My first time at Field Day and I’ve already been warned of gargantuan queues just to gain access to what has been vividly described to me as a seething mass of compressed people. Getting off at the wrong tube does little to assuage my fears as I follow an ever-increasing column of young people on a Hipster Hajj, making their way around the perimeter of Victoria Park.
After the second queue I’m in, and… it is spacious and green if a little grey-skied. There are claims of ‘same capacity, bigger site’ and I get the feeling that maybe they’ve finally cracked it, and though the whims of the crowd and the weather later will undo some of the good work, that isn’t exactly their fault.
Watching people criss-cross between big tops and food stands, I’m vaguely inspired by the variety of cuisine to approach the day like the fine smorgasbord it is: a little indie rock starter here, a little entrée of aqua-crunk there. I make a bee line for The Internet (“Our first festival show ever. Swag it out”) where Syd the Kid and Matt Martians prove why they’re the emotional heart of OFWGKTA. Soulful and groove-filled, they acquit themselves well as last-minute replacements for Death Grips – though I’m not sure those who wanted some harsh confrontational hip hop would see it as a fair swap.
By the time I arrive, The Bugged Out tent it is already ‘going off’ so vigorously that I worry for the health of the audience when Rustie finally takes the stage. I avoid seeing spontaneous rave-induced combustion as The Everything is running late and I have to dash to catch my personal ‘must see’ at Eat Your Own Ears’ main stage. As Liars come on stage, God decides to shine the only sun of the day on a great set that weaves between anxious dread, creepy euphoria and ‘challenging’ drum-centric grooves. That seems pretty incongruous to the now calm sunshine that is bathing the main stage, but hey I’m not a priest.
Afrocubism feel like they would have been a better choice for the sun. The stage is jam-packed with musicians, the crowd is as lively as they are, and we’re treated to a rolling jam session punctuated by solos blending hi-life guitar, kora, trumpets and bongos to deliver unfettered joie de vivre.
Hudson Mohawke offers an altogether different kind of euphoria, the tent gets sweaty as he twists space-time to compress twice as much energy into half the space with his thrillingly full-on set of twisted crunk and rave-ivalism. It isn’t all delinquent nonsense though, and HudMo mixes enough intricate melody and subtlety of tone to the fat-bottomed bass. Elsewhere, in a kind of inverted rain dance, Jessie Ware cements herself as one to watch with a set that feels like the start of summer.
Then, like wonky-pop salmon we’re all swimming upstream to see Metronomydeliver a pretty buoyant crowd-pleasing set – their sun-kissed paeans to Britain are seemingly purpose-built for the Jubilee Weekend. Tortoise look like they’re enjoying themselves as much as everyone in the crowd, injecting extra groove to a set that, for a band specialising in post-rock and ‘out jazz’, makes it feel more like a bloody good time. Leaping from instrument to instrument they roll from spaced out, to spaciousness, from groove to groove.
With foreboding clouds and entirely inappropriate attire I decide to stick where I am. I’m immediately rewarded by Gold Panda’s full tilt joyful bliss, ballasted for the late (for Field Day) time slot with added bass. A foggy stage is lit up by cannon flash lights and deep red glows. Hinting at a harder edged sound for his impending new album, scatter-fire drums joust with breathy spiritual chants. We’re carried up into a whirling breathing mystical plane.
It‘s raining now, and this seems entirely apposite as Mazzy Star prepare to take the stage to deliver their sad, country-tinged American indie rock. Within seconds, lighters are in the air. The crowd, slightly older than I’ve seen all day, are getting all nostalgic for the ‘90s rock veterans from the first time round, showing upstarts – like Vaccines, playing elsewhere – how it’s done. Slowly building pace, they are skuzzy enough, and rockin’ enough, and when they play ‘Fade Into You’ tears are streaming down faces (probably – it was hard to tell in the dark).
Despite the inevitable downpour, Field Day was a blast. The warnings of densely packed kids only rang partially true. The hordes appeared in temporary clusters from time to time, in apparently unpredictable places. I’d wander from the main stage through acres of space to suddenly find myself in a rush hour crush. I wasn’t able to see a lot of the immense line-up – there were clashes and difficult choices. It must be nigh on impossible to predict or plan.
The organisers can’t be expected to tailor the day to my particular whims, but perhaps it finished before it had a chance to really get going, or maybe the admirable eclecticism left it feeling like it lacked a coherent centre. But Field Day still left me with a nagging sense of something missing.
This post originally appeared on Spoonfed on 6 June 2012