The Field‘s debut full length release From Here We Go Sublime should have propelled Axel Willner’s project into the vanguard of electronica, sweeping all aside. The mystery is that it hasn’t. One of 2007’s best albums in any genre, it was recorded live and harnessed rave influences into an narco-ambient ride that was altogether new and thrilling; both deep and danceable and without comparison.
Maybe it’s because the Swedish three-piece have been taking things low key. They played to a rapt London field at this year’s Field Day, but that seems pretty much to have been it as far as UK touring commitments go. So tonight’s live set at The 02’s newest venue Matter would be a chance to quench what has become an insatiable thirst.
Transport for London have helpfully shut the Jubilee Line for engineering works east of Canary Wharf, so to get to the North Greenwich carbuncle in which Matter is housed we must first find our way through parks and round squares to the shuttle bus, which eventually fires up and wends its way down side streets, through gates and round Billingsgate Market, depositing us 20 minutes later at the Dome. Matter is round the back, in what is still a relatively empty portion of the huge building.
The concrete-and-chrome venue’s opening had seemed ill-starred; Barcelona-based musician Pascal Comelade was to be the first act to play here two nights previously, but the Eurotunnel fire meant travel issues put paid to his visit. At least the live night launch, starring UNKLE and Late Of The Pier, went ahead as planned the night before our visit.
Tonight it’s the club launch, running from 10pm till 7am – the hours of the 3,000 capacity venue’s sister superclub Fabric – with Carl Cox headlining with his crowd-friendly happy house. An audience of orange Stella-swigging party animals and guestlisters are enjoying Yousef‘s Balkan-tinged DJ set as we arrive and begin to get our bearings in the packed-like-sardines main room.
Leaving to whoops and applause, Yousef’s set immediately gives way to The Field’s Stars Of The Lid-like drone, a little after 1am. The drone builds, but some in the audience don’t want to wait. “Turn the bass on, fucksake!” one well-watered party animal brays at the black-shirted Willner, who rightly ignores him. A small group of avid devotees are clustered around us at the lip of the stage, hanging on every movement as Willner kicks in his guitar.
There are odd slice-ups between tracks. Willner rarely allows the audience to immerse itself in his set as it might the album, and some sudden volume and pace changes make for a jarring listen; he seems ill at ease. Things improve when the live drums kick in and the agitated orange people find a groove to sway their Stellas about to.
But nothing could limit the gloriously uplifting narcosis induced by Over The Ice’s sampled vocals and Willner’s mischievous delay of the first break, holding back and then unleashing his audience’s waves of pleasure as he might with playthings. Sublime hardly does it justice as arms are raised in the air, eyes close and grins of absolute contentment draw themselves onto faces. The Field is about moments such as these where the world is shut out and stress is banished utterly.
Just as dizzying is the addictive The Little Heart Beats So Fast, arpeggiated, octave-spanning 16th beats nibbling away at the industrial reverb of synth, vocal samples and clattering drums, and Everyday harks right back to the ’80s and spins about with lacquered Lionel Richie hair like it just doesn’t care.
Too soon it was all over and Willner and his henchmen depart the stage to shockingly little applause. Carl Cox, following immediately after, blitzed the place with hours of party house. All round the DJ cage, people hold the bars, feeling his vibe and shaking his hand when it is offered. This is what this particular audience wanted, on this particular night; Willner’s narcotic vibes needed to be appreciated somewhere else entirely.