During the first night of this year’s Field Maneuvers, I made a risky joke. Posing as a clueless punter, I shuffled over to renowned DJ, producer and Berghain resident Nick Hoppner and said, “there’s a lot of older people at this festival”. Thankfully Hoppner, himself gracefully entering middle age, smiled back at me and said, “that’s the selling point, right?”. Damn right: Field Maneuvers is all about the crowd.
The tiny three day festival, which upped its capacity this year from 700 to 800 people, attracts a broad range of ages and nationalities, bringing together old school ravers with a new generation of dance music-lovers, for a party in a big green field. The event’s community feel is epitomised by a unique festival tradition: the “FM Family Portrait”, which is just like a school photo, except with a bunch of festival goers.
Taking place on the fringes of a historical county town on the River Thames, Field Maneuvers’ “secret location 60 mins North West of London” is less clandestine than its description might suggest. But what more would you expect? Roughly the size of four football pitches, the FM festival site is pretty simple: half the field is for camping and the other half for music. There are five places to hear DJs play: the Field Maneuvers outdoor stage, which starts at noon and moves into the largest tent at night, the Field Moves tent, programmed by Jane Fitz and Jade Seatle’s Night Moves crew, the smoke-filled Sputnik, known colloquially as “the Dome”, and a new addition for 2018, the Ambient Tent.
With a lineup packed with both DJ’s DJs and burgeoning talent, each venue served up consistently excellent music. You could wander between stages with ease and generally find enough space to dance. The loos were decent, the security not too heavy-handed and the food tasty, if not slightly limited in choice: a vegan place (okay), a Pizza place (very good) and burger place (didn’t try). The drinks weren’t cheap. But that’s quite forgivable for an otherwise affordable, small festival, that no doubt needs to cover costs.
By virtue of its intimate setting Field Maneuvers is a tremendously easy place to meet people. If you strike up a conversation with a stranger, you’re very likely to run into them again, and again, and actually make friends. I went to Field Maneuvers with one close mate and we regularly found ourselves adopted by larger groups we had met during the course of the weekend.
This relaxed, welcoming vibe is probably one of the reasons why many DJs stick around for the whole festival. You’re just as likely to see an artist behind the decks as walking around in their comfy clothes. Take the legendary Jane Fitz, who DJ’d three times at Field Maneuvers: twice back-to-back with fellow Night Moves resident Jade Seattle and once for a three hour ambient set, during which she paused mid-mix to tell her friends to be quiet.
My personal highlight was hearing Eris Drew play in The Sputnik tent. Drew, a resident of Chicago’s Smart Bar, the same club that gave the world The Black Madonna, played an incredible, high energy set, perfect for The Sputnik. Although the smallest stage at Field Maneuvers, The Sputnik is by far the most rowdy, where you can barely make out the DJ booth due to the heavy smoke and lasers. The night before, I’d seen an already riotous dancefloor explode when Ben Sims played Tessela’s “Hackney Parrot (10 Ton Mix)”, but this was nothing compared with when Eris Drew played “Renegade Master”. I sent Drew a hopeful Instagram DM for a track ID, for what I thought was a breaks edit of the tune. Her prompt reply? “Hi!!! I actually played the original off vinyl and just blended the shit out of it. 🖐🏼💫💛”
I could list plenty of other beautiful dancefloor moments, from iona’s sun-kissed, pre-FM family portrait set, to Shed playing “Boom Room” in a big boomy room, but I’d rather end on a bit more background. Joel Kane, another unsuspecting DJ I shuffled up to, kindly introduced me first to the bloke who owned the field, and later to one of the festival’s organisers, Leon Cole. I asked Leon, who is General Manager at Bloc. by day, and runs Field Maneuvers alongside Bestival talent booker Ele Beattie, if the festival ever made any money. Most of the time they barely break even, he told me, but one time they did make “about £300”, which they rightly splurged on a team outing to a Korean restaurant.
It’s obvious that Field Maneuvers is a labour of love, but it was touching to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Having grown organically from a small party for friends to a small party for anybody, I couldn’t think of a better festival experience. It didn’t hurt that the weather was impeccable the entire weekend either. And that it only took me two hours to get back to my home in South London.
Before I left, I had a chat with Field Maneuvers’ festival medics, Hardcore Medical, who were letting people use their sun cream. The two medical professionals, who founded the company to be a non-judgemental medical presence at festivals, hadn’t had many patients over the weekend and admitted that by and large, the older, seasoned crowd resulted in a safer party atmosphere. I realised then that Field Maneuvers’ suppliers were obviously very carefully chosen, to fit with the welcoming ethos of the party. When I asked the two staff what made them want to help out music festivals like this, they said: “well, we’re hippies too”.
Words: Isaac Rangaswami
Featured Images: Jake Davis