Field Day is often the landmark event which indicates an escape from the miserable slumber that the winter in London bestows upon us. Gone are the days of digging the garden with headphones on in the vain hope that a ray of sunshine may break through the greyness up above. Hope has arrived and we are greeted buoyantly with a rare touch of heat and bright skies. The clock strikes midday and we were off to witness what is very possibly the most adventurous line up amongst any of the London festivals.
Walking briskly amidst the masses we excitedly made our way to Victoria Park in East London for what was to be the 11th edition. With a purposeful stride we marched through the parkside village passing bars of foaming ale... in the distance was the unmistakeable thud, thud, thud of bass amidst the warm breeze.
Upon entry we caught an emphatic glimpse of the new Barn stage looming high above green fencing - the same stage that, later that day, played host to a rare headline set from Aphex Twin. We meandered between a glittering crowd and masses of Aphex Twin t-shirts and bags replete with limited Aphex records that we'd missed out on, having sold out by 2pm that day.
Stumbling upon a packed Moth Club tent we could have been forgiven for our ignorance of >>BEAK’s output or that Geoff Barrow is the instigator of the project. Their kraut meanderings is a great introduction to the day and we’ll find ourselves back at this tent throughout.
Abra, the First Lady of Awful Records, managed to draw a huge crowd despite an early set time. Her bass-heavy R&B is primed for the club but was surprisingly done justice by a crisp, weighty soundsystem, a noticeable step up from last year’s event. Slinking onstage in a white puffa before losing it almost immediately, the self-proclaimed ‘darkwave duchess’ knew how to get a crowd on board, her alluring dancing set the tone for everyone to follow. The best tracks were those taken from last year’s Princess EP, such as ‘Crybaby’ and ‘Pull Up’, with their strong hooks resulting in a series of energetic singalongs.
Meanwhile, inside the gargantuan Barn structure Dettman is pounding it out at 3 in the afternoon. It pleases Dexter - our in house “I go to see Techno sober for fun” type - no end that the proverbial level of pounding is thus, so early. The Barn is an impressive structure and not something we’ve ever experienced in a UK festival before. It’s a bold move and will prove a wise one as the day shifts to night.
Elsewhere, amidst the backdrop of a heat soaked London, crowds fluttered between tents in an array of colours.
In stark contrast to this seasonal parade Overmono took to the darkness of the stage within the Bugged Out tent. Tessela and Truss have both amassed critical acclaim as producers in their own right having been heavily involved in UK club culture. Their respective sounds have seen them infuse elements of bass, house and techno. However, Overmono is something else entirely.
The lights began to flicker as we observed what was the most dance focussed crowd of the day thus far spring to life. Rave samples echoed rampantly around the tent as the low-end thud of bass weight began to rumble emphatically. The project is very much a modern day nod to the golden era of dance music gone by. There was little else on the lineup which embodied the idyllic enthusiasm of this sound and their music was met with a charmed response from a small but interactive crowd.
Back in the real world we managed to find the time to catch some of the amazing Silver Apples set who still has that something about him after all these years.
Wandering purposefully we then found ourselves, amidst a crowd within the Crack magazine tent alongside the company of Death Grips who treated us to a brutal, uncompromising barrage of noise. Their set drew heavily from 2016’s metal-leaning Bottomless Pit, and this style bleeds into their interpretation of older material, to the point where a handful of the tracks are barely recognisable. After the chainsaw guitars of ‘Inanimate Sensation’ and the chaotic thrash of ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’, the relatively easy Salt-N-Pepa-aping electro groove of ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ comes as an exhilarating release of tension, greeted with huge cheers from the crowd. The appeal of a Death Grips show remains in watching these stellar performers in the flesh - the octopus-limbed Zach Hill battering seven shades of shit out of his drum kit and the perennially shirtless MC Ride violently jerking his body and barking into the mic. A fearsome performance of ‘Guillotine’, and they were gone.
Shoegaze legends Slowdive headlined the Crack tent with a confident, assured performance. After reuniting three years ago for a handful of dates, the outpouring of emotion that greeted their return saw the band decide to record a new self-titled album, released just last month. The two tracks they play from that album - ‘Star Roving’ and ‘Sugar for the Pill’ - slip in perfectly alongside all the old favourites, soaring guitar lines cutting through the tent like a ship’s figurehead through the mist. A sudden rainstorm outside - the one time in the day there was anything less than perfect sunshine - had us all huddling together, lost in blissful reverie. From the stately glide of ‘Catch the Breeze’ to the sugary pop rush of ‘Alison’, the songs are delivered with a certain power that even exceeds that of the original records. Almost 30 years on, many bands have tried to harness this sound but honestly, no-one does it as well as Slowdive.
All of this was simultaneously accompanied by a rather bizarre twist from Moodymann which probably doesn’t need much more coverage here.
Some forty metres away Ikonika enticed a crowd of sun worshippers before the iconic Victoria Park bandstand. Bleep were in full control for the day and brought with them a prolifically weighty lineup which included Mike Paradinas, Raime and more.
Ikonika lured a large crowd through subtle blends of trap, uk bass and the experimental fringes of UK club music. A set which was as much a celebration of her influential role within the London scene as it was a festival outing. Thankfully a heady number of dancers led the charge which resulted in the observance of one of the most interesting dj sets of the day.
And then, the main event.
All roads had been leading up to the appearance of Richard D. James and in our very humble opinion he exceeded expectations.
Having watched him in various different settings and guises over the years there was a risk thet he might have played it deliberately obtuse, headlining something of such scale. He does but he plays the game. Seven minutes of white noise gives way to the clatter. People dance, people get confused, the lazers and visuals are mind-blowing. Some leave confused, yet the tent stays full. There’s more white noise, there’s more Aphex, the Barn feels ‘right’ and we left feeling satisfied that we might just have witnessed the most interesting set of the 2017 festival calendar.