This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the second Canadian installment of the UK born festival, Bestival, held at new location Woodbine Park. Boy, do I have great things to say about this event! Since the festival boom, where festivals began popping up left and right and from every angle, I have become quite picky of what events I have chosen to attend. I thought Bestival Toronto would be a good fit this year, as it incorporates a number of genres of music, a wide variety of art, cultures, and other forms of expression, and incorporates views and beliefs of peace and unity. For me, a festival is not so much about the music and the stage, it’s more about the experience and the people you share that experience with. I limited myself to select festivals in the area this year, but I think Bestival was a great choice!
I first off want to start by thanking and congratulating the Bestival organizers and staff for putting on such an incredible event. It was one of the smoothest run events I have experienced recently; it was logistically superb. Any problems that popped up on day 1 were solved either as they came up, or by the start of second day. Any spot that had even the slightest bit of mud was covered with hay, mulch, or wood boards as they appeared. Also, many of the bathroom handwashing stations ran out of water Day 1 and were replaced by hand sanitizer stations Day 2. I must say, I was extremely impressed with how on-the-ball the staff was; all of this was always done with polite smiles and caring, professional attitudes. Definitely no complaints on that end. The only complaint I could have even thought to conjure was the sheer amount of smokers that I was constantly surrounded by; mostly occurring at Bollywood stage or in the tent where the smoke lingered. I often found myself walking into a cloud of smoke, or even being burned by someones cigarette. I know it’s against popular opinion, and I normally wouldn’t complain, but it was sadly a bit excessive for my dysfunctional lungs. I think a number of designated smoking areas around the park may be beneficial.
Now to get into the meat and potatoes of the festival itself! This festival to me seemed like a hybrid of Electric Forest and Electric Island, the arts and culture aspect coming from the former, and the smaller intimacy coming from the latter. What I also thoroughly enjoyed about this event was that I got the impression that the artists were selected for their talent and what they could contribute to the overall effect of the weekend, as opposed to how big of a name they are or how popular they are. Brownie points given from this girl!
The layout of the festival was also well planned out. Throughout the grounds, one could find a number of food trucks with a large variety of food types, there was something for everyone! Also, spread out along the paths in the venue were two water-refill stations (which did appear to be enough to supply everyone with fluids), a number of vendors selling handmade and crafty products, a virtual reality tent, dress up tents, a knitting tent and the cosmic commune which featured a number of rather abstract handful of entertainment. There was literally something for people of all ages, young and old; very family friendly. I even stumbled upon small stages such as the Sunday Best Balearic Bar, as I walked through the park. In addition to all of this, there were several places to sit and “chill” throughout the grounds, with wood benches, teepees, blankets, and located on any of the hills that provided great views of the Main Stage and the Bollywood Stage. In the VIP area where I was given access as media personnel, we were spoiled with our own little pavilions and tents, filled with wooden chairs, as well as our own bar, bathrooms, and hill to sit on! Thank you Bestival for the spectacular special treatment!
Now on to the music and the stages! There were three stages set up: Main Stage, Bollywood, and the Big Top. The Main Stage was reserved for acts with live instrument set ups and bands, Bollywood was a tech haven, and the Big Top was EDM based, alternating largely between more”bassier” genres and “future” genres. I’ll apologize for not being able to review all the artists and acts, but here’s what I was able to catch!
Upon entering the venue on the Saturday, I walked around a bit to get my bearings. I first walked into the Big Top, where Smalltown DJs were playing. The first thing that caught my attention was the use of both female and male dancers in plain clothes. I generally am not a fan of hired dancers at events, but I thought this actually added to the experience because they danced as they pleased and looked like they were having a great time and enjoying the music. Their style appeared to be a funkier house, which the crowd seemed to enjoy grooving to.
Next up in the tech haven of Bollywood, was Joris Voorn. This was the first time I had noticed the fire being used on this stage, spewing flames high into the air on either side of the DJ booth. Accompanying the fire were some groovy bass and tech style tracks. There was a high turnout of people to see Joris, but there was still plenty of room to dance, and people were respectful of one another’s surroundings. This moment was one of the instances that really reminded me of Electric Island events I had been to the past.
All of a sudden, while I was grooving to Joris, I heard a bit of a commotion. I looked over to the front right side of the stage where there is a gate, and saw the most extravagant group of people, floats, and flags! Along came the parade that I had heard so much about! Everyone seemed to be having a great time, marching along and just being proud of who they were and the community alongside them. One couldn’t help but smile while watching the procession.
Next up for my listening pleasure was Odesza. I had managed to catch part of their set at Electric Forest, but sadly it had conflicted with another name I had wanted to see (Festival Problems 101). On stage they had a set up of live instruments connected to a midi controller. I thought this was pretty cool and left the door to a ton of musical possibilities! Odesza were very high energy and the crowd loved it. They treated us to their original One Day They’ll Know.
Moving along with into more future bass future house genres, we had Madeon. I have been fortunate enough to see Madeon live before, and I must say I have loved watching him grow musically in the last few years. While still a young producer, I believe Madeon is wise beyond his years. He played The City and his crazy claim to fame mashup titled Pop Culture along with many others. He was a storm of energy as he incorporated unique sounds into his music. I think Madeon must have taken a look at who he was sharing the stage with that day, saw artists of bass music, and decided to add a little more bass into his set too. Another great set!
Our first big headliner of night one was Tame Impala. I headed over to the main stage to make sure I caught some of this act, before scurrying over to Porter. I knew this act was going to be good, but I did not know much about them before. I managed to find a friend in the crowd that I did not even know was attending, and apparently loves Tame Impala. I asked him for a brief description of what I should be expecting from them, and he quoted “The Beatles, on acid”. Ironically enough, I looked up at the very large video wall behind the band, and sure enough, the videos and visuals were very psychedelic. They had an alternative and psychedelic rock style to their sound which attracted a very large crowd. Many had chosen to stand up and venture into the depths of the crowd, while a large number of people sat on the hill enjoying the music.
A major highlight of the entire Bestival weekend for me was seeing one of my favourite artists, Porter Robinson. For anyone who has not had the pleasure of seeing Porter live, I would highly recommend checking him out next time he comes to town. Every set Porter plays is a journey in itself; it has a start, a middle and an end, similar to a movie or a good book. His sets are always extremely well planned and he always displays his mixing and production skills, both which are quite superb. Porter played a number of his originals, from his “Worlds” album, including Hear the Bells, Divinity, and my favourite Flicker, as well as an Ocarina of Time inspired track, and Unison. Topping things off, and proving to us that he is even more talented, Porter grabbed a mic and even sang along to a number of his own tracks. To my extreme excitement, he ended his set with a mix of Goodbye to a World and my all-time favourite Porter Robinson song, Languages. I could not contain my excitement, gathered all my energy, and went absolutely wild. Many of the tracks were mashed up and mixed beautifully together, accompanied with CO2 cannons and tons of multi-directional split-lights that were used to full effect. A very impressive set indeed!
I arrived a little later on the very windy Day 2. The second day appeared to be a little less busy than the first, and the demographic of the population shifted more towards families with small children (with ear protection), and slightly older couples whom I believe were attending due to the presence of Day 2 headliners, The Cure.
The first act I was able to catch was Skylar Spence. Again, one of my friends had spoken highly of this artist so I made sure to check him out. Some may know him for his contribution to the vaporwave genre, however, I found that his set was a blend of funk and electro which eventually transitioned into a more bass-tech set as it progressed. He had a good combination of fast songs and slow moments to add dramatization, all while remixing well-known songs that the crowd would get into. People giggled and danced as he played Lil Jon‘s Get Low (to the Window, to the wall) song. He was jumping around, smiling ear to ear, having the time of his life, and even singing a bit. His energy translated right into his set. He also played Saint Pepsi‘s Fiona Coyne.
A photo posted by EDM TOR (@edm_tor) on
Grimes was another act I wanted to catch. To sum her up, she is a small, blonde, and for lack of a better word, cute girl, that is extremely talented and can really “throw down”! Better yet, she’s Canadian! She was full of high energy and was a theatrical, bouncing form moving from one side of the stage to the next, all while singing, playing guitar and keyboards, and running back to her mini controllers when needed. Despite having a cold (as she told the crowd), she still sounded amazing and put on a great live show. She played some rather experimental music, rather different from her norm. I noted that she opened with her song Realiti and she had mixed her softer vocals with some harder dub sounds. She even played a number of tracks from her newest album titled “Art Angels”. Her music was all extremely layered and I was thoroughly impressed; this girl has A LOT of talent.
Another stand out of the weekend for me was Thomas Jack. Another name I was not overly familiar with, but was pleasantly surprised by. Upon walking into the tent I saw his logo which was made up of a T and a J smoothly designed into palm trees. That gave me a bit of a hint that I was about to be treated to some tropical house. He played some crowd favourites, all spun and polished with his own style. We heard, Men at Work‘s Land Down Under, a song which everyone sang along to with dorky smiles on their faces. You couldn’t help but enjoy yourself! We also heard a tropical house remix of Bob Marley, Is This Love and a remix of Rufus‘ You Were Right.
Last but not least were our headliners of Day 2! Tchami graced us at the Big Top tent. Once Thomas Jack was done, the crew started scurrying around on stage setting up for Tchami’s entrance. As soon as all the movement on stage stopped, we heard church bells and a video appeared up on the video wall, with visuals of cathedral walls and included some narrative. Out appeared Tchami in his usual prayer pose, with his usual black priest-like outfit. He opened with his remix of AlunaGeorge‘s You Know You Like It, and just like that, the crowd was hooked. We heard a bass-house set, with elements of heavier dub at times. The CO2 was going off and it was a real party in that tent as more and more people joined.
Making sure that I caught a bit of each headliners set, I soon ran over to see legendary artists, The Cure. They entertained a huge crowd of people of all ages, and I literally mean all ages. There were kids on their parents shoulders, dancing with their grandparents. They played many of their beloved songs, new and old, including Just Like Heaven and Boys Don’t Cry. This was a set that everyone could appreciate and enjoy. Despite some technical issues with music cutting out at times, they did a great job of closing out Bestival Toronto 2016.
The last act of the night for me was Dubfire at the Bollywood stage. Dubfire was my most highly anticipated set of Day 2 and he (of course) delivered. His tech style is very industrial sounding and percussion-filled, which I find appealing. There were a lot of people who came over to see Dubfire, but there was still plenty of room to dance. I managed to wiggle my way up to the front to get a better view and was instantly warmed up by all the fire blasting out. I guess they budgeted their propane/butane shipment correctly to go all out during this final set! I retreated back to the hill just in time for some fireworks coming from Main stage to end our weekend perfectly.
After the last set, we began our journey home while many other people headed to the afterparties. The Bestival staff were holding signs and directing us all, still dancing and smiling, to the correct exit. I was thoroughly impressed with how the logistics of the weekend worked out, and could not have asked for better. Team EDMTOR had a great time at Bestival and we would like to thank all those who made it possible. Congratulations to all on a festival well done! See you all at Bestival Toronto in 2017!
Nicole Robertson – EDM TOR