FESTIVAL REVIEW: Field Day 2017

Have your Field Day friends regained their sanity yet? No? Us neither, but we tried to cobble a review together anyway.

It’s hard to say what the key is to maintaining a city festival. Is it consistency? Is it unpredictability? Is it following trends, or is it picking a specialism and resolutely sticking to it? There’s no one correct answer, but however you analyse it, Field Day pulled a daring move this year.

Since 2014, Field Day had been a two-day event, flooding Victoria Park with London revellers and boasting a broad, varied lineup with massive headline acts. This year, all the madness was pared back down to a single day, and aside perhaps from Run the Jewels, the lineup was less broadly appealing.

That might sound negative, but if you consider the fact that in 2016 the lineup was headed up by James Blake and PJ Harvey, the choice to select Aphex Twin as the centrepiece of the festival clearly shows that the organisers had a different vibe in mind. Electronica, techno and house were the ruling parties, and Richard D. James was the rightful monarch.

All over the festival ground, the famous logo could be seen, emblazoned on shirts, stickers and the brand new, limited edition vinyls being sold under his most famous moniker. Even with all that in mind though, saying that Field Day 2017 was all about Aphex Twin would be doing it a massive disservice.

The site layout was somewhat similar to previous years, but where before the Eat Your Own Ears amphitheatre had been the brightest beacon, this year we had The Barn, a hulking spaceship hanger with overwhelming sound and hypnotic lighting. Throughout the day, it played host to incredible performances from Moderat, Nicolas Jaar and Nina Kraviz, to name a few.

Image: FanaticLive/Andrew Whitton

The dominant dance tent was, as you might expect, curated by Resident Advisor, and it boasted one of the most impressive early doors lineups anywhere on site, featuring the mellow stylings of Forest Swords and the ever unpredictable Machinedrum. Later in the evening Moodymann did what Moodymann does best – whatever the fuck he wants – but even by his lofty standards for getting away with things, dropping ‘Sex on Fire’ by Kings of Leon was a bit of a stretch. The audience parted like the Red Sea at that moment, with half of them facetiously singing along to the anthem, and the other half stopping dead in their tracks.

The RA tent concluded proceedings with a stellar performance from Flying Lotus, complete with his ever-impressive audio-visual set-up. He played a mixture of material from years past and recent, as well as the occasional, electrifying drop of Thundercat or Kendrick Lamar (guess which track got the biggest crowd response).

Image: FanaticLive/Gobinder Jhitta

On the other side of Victoria Park, Crack Mag had a tent under their watchful eyes. They’d had perhaps the best curation stint of anyone at Love Saves the Day the previous week, so hopes were high. There was nothing quite on the same level as BadBadNotGood had been at LSTD, but Death Grips were appropriately alarming and Tom Ravenscroft was reliable as ever.

The electronic empire was permeated by the EYOE stage, which played host to an array of hip-hop acts and full bands as the beautifully warm day drifted on. The early highlight was, unsurprisingly, Loyle Carner. The Croydon rapper has gone from strength in the past couple of years and he had the entire crowd eating out of his hands, including frequent collaborator Tom Misch, who was apparently somewhere near the front, going just as mad as everybody else.

The closing act on the EYOE stage was Run the Jewels, an act I’ve been dying to see for years and to say they didn’t disappoint would be an understatement. Shortly before they came on, the rain descended, but no amount of precipitation could suppress what they had in store. It was a blistering ride through material from all three of their albums, performed with so much energy it felt like earthworms were going to start coming out of the ground. Killer Mike elicited two very big cheers at separate intervals during the set, one for warning that anyone caught touching a girl who wasn’t interested was going to get their ass beat, and another for endorsing the Labour Party in the upcoming election. Sounds about right.

Image: FanaticLive/Andrew Whitton

Of course, while this was going on, something very, very different was happening in The Barn. It had been five years since Aphex Twin had played a set in London before this, and the massive structure was so tightly packed that people actually couldn’t get in. He had a lot to live up to. His set was, make no mistake, incredible, a two-hour Vulcan mind-meld featuring material from across the universe of electronic music. The volume was overwhelming, the lights were mystifying and he even matched RTJ for political comment, throwing up disconcerting images of unsavoury political or otherwise famous figures on screens around him. Once in a lifetime seems like a played out statement, but that’s how it felt.

There was little wrong with Field Day’s former approach, but this felt like a positive change. The Barn looks on track to become an institution of the London festival scene, and the decision to focus more on a set of particular niches gave Field Day an identity that was easier to define, and allowed it to appeal to a crowd that might not have otherwise turned out. They’ve got a hell of a lot to live up to next year.

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