Bestival had its North American debut right here in Toronto, and I am honoured to be a part of something so cultured and embracive of the arts. Bestival took place on Centre Island, which has a beautiful view of the city from a distance while surrounded by beaches, parks and nature galore.
It was really exciting boarding a fancy VIP ferry and being served drinks on deck while anxiously awaiting our arrival. The excitement really hit me as we got closer to the docks and could already feel the bass shaking the island.
The first thing I noticed was how much effort went in to decorations and activities. If you’ve been to festivals like Veld or Digital Dreams, then Bestival would have blown you out of the water in comparison. The Bollywood theme was prominent throughout the island; every tent decorated with mandalas, balloons, signs declaring peace, love, and so much more. There was an inflatable church where I saw a young lesbian couple get married (who were actually elementary school sweethearts) as the congregation rejoiced. There were knitting tents, jumbo Jenga, polaroid booths, mermaids giving out tattoos under umbrellas, and more. The only problem with amazing festivals like this is you want to do everything possible but there’s never enough time.
Soaking in all the positive vibes for the island got me excited and then I realized I had not even seen a musical act yet! I headed to the Balearic Beach Club Stage first to catch Martin Davies spinning house music with lots of energy and smiles all around. Despite the on/off rain, the beach was bumping with a mature audience, modern bar, and cozy furniture on the sandy shore. I didn’t stay there as long as I would have liked because there was so much left to do!
Next I was off to the Perrier Green House, which carried its own completely unique vibe. You could buy slim cans of Perrier drinks for $3 or Bacardi drinks for $9. To be honest, I saw a lot more people actually enjoying options for the cheaper, non-alcoholic drinks. The Green House had the bar aligned through the middle, a small stage at the back, benches and places to sit all around the edges. We had the pleasure of seeing The Kount play their set, which was funky with a live trombone and created a very inviting atmosphere.
I headed to the Bollywood Stage next to check out where all of the tech artists were playing, and was excited to see Skream for my first time live… I remembered Skream from his dubstep days, and was completely unaware that he had abandoned that spectrum of EDM for his newfound love of tech. He played a lot of minimal tech, a lot of underground deep house – none of that Oliver Heldens sounding stuff. When he came on, I happened to bump into a lot of friends who usually come out to The Hoxton in Toronto, especially from the Destructo shows – how fitting! The crowd vibed together instantly. I also found out that tech sets really bring out the best dance moves in the most unexpected of people.
The Bollywood stage was my favourite to physically look at. It lit up beautifully in the night time, with symmetrical elephants on the sides, platforms for dancers, amazing mandalas, and huge flame throwers and smoke blasters that would go off a couple of times for every artist’s set. It was spectacular and I really enjoyed the heavy dose of middle-eastern culture. The DJ booth was like Buddha’s temple, and the dancers praised the artists all weekend long!
After Skream I made my way to the Big Top Bacardi Tent to catch SBTRKT. Upon approaching the tent I felt anxious as I had flashbacks to the Bacardi tent at Veld and how intense some of the moments got in there. SBTRKT mellowed me out and played trippy tech stuff which was sort of obscure but really interesting. Some of it was progressive while the rest was chill and relaxing.
I made my way back to the other side of the venue for Robert DeLong at the Main Stage. I knew DeLong was more poppy and melodic, but I had no idea how inventive he was going to be. He had numerous game controllers set up to modify vocals and chords live while he played. He had a Wii remote, joy stick, Game Cube controller, and others I couldn’t even see. He used them all to mash up the songs creatively. At times in his set he’d leave the controllers and keyboard and run to the drums and pad to do solos. I captured a lot of funny enthusiastic faces he made while he was literally feeling the music. His energy was crazy and the fans happily came out to see him in the rain.
I hung around for some alternative rock acts in the early evening before heading to the Barcardi Tent again to catch Flosstradamus. Travelling from Chicago, Floss made it known how honoured they were to play at Bestival’s Toronto debut. They played a really high-energy trap set with tracks like Roll Up the Grass by Leva. Floss had giant lit blunts with weed plants wrapped around on both sides of the stages. One guy mixed while the other tended to do all the MCing. They wore bulletproof vests and looked like they were ready to rob a bank. Everyone had their elbows up and were trappin’ out.
I wandered back to the Bollywood stage to catch Nicole Moudaber headlining the evening. She played an almost 2 hour set, constantly teasing and pleasing the crowd. The bass was heavy and the stage was beautiful at night. I realized at this point that a lot of people at the Bollywood stage from Skream were still here and did not plan on leaving! The Bollywood stage was generally the place to be all day long. It was also perfectly situated in between the washrooms and merch table, next to food booths, and in the middle of main stage and the Bacardi tent.
I left Bollywood stage so I could catch the beginning of Flume at the Bacardi tent. As I got closer I realized his new single Some Minds featuring vocalist Andrew Wyatt was already playing. At this point, I started running through the crowds towards the tent. I desperately wanted to be in the front for the drop of the song. It was a really cool experience to be alone for that moment while the song built and my anticipation followed. I kept up the pace and made it just in time. After a few tracks into his set the tent was significantly fuller than when I had arrived. Flume put on an amazing show but it sucks knowing a festival set can limit what an artist has to offer. Nonetheless, I was ecstatic to have finally seen Flume. He played Sleepless, Tennis Court, and Drop the Game. The visuals were trippy and brightly coloured. I looked around and saw many people captured by the images on screen with their mouths gaping open in awe. I left before his set ended but only so I could catch the beginning of Florence & the Machine! As I left, I noticed the tent was actually so packed that not everyone could fit inside. Many were outside happily dancing as the tent shook the island. People were just so excited to be there.
Florence was as whimsical as ever. I first saw her headline the main stage at Osheaga 2012 just before Justice played. She is just as good now as she was then. Her vocals are better live than on record, and her energy radiated across the venue like never before. In between songs she would give advice about love, peace, and life. She said “I promise, everything will get better. And if it doesn’t get better in the morning, you can write a song about it!” The sun finally set while she ran around stage and sang her heart out. She played Rabbit Heart, Cosmic Love, and so many more. She was the perfect way to end the evening… if only it ended there.
As she played her last few songs, we decided to head to the doors to beat the ferry line. We exited the venue through the VIP section where the VIP/Media ferry was, but noticed one of the security guards had opened the fence and just let everyone out who was right of the main stage. Everyone on this side of the venue poured out into the VIP ferry line. The line looked ridiculous for a ferry that could only take 200 people without breaking fire code. I asked security if the line was for everyone or VIP, and the security said he did not care, he just wanted to get people off the island. He also mentioned that there’s supposed to be more than one VIP ferry all lined up but there were only two, and they came one at a time. The line was ridiculous, so we walked down the path searching for these other ferries we were told of.
We passed a mob of people who were waiting for water taxis, and attempted to wait in line there for a bit. It was chaos. When a water taxi arrived, people pushed and shoved. The “line” became a hoard, and the security guards were losing their voices screaming at us to stay in place. I almost got pushed into the water when I was at the front of the line. I was next in line for a water taxi but when one pulled up, a manager who demanded to be next stopped us all. She screamed at security and informed him that she had all of the headliners for the after party. He hesitated and decided to stand his ground and say no to the disorganization. The crowd slowly realized which artists she was talking about and we all demanded to security to let them on. He was confused and clearly didn’t know who Nicole Moudaber, Justin Martin, and Ardalan were. It was a bit of a fan moment for everyone else who gladly let them rush past us in line just so other people can see them perform elsewhere in the city. I didn’t even make it onto a taxi. After an hour of that we decided to head back to the VIP ferry line because at least when you got to the front of the line you didn’t have to fight to get on.
We left Florence & The Machine around 10:40 p.m. and we got back into the VIP Ferry line around midnight. Surrounded by very intoxicated people, we patiently waited. At one point a girl fainted in line in front of us, and her friends screamed for help and water. It was intense as the disorganization of ferries became physically threatening for some people, and extremely annoying for commuters coming from across the Greater Toronto Area. At 1:20 a.m. we boarded what seemed to be the last or second last VIP Ferry for the evening. We passed the regular ferry on the way out and saw the last of the crowd also board the much bigger boat at the same time. My journey home took over 5 hours. It left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth after such a great day on the island.
Upon entry, I pretty much ran to the Bacardi tent after 4 to catch the ending of Rudimental’s set, but upon arrival I actually caught the end of Matoma. It was pretty good, not what I wanted to hear though. There was a huge miscommunication from Bestival’s social media as they informed people that Rudimental’s set had been moved from the Bacardi tent in the late afternoon to the beach stage in the early evening. A lot of people ran around the venue missing sets to find this one, and were left disappointed after missing both Rudimental and the other artists playing at this time. I decided if I missed it, oh well; I wasn’t going to miss other artists too. A lot of other people were very displeased. My friend Mikaila wrote to Bestival without any direct replies about the issue:
“Because of the misleading and confusing notifications you sent out on the day Rudimental was playing, my friends and I, and I can only assume a good number of other people, missed Rudimental’s set. Early in the day we received the notification on the left stating that their set will be at 7:30pm (from their original set time of 3:20pm) at the Sunday Beach Club stage due to a flight delay, so we scheduled our day around that. It wasn’t until only an hour or so before 3:50pm that you sent out a second notification stating their set is now at 3:50pm at a different stage, ALSO due to a flight delay. How could a flight delay possibly cause their show to be moved up by about 4 hours? Because of this mixup we missed their set. This is unacceptable and this deserves a proper explanation at the very least. I am incredibly disappointed and also just want others to be aware that this miscommunication occurred on your watch.” – Mikaila Kopec
Matoma played some trance, progressive house, pop/electro, and some mainstream uplifting euphoric tracks. It was good, but the complete opposite of the drum and bass I wanted to hear from Rudimental.
After catching the last 20 minutes of that, Cashmere Cat came on with a really slow building intro leading into Kiss Kiss. Later he played Mirror Maru. I had seen him previously at Electric Forest 2014 and knew what to expect. Cashmere also just came through Toronto recently to play at Coda, and I felt a lot of those vibes in the Bacardi tent, which was refreshing.
Later in the evening I came back to the Bacardi tent for Keys N Krates, whom I’ve seen many times opening for acts like Zeds Dead and at events like Mad Decent Block Party. When I came back for their set, I noticed at the back of the tent there were actually a lot of parents there with their toddlers. They were given big headphones to protect their kid’s ears, and I saw them jamming out together for Keys n Krates’ set. It was hilariously awesome and I was sort of jealous that these parents took their kids to the first ever Toronto Bestival.
Zhu made his Toronto debut after that, also in the Bacardi Tent, and it was amazing. He had a screen covering his face, so we could only see his shadows with the lights. He had simple images that conveyed his themes of sex and lust, as well as time and faded. He opened with Stay and displayed an amazing projection of falling rain or snow on top of lightning. He then played Superfriends, The One, and his incredible remix of West Coast by Lana Del Rey. He dropped his much-anticipated track Faded towards the end of his set, followed by a killer remix of Thriller. His set featured all his original tracks but the transitions weren’t the best – it felt more like a playlist on my Ipod. I noticed he was playing the chords live on keys, and doing his own vocals too but not many people can give him that credit when he’s completely covered by a screen. I felt lucky to be a bit to the side of the stage and see through the cracks at times.
After his set the tent cleared out and I stopped at Bollywood stage to catch a few minutes of Jamie Jones. Seeing that stage in all its beauty at night was really something special. The tech fires were lit all weekend long and it was such an experience. The warmth alone in the crowd was enough to keep me there. It was getting close to 10pm and I knew I would have a long journey home soon. I decided to head to NAS at the main stage on my way out.
We stayed for the first 15 minutes of his set – the amount of time photographers were allowed to capture their shots. As soon as security said that was it, we started heading to the door. I went to the fence where security was letting people out again (to the right side of the stage) and when I got there security closed it and said I was not allowed. He then started talking to a friend and let him out. I was next and he closed the gate telling me to “f*ck off.” I was appalled and left for the VIP section where there was actually a lineup inside the venue to get out.
We waited in line patiently while listening to Nas. After about 20 minutes we slowly made it to the front of the line, and security was holding us back with a fence barricade. I noticed guys hopping the fence next to me while the security was blindly answering people’s questions. I pointed out to him the guys hopping the fence, and he completely abandoned his post to chase after them. We all stood there and laughed, then slowly realized he left his post. The last security guard standing that post looked at the hoard of us and shrugged his shoulders with a smirk. We all exited and headed for the VIP Ferry line. All of us in line remember vividly the chaos from the night before and were trying to be as proactive as possible. It was really frustrating how the security kept being inconsistent with how they ran things. Friday, they were desperate to let us out, Saturday, they were desperate to keep us in. I have never come across a staff that would not let people leave.
We ran for a good spot in the VIP ferry line, the security guard saw what happened, ran to the end of the line and screamed that none of us were allowed in the line for the rest of the night and to go to the regular ferry line on the other side of the venue. He got physical and would not let anyone pass him. It was ridiculous as a student who’s tight on money covering the event. I had already almost gotten pushed in the water fighting for a water taxi that I couldn’t really afford to begin with.
I was demotivated and started walking for the regular ferry. We left the venue 30 minutes earlier than the night before, missed most of the headliner, and got home after only 4 hours instead of 5.
All in all, the festival was amazing. The rain didn’t affect much. This was the first festival I’ve ever seen where they put mulch down to soak up the mud, and it worked quite well for those who were unprepared. I would honestly say this festival is better than Osheaga, but very comparable. There are many activities to keep yourself busy if you aren’t familiar with the acts. I discovered so many new artists and got to check off many from my bucket list! The positive, uplifting energy was felt on the entire island, even during the brutally long lines for the ferry. I made friends who blasted dnb on their speakers while we danced in line waiting.
Another thing I really noticed over all though, was that 19+ festivals really go a long way. Everyone was extremely responsible while partying and knew how to take care of themselves. It lessened the amount of things going wrong like medic calls, general garbage, chaos, long lines, etc. Bestival had top quality gourmet food trucks – I even struggled to find fries because everything was so cultured and healthy! The general demographic was young adults who were well dressed, and came for their favourite artists – not to get messed up and sloppy.
It was a really great weekend despite the disorganization of the security and ferries. When festivals make their debut, it’s ridiculous to expect everything to go smoothly the first time, but I did not expect it to take 5 hours to get home after exiting 20,000 people from the island. Bestival acknowledged some of these issues though which was a bit more comforting.
“Thank you so much Toronto for letting us bring our fantasy escapism and unique musical treats to your picturesque islands!
We’ve learnt so much from putting on this show in a brand new location, and, whilst the festival itself was a big success, we can only apologize for the ferry issues experienced by a number of festivalgoers. Thanks for all your feedback, both good and bad – we are listening to everything and already working with the City of Toronto to look at lots of ways to help improve your festival experience including increased ferry services for peak times next year.
We’ll be back in 2016 – with improved transportation and the best possible customer experience we can give for all – watch out for details coming soon!” – Bestival Toronto
I am excited for next year, but I’ll definitely plan to get a hotel so I’ll have more time in the city rather than the long ride home. Can’t wait to see what the lineup will bring!
Stay tuned Toronto!
Serafina Thoma – EDM TOR