Live Review: Field Day 2011

Nay sayers would argue that the Field Day festival has had as many lives in musical years as a cat. Albeit a feline wearing drain pipe jeans and a plaid shirt with a roll up clenched between its teeth if the majority of its clientele are anything to go by. Those with sunnier, more generous dispositions could claim that it’s London’s musical equivalent of a plucky boxer – one who keeps getting battered but refuses to stay down. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of this beastly hybrid.

Set among the leafy environs of Victoria Park in East London, Field Day has definitely been dogged by a variety of problems over the five years since Justice headlined it’s painfully quiet birth. Difficulties have ranged from poor sound levels and biblically freaky weather to huge queues for either sustenance or relief. But logistical ball ache aside, one can’t fault the organisers for lacking in ambition. The scale of the line up is usually ridiculously wide and this year’s do was no exception, taking in everything from second wave Detroit pioneer Carl Craig to former-Velvet Underground noisenik John Cale.

This sort of wild, eclectic scale is certainly emblematic of a time where audiophiles with short attention spans can flit between techno, guitars or skiffle at the touch of a button. But the downer is it can mean that it’s tough to decide on what to choose, with many of the myriad timings overlapping and crossing over. It also doesn’t leave much of an opportunity for beggaring, which, as anyone knows, is essential when you’re losing it in the middle of a field during daylight hours.

Photo: Victor Frankowski

We did our level best to choke down what we could of the line-up without pushing our gag reflex too hard. But before we weaved past the police hounds on the entrance, our first surprise was the climate. When we arrived at mid-afternoon. Victoria Park was suspiciously dry. Clear skies and queues of punters not entrenched in a muddy gridlock seemed a promising pointer to the rest of the day.

And so it almost proved. Sort of. Proceedings got off to a hedonistically boom boom start – Night Slugs main man L-Vis 1990 was the first player we clocked in the now towering Bugged Out! tent. He smashed the place this way and that with a high-octane collection of rolling, filtered house bangers. It climaxed amid plumes of billowing smoke with L-Vis’s quiff abobbing while Alan Braxe and Fred Falke’s mighty ‘Intro’ clattered all about us.

Modern dance poster boy Benga was up next and proved ‘massive largeness’ is what he does when it comes to delivering his skew on all things dubstep. Clad in a vest and baying like a bass-loving rock star at the crowd on the lip of the stage, he laid down a relentless set of low-end, yet poppy wobblers, while MC Youngman shouted his hype over the top. Benga is an undoubtedly fun and harmless proposition when you’re stumbling round a tent but his continuous fist punching and reluctance to dip his beak into anything not turned all the way up to ‘anthemic’ didn’t keep our musical whistle wet. Erol Alkan, on the other hand, was a lankier, and more unpredictable proposition. He played a set of high-nrg dance like a man rediscovering his electronic mojo and love for finely tuned techno which both blistered and burned. His set lacerated to such an extent that one girl was seen surfing atop the crowd while somehow riding a rocking horse.

Carl Craig

It was leaving Bugged Out! that proved to be the tipping point which popped our gung-ho momentum. A blight of rain saw the event’s vibe begin to fray round the edges (despite a rainbow) while certain smaller stages were suddenly booked with acts with reps too gargantuan to be contained within their perimeters. Shows by Jamie XX and SBTRKT at the Blogger’s stage were met with crowds bigger than the new year’s day sales down at M&S – which is enough to be five roadblocks rolled into one.

Elsewhere line up clashes and our ever increasing bleariness meant it was hard to choose between the likes of James Blake and Kieran Hebden and James Holden’s b2b session. We caught a small amount of each through the hoards before losing hope of finding chums and giving it up for the bar, a trip to the toilets and The Horrors. Faris Rotter and his bunch of scraggly cohorts have been receiving numerous doffs of the cap for rummaging through the Simple Minds back catalogue as inspiration on their latest album, ‘Skying’. And, despite scepticism of their previous big hair and Dickens‘ street urchin look, they proffered a blast of bombast to a packed tent we somehow managed to breach. ‘Still Life’ and ‘Moving Further Away’ sounded utterly life-affirming before we ran back over for Bugged Out! for the last half of Carl Craig’s epic techno light show, though banging but was difficult to vibe off considering we walked in half-way through. Which is indicative of Field Day. There’s no doubt you can have a cracker catching bits of this and that and cherry picking from the lengthy line up. But one always feels you’re missing more than you’re seeing, which, considering the 40 quid price tag leaves a slightly sour taste in the gob, no matter how many four quid beers you’ve necked. It’s steadily on the way but you’d think by year five they’d get it totally right. Fingers crossed for 2012…

Jim Ottewill

You can find out about all things Field Day over at the official website.