Live Music + Gig Reviews

Festival Review: Field Day 2011

6 August 2011

Victoria Park has become an integral venue as part of London’s live music scene. There’s the LED Festival for the clubheads, Lovebox for commercial-led fun, and The Apple Cart for families. Field Day however, now in its fifth year, has suffered through a reputation sullied by incompetent organisation and bad luck. Finally, 2011 can be remembered as the year that it came right on the day, and with food, drink, toilets and weather all on our side, everyone could concentrate on the music.

Wandering between the seven stages dotted around the site, its apparent that it’s now the best event in London to check out hotly tipped acts, with a line-up reading like a who’s who of the current state of alternative music. If anything, the most pressing problem this year was how to see what you want to see when the depth in quality requires the thought and pre-planning of a Glastonbury schedule.

While the open expanse of the Eat Your Own Ears main stage starts its day with erstwhile troubadour Willy Mason, the scattering of sheltering tents play host to a wide-ranging variety of musical styles. Anika is dealt a tough lunchtime slot in the small Bloggers Delight tent and her female-fronted spin on politicised electronic Krautrock is perhaps a little too harsh, a little esoteric for the impressive number of early-starters who show an interest.

Field Day 2011
Field Day 2011: Faust (Photo: Nick Hider)

The Lock Tavern/Shacklewell Arms tent hosts a diverse selection of acts rising through the ranks. Brooklyn’s Creep impress with their simplistic and hook-laden take on chilled out mood music. It’s no surprise to find Romy Madley-Croft supplying guest vocals on their track Days (although not in person) as their music feels like a natural progression from the tuneful success of The xx.

With an album featuring a whole host of guest artists coming soon, expect it to be a work as embracing as xx was, but with the diverse appeal afforded by having a selection of talent added in to mix things up. Hopefully next time their budget will extend to having their vocalists appear live with them. Creep are followed by retro-indie kids Spektor and camp urban popstrel CocknBullKid. By the time Australian Music Prize-winning band Cloud Control take to the stage, it’s standing outside room only.

With the tents being of limited capacity, it’s not the only time space issues crop up. Later in the day, the XL/Young Turks double bill of Jamie xx, followed by SBTRKT deserve a bigger space than the Bloggers Delight stage which simply can’t cope with the swathes of people wanting to experience the live adaptations of the work of these two artists currently riding high on people’s wishlists. In perhaps the biggest disappointment of the day, SBTRKT simply can’t be enjoyed due to over-crowding.

Field Day 2011
Field Day 2011: Electrelane (Photo: Nick Hider)

Despite Field Day’s platform for new music, it wasn’t all bright young things. German krautrock survivors Faust have an early slot, and the Sun Ra Arkestra perform a fantastic set, crammed with as much horn and brass as it’s possible to squeeze onto the main stage. They also set the tone for a mid-afternoon inspired by acts with roots pitched not in modern indie music, but from further afield, both musically and geographically.

It’s not clear whether Congolese likemb experts, Konono No 1, are actual hypnotists, but their sets tend to pull off some kind of trance-inducing trick on their admirers, eyes focused on the frontwoman’s seductive dancing, ears focused on the repetitive electronic rhythms that stay true to their African origins but are also entirely on-the-money for trendseekers here in East London. Syrian musician and Björk-botherer Omar Souleyman has a similar effect, his rhythms and vocals persuading wilful dancing throughout his set over at the Village Mentality stage. Proof if needed that Field Day is more than guitar bands and laptop twiddlers.

Field Day 2011
Field Day 2011: John Cale (Photo: Nick Hider)

Brighton four-piece Electrelane have been attracting a fair amount of attention this year on the back of their reformation just three years after going on “indefinite hiatus”. While the band never broke through to mainstream success, they had a strong presence as a cult curiosity among the indie fraternity. Their turn on the main stage demonstrated how unique they were and are as a rare British band dealing in guitar-based pop songs but with a capability of turning them into atmospheric tunes of depth and integrity. The novelty of the band being peopled by four women might attract comparisons with Warpaint (who play the same stage later), but regardless, they’re an act who, if they can draw their creative inputs together, are still capable of greatness.

The evening brings out a series of media-friendly acts as part of the class of 2011. Soul in the laidback form of Jamie Woon and the ambient form of James Blake are both popular, while Anna Calvi, Warpaint and Zola Jesus all play sets around the park. However, after such an indulgence in quality music during the middle order, as night falls, the closing acts lack value in headliner status. The Horrors suffer from some sound issues over at the Laneway Festival tent, but benefit from being able to bulk up their set with third album material, Sea Within A Sea and Still Life providing stand-out moments. With the remaining respectable-but-not-spectacular headliners Wild Beasts, Gruff Rhys and Carl Craig left, there’s a feeling that the day has peaked too early. But at least its peaks were genuine this year, ensuring it deserves its status as Victoria Park’s, and possibly London’s, best event for new music lovers.

Field Day 2011
Field Day 2011: Sun Ra Arkestra (Photo: Nick Hider)

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