Brockwell Park, London
1 - 2 June
Earlier this year, after negotiations with Lambeth Council and dozens of local residents finally paid off, east London staple Field Day announced it would relocate south of the river. As details trickled out, it emerged that the deal was secured through an agreement of reduced capacity and an earlier closing time.
On Friday night, this new curfew took its toll; after barely an hour of her set, neo-soul pioneer Erykah Badu – who, in fairness, began half an hour late – was unceremoniously ushered off-stage during the closing ad libs of Bag Lady. The crowd booed angrily as a sheepish Badu waved from the sidelines, trying to drum up applause for her stellar band and back-up singers, but the lack of subtlety with which the curfew was enforced highlighted the fact that festivals are under severe threat.
That’s not to say Badu wasn’t excellent. Commanding the stage effortlessly in an oversized suit and towering boots, she delighted the crowd with a mixture of experimental interludes, insightful speeches and fan favourites – On & On, Next Lifetime and Tyrone in particular were met with crowd-wide hysteria. The star’s legendary personality shone throughout, as did her ability to connect with the younger audience members who weren’t alive to experience her imperial reign of the late 1990s. In fact, she claims with a smile on her face that Baduizm was created specifically with ‘90s babies’ in mind: “I’m speaking a language, and only y’all truly understand this shit.”
Badu wasn’t Friday’s only high point – the likes of IAMDDB, NAO and Loyle Carner also made notable appearances on the opening day – but it was on Saturday that things truly kicked into full swing. As early as 10am, local buses were packed with glitter-sprinkled festival-goers drinking cans of gin & tonic. When they arrived, they were met by viral rapper Jimothy Lacoste, whose concise yet catchy set opened the Crack stage, but it was Princess Nokia’s electrifying 3pm set that first sparked crowd hysteria.
A renowned fireball, Nokia sprinted on stage and blazed through a series of hits from breakout album 1992, all of which galvanised fans who jumped with her and lifted her up as she crowd-surfed. A handful of slower cuts from new mixtape A Girl Called Red were met with a comparatively subdued response, but energy picked up towards the show’s close as she celebrated her love for drum ’n’ bass, trip-hop and jungle with a series of diverse closers, some of which were lifted from debut mixtape Metallic Butterfly. Without missing a beat, Nokia unbuttoned her jeans and twerked to bashment before finishing with the vocoder-laced Bikini Weather / Corazon en Afrika, rounding off one of the best sets of the day.
As revellers stumbled between frosé stalls with seitan burgers in hand, the DJs of Kurupt FM stormed through a mix of garage, reggae and grime; elsewhere, Tzusing delivered an impressive set on the RA stage and the woozy electronica of ZHU rang throughout the Crack tent. Later in the evening, Charlotte Gainsbourg captivated a packed crowd with her combination of ethereal vocals and jagged, hammering synths, whereas the iconic Thundercat delivered an effortlessly brilliant performance buoyed by frequent, genuinely endearing crowd interaction.
But it was Fever Ray and her lovable band of queer misfits that stole the show on Saturday. The bald-headed, avant-garde – in this case, the descriptor is genuinely applicable – pioneer began her headline slot on the Crack stage a few minutes early, and went on to power through a high-octane set packed with the vast majority of new album Plunge.
The rapport between the star and her band was palpable; together, they danced, sang and, of course, simulated sex acts on stage. Longstanding fans were also treated to a series of choice cuts from her debut album, many of which had been beefed up with added synths and steel drums to more closely fit the soundscapes of her most recent output. But it was the one track, If I Had a Heart, performed in its original composition that truly wowed her fans, many of whom sang the lyrics back verbatim.
As sweaty, euphoric fans trailed out of the tent, security doubled down and directed crowds to the nearest available transport. Tonight may have gone according to plan, but the impact of increasingly strict regulation was clear to see; still, despite these tightening rules, it seems likely that Field Day delivered enough high points to face down the widespread challenges to live music in the UK.