Field Day is a festival of contradictions. From the setting in a urban residential area rather than in a field with no mobile reception, to the lineup that is wildly different from its first day to the second.
These two contradictions lead directly to a third – that the audience is markedly different between the two days. This brings with it a remarkable change in the vibe around Victoria Park that is different to most weekend festivals. It’s not better or worse, just different from the usual mix of genre-focussed events that dominate the British festival calendar.
It makes Field Day reflective of London’s culture. The festival caters for a variety of ages and music tastes. It’s like a micro Glastonbury – having handpicked the real cream from that festival’s bill – and put it into a two-day experience where you can go and get a shower and a decent night’s kip rather than a week-long endurance test avoiding once-a-year hippies sucking on laughing gas.
That won’t be the only comparison Field Day will have to Glastonbury this year. The rain on the Saturday of this year’s festival churned the field up so impressively that parallels will inevitably be drawn. For the people who did appear on both days, a sleep in a real bed and an appropriate change of clothing did the trick.
The mood on the Saturday wasn’t dampened by the rain as much as the ground was. For the most part the notably younger crowd (and the importance of fashion over practicality as criteria for clothing consideration within said crowd) were in great spirits. This elevated the entire festival atmosphere. It clearly wasn’t just the promise of shelter that resulted in Ghana’s Ata Kak packing out the Moth Club tent. The absolute hysteria as his band came on stage, and the sing-a-longs and unrelenting dancing are proof of the power his unique blend of proto rap music has. Having seen his debut live performance a number of weeks before, it was remarkable to see how much a jaunt playing around Europe has tightened up the five piece.
Ata Kak at Field Day 2016 Credit: Carolina Faruolo
The packed-out tent for that set was a familiar theme through the weekend, and pointed to a festival that – now in its tenth year – has mastered the art of festival curation and line-up planning. For all the seemingly lesser-known acts on the bill this year – from The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band on Saturday to the truly outstanding set of DJ Moxie on Sunday – it was rare that you walked anywhere on the site to be greeted by artists playing to a few stragglers with nowhere better to go.
In fact, everywhere across the site felt remarkably full for the entire weekend. Full doesn’t mean over-capacity. There was rarely a large wait for anything. Bizarrely the longest waits for anything at Field Day seem to be for VIP “perks” – a rare case of an event treating their paying customers significantly better than their guestlist breathrens. Personally it felt relieving – and provided a great service for bars, toilets, and general entry that simply isn’t found at most festivals catering to such a large audience.
And the organisation of the event deserves more than mild praise. In the problems caused by the weather, the organisers managed to relocate one of Sunday’s stages from one end of the field to the other after ground conditions made the southern end of the site treacherous. Quite why they had a spare stage from one day to the next is lost on those of us who are not au fait with these matters, but we’ll happily credit exceptional event management.
With the music so exceptional, the only disappointment from the weekend only come in the form of two men – The Avalanches – who put on possibly the worst show of any act to have waiting sixteen years between records. Their DJ set was appallingly paced, badly mixed, and quite simply a mess. It was just fortunate they were playing a short walk (even in the mud) from Psychemagik putting on an excellent set at what was known on Sunday as the Snap Crackle & Pop stage. Psychemagik had been preceded by the aforementioned DJ Moxie and Daphni and was followed by Optimo. This provided an exquisite banquet of house, funk, and disco riches that satisfied those of us that found a Sunday line-up featuring Beach House, Shearwater, and Cass McCombs a touch too pedestrian.
Which brings us to the split personality of Field Day. Its Saturday lineup was an embarrassment of riches for anyone who remotely cares about what the younger generation is listening to. Skepta – whose exquisite LP Konnichiwa has just been atop the UK album charts – had the crowd in the palm of his hand, whilst on the other side of the grime spectrum, London’s best MC Novelist was continuing to show himself at the top of his game, leading the crowd in political commentary – notably a shout-a-long of “fuck David Cameron”. Another highlight from his stage patter was his comment that, “if you’re voting out the EU you can fuck your mum,” which is the most succinct argument yet on either side of this so-called debate.
In terms of talented Londoners, it was a shame that Roots Manuva’s set fell a little flat after delays in line checks had allowed anticipation to reach fevered proportions by the time he came on stage. It was noticeable that some of the artists on stage were struggling through that show, with poor timing and bad sound mixing. A raucous rendition of Witness (1 Hope) ensured a satisfactory ending for most in the audience, but given his most recent album is one of his best yet, it felt like an opportunity missed. Fellow Londoner Gold Panda’s flat set on the same stage suggests that technical issues may have been the overriding cause of the disappointment.
But disappointment was in short supply all weekend. Frisco was excellent in the warm-up to Novelist on the truly excellently curated part of the field and Goat and Moon Duo on the Sunday provided something more uptempo for guitar lovers.
Which leaves us with the headliners. James Blake seemed a curious choice for a Saturday lineup that was packed with upbeat, party performers, and for some his downtempo, albeit supremely talented, electronic whimsy felt a bit flat. When he brought out Trim for an excellent rendition of Confidence Boost, things picked up. But all in all it was a little bit too fey to close the Saturday night in style.
PJ Harvey at Field Day 2016 Credit: Carolina Faruolo
On the flipside, words cannot begin to express the qualities of PJ Harvey. Her performance shows her cut from the same cloth as Nick Cave and Patti Smith. Full of anger, of soul, of brooding; her set rattles through a handful of tracks from The Hope Six Demolition Project, before moving into a highly satisfying hour of crowd-favourites. The set was greeted with complete, respectful silence from the vast majority of the audience, which was fortunate given that Field Day’s setting dictates stricter sound restrictions than the middle of the countryside. That restriction possibly helped Harvey, whose band almost whispered intrinsically through the set, showcasing the delicacy in the music. It was a truly inspired headliner for a truly inspired festival.