Lovebox, SW4, Underage Festival, the Ben and Jerrys weekend… the capital’s awash with one day festivals, all battling it out to get their mits on our hard earned cash. Field Day organisers might have been feeling that pressure more than most this year.
Now in its fourth year, it’s not had an easy start in life. Notorious queues for the bars and toilets, massive downpours… it’s only been the consistently strong line-ups that have kept the Eat Your Own Ears team in Victoria Park. So this year’s line-up was a surprise – with no huge names on the bill, ticket sales were slow, and the touts faced competition from the event’s own box office on the day.
But those who did fork out 33 for a ticket were rewarded with the most eclectic Field Day to date, and an almighty headache trying to work out how to fit it all in.
Now with six stages to flit between, the early crowd, gathered at the Eat Your Own Ears stage for Holly Miranda, appears thin on the ground. Coming days after her much-postponed London debut at the Westminster Reference Library, she justified the hype that greeted The Magician’s Private Library earlier this year. Some of the songs are a little convoluted, but her voice wins the crowd over. She skips between ballsy, angsty rants and crystal clear, cutesy retorts. Most of the album gets an airing, but it’s a cover of Yoko Ono‘s Nobody Sees Me Like You Do that shows her at her best – kooky but sincere.
Over on the Adventures In The Beetroot Field stage, Danes The Kissaway Trail are in an equally sincere mood. Frontman Thomas L Fagerlund looms over the keyboard in huge black shades, while the rest of band career around the stage. With their last album Sleep Mountain, they took a gamble, edging towards a punchy, more anthemic sound, dulling down the quirks of their first records. They sound like Foals on valium, and their eerie, spooked version of Pixies‘ Where Is My Mind turns out to be a festival highlight, followed closely by Beat Your Heartbeat, which gets the early afternoon crowd in the mood.
Steve Mason cuts a gloomy figure on the main stage in the afternoon sunshine. A festival replete with wildly eclectic beatmerchants otherwise has found space for a man whose ouevre is centred on heartfelt, emotion-drenched material of an acoustic guitar based nature. At another time, in another setting, maybe; but there’s way too much else to catch within these fences to bother with miserablism for too long, however tenderly performed it is.
An excellent example of more appropriate acts elsewhere can be found at the Adventures In The Beetroot Field stage, where teenagers Egyptian Hip Hop attract a full house. Those hoping for some… well, Egyptian hip hop, would have been disappointed; the Mancs certainly don’t do what it says on the tin. A raucous meeting of grungey guitars and electro blips and beeps, they recall the likes of Late Of The Pier. Single Rad Pitt goes down a storm, as does a new track which, if an indication of things to come, means we can look forward to more of the same – just louder and with more jagged, sharp guitars.
After the aural pelting of Egyptian Hip Hop, Lightspeed Champion‘s set on the main, Eat Your Own Ears stage proved a welcome 30 minutes of calm. Basking in the sunshine and by now well lubricated, the crowd were on Dev Hynes’ side, lapping up his every word. Dressed in a questionable denim shorts/orange shirt/baseball cap combo, his set included Galaxy Of The Lost, the brilliant ’60s pop tribute Madame Van Damme, and a cover of the Beach Boys‘ Don’t Worry Baby. There’s something warm, comforting and reassuring about Hynes – on the surface there’s nothing to get that enthused about, but as everyone plodded on, examining their laminates to decide where to head next, there were smiles all round.
A good portion found their way into the orbit of Gold Panda, who’s holding court in a tent little bigger than a conservatory. The crowd is at least 10 deep beyond it. One of the big tipster tips for 2010, he’s yet to drop his debut album, preferring for the moment to dripfeed his eager and growing fanbase with a download here, an EP there. He’s playing something up there, on his own, with no visuals, but we struggle to make out what past our fellow sardines so eventually must take our leave of the man in the bobblehat.
Only the most die-hard fans of Mark E Smith’s vehicle The Fall could readily name any other band member. Such is Smith’s famous revolving door policy when it comes to selecting his performing associates that inevitably all eyes are on the curmudgeon-in-chief. This works well; the current line-up is tight, but able to work around Smith as he shambles about the main stage, pulling out wires, fiddling with amps and ranting away with his back to the audience. Maybe they’re relative unknowns, but their thankless task is to make one of music’s most enigmatic characters shine on his own terms. Material from this year’s Your Future, Our Clutter pricks the ears of some, but most of the audience seem in bemused awe at being so close to this crumpled totem of a survivor who’s as much a cultural curiosity these days as a man with a legacy worthy of academic study.
Not content with fronting Super Furry Animals and winning huge support for Neon Neon, Gruff Rhys takes to the Village Mentality Stage with his latest project, Gruff Rhys Vs Tony Da Gatorra. Brazilian TV repairman turned peace campaigners turned guitarist Da Gatorra is even more bonkers than Rhys, and the two of them look like they’re having a ball. It’s just a shame it’s confined to the stage, as their loony bursts of noise scare the bejesus out of at least half the crowd, who leave within a few minutes, looking genuinely baffled. Rhys dons a red bike helmet for part of the set, and the duo duel, carving a sort of psychedelic, lo-fi, garage rock, synth blast, and hold up signs, urging the 100 or so brave souls who remain to give peace a chance.
Matthew Herbert has left his 100-strong choir and big band horns at home; today, in a big top, he’s in mad professor DJ guise, taking to the stage ostensibly for a spot of turntablism. Such a label doesn’t quite do justice to a set which involves him repeatedly climbing up and down a ladder, crawling in and out of a tent, twiddling dials and batting sounds around the stage as if they were solid living things. All of this he does with the dramatic flourish of a Victorian circus showman, delighting the sizeable crowd who’ve popped in to witness this genius at work.
Archie Bronson Outfit are next up on the Village Mentality Stage. It’s still daylight but ABO master something some of the other bands have tripped up on – instead of looking out of the their depth playing on such a big stage, they look totally at ease and create an atmosphere that feels every bit as intimate as their usual haunts. The quiet sound is against them though, and singer Sam Windett’s trademark yelping doesn’t kick with the force it can. Cherry Lips is almost spot on, and earns them the most enthusiastic response of the day. Someone just needed to crank the sound up – a perennial problem at this festival, and not for the first time with this band.
Caribou are inexplicably stuck on the main stage, outdoors, despite being a staggeringly obvious candidate to headline a big tent. This year’s beautiful minimalist ambitronica album Swim offers some memorable moments, but the sense of noirish intimacy the music engenders is rather lost in a field in daylight. Scheduling has meant they attract a gigantic crowd for their set however; and at this peak stage of their career they surely deserve the attention.
Considering the competition elsewhere, Chapel Club pull in a decent sized crowd, nearly filling the Adventures In The Beetroot Field tent. “This is mental. I live about a minute that way,” says singer Lewis Bowman. “This is where I walk my dog, so please don’t shit or be sick on your way home.” His opening shot and shy, mumbling attempts at banter are surprising, because as soon as the music kicks in, he’s your typical indie rock frontman – a growling voice a la Editors‘ Tom Smith, and a self-assured swagger to back it up. Single Surfacing and All The Eastern Girls are highlights but, while Bowman’s voice cuts through the generic indie strummings, the songs just aren’t there yet.
Ellen Allien protgs Moderat prove to be one of the highlights of a boldly scheduled day. The union of Apparat and Modeselektor continues to make for inspired if irregular recordings and must-see live shows, and the Berliners in the Bugged Out tent are perfectly poised to stage a rare appearance, heavy on visuals and laden with atmosphere. This could have been a club in Berlin or a festival in Barcelona; it was the one set that took the audience completely out of Hackney. Even the sound was decent.
As night falls over the park, it seems as though everyone is heading towards the main stage for the last band of the festival, Phoenix. The blindfolded tea drinking relay races have been abandoned, the knitting tent has shut up shop and the last cupcake has been sold. There’s an air of excitement filtering through the audience – if your average Camdenite looks at The Strokes as the band of their generation, Phoenix clinch it for the east London crowd. Their distinctive French cool isn’t restricted to how they look – their set is utterly flawless, smooth, polished and seamless. It serves to highlight their electronic and dance influences, which also see them put on an impressive light show that flickers through the trees, spectacularly lighting up the park. But it soon becomes clear they’re not festival headline material. They’ve not got cider-friendly choruses or foot stomping beats, and the initial collective excitement gradually ebbs away as people start drifting off to the various afterparties dotted across Hackney.
So that was it – the fourth Field Day. No bar queues, plenty of toilets… and there was even sunshine! This was the year everything seemed to finally fit into place. It was organised and professional, but not at the sacrifice of its identity. While it’s laudable to promote small names into big spaces, with a couple of big crowd drawers next year they’ll be well away.