Now in its ninth year, Field Day has grown slowly but surely from a hipster outsider to what it is today – a firm fixture on the summer festival circuit. It’s to the credit of its organisers, clued up London promoters Eat Your Own Ears, that while 2015’s event is the most ambitious yet, they’ve retained many of the names that have helped carve out its unique niche in the overcrowded festival market.
The choice to hand over Saturday night’s headline slot, for example, to Canada’s electro wizard Caribou, might have perplexed some. But to those who’ve seen him rise up the bill with repeated performances here, it’s a decision that makes perfect sense; a decision that sees the ‘sold out’ signs up well in advance of the big day. It’s down to another fixture on the Field Day bill to get things going on Saturday lunchtime, however. Legendary pioneer DJ and producer of Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica, Andrew Weatherall draws a massive crowd to the Bugged Out tent for his back to back set with Daniel Avery. The suitably hazy, sun-kissed grooves ensure that all the attention stays at this end of the field, while Telegram‘s chugging psychedelia entertains the Jagerhaus – a strange cowshed-type structure in the middle of the site – and Stealing Sheep‘s infectious harmonies and off-kilter percussion are the reward for those who make the journey to the Crack Magazine tent behind the main stage.
Weatherall’s departure heralds the arrival of Warp Records’ Clark, who ups the heat with a live set that starts with heavy, slow dubstep-inspired brutalism and ends with equally vicious techno frequencies. If anything, it proves that in this environment, musical inspiration can ably overcome any limitations imposed by the traditional bloke-with-his-boxes live electronica set up. There’s only the briefest moment to take in Mumdance‘s crunching, digital hardcore-esque on the I-D Mix stage. It’s fast, filthy and sadistic. The complete opposite of what orthodoxy dictates a DJ should play early on a sunny summer Saturday afternoon, in other words. The group of 40-odd people throwing themselves about to it don’t seem to mind, however, and nor do we.
Stopping only briefly to pick up a cheap but nevertheless very tasty cup of tea from the Tim’s Peaks coffee stall – apparently the brainchild of one Tim Burgess, we later learn – it’s back to the Jagerhaus, where Ratboy is about to take to the stage. With a mile-wide grin and a hairdo apparently sculpted by an electric socket rather than scissors, his enthusiasm and energy are hard to resist. For sure, the reference points are worn on their sleeve – the trademark Mike Skinner ranting, and the punk-does-ska moves of The Clash mainly. But they do lend it all a modern twist via occasional samples and pre-programmed beats, and their lyrical concerns – nightclub bouncers, friends leaving town for uni and mobiles best left unanswered – come across loud and clear. Songs like ‘Stick Up’ will surely resonate with a certain teenage demographic, and be sure you’ll be hearing more about this lot.
Back outside, the festival is stepping up a gear. The village green, another Field Day fixture, with its sack races and tug of war competitions is in full flow, spectators watching on bales of hay. And people are continuing to stream in. A remarkably hipster-free crowd, if truth be told, with cut-off denim shorts, splashes of glitter paint at the side of each eye and daisy chains worn in the hair the standard look. Although we also spot three goth drag queens in black basques and heels so high they’re technically stilts. “Is Marilyn Manson playing a secret set?” someone nearby asks. With the main stage given over to Toumani and Sidiki Diabete‘s sublime but almost too horizontal Mali music, we stumble back down the field. There are two bandstands competing for the floating raver vote. The first, mysteriously absent from any running order, is pumping out ear melting acid house to an appreciative audience. The second is being curated by the band Jungle, and here the gloriously dayglo strains of PC music are being spun by Tei Shi, much to the delight of a more female-dominated crowd.
Whoever booked Matthew and Me – see the softer, more plaintive end of Radiohead – right next to the tent where the Head’s own Philip Selway is performing clearly has a sense of humour. Selway’s audience is a bit thin on the ground, preferring to sit in the sun and listen rather than cram in front of the stage. But his ‘Weatherhouse’ album sounds big, polished and quite inviting really, as epic and dramatic as Radiohead but much less pretentious. Perhaps it’s just a little reserved and sensible, especially when the competition is Halu Mergia, Tony Buck and Mike Majowski playing pounding live Latin jazz, drawing one of the bigger attendances to the Gilles Peterson-curated Resident Advisor stage that will later play host to Madlib and Hudson Mohawke. They go down well with the sun-drenched and increasingly frazzled crowd, using double bass, drums and accordion to create a jam that’s half cultural showcase, half stomping house party.
On the Jungle bandstand, Django Django are taking to the decks in advance of their main stage appearance, mixing Lipps Inc‘s ‘Funkytown’ into Basement Jaxx‘s ‘Jump and Shout’, creating one of the day’s top moments. Meanwhile, Ben Klock and Marcel Dettman‘s heavy techno assault is overflowing from the Bugged Out tent, dust rising from a thousand or so pairs of dancing feet as the sun sets. A brief glance at Kindness reveals them to be crowd-pleasing but dull, at best chucking out the kind of mainstream funk that Prince might toy with, at worst resembling a low rent Brand New Heavies. Luckily we have the magnificent Tune-Yards to clean out our ears. She pulls the first truly devoted audience and her set is as bright (in both senses of the word) as her band’s retina-troubling dress sense. Scrambling, scrapyard grooves, rising in intensity, touches of 60s girl bands, mentions of ‘peace and love’. But mainly uncharacterisable musical glory, driven by heavy African drumming and polished off with wonderfully rudimentary 70s electronics that shake the floor with bass one moment and then scream with high-frequency euphoria the next. Everywhere you look, people are throwing exuberant hippy shapes.
And then house DJ Todd Terge‘s live show inhabits the main stage, dragging us back to the 70s with a disco extravaganza that provokes plenty of up-on-shoulders abandon but is Piano/synth led house just too stuck in the past to be any more than mildly diverting? So we turn instead to Chet Faker. Any ideas that he’s just an ironic cover version sideshow are quickly dispelled, as he clearly has a massive following, and one that sings along voraciously to his plaintive vocals. Slow motion hip-hop-style beats, sometimes nothing more than a single snare drum and the barest throb of bass, underpin his fragile voice, and backlight by a wall of twinkling white light bars, he definitely triumphs.
The same can’t be said of Django Django, who seem distinctly off-colour tonight. Their sound, with its echoes of 80s synthpop meshed with Byrds-via-Stone Roses melodic swirls ought to be just the ticket for this sunset main stage set. But their heart isn’t in it, their harmonies creak at the edges and it’s not until they close the set with the rockabilly-infused ‘War’ that they manage to muster the required energy levels. In comparison, the arrival of FKA Twigs on the Crack Magazine stage is greeted with near hysteria. She sounds amazing at first – a frail voice, eerie earthquake rumbles and the sparsest of percussion – but five or six songs in and it feels like her set has nowhere new to go. With the performance’s visual element limited by Tahlia Debrett Barnett‘s miniscule stature and a low stage, meaning the billowing smoke and light show are all most of us can see, big sections of the crowd are streaming out like disgruntled football fans deserting a beaten team. There’s no doubting her talent, but FKA Twig has work to do before she’s a festival success.
Thank God, then, for Caribou. Picking up the slack on the main stage, he and his band of fairly anonymous percussionists and sample pushers rely purely on sonics – although the surrounding illuminated tower blocks all round make a lovely backdrop – but there’s enough humanity, warmth and personality in these bittersweet electro to send most home with a friendly smile.
Sunday comes and it’s every bit as sunny as its predecessor was, but even more intense without the cooling wind. This second day’s audience is visibly different too, probably more 40-something than 30, and a serious turnout of Ride t-shirts on display. With only half the site open for the second day, there’s actually a more intense, crowded feel – no bad thing. Errors and Eagulls are early highlights on the main stage, the former otherworldly and soundtracky, the latter winning hearts with a nod to Teardrop Explodes and early Cure, executed with a big and bombastic attitude.
As you might expect on a bill headed by Patti Smith, there’s girl power aplenty on tap, not least from Ex-Hex and Tuff Love, both of whom have earn big queues of punters queuing in vain outside the Jagerhaus. Canada’s Viet Cong get things moving in the Shacklewell Arms tent, with big, thundering drums resembling The Fall‘s full-on attack. But there’s more to their sound than mere brutish firepower – their sharp, economic songs always seem to contain an unexpected quirkiness that keeps you listening and never quite guessing where they’re heading off to next. Matthew E White follows on their heels, sounding harsher and more electric than the gentle folk Americana of his recorded output. ‘Rock and Roll Is Cold’, near the beginning, is jumbled and muddy but given time to breathe, time to weave some smooth Hendrix-like guitar lines and let his raw blues voice take hold, and he becomes one of the day’s most sublime acts. When he invites on Alison Prass to lend her emotion-provoking tones to the last two songs, the deal is definitely sealed.
He draws a much bigger crowd, but Gaz Coombes can’t muster the same devotion. Missing the killer hooks of Supergrass, his ‘Matador’ album may not be complete bull, but it falls flat here. We head next door to the Verity stage, where Nimmo are laying on pop star charm and tunes that sound like Disclosure with an extra three drummers. But really we’re just counting the minutes until the arrival of Patti Smith. With a minimal preamble – a simple “It’s good to be back,” – and her and her band incongruously dressed all in black, they launch into ‘Gloria’ and then on through the seminal Horses album. These kind of heritage classic album re-runs are usually dry and stuffy affairs, but they’re a ball of energy and anger, Smith slagging corporations, politicians and presidents along the way. She doesn’t stick purely to the script either – there’s time for non-Horses tracks like ‘Dancing Barefoot’ and ‘Because The Night’, all driven along by a loose feeling, but an immaculate band with a seemingly endless stream of razor-edged, chugging guitar. Ending with the double whammy of ‘People Have The Power’ and a reinvention of The Who‘s ‘My Generation’, she stakes her claim as the true missing link between 60s idealism and 70s rebellion.
After all that, the presence of Ride seems a little irrelevant. They do keep their faithful happy, opening with their biggest hit ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and continuing with a clutch of early 90s tracks that are, if not quite classics, certainly fondly remembered by some. It’s not a bad choice, just a tough call following the force of nature that is Patti Smith. Proof perhaps, that as well a being the biggest and most popular Field Day yet, this year’s event has the biggest variety of music yet. A proper Field Day for music lovers, of that there’s no doubt.