29-31 August | Oxfordshire
For those with a prolonged investment in club culture, there comes a point when you have to start choosing your nights and festivals more carefully. While the success of passionately-curated events is nothing to be sniffed at, expansion isn’t exactly synonymous with quality of atmosphere. Ticket prices inflate, capacity is pushed to the very limit and, before long, swarms of Only NY-clad neo-lads are flexing their biceps at the same party as you. But, on the other hand, these puritanically ‘underground’ events can be seriously uninviting. The reason we started going out in the first place, after all, was to have a good time, how are we supposed to achieve that if most the crowd are more concerned about track IDs than populating the dancefloor? Field Maneuvers – a new, 500-capacity festival that takes place in an obscure Oxfordshire location – gets just the right balance between educated bookings and pure, unadulterated fun.
When speaking to Crack earlier this year, Night Moves organiser and Freerotation regular Jane Fitz expressed a desire to apply – excuse the cliche – the essence of rave to an underground 4/4 culture that can be so po-faced. “A night of music can be solid, and serious, but I don’t think it has to stay on the straight and narrow, or lose its sense of humour”, she argued, “That didn’t happen at raves – DJs went for it and people went nuts and had the time of their lives! And that’s what they remembered after, not which record was on which label or what [track] came after what”. After being impressed with the inaugural Field Maneuvers in 2013, Fitz and fellow Night Moves’ team member Jade Seatle returned this for a ‘Field Moves’ takeover. Quite the blessing.
On Friday evening we’re hooked up with a group of ticket holders who’ve booked a minibus travelling from Bristol, and true to the spirit of a proper rave, it takes us fucking ages to find the place. Upon arrival, we’re greeted by relaxed security and volunteers who offer to help us pitch our tents in the dark. The main site – which is a matter of seconds from where everyone’s camping – is compromised of just a couple of food vendors, some outdoor seating and music taking place in three places: the main tent, the Sputnik dome and the Tea Tent, the latter which is open 24 hours, as is the site’s only bar. Fitz warms up the main tent with a mood-enhancing disco set before the decks are manned by Tama Sumo, the well respected Panorama Bar and Berghain regular whose name seems to be held in particularly high regard round here.
While the deservedly-massive Move D was booked for a Sunday night set, the DJs at Field Maneuvers seem to be booked on the basis of their prestige, rather than the kind of widespread appeal that allows certain acts to cash in at more student-dominated events. This means that the more low-key residents feel intwined with the bigger acts, and it also creates a cross-generational line-up and crowd. UK techno veteran and third deck user Ben Sims dominates Friday night, and rave legend Mark Archer is met with the respect he deserves. Bristol collective Housework blow the dust of their recent hiatus with a spontaneous back-to-back-to-back set on Saturday evening and Ryan Elliot, who is fresh off the hype of his just-released Panorama Bar 06 mix, plays one of the weekend’s most talked-about sets.
Field Maneuvers’ aforementioned good vibes peak on Saturday night when a no-holds-barred set from garage legend Wookie is followed by DJ Haus and DJ Q’s appearance under their Trumpet & Badman banner. After the set is initially halted so that the pair can switch over the mixer, Q and Haus succeed in rescue the dancefloor with self-described “sexed out thug houz jams” and liberal dose of bassline-orientated tracks. The world could do with more bassline.
While the intimacy of Field Maneuvers undoubtedly benefits the vibe among the crowd and (we presume) allows the festival to comply with more laid-back licensing laws, we think it could be improved by being slightly bigger next year. During a rainy spell on Saturday night, for example, it feels like our options to take a break from the music are to get soaked while smoking outside or sit in our tents. While there seems to be some small pockets to take shelter in, a larger, more relaxed marquee to lounge in would surely be pretty easy to set up and would go a long way. But, of course, these are minor criticisms for an event in its second year. And if you’re craving a non-corporate sanctuary to enjoy the best currents among electronic dance music in, then Field Maneuvers comes with our sincere recommendation.
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Words: Davy Reed
Photography: Sam King