Dan Le Sac Writes

Dan Le Sac Writes: Dan Le Sac on Bestival

By | Published on Wednesday 10 September 2014

Dan Le Sac

Having officially retired Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip at Bestival last weekend, the former will be using a little of the time now freed up to post occasional columns to CMU, considering the challenges and joys and frustrations of making your way as an artist in this here business of music in 2014. Though first, some thoughts on the place LSVP decided to stage their finale – Bestivals past, present and future.

As I write, it’s Monday, 8 Sep and my festival season is officially over. For the last seven or eight years, this day has always been a chance to rest aching calves, earned by yomping excitedly up and down the Bestival site, whilst crashing through half of the latest HBO addiction. This year though, with Pip and I choosing to make Bestival our last ever gig together, it’s been a far more reflective day.

Now, I could write thousands upon thousands of words about the end of LSVP, but, luckily for anyone reading this, I’m just not that self indulgent. What I do want to type about though, is why we chose Bestival as our goodbye. We could have taken a bunch of Freshers shows, maybe booked a final tour, but as soon as we got the Besti slot earlier this year, we knew we had our closing bracket.

I should state here that until recently I was signed to Bestival boss Rob da Bank’s record label Sunday Best, but that deal has now ended, so hopefully you won’t think that what I write here is tainted by that association. This isn’t intended as a puff piece either, I am a clinically diagnosed grumpy bastard (if that is actually a thing, I am certainly a proud curmudgeon).

Yet somehow, year after year, as I drive up to that 23.59 Sunday night ferry from Fishbourne to Portsmouth, I feel like an excitable kid, reinvigorated and ready to get going with whatever is next. Having spent the last eight years of my life in vans, tents, airplanes and venues with Pip, I know he feels the same. So what is this power that Bestival has over us? Why does this one festival stand apart from the rest?

Now, before I get carried away, Bestival isn’t perfect. In previous years there have been complaints from artists and DJs about set time switches, stage cock ups and just general confusion. Or grumbles from agents about not getting the sets they were promised. But, when you really dig through Twitter or Facebook, these grumbles lessen with each year and are certainly now at a level no different from any other festival.

When you think about what goes into your average festival – fences, security, local councils, stages, tech, crew, diva artists etc – these slips can be forgiven. But Bestival isn’t an average festival, this is the beautiful aesthetic of Shambala with the combined line-ups of Coachella and Hideout, blended together on a green, rocky blob at the bottom of our green and pleasant land. So, as they go above and beyond, it’s understandable if things occasionally get missed.

As it has grown, Bestival has held tightly to its boutique roots, never letting cost effectiveness get in the way of ideas like “let’s make the biggest disco ball the world has ever seen”.

And they are no one trick pony when it comes to aesthetics, at every corner of the site there are moments of beauty that most festivals could make their central idea, from the gargantuan Port Stage (a huge ship shooting flames into the sky), to the Wishing Tree (lifted straight from a Grimm Fairy tale), to the Michel Gondry-esque Caravanserai (a bijou bar built, I secretly hope, by the team behind ‘Scrapheap Challenge’), these are just three features from the nine distinct areas of Bestival.

To really get into it I’d need CMU to give me another couple of thousand words and I’d end up sounding like I’m on the Bestival payroll. Let just say Besti is beautiful at every step you take, things that most festivals would deem a waste of money just happen at Bestival. The disco is the details.

All this beauty, which, as I understand it, Josie da Bank is entirely responsible for making happen, and all this attention to detail breeds nothing short of glee in everyone who walks through the gates, so when a band like Pip and I walk on stage, Robby et al have already ensured a crowd ready to be won.

The only real complaint on site this year seemed to be that the headliners weren’t as strong as in previous years, but you quickly realise that Bestival understand that line-ups are cumulative things, so Foals mightn’t be your cup of tea, but you can just wander off and catch Basement Jaxx or Yoda or SBTRKT or Factory Floor or Plastician instead.

So I think you’re getting my gist here, from an audience perspective, they know what they are doing. And when it gets to behind the scenes there is no change. When you think about the logistical nightmare of making sure that 300/400 acts are on site, happy and at their stage on time, I’m always surprised that you don’t hear of an artist liaison at Besti losing it and murdering a diva tour manger with a golf buggy.

What you see behind every stage is someone happily lugging another crate of beer whilst wearing a sequined ball gown resplendent with a hat that’d cause a scene at Ascot. Sarah Coles Productions, who look after this side of things and are genuinely lovely, aren’t forced to dress up and play along, Bestival is just the kind of place where you want to, let’s face it. I even danced at one point.

OK, this clearly is starting to read like Rob da Bank is gently massaging my shoulders as I write, so let talk about the future of Bestival instead. It was recently announced that Bestival will be expanding into Europe and the US. Now this is the point for me where the festival finally grows up, analogous to the moment when a band moves from an indie to being part of a major. Does Bestival sell out and grab the cash or still keep throwing caution to the wind and take something truly beautiful around the world?

In an interview with the Telegraph, Rob has said: “The deal has been a long time coming. I’ve never been in this industry for the money but now I’m 40 with three small kids, it’s time to get business minded”.

When any idea becomes ‘business minded’, most of us are filled with dread; successful business is often about pasteurisation, it’s about the sterilisation of something to make it safe for the masses, it’s about removing the quirks to protect the bottom line. But I believe it’s those quirks that make Bestival something impossibly wondrous, it’s those quirks and the people they attract that have kept Pip and I coming back every year, and will hopefully bring us back in the future in some way, shape or form.

The question I cannot answer for sure is can Bestival grow and keep those kinks that make it special? All I do know is from my experience, from every soul I’ve met working there, it wouldn’t be wrong to hope that it can.