 2014

Far Out spent last weekend in the sunny climate of the Isle of Wight, taking in the scenes, sights and vibes at what had been touted by organiser Rob Da Bank as the biggest and most spectacular edition of Bestival thus far.

Now a decade old, Bestival has grown from a mid-sized event – dwarfed by the likes of Glastonbury or Reading and Leeds – to one of the most eye-catching parties on the summer festival calendar.

Even in our case though, there were a number of goings on that we simply didn’t bank on – some fantastic, others slightly less welcome. With that in mind, here are ten things we learned from Bestival 2014 that have left us feeling undeniably enlightened.

1. Beck has without doubt still got it

Probably the biggest incentive to be first through the gates at this year’s Bestival was the announcement that genre-hopping master Beck would headline the Big Top stage on Thursday night.

His latest album Morning Phase takes a wistful, laidback approach. We think it’s great, but it isn’t necessarily the ideal soundtrack to kick off the party at the finale of the UK festival season. Being the synics we are, there were worries that this set could have been a bit flat, but Señor Hansen had other ideas.

Opening with the iconic ‘Devil’s Haircut’, Beck rattled through a full-on greatest hits set that sent even minor followers into euphoria. He spanned electronica, hip-hop, rock and pop in a way that few others can with such a response. It really really did turn out to be the perfect way to kick off proceedings.

2. Open your mind to the Invaders of the Future stage

This is the mecca for all things new and guitar-based. The Invaders of the Future stage is carefully curated to give Bestival-goers that chance to catch the cream of the crop in terms of upcoming talent within the intimate surroundings that suit the acts best.

We caught a host of Far Out favourites including The Wytches, The Amazing Snakeheads and Ezra Furman. Too often these kinds of acts are used as a cheap option to bolster the early-doors lineups of the main stages, meaning those who over-indulged the night before are still in bed or too worse for wear to really get the best out of it.

Not at Bestival though, where the raucous grunge rock of The Wytches and The Snakeheads brought the audience to their knees during the early hours of Monday morning. Who says it’s up to the big name headliners to provide the finale’s fireworks?

3. Carefully budget the booze

Another advantage of the Invaders of the Future stage is that it is located within the main campsite, meaning ticket-holders are free to consume alcohol purchased off-site while enjoying its performances.

However, the same can’t be said for the vast majority of the other stages. Cue the age-old pastime of punters creatively attempting to smuggle in bottles of spirits through whatever crevice they see most fit.

Except this year the prospect of this being successful appeared very slim indeed. Whether it is licensing terms or a ploy to attract more on-site traders, security guards were seen rigorously stop-searching every single person who passed through the gates.

This not only created a much-delayed experience getting from stage to stage, but also left many having deal with crippling queues at the under-supplied cash machines come Sunday after having their personal reserves confiscated.

Once inside there was a vast array of options including the Bollywood cocktail bar, the real ale tent and the Aperol Spritz stage, but be sure to come armed with a healthy bank balance if you want to sample the lot.

4. It really is ‘the best’ for huge acts after hours

A shortcoming of many of the major festivals is that because of either noise restrictions or blowing all the cash on flavour-of-the-moment headliners, entertainment once the early hours arrive leaves something to be desired.

Bestival is the antithesis of that scenario. As is the case at many other festivals to be fair, there are a massive selection of DJs from the whole of the electronic spectrum once the main stage is over, but here the live stuff very much continues too.

The 6 Music-curated Big Top stage showcases planet-sized acts right up until 4am. Top of this list in 2014 had to be a three-in-the-morning show-stopper from none other than Caribou. The Canadian played out a blinding set early on Saturday morning, wowing a gargantuan audience with rave-infused live versions of tracks off his celebrated 2010 LP Swim and his upcoming effort Our Love.

5. Keep an eye out for Happyness

Happyness took our Track of the Day a couple of weeks ago with their new offering ‘You Come to Kill Me?!’ – a tune that oozes an angsty indie sound that is energetic and poignant in equal measure. Their set at Bestival on Saturday afternoon did nothing but enhance our already glowing opinion of the London three-piece.

Their debut album Weird Little Birthday received almost universally positive reviews when it was released earlier this year and new EP Anything I Do is Alright indicates a sound that is constantly developing.

All those who headed out early to catch their set at Bestival on the Invaders of the Future Stage looked thrilled. Fear not if you missed out though. The trio will set out on an intimate headline tour of the UK next month, as well as appearing at a number of larger venues including Islington Assembly Hall in London and Manchester’s Deaf Institute in support of indie stars Avi Buffalo.

6. Head east and visit Bollywood

Where other events really are a case of just throwing a load of bands onto a stage and raking in the the cash, Bestival really does offer a vibrancy that only Glastonbury can validly claim to rival.

One of the areas that helps those come to fruition is undoubtedly the Bollywood stage. This is a close-knit arena of electronic hedonism that thuds right through the night and almost feels like a whole other festival in itself. Decorated as a Hindu-style shrine, it feels otherworldly as soon as you enter.

Rather than the River Ganges, the liquids flow from the in-house cocktail bar that keeps the ravers feeling holy throughout the night, while the devotional music is supplied by some of the most celebrated DJs on the planet.

This year we caught the likes of reggae encyclopedia David Rodigan MBE and Spanish house giant John Talabot – the latter of which brought one of the most intense and exhilarating sets of Bestival 2014 on Saturday night.

It was the perfect alternative to the more predictable sounds of Foals, who brought their noughties indie to the party as that evening’s main stage headliners.

7. Choose your camping space wisely

As mentioned earlier, the transition from camping field to performance area is a kind of staggered one. The main stage and co stand alone, while the camping areas at the back end of the site (including the VIP Tangerine Fields) are also left un-encroached by the early hours music.

However, the Reggae Roots and Invaders of the Future stages lie just metres from where many punters must pitch up.

We’re sure having all-night dub plates blasting out until 4am is probably a lot of Bestival fans’ idea of heaven, but for others their circumstances might require a bit more hush. The festival has a dedicated family camping area that guarantees some quiet when it is most needed, but the mad rush once the gates open can have the potential to leave some a tad deprived.

8. There’s no stopping Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats

Yet more praise for the delights of the Invaders of the Future. In the early hours of Friday morning, we had our minds well and truly scrambled and our grip on reality totally dislodged by the wonders of Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.

Their powerful brand of rock ‘n’ roll conjures up comparisons to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age – embracing metal, but lacing this with an arsenal of infectious melodies that guarantee to have toes tapping and heads banging in unison.

It was a kind of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’, snapshot sort of a moment at the festival, with the heavier side of rock a little under-represented. But if there was one band to fly the flag for the side of pounding riffs and electrifying drum fills at Bestival 2014, these guys were most certainly it.

9. Don’t pin all your hopes on one act

This one goes out to Outkast fans everywhere who jumped at the chance of a Bestival ticket, solely to catch the hip-hop duo’s first touch-down on British soil for 13 years.

Andre 3000 and Big Boi were full of energy, proving themselves to be the master performers that their headline set on Friday night commanded. We caught a portion containing some of the biggest hit including ‘Ms Jackson’, ‘Hey Ya’ and ‘Ghetto Music’.

However, there were a few attendees towards the back who were left grumbling about poor sound quality on the way out, with one skulking away even being heard describing the set as a “total let down”.

This didn’t really match our verdict, but it just goes to show that shelling out on an extortionate festival ticket just to see one stadium-filler that you have yet to tick off your list is almost definitely the wrong approach. You might have to wait a bit longer for a proper tour to come along. But festivals are about a holistic experience over a number of days – a sentiment that we should never let the hype bandwagon overtake.

10. Expect the unexpected

One of the focal points – and most intriguing sights – throughout the weekend was a gigantic glistening ball in the Stardust Field to fit in with this year’s ‘Desert Island Disco’ theme. This simply sat on a small mound for three days with the reaction from most being ‘Yeah it looks pretty cool, but what’s the big idea?’

All finally became clear on Sunday night when Nile Rodgers and Chic took to the stage for the final headline show. Upon their arrival, this was hoisted high into the evening sky to create what was perhaps the greatest moment of marvel.

What’s more, the effort was really topped off by a visit from an official from the Guinness Book of World Records, who confirmed that at 10.33 metres in diameter the disco ball will mean Bestival 2014 goes down in history forever.

Patrick Davies