This year Field Days Victoria Park festival site was expanded to cater for 30,000 people, and the extra space available between stages was as noticeable as the rise in numbers. The tents were much bigger – returnees Gold Panda and SBTRKT both played to considerably larger audiences this time than on their last visits.
There were no queues for bars or toilets – the only queues once on site that could be deduced were for coffee and cash machines. And crucially the larger space allowed stages to not only play louder music but not to sonically clash with other stages. In consequence, the sound was excellent throughout the day. Field Day have clearly learned from past problems, and this year they got it all just about perfect.
While there was the requisite bevy of up-and-coming bands who are playing every festival ever, Field Days programming wisely once again focused on exclusives from acts whod not be seen anywhere else. Franz Ferdinand headlining the main stage and Mazzy Star and Tortoise in the Village Mentality tent were examples of bold, unique programming – neither clashed with other acts obviously appealing to similar audiences. The presence once again of the electro-focused Bugged Out tent underlined the variety of music on offer across the seven stages.
Much earlier on, Savages brought serious-artist black attire to the mid-afternoon main stage. This is – so far – a band that works best at close quarters rather than behind a photographers pit and removed by several feet of staging, so their outdoor, afternoon setting was incongruous. At the Shacklewell Arms tent, the rocknroll of Crocodiles enjoyed far more effective and intimate surrounds, as did the tropical-tinged beats and tent pole rattling bass of Peaking Lights at the Bleed stage.
But everyone wanted to see Liars. Even the star at the centre of our solar system had found the time to gaze down upon Angus Andrew, Aaron Hemphill and Julian Gross to see exactly what they had in store. Not that they welcomed everyone with open arms, a comfy chair and a drink. A less than accessible opening consisting of The Exact Colour Of Doubt and Octagon – the first two tracks from WIXIW – left a few to look scared, scratch their heads and walk on in bafflement. Which was their loss. The sun, being a massive fan, knew better and stuck it out. Which meant Liars set was bathed with in an atmospheric disposition that didn’t quite fit with the general tone. Nevertheless, it was great. Some of the subtle textures from WIXIW got a little lost in the wide open spaces of the main stage, but still the songs darted and jittered and hypnotised. Plus, an epic Scarecrows On A Killer Slant was as violent and enraged as any queue for the bar.
Barely an hour later, Afrocubism were expected at the Village Mentality tent. They were late; the Cuban cowboy of Buena Vista Social Club, Eliades Ochoa, ngoni master Bassekou Kouyat, kora genius Toumani Diabat and an assemblage of percussion, mariachi trumpets and sundry others tuned up, arranged their colourful robes and prepared to play a venue that was about as far removed from when we last saw them – at the Royal Albert Hall – as it was possible to be. The expectations of something festival-defining were met, danced with and sent away grinning from ear to ear. If there was more fun to be had at Field Day festival than Afrocubism, well, we didn’t find it. Diabat had played his own set here a couple of years ago; it speaks volumes that this time he brought his mates.
On the same stage later – following a set from Grimes that was so overflowing as to need most of the site to itself – old timers Tortoise and Mazzy Star would demonstrate that old timers of other genres could also take their places on a cutting-edge bill and find an audience, even if neither could really top the party that had gone before. For their part, Mazzy Star had two main things in their favour. They were playing in a tent, and by this stage it was absolutely pissing down with rain, and they were Mazzy Star. It should have been wonderful. But, initially at least, the dreamy atmosphere you’d hope they’d create, floating you off into the stratosphere, remained somewhat earthbound. It was a little flat.
Earlier at the Shacklewell Arms tent, Toy were impressive. A mass of waving locks, headbanging in unison. A guitarist whose white turtle neck made him the spitting image of David St Hubbins from Spinal Tap, and a pounding, psychedelic, swirling mass of driving noise. It was good stuff. It definitely went up to 11. It was such a full on barrage it was often worth just stepping away from slightly, in order that when you got close you felt the full, face-melting benefit. A bit like taking your coat off when you get inside.
Afrocubism did not hold a monopoly on trumpets on site, for Zach Condons Beirut brought their swooningly widescreen sound to the main stage in bright sunshine. As with so many other bands on this bill, there was a feeling of exclusivity of something out of the ordinary about their set. On the same stage later, Franz Ferdinand had long since missed the sunshine and the rain drizzled down on a set compromised doubly by Alex Kapranos fighting back the effects of a cold. As for their material, Franz are not yet at the stage where they play sets in tribute to themselves, but their older songs are still their most recognisable.
Sheltered from the elements in the Bugged Out tent, Modeselektor rabble roused in a manner Franz couldnt hope to with an atmosphere frequently bordering on the euphoric. A bit of intelligent dance courtesy of the Berliners seemed just the ticket to end a hugely impressive event and send a happy crowd out into the night.