Review by Dakota Arsenault & Mehek Seyid + Photos by Neil Van & Sean Chin.
The sun was scorching, but that was the good news as it was originally supposed to thunderstorm through Saturday afternoon. Walking towards the venue you could see the stages looming high above the fence bordering Woodbine Park, a new setting for the second iteration of the UK-import Bestival after last year’s issue-prone Toronto Islands location. Though the space was seemingly cramped with stages and activations, patrons were able to move in and out of each area comfortably, a noteworthy trait of a Toronto event that wasn’t trying to be Coachella, Glastonbury or even its UK-counterpart, but rather a niche alternative where everyone could choose how involved they wanted to be in the celebration of all things love, peace and happiness.
With two of the three stages dedicated to EDM and its subgenres, there was plenty of fist pumping and hypnotic body flows across the grounds. The Big Top, a circus-like tent with white and red stripes, offered a reprieve from the sun in the form of lasers and lights during the daytime. Thugli, a Canadian DJ mostly stuck to harder style beats edging the crowd with big drops that made you want to bang your head back and forth, including a remix of The Throne’s “Who Gon’ Stop Me.”
The Bollywood Stage was a homebase for a makeshift outdoor rave. Although it was further out than the Big Top and Main Stage, it would have been hard to miss pastel coloured set-up adorned with animals of worship in the Hindu community like oxen, elephant and a peacock made of lights positioned right above the enclosed DJ booth. With an endless mix of DJs, the groove kept rolling out hour after hour. Bestival founder Rob da Bank took an early slot playing mostly classic hip-hop songs, each one getting a cheer from the crowd recognizing them. Going from Jamie xx’s “Good Times” to “Regulate” to “California Love” to “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” had everyone going hard. It didn’t take long for flames to shoot out from the front of the stage, a cool effect that even at a fair distance away caused the temperature to shoot up several dozen degrees. Later into the night, Maya Jane Coles recreated the UK underground with cuts from her deep house catalogue, bringing out the most loyal of EDM enthusiasts for one last hurrah during Day One. Under the blanket of the night and the flames of the then-lit Bollywood stage, Maya Jane Coles cast a spell that brought everyone out to dance and play.
Back at The Big Top, 4B was making people unironically remembering the moves to Soulja Boy’s “Crank That” as arms were raised from side to side ‘cranking it’ before ‘super manning’. Just when you thought a 2007 song was old school (or long enough ago for it to no longer be annoying), 4B upped the ante with the classic 1999-trance number (and the internet’s favourite joke song), Darude’s “Sandstorm”. Pro-tip: always mix a heavy dose of nostalgia with millennial ravers for a solid memory.
But in terms of creating new ones, Jamie xx is the artist that you need to look towards for inspiration. While fine-tuning the sound of summer with significantly mellower vibes than some of the other performers at Bestival may have felt too chill to some, it was a needed tempo to savour the actual moments of togetherness and unity at this year’s festival. Between samples from his massively successful solo album In Colour to an extended play of Drake’s “One Dance” and the odd throwback, including the endearing The xx-remixed “You Got The Love”, Jamie xx carved a place that was about serenity as much as it was about capturing the essence of feeling alive for the second year in a row.
It was a shame that the sun was still blazing when Odesza hit the Main Stage. The duo, consisting of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, didn’t seem to mind as they were highly energetic and quite chatty between songs, often reminding the audience of their hometown pride for Seattle, Washington. With a backing band adding extra weight to their headlining performance and an emphasis on trumpet and trombone reverberations to accentuate summerly beats, Mills and Knight managed to battle their way through the sunset with booming, unified percussions and electronic rigs as if they were their own army. Mixing popular numbers from their 2014 album In Return with a number of covers, including “Faded” by ZHU, Sia’s “Big Girls Cry” and Slow Magic’s “Waited 4 U”. One of the horn players had a killer bass riff going for “Faded” that cut through the all the sound to deliver heart-thumping energy. While fire is typically used as a signal for help, the blasts emitted from Odesza’s stage only encouraged the audience and the duo further, resulting in an extended set that delayed the arrival of Tame Impala.
Tame Impala have found a magical sweet spot between psychedelic zones and alt-rock rhythms across their three albums, a balance that fit the bill at the end of a very heavy first day at Bestival. Many settled on the grass to take in the welcomed breeze and watch the Australian band perform amidst rainbow swirls, taking in renditions off of their critically acclaimed 2015 release Currents, including the later-Rihanna anointed “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”. While deep seeded Tame Impala fans welcomed the zippy “Alter Ego” from InnerSpeaker, nearly everyone fell into their trance when the rock n’ roll pulses of “Elephant” snuck around Woodbine Park’s very littered grounds. Navigating their way through their ninety-minute set with ease, their performance was the light touch needed to close the day. Ending with “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards”, Bestival-goers were able to rewind their day, reflect and reset for a promising second day ahead.