Review: Field Day 2016

Art & Culture

Being a London festival this summer, there were as an element of inevitability in an early downpour. This year's line up for Field Day seemed more consistent than ever with the return of The Avalanches, PJ Harvey and James Blake, all at the forefront of proceedings. Alongside a host of reputable names they brought an enthrawled crowd to Victoria Park to witness the rain, shine, beer, mud, umbrella waving, fancy dress wearing loudness of the British summer time. 

Fuelled by ale and fried chicken, and driven by the opening of heaven’s floodgates, the first few hours were spent shuttling between the dance tents. Avalon Emerson kicked things off after arrival with an hour of inspired techno selections ranging from the lush to the gritty, appreciated by a thin but dedicated crowd.

Moscoman fared better on this front – there was five people in the tent at the start of his set, but by the end it was packed out. Admittedly this might be partly related to the continuing downpour, but everyone who found themselves sheltering from the rain becomes witness to one of the best sets of the weekend. The Saharan blues groove of Imarhan was a particular highlight, as was Moscoman’s own remix of Coma’s ‘Borderline’, a stone cold R$N office fave.

Special Request was, as always, an absolute blast, barreling through new school jungle breaks and significantly cranking up everyone’s heartbeats. The music clean and punchy without being anemic, combining rave energy with big room techno aesthetics.

Playing a surprisingly early slot, Skepta hit the mainstage for only his second show in the capital since the release of Konnichiwa. Opening with the title track before going into the now immortal ‘That’s Not Me’, he weathers some sound issues before the energy levels really get going. ‘Man’ and Devilman diss track ‘Nasty’: both get a pretty good reception, but the biggest cheers come for ‘It Ain’t Safe’ and ‘Shutdown'. At one point DJ Maximum teases ‘Man Don’t Care’, but then there’s no JME. A section of BBK do show up though, Shorty and Jammer hit the stage for ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Detox’.

Over on the Fader stage, Champion did not mess around, delivering a crowd-pleasing set targeted at the hometown crowd. Towards the end he pulled for some pretty bait tracks, but everyone’s loving it – bar a horrendous bassline remix of Arctic Monkeys. He has an incredible knack for revitalising tired tunes, and making new ones pop with the allure of the unknown. Four Tet argued on Twitter the other week that Champion is mixing club tracks “better than pretty much anyone in the world right now.” Hyperbole aside, he’s not wrong – technically he’s on another level, pulling stuff together so effortlessly that you only notice the seams when he wants you to.

Playing late in the Saturday afternoon, Kelela displayed her vocal prowess as a live performer on the RA stage. Battling pulsing bass with her angelic voice, she took full command of the adoring crowd that filled the tent. The singer rolled through ‘Go All Night,’ showing a vocal maturity that comes from her years preforming as a jazz vocalist and RnB performer before she gained fame as a solo artist. Switching between her more upbeat melodies and her slower ballads, she hopped around the dimly lit stage, almost bare stage in all white, and it was hard to take your eyes off her. 

“Not many people are willing to get into their feelings at a festival,” she mused to the crowd, mid-way through set. “And people tell me not to do ballads but FUCK THAT!” The crowd agreed with roaring applause.

Over at the Moth tent for a 6pm start was Ghanain musician Ata Kak, well-known for his album Obaa Sima that featured as the first post on Awesome Tapes From Africa in 2006. The then-blog featured a trove of finds by Brian Shimkovitz, who collected cassettes from all over the continent and shared them online. He later to reissued many on a record label by the same name, including Ata Kak’s 1994, after hunting down the artist. The Ghanain musician’s set at Field Day was infectiously bouyant, and it was a joyous sight to hear the highlife music making the crowd bounce around in the grey and wet weather. Ata Kak – real name Yaw Atta-Owusu – lyrical prowess in ‘Obaa Sima,’ and ‘Moma Yendodo’ was matched probably only by his exceptional dancing. The man has some serious moves. 

Headlining the main stage at the end of the first evening was a live performance by James Blake. In the wake of his recent release, this was one of the first performances the vocalist and producer had played in his home town. Assisted by Rob McAndrews on guitar and Ben Assiter on drums, the live execution of his album was sharp, sleek, and exemplary of the global notoriety Blake is now receiving. From his Field Day performance, it appears that he has managed the often unachieved feat of growing and developing his sound without estranging himself of the unique qualities that brought him so much praise to start with. Opening with ‘Life Round Here,’ he switched then to newer material of ‘Choose Me,’ where the vocals are notably more pressing, more urgent. And perhaps Blake as a performer is now more assured where once a little reserved. His voice is still hauntingly impressive, and rhythmically, the set was well balanced, punctuated with heavy and melodramatic silences and even swerving into stretches of techno in ‘Voyeur’ and ‘I Hope My Life.’ He closed with ‘Retrograde’ and ‘The Wilhelm Scream,’ the evolution of his sound from 2010 until now melded effortlessly together over the evening’s performance. 

If Saturday, had been muddy and wet Sunday offered a far more pleasant, damp but relaxed contrast. Odd showers dispersed crowds occasionally but there was more dancing in the rain than there was hiding. 

There was a reluctant sense of excitement as Daphni opened his set. Much of the last two days had been met with heavy downpours but what was to follow soon forgot what had come before. He worked his way through percussive euphoria before the heavens broke: this was soon followed by some sort of bizarre rain dance ritual of umbrellas and unrelenting grooves. 

Following this The Avalanches made a triumphant return, sort of. As the return of one of the most pioneering cut and chop, playmaking groups, slightly more could of been expected from their brief one hour set. They worked through the sounds of soca, acid house and hip hop but somehow there was a lacking sense of connectivity. Cult hits ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ and ‘Since I left You’ were of course well received, but yet we left unconvinced. 

The conclusive set on Sunday was by Glaswegian veterans Optimo. They delivered to a relatively small, but eagerly engaged and interactive crowd who moved encouragingly along with the sounds of anthemic house to The Specials. It rounded off a weekend which has amassed a reputation for a wide reaching bill, and seemed perfectly apt. Mud can’t stop us now. 

Written By Nadia Jones, Cosmo Godfree and Alasdair King. 

Photos by DJ Tendraw

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