Festival Frolics: Friday, Bestival 2012.

On this, Glastonbury's fallow year the major components of the British festival circuit really were afforded the opportunity (luxury or load; one may assume its impact was perceived in different ways by different organisers) to ignite our every vacant Worthy expectation and with it spark this now swiftly dwindling estival season into life. Latitude smouldered radiant, whilst Camp Bestival as ever enchanted – the surrounds of Lulworth Castle crawling with toddlers and their trendy progenitors, and the air fragranced with beat-laden sonics friendly to both camps. A fleeting peruse of last year's Festival Awards winners – in which Bestival picked up the coveted 'Fan's Favourite Festival' accolade, and only missed out to Michael Eavis' this-year-absent summer wonder in the 'Best Major Festival' stakes – suggests that Rob da Bank's supposedly pretty much post-summer throw-down ought to have been the one to fill the Farm-shaped void. Cramming eras of soundtrack down open ears and into one fuzzy weekend of bedlam, let's introduce this thing by affirming that this, the 9th edition, didn't exactly disappoint...
Nor indeed do Los Angeles dream weavers Warpaint. Theirs is a colour to which I've never been particularly allured to nor seduced by, yet from the initial ebb of an as yet untitled opener it's impossible to resist the free-flowing course into which the quartet have drifted live. Laced with dub, and banshee drones, and gruesome synth groans they now purvey an almost exotic hypnotism as persistent bass lines slide past oodles of slimy guitar improv.

With new and old now bolstered with more bass, ever more synth and far more forward propulsion the consequence is incontrovertibly better for want of a word more suave: Bees fizzes with thorough menace; Stars glints with a resplendence hitherto unprecedented; Majesty broods with the pleasurable displeasure of Seventeen Seconds and Faith combined. Ever more Smith-styled (an excess of chorus-reared guitars and not hairspray the cause, however), you'd be forgiven for thinking they were themselves debauched by The Cure's headlining turn now twelve months ago and formed right here in this very 'Country Park. Thus it only takes the opening bass cascades of Undertow to sweep any lingering scepticisms out into the Solent, such a potent breeze of stupefying beguilement be it this afternoon. That it only took for the introversion of The Fool to be fleshed out and subsequently blown wide open amazes almost as much as it inspires; that every ounce retains an enticing claustrophobia astounds yet further. They close with the clodhopping brute force of Elephants, here mutated into a pulverising Asiatic jam, to round off with a quite muscular roundhouse and as far as emphatic triumphs go, this has proven truly immense.
Immensely tedious, meanwhile, is Flux Pavilion. Nom de plume of Northamptonshire's Josh Steele, his is the dreariest of dubstep; all womp, wobble and absolutely no ascertainable wonderment whatsoever. Lessons are, however, here to be learnt: relocated to the murkiness of the Big Top at their very request, Ghent's sibling dance-rock stalwarts Soulwax once again weld together quite magnificently the disparate abrasions of drum kit dissonance and synth onslaught to recreate their Nite Versions pre-sunset. Momentarily wound further back to the subtle brutalities of Any Minute Now, a sonorous Miserable Girl brings glee; a typically discordant NY Excuse a temperamental ferocity, especially for four Belgians decked out in morning dress. E Talking, to be sold as Weed Talking judging by the muggy foetor cultivated here beneath tarred canvas, is tempered with a techno proclivity and, same as it ever was, they remain unchanged in both effect and execution. Now matured to a fine vintage however, any naffness ("We love Bestival", "It's just another excuse to be here, in the Big Top, with you", etc.) and any elements recomputed to include a little more electro generica are wholly excusable and entirely forgivable, so exemplarily honed is their craft.
The same can of course be said of monochromic souf London scamps The xx who keep things cool, calm and collectively gelid, even at the centre of the infernal buildup to the imminent release of sophomore full-length, Coexist. Their arrival is ushered in by the sign of things – things being pots and steel pans – to come as the troupe's backseat wunderkind's Far Nearer and Rolling In The Deep shuffle are secreted from the monumental speaker stacks to tower about us. This congregated us is staggeringly vast also, and it's genuinely intriguing to witness The xx having become this sort of band: it ought to spawn confidence and hope for the most reticent of recluses everywhere. Then, as they emerge, a sense of somewhat unfounded pride is in turn secreted from somewhere deep within, meticulously positioned spotlights and plumes of dry ice combining in imagery evocative of an oily splendour.

There's grandeur to what they do musically too, and there's already an intense sense of feeling intrinsic to the foggy shuffles in Chained; the widescreen melancholia of Reunion replete with Jamie Smith's favoured steels; the compelling, deep palpitations to Reunion that render it stifling – airless almost. Oliver Sim stripped of bass, he stalks his third as though tormented pastor, casting off his signature cloak of awkwardness in order to subdue. With impetus firmly lumped on the new and this treading of territories only newly charted therefore, there's a lethargy to nigh on everything from xx through which they trundle, with Shelter slowed to a dilapidated creak and the once lucid gushes of Crystalised having decomposed quite drastically over time. Intro, arguably their finest composition to date, is repositioned as tonight's outro even.

Indeed, with Coexist stuffs signalling the incorporation of new emotions, reactions and sensations, they appear conceivably wearied by this stream of the all too familiar and although it may embody simplicity excelling, in making their most known unknowable – or at least sporadically unrecognisable – some of their soul, and with it power is washed away. Yet The xx of then is a mutedly changed entity to The xx of now in all but wardrobe and although the aural intimacy remains (an intimacy superbly encapsulated by the unspeakably superlative sound system tacked onto this year's Main Stage) and never is this more explicitly elucidated than midway through a beautifully sparse, and yet remarkably full Infinity as a drape drops to unveil the logo. However not only is it yet more enormous – and exponentially so – but it is now aflame with variegation. There's colour to offset the grayscale; rich hues to neutralise the visual gloom. It may take a little time longer for The xx to fully brush up their live show, and it'd be most preferable were they to airbrush Fantasy from any future setlist but gradually, they're getting to becoming quietly forceful live.
As live d├ębuts go though, that of JJ DOOM over in the impeccably curated RizLab hub is something of a disaster. Needless to say it could've gone a damn sight worse – Daniel Dumile and his protuberant gut are at least both in attendance ("It's me!", he exclaims somewhat imprudently in light of recent events), as of course is their newfound accomplice Jneiro Jarel although that's where the positives end. Creative visual collective Weirdcore were to deploy the 'Maskifier' beyond the pair and their corpulent hype man in order to include the crowd a little more. You know, shove a virtual impression of the notorious mask on members of the front few rows; that kinda vibe. However those toting tinfoil replicas perhaps saw this misdemeanour coming as nonspecific screensaver visuals back up the three silhouettes onstage as they unsoundly rap all over one another. Something of a character clash, as alright as it is to hear the "real" Dumile rap it's substantially less impressive to have him locked in an impromptu freestyle with his supposed teammates. Similarly, as amusing as it may be to have him rhyme Bognor with Guv'nor, any comedic value quickly dissipates when the overall impact is this shoddy.
The central situation of the Main Stage renders Florence + The Machine entirely inescapable and as she disharmoniously belts it, Wet Nuns kill it in most respects – many of which prove mildly unenjoyable. Whilst plashing in the shallowest of circle pits to some gristly abattoir blues, the predominant thought is thus: that this be occurring next door to Guildford's one and only D'n'B powerhouse Sub Focus, whose tent in turn faces out onto Flo's stultifying of the however-many-thousand, demonstrates just how diverse the Bestival billing strives to be. And succeeds in being: there's a veritable care to have gone into its organisation, and an authentic feel of something for everyone running throughout the line up. One such thing is, or rather are SBTRKT, who spoon out another bespoke festival showing with aplomb, Pharaohs turning the tent to a squishy bounce setting. One to engender a little less commotion though is Boom Bip, who pitches in with an unpredictably duff DJ spin, swivelling a monotonous predictability off CD decks. For the Ohio experimentalist, it's something of a dip as we disappear off into the cold, freezin' night.

Josh Holliday.