Since its inception in 2007, Field Day has suffered more than its fair share of mishaps, hiccups and plain old fuck ups. In its early days, common complaints have been huge queues for under-staffed bars, a disproportionately tiny number of toilets, the time it took to actually get past ticket checks and through the doors, as well as sound issues and vastly over-running stage times. With each year, more creases have been ironed out, and this year they got it bang on; even the weather was on its best behaviour.
A much bigger affair than when it first started, last year saw Field Day expand to a 30,000 capacity for the first time. Its physical shape and size has morphed with it; this means it never feels crowded, it’s easy to get between stages and bar queues are almost non-existent. But, thanks perhaps to the eye-watering £60 ticket price, this year isn’t an advance sell-out, and tickets were available to buy on the day. Those who did shell out enjoyed one of the most consistent line-ups of recent years; a line-up that, while packed with clashes and tricky decisions, didn’t boast any huge name headliners to justify the ticket price. But, with the sun beaming down on Victoria Park on what felt like the official start of summer in east London, no one seemed to be bothered about that.
That’s not to say there weren’t any crowd drawers; the perhaps odd decision to put Django Django in the Laneway tent (the largest tent but space-wise not a patch on the outdoors Eat Your Own Ears stage) meant that, despite competition from Animal Collective, people crammed into, and around, the tent, to catch a glimpse of their light show spectacular, that fizzed around in a perfect climax to a day with an emphasis on all things electro.
Earlier in the day, Everything Everything drew an equally enthusiastic crowd. Acting as sort of elder statesmen at a festival that could have been made for them, they took to the stage with confidence and bashed out song after song, so it was easy to forget that they’ve just two albums under their belt. They open with Cough Cough, the lead single from their most recent album, Arc; it’s the perfect early evening pick me up and singer Jonathan Higgs’ voice slips in and out of falsetto with impressive ease.
Of course it’s not all about the big names, and Field Day crowds are more than supportive of newer acts. A handful of early birds caught East India Youth‘s opening, midday set, in the Village Mentality tent. The unassuming William Doyle throws krautrock, synth-pop and a sort of singer-songwriter feel into the pot, and the result in summer encapsulated, in a tent. It’s just a shame there’s so few people there to hear it.
London’s burgeoning psychedelic indie scene is well represented by the likes of TOY, Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs and Splashh. The former two bands largely stare mutely at their audiences through curtains of unkempt hair; Splashh are a little more laid-back as they crank out sunny tunes such as All I Wanna Do and Vacation, perhaps their Antipodean element coming out. They end their set with a seven-minute feedback session that’s sadly missed by a fair amount of people rushing away to witness the start of Savages’ electrifying set, an unfortunate scheduling overlap. Savages are as visceral and intense as everyone had hoped they would be, filling the cavernous Laneway tent with unsettling noise punk and frontwoman Jehnny Beth’s distinctive piercing vocals. Following act Kurt Vile brings his band the Violators along, dividing the audience into those who prefer his songs stripped back ‘n’ solo, and those who like the extra meat that the Violators add to Vile’s melodic bones.
In another case of bad scheduling, the brilliant Stealing Sheep are plonked on the Eat Your Own Ears stage at 2pm. A couple of hours later, Solange’s brand of upbeat, poppy RnB – which today included her cover of Dirty Projectors‘ Stillness Is The Move – seemed to get the whole of Victoria Park moving, but their spooked psychedelic twist on folk-pop would’ve been much better executed in one of the smaller tents. Their initial sizable crowd wandered off throughout the set, as their harmonies got lost mid-air. Likewise, Daughter’s rather hushed set was lost to in-tent chatter in the Laneway tent, and you had to strain to hear the likes of Human. The fragility of a band like this is always going to be hard to translate onto a festival stage, but when it worked they were stunning.
By complete contrast, a surprise set by Palma Violets – the only straight-up guitar band on today’s schedule – was a stumbling, messy success. Evoking the raucous mayhem of The Libertines, they asked the crowd to “fill the gap” between the security barrier and the stage, resulting in a stage invasion by about 50 people, many of whom took it upon themselves to take over vocal duties – admittedly they were better singers than Samuel Thomas Fryer and Alexander Jesson. They close with the anthemic Best Of Friends, a short, sharp blast of rock ‘n’ roll before normal service resumes, with Animal Collective closing the night on the main stage, Django Django on the second and, again veering from the usual run of things, “father of Ethio-jazz”, Mulatu Astatke, at Village Mentality.
But just when you think all’s well with Field Day; things have run relatively smoothly and the bands all fit together nicely, along comes John Cooper Clarke who, as usual, takes the rule book, flicks through, sneers at it, and then pisses all over it. Much of the mostly young crowd seem quite bemused by this slightly frail-looking, crazy haired old guy, effing and blinding on stage, but they’re putty in his hands, as he rambles away, throwing the occasional poem in between his hilarious anecdotes and musings. Highlights are Bipolar Prison Diary and Get Back On The Drugs You Fat Fuck, but of course it’s Evidently Chickentown that closes this year’s Field Day – a fast-paced slice of counter culture that’s a firm cult favourite and never disappoints.
Words by Helen Clarke and Kate Bennett