Field Day Festival - Victoria Park, London
Promoters Eat Your Own Ears have put on some wonderful gigs in London in the last five years or so, so it would only be a matter of time before they moved into the all-day festival format. This all-dayer has been billed as a ‘psychedelic summer fete’, but the rather stern bodyguards at the entrance have made it clear that there won’t be any bottled water allowed in the venue, never mind mind-altering drugs. Still, according to the blurb, there will be the prospect of "Welly Throwing, Barn Dancing, Tug-of-War, Morris Dancing..." - and Caribou, who lights up the main stage with a magnificent set that takes in double-drumming and the day's first - and maybe only - real psychedelic sounding mixture of blissed-out guitar and organic electronics. Though they play little from the wonderful Milk of Human Kindness album, and Dan Snaith’s vocals are frequently out of tune as he conducts his band, the music is still perfect for the breezy sunshine, like an updated Beach Boys refracted through a modern, polyphonic, post-electronica sensibility. A gem of a band.
Fridge also manage to pull of a triumphant set, with the united trio of Four Tet’s Keiran Hebden, 'Adem' Ilhan (both of whom will go on to play in their solo guises) and Sam Jeffers blending processed sounds with live instruments in a textured patchwork. The surprise of seeing Hebden on guitar and Ilhan on bass is quickly evaporated as their free-flowing take on post-rock works its magic. The set culminates in a magnificent, entrancing final track that blends warm electronics with guitars, the finale leading to a wild ovation from the audience.
It’s at this point that I realise just how badly organised the festival is, with astronomical queues by only 2pm for the toilets. The girls’ queue snakes around the festival information stall, while near the Homefires stage - as James Yorkston plies his relaxed, sobering folk tales – another queue for a separate pair of toilets is somehow interwoven with an equally long queue for the wine stall, so that people lose track of which queue they're in. As it turns out, queuing seems to be a theme of the day, with masses of people surrounding the beer tents, queues snaking along the path leading to the solitary water tap...still, as the heat rises there’s always The Concretes in the Adventures In The Beetroot tent to cheer us up, regaling us with their Swedish bittersweet indie-pop, though minus singer Victoria Bergsman, whose departure from the band has led to a replacement.
The Aliens are on the main stage, with ex-Beta Band member Robin Jones surrounded by a mountain of keyboards. A diminutive man with huge blue sunglasses is shouting into the mic while playing boogie riffs on his guitar, and singing about a nervous breakdown. A huge cheer goes up - from the older members of the crowd, at least - when they parody various sounds from Primal Scream’s Screamadelica album, while the singer repeats the mantra ‘Higher Than The Sun...’ over and over again. For the most part, they sound like a bizarre mixture of the Happy Mondays and T-Rex, and considerably more rock than Jones’ previous outfit.
I’ve yet to see many wellies being thown, never mind barn dancing, but there’s always Electrelane and Archie Bronson Outfit on the AITBF tent and Homefires stage respectively. Hopefully it should take people’s minds off the steadily increasing queues for the toilets. The former begin with the magnificent 'Bells’ from the Axes album, slowly building up the driving motorik tension and Krautrock pulse. It’s at this point that you realise a fatal flaw of the festival: everything is far too quiet, with the council having decided that the decibels of every stage need to turned right down for reasons unknown to only themselves (at least 10dB quieter than Glastonbury, according to some reports). A shame, as both bands could be magnificent, and nearly are. Unfortunately, while Electrelane are nowhere near as loud as they should be, Archie Bronson also suffer from a combination of the breezy open air, ridiculously small stage – with a huge turnout stretching way back to the stage where Electrelane are playing – and a watchful official. As tracks from the intense Derdang Derdang album waft over the PA – including a superbly taut and urgent ‘Cherry Lips’ – you wonder if everything could be turned up a little, to fully maximise the impact of their saxophone-enhanced skronk. Instead, during another highlight, ‘Darts For My Sweetheart’, as the audience slowly begins to nod it’s collective head in time to the bands propulsive blues groove, the band are instructed to leave the stage, under threat of a huge fine from the council. “See you at a proper gig!” yells singer/guitarist Sam Windett as the band prematurely exit, incensed that they have been considered ‘too loud’.
As Foals take to the main stage, many food stalls are running out now; the queues for the toilets and the one solitary water tap are stretching far now (along with the queues for almost everything else too), and some people look like they may beginning to lose their mind. But the festival is in full swing nonetheless as the wait begins for Battles, probably the whole day’s biggest draw. After an interminable wait, in which some rather anxious faces emanate from the stage, the band finally begin, building a rhythm around what sounds like a looped bass line. The set takes off from there, a brilliant synthesis of rock and machine that sounds like what guitar music will resemble in 2061. With the extraordinary John Stanier on drums, a one-machine rhythm machine whose polyrhythmic intensity is matched only by the height of his tall cymbal, the bands extraordinary mix of math-rock and avant laptop electronica makes the crowd forget the day’s problems. Managing to incorporate the modern avant-garde together with mind-bending musicianship, and yet somehow able to synthesise it into an accessible and downright dancy whole, the audience is left ecstatic, with people hoisted on top of their mates head to fully get down to Battle’s fusion of man and machine. The last track builds from a repetitive, circular motif to a square four-to-the-floor beat that has the crowd in hysterics, before crashing in with a superb finale.
Sadly, it’s possibly the quickest gig the band are likely to have played, given that they couldn’t have been allowed more than twenty-five minutes or so – enough for about four songs. Still, well worth the wait, which is more than can be said for Mystery Jet’s irritating prog theatrics, by which point, the men’s urinals have flooded, leaving an unpleasant smell surrounding much of the surrounding area. As the band play, most gentlemen take to peeing on the festival fencing.
There’s always legendary DJ Andy Weatherall in the Bugged Out stage, but it’s the Liars who are the big draw, headlining in the AITBF tent. Seemingly bedevilled by similar problems to Battles, the band take a full half-hour longer than their allotted stage time to appear, with boos mixed in with the cheers from the audience. The wait was worth it – they are a revelation despite singer Angus dedicating a new, dourly-titled song to "how we feel about today", presumably aimed at problems with the sound problems that has bedevilled bands all day. With a fourth auxiliary member added on guitar, they begin with the stunning ‘Be Quiet Mt. Heart Attack’, the opening track from the eviscerating Drums Not Dead album. As with Battles, the wait was certainly worth it: from here on it, it’s an unmissable white-knuckle ride through the tribal intensity of ‘Let’s Not Wrestle Mt. Heart Attack’ and ‘A Visit From Drum’, with various band members beating several shades out of their percussion. As the percussive repetition becomes trance-like, Angus leads the band through a visceral, ferocious set, dressed all in white and be-suited like some manic preacher. Electro-house duo Justice, headlining on the main stage, can only sound feeble and dated in comparison, even though their stage set-up – rows and rows of Marshall amps stacked neatly on top of each other each the same size, with a huge lit cross in the middle – is pretty cool. Their anthemic re-working of Simian’s ‘We Are Your Friends’ is, inevitably, the encore, and leads to endless glow sticks in the audience. In contrast to the bombast, Kerian Hebden in his Four Tet guise finishes the night with a beatific kaleidoscope of mellow, warm electronica, entrancing an audience that’s in a decidedly more psychedelic and chilled-out mood after having seen a mammoth line-up squashed into just one day. It’s a lovely end to a festival dogged by all kinds of bad organisation, and with ludicrous sound restrictions that no festival should have to face. Nonetheless, it has the potential to become a great annual fixture if the problems are ironed out.