Victoria Park, London
Field Day has been a fixture of the capital’s summer festival schedule since 2007.
Initially platforming indie headliners like Foals, Phoenix and Metronomy, recent years have seen the Victoria Park one-dayer – another more recent shift – skewing more heavily towards DJs and producers, with this year’s 16th edition almost exclusively spotlighting electronic acts. With the sun finally beating down on the 50,000 revellers who made it through one of the wettest July’s on record, anticipation was high for a headline set from hardware wizard Aphex Twin, who put on a thundering show at the festival back in 2017, as well as genre-crossing appearances from multidisciplinary experimentalist Arca, DJs Actress and Jon Hopkins, and R&B dancefloor specialist Kelela.
The diversity of acts on display made for an unusual and welcome blend of crowds, from older Aphex acolytes hoping to have their eardrums perforated to kids singing along to Bonobo’s melodic electronica, dancers 2-stepping to Jayda G’s disco edits and elder millennials looking forward to the nostalgia of the first UK festival performance in eight years from the recently unmasked producer SBTRKT. Despite some sound mixing issues leaving noticeably quiet patches on the larger stages, there were few signs of the sold-out crowd winding down, with festival-goers packing out each of the five venues and proving that the season is still very much in full swing.
Providing wall-to-wall visuals for its two main stages and cavernous light shows elsewhere, Field Day isn’t for dancers looking for dark spaces to cut loose. It is a full-scale spectacle, a DJ-watching experience to try and prove that crate diggers can increasingly put on emotive shows to rival band freakouts onstage.
With such a range of boundary-pushing artists performing, we picked out five of the best sets from across the day.
Violinist and singer-songwriter Brittney Parks, a.k.a. Sudan Archives, was in fierce form playing her blend of anthemic, bass-forward R&B in the early afternoon sunshine. With a face mic taped to her cheek and her hands switching between wielding the violin and punching pads on her drum machine, Parks played tracks almost exclusively from her second album, 2022’s Natural Brown Prom Queen. Veering from an Irish fiddle jig to commanding the crowd to get our “titties out” on the euphoric NBPQ (Topless), Parks delivered a powerhouse set of melismatic melodies and forceful vocals. Closing with album highlight Selfish Soul, Parks had the crowd bouncing and proved that the violin is a proper party starter.
The BBC Radio 6 Music stage proved a highlight throughout the day, with venerable selector Mary Anne Hobbs picking out an ‘All Queens’ line-up of DJs to thump through the heavy soundsystem. Newcomer yunè pinku showcased her forensic ear, chopping Ice Spice verses with UK garage edits to keep the momentum pumping, while Anastasia Kristensen delved deep into the breaks. Producer and DJ Elkka delivered a standout set, speed-mixing through classic house, breakbeats and leftfield techno, building pace to close on a transcendent edit of UKG classic Flowers. Bouncing through genres seemingly at will, Elkka produced a perfect blend of technical skill and connection with her dancers.
Packing the festival’s only covered stage to the rafters, SBTRKT’s first UK festival performance in eight years was one of the day’s most anticipated. Recently eschewing his signature mask for a bare face and beanie hat, SBTRKT was backed by an incredibly tight live band who paced through lively cuts from latest record The Rat Road. It was the impromptu percussion edits of mid-2010s hits like New Dorp, New York, Hold On, Hurricane and Wildfire that really had the crowd going though, providing several of the festival’s only sing-along moments.
@sbtrkttv LONDON! THANK YOU EVERYONE WHO CAME THRU! WHAT A TURRNOUT!!! #sbtrkt #electronicmusic ♬ original sound – SBTRKT
Simon Green is well-versed in the art of playing music to thousands. Having spent most of the past decade touring the world, his live set is by now a well-oiled machine, primed to get crowds moving to his artful melodies and gentle rhythms. Headlining the festival’s second stage, Green’s set delivered for the rapt Bonobo fans. Backed by a live drummer and full horn section, he explored the acoustic elements from 2010’s breakthrough record Black Sands, as well as bringing on Jordan Rakei for a touching rendition of Shadows from 2022’s Fragments. Closing track Kerala morphed into a propulsive instrumental break, showcasing Green’s slick onstage sensibilities.
The only constant in an Aphex Twin set is its unpredictability. Switching from ambient synths to wailing guitar lines, distorted breakbeats and acid squelches at will, Richard D. James is a master of confounding his audience. His 90-minute headline slot was certainly a head-scratcher, featuring Weirdcore’s strobing visuals that stitched James’s ubiquitous grin onto everything from Captain Tom to Charli XCX, while his actual head bobbed out of a vast cuboid and played momentous tracks from the likes of Ceephax Acid Crew, 4hero and Squarepusher. Sometimes sounding like a scratched CD skipping to breaking point and sometimes feeling like total, sonic catharsis, James didn’t disappoint.