Secret Norfolk location, UK
After three years away, Field Maneuvers returned in 2022 with an increased capacity sell-out in a new site in the verdant wilds of Norfolk. It felt triumphant, especially after those years when the festival’s watchwords of community, connection and silliness were in short supply.
It came as a surprise, then, that the festival found itself in financial crisis after the event. A combination of the cost-of-living crisis, rising overheads and low turnout from ticket-holders meant a fundraiser of £40,000 was needed to keep the party afloat. That FM never really makes a profit, with any surplus ploughed back into the party, meant organisers Ele Beattie, Leon Cole and Henry Morris could be forgiven for considering calling it a day after the setback.
The target was reached with days to spare with an outpouring of love from artists, volunteers and punters. It was, as Joe Roberts noted in the introduction to the programme, a sign “that it’s come to feel like a co-operative endeavour, albeit with all the work and risk carried out by a tiny team.”
It was against this backdrop that this year 1,500 people returned to a field sandwiched between an Edwardian country house and a beautiful glass-like lake, for what was the best edition to date.
Field Maneuvers is essentially three stages, a chill-out tent and a pub. Simple, but the attention to detail in every aspect is mind-blowing, even down to the fruit machines and dartboard. Take the soundsystems: speaking to Funktion-One in April, FM’s sound suppliers contended that in 2022 the extra space allowed for an optimum blend of bigger stacks in still-intimate surroundings. This year, with tweaks to the layout of stages and more hay bales than ever, the party sounded incredible.
For its 10th birthday, the festival doubled down on its tradition for takeovers, teaming up with different institutions across the bill including Dalston Superstore, Black Artist Database and many more. Most have a connection with the festival going back years, contributing to a celebratory feel befitting of the anniversary.
Of the stages, Sputnik – a cavernous geo-dome crammed with smoke and lasers and a four-point Evo X system – remains the crowd favourite, as evidenced by queues formed at various points. Here, we witnessed a host of FM stalwarts, from Ben Sims throwing down techno battle-slammers with DJ Bone on the Friday night to Angel D’Lite and DJ Sweet6teen conjuring a hardcore maelstrom to close out Saturday.
A newly-designed outdoor stage hosted much of the daytime programming, with highlights from Moonlighting trio Zakia, Leanne Wright and Marshmello (special mention for a joyful wheel-up of DJ Marky’s classic LK) and a bassline power-hour from Buggery Grips including a flip of Bakermat and Kidda’s Under The Sun and an obligatory spin of T2’s Heartbroken.
Laika is the smallest and moodiest indoor stage, a three-peaked tipi with smoke hanging amid just-visible lights. Often shirking the hard and fast rule of thumb this year, we found Rye Wax’s headliner DJ Wawa spinning disco and Mix Nights’ Daisy Moon’s pumping house to be welcome changes of pace.
Most often we found ourselves restless to return to the molten cauldron of the FM tent, which struck a balance between the deep and experimental and handbrake-off bangers. Batu and Bake summed up the dichotomy with a set of intricate blends and knotty percussion embellished with a flip of Britney Spears’ Toxic on Friday; while Saturday saw Tim Reaper shell out NASA-grade jungle, DJ Stingray pummel the tent in bassweight and Danielle bring things down with an understated set of rolling, chunky techno.
Sunday at Field Maneuvers creates a special alchemy. With the end in sight and minimal sleep stretching the synapses, the crowd achieves a kind of rave nirvana, inhibitions gone and total ridiculousness achieved. After a pub quiz that involved guessing the specific crunch of different crisps we spotted a birthday cake in the Pack-It-Inn that resembled a tower of ash and cigarette butts, around which we were indoctrinated into a cult of winged goose-worshipers. Immediately afterward we walked outside just in time for a huge cheer to erupt as a swan flew low above the crowd.
There was time for one last charge. Backdropped by avva.studio’s mind-melting, Barbenheimer-themed visuals, Bored Lord and I. JORDAN delivered two of the best sets of the weekend. The former drew for a selection of unhinged UKG, including her own flip of Inner City’s Good Life, and a forthcoming saw-toothed monster from Bastiengoat. I. JORDAN then brought the weekend to crescendo with two hours of hard house and trance, encapsulated by DJ Bruh’s Barbiegirl edit.
As we’ve said in previous reviews, FM gets everything right, from the sound to the setting to the curation, testament to the crew of volunteers’ labour of love. The crowd in turn reflects how special it is: respectful but not serious, headsy but not snooty, and committed to contributing their part. After a tough few years, here’s hoping 2023 did enough to convince Ele, Henry and Leon to go for another 10.