In years to come, Field Day will be looked upon as a petri dish under which cultural analysts can observe east London. Amidst the craft beer tents and street food stalls (who’d have believed, even five years ago, that you could snack on crab, sushi, mac n cheese or pulled pork ciabatta at a FESTIVAL?) are the capital’s beautiful people. For two days every year, this corner of Victoria Park is transformed into a living catwalk – an eclectic explosion of fashion, which filters into its line-up.
This year’s bill was quite clearly split; Saturday hosting mostly electro stuff and Sunday more guitar-based, but of course, there were plenty of rule benders. The award for most peculiar artist of the weekend goes to Clarence Clarity. He’s a South London-based producer who doesn’t do things like pop songs in a conventional manner, at least judging by his stage props, which include baby heads rising up from a bush. The standout is Those Who Can’t, Cheat; it has a groove and melody that is infectious underneath all the keytar-weilding weirdness. They leave the crowd intrigued and certainly make a lasting impression.
Philip Selway on his own doesn’t quite get the same fevered reaction that his other band might receive – the tent he plays in is definitely not at capacity – but those who stay witness a set that shows someone starting to feel more at ease with their role as frontman. Songs from Familial get re-imagined to fit the more diverse aesthetics of Weatherhouse, with By Some Miracle transformed from a lullaby into something much more kinetic and pacy.
Run The Jewels are on something of a victory lap, as evidenced by the fact that they arrive to We Are The Champions by Queen. Once the fanfare dies down, it’s a riotous, emotionally charged hour of hip-hop that has everyone in the tent in a frenzied state, hanging on to every last word and syllable that comes from the mouths of Killer Mike and El-P. No other set over the weekend is as energetic and euphoric as this.
Stealing Sheep’s brilliant new album, Not Real, is sadly lost to sound issues, which means that anyone stood in row two backwards had a tough time hearing them. Owen Pallett, on the other hand, takes a less delicate approach; his emotionally charged, string heavy art-rock charges through, somewhat at odds with the rest of the day’s line-up.
It’s a huge crowd that packs out that same tent for FKA Twigs, whose excitement matches theirs as she talks about how happy she is to be playing so close to home after a long time away, leaping around the stage with abandon. Her set clashes with Caribou, who brings Saturday to a close on the main stage. He might not have the enthusiasm of Ms Barnett, but oh, can Dan Snaith put on a show. A long term friend of the festival, his blend of heartfelt electro-ballads and huge, absorbing house fills the field.
Errors have the tall order of opening the main stage on Sunday afternoon. A baking hot summery day isn’t really that kind of atmosphere and it takes some time for them to find their groove.
With taut vocals on the edge of panic and despair, chiming guitars and some propellent drumming, Eagulls‘ post punk attack is impressive, even if it does sound slightly incongruous given the blazing sunshine they gaze out into. Darkness would be better. Darkness and bleakness. Darkness and bleakness and burning cars on the outskirts of a dystopian city where no-one smiles.
“We’re called DIIV from New York City. Here’s a new song.” “We’re called DIIV from New York City. Here’s a new song,” What Zachery Cole Smith’s inter-song chat lacks in innovation it certainly makes up for in bloody minded repetition. Still, at least it’s accurate. They are called DIIV, they are from New York City and they do play a bunch of new songs. Along with Doused from their last record. The new material follows similarly swirling, dreamy path as that set out on Oshin, as chiming guitars and Cole Smith’s deliberately indistinguishable vocals join to create something mantra-like. There’s an awful lot to like about this band. Called DIIV. From New York City.
Matthew E White‘s late afternoon set is a lot more reserved than one would expect. It’s just him and an extra guitarist on stage, and it’s no frills stuff as he runs through highlights from Fresh Blood. Rock & Roll Is Cold and Feeling Good Is Good Enough are both fine, but without the extra instrumentation do lose a bit of impact. Thankfully, there is a nice moment of surprise when fellow Spacebomb associate Natalie Prass comes onstage to close the set with a couple of her own tunes.
One thing you can say about Mac DeMarco (and band). They look like they’re having fun. Well, actually, to be totally fair, De Marco looks like he’s about to he’s going to head into the nearby Hertford Union Canal and spend the afternoon fly fishing, but you get the idea. It’s entirely laid back and appropriately summery, but it is not vastly exciting. You can’t fault their genial engagement, be it demanding the crowd participate in an attempt to break the world record of people on other people’s shoulders, or De Marco’s five minute crowd surf at the end of the set. It is somewhat easier however to fault the lack of memorable tunes.
Gaz Coombes is a revelation. Switching seamlessly between piano, guitar and queuing up various loops, and with the assistance of a backing band which includes Loz Colbert from Ride, the sometime Supergrass lynchpin recreates the complex textures of his last album Matador with huge amounts of grace and style and just as much charm. Buffalo is layered and heartfelt, the motorik pulse which beats at the heart of The English Ruse is utterly charming, while the sighing, wafting defiance of Matador is a beautiful triumph.
Savages came, saw and proceeded to obliterate everything else at Field Day. They’ve been away from these shores for a while, but they’ve returned leaner, meaner and with a lead singer in Jehnny Beth who has decided that it’s not enough to affix a crowd with a withering thousand yard stare from the relative sanctity of the stage, it’s far better to do it from two feet away, perched precariously on the barrier. They’ve also brought back a bunch of new material from album number two. And on the strength of tonight’s performance that’s going to be one hell of a thing. Warming up with City’s Full and Shut Up, they then unleash a number of new tracks. Something New is expansive, tense and insistent. The Answer is heavy, discordant and industrial. It would be more than enough to prove their point, but the brutal going over which they give to She Will, Hit Me and a set closing Husbands crystallise it further. Savages are getting better and better.
Even though Sunday night is closed by Ride, the real star headliner is Patti Smith. The first half of her set, in which she performs Horses from start to finish, is joyous, revelatory and invigorating. It also confirms how relevant and vital that record is after four decades – Gloria, Kimberley and the two sprawling epics Birdland and Land sound amazing. Smith herself is on outstanding form – her vocals still as biting, soaring and as bad-ass as they were in the ’70s. It’s a beautiful irony, that amongst all the fashionistas making their annual trip to get their fill of new music, it’s Smith who stole the show, Smith who stuck out as the real rebel of the weekend and absolutely the coolest person in east London.
Reports by Helen Clarke, Max Raymond and Tim Lee.