For the last ten years, Field Day has asserted its place among London’s booming festival calendar, but my, how it’s grown.
Just ten summers ago the Victoria Park event was presented as a ‘psychedelic village fete’, capturing the blog house zeitgeist across a handful of tents and even fewer bars. Now it’s the curtain raiser for the capital’s festival season that, thanks to diverse programming and blockbuster bookings, sets the bar for all that follow. But for all the carefully programmed escapism, the hessian sack decoration and tea towel merch, this year felt a little different; with ‘Vote Labour’ placards and tactical voting stickers almost (almost) as populous as flower crowns and cans of IPA.
Arriving early, the fine weather made the Bandstand stage one of the day’s standouts. Beneath blazing early afternoon sun Hyperdub lifer Ikonika deployed a quick-fire set of ballroom and skewed club music, a well-timed drop of Jungle Brothers’ I’ll House You greeted among the crowd like an old friend. Elsewhere ABRA, sporting an Arctic-white Puffa, held the RA stage rapt despite sound issues. Stretching out her long limbs and dancing with ease, her once-brittle stage presence oozed with confidence as her vocals meshed with the minimal production.
A strain of vocal dexterity could be found, too, at the Crack Magazine stage, where Dr John Cooper Clark plied his much-loved punk poetry. Though his iconic shock of hair is now a little less fulsome, his chest even more concave, his wordplay still feels vital. “They discontinued my blood type last Wednesday,” he quipped, before launching into The Health Fanatic. Still, the biggest cheers from the capacity crowd were reserved for I’m Yours which he does as an encore, although he regretted not being able to eke out his return to the stage “on account of there being stairs involved”. No such qualms for Death Grips, who took to the stage immediately after. As raw as an exposed nerve, their fractious, confrontational energy – bottled in assaults like Get Got – electrified the throngs who body charged their way into the mosh pit, leaving red faces and the odd beer-stained Aphex Twin t-shirt in their wake.
A more contemplative mood took hold in the new Barn Stage – a 10,000 capacity air hangar-like venue with boosted sound – where Nicolas Jaar held court, head bowed, arms spread prog-style between instruments. The humid, downtempo qualities innate in his compositions were given room to breathe and though the sheer expanse of the space favoured broad strokes rather than fine detail, the slow building, overlapping layers of Space Is Only Noise and the psychedelic drama of No telegraphed Jaar’s flair for melody and driving rhythms.
Of course, for many Field Day 2017 will be the year of Aphex Twin. Across two hours, Richard D. James demonstrated why he remains such a compelling figure; teasing us with a ten minute loop of noise by way of warm-up. Once the grayscale clouds parted, he let rip an electrical storm of angular, alien constructions taking in works by Fis, Chino Amobi, Lorenzo Senni – the influencer, influenced. Intriguingly, an attention to dynamics, of tension and release, of the beautiful and disturbing, gave the impression of a kind of sonic edge-play. Drum patterns emerged and disintegrated and occasional footholds, the acid line from his own Lisbon Acid, say, were greeted with hands thrust skywards. The visuals heightened the feeling of extreme overstimulation as images of trash culture – Katie Hopkins, Jeremy Kyle, Nigel Farage – paraded distorted on video screens. On the outdoor main stage, Run the Jewel’s Killer Mike also made a bid at connecting with a prevailing mood: “Shout out to the Labour Party!” ran his parting line. Predictably, it got a huge response. Indeed, for a festival that dazzles with its eclecticism and attracts some of the most diverse crowds in the capital, there was a sense that this year people were more unified than ever. A decade into its lifespan, then, the much-touted ‘village mentality’ found a new, potent manifestation.