Review: Field Maneuvers – A Reflection

Art & Culture

2015 marked the third edition of Field Maneuvers and in many ways little has changed in the festival’s winning formula: a cosy site by a river, a selection of DJs and live acts plucked from the finest around the world and a crowd of rave ready revellers intent on dancing until they drop.  

Set in the same field outside Oxford that the festival’s organizers once attended free parties in (only now with a line-up to dwarf Fabric’s birthday celebrations), it’s a simple journey to and from London, home to the majority of their crowd. So close, in fact, that Ransom Note find a taxi each way is cheaper than three last minute return train tickets.

With a capacity of only around 650, it’s as easy to navigate once on site, a walk from the furthest end of the campsite to the most distant DJ tent only five minutes under peak conditions – something that you may not maintain for long. It’s this intimate scale that is a major part of Field Maneuvers charm. Even after the inevitable death of your phone battery, finding friends doesn’t take long. With only three stages, alongside a 24-hour cinema tent, a handful of food stalls, assorted hay bales, the night-time fire pit and a giant light sculpture, there’s no dull trudging through endless campsites, just easily accessible and undiluted fun.

This is partly what has created the dedicated community of familiar faces already coming back year after year, ranging from fresh at it twenty-somethings to defining acts such as Altern-8’s Mark Archer, playing his third year in a row. But the other essential element is a roll call of annual talent that suggests Field Maneuvers have some seriously compromising photos of the country’s biggest DJ agents.

Arriving just before darkness on Friday night, the Potala Palace main stage’s opening run includes Bristol’s Shante Celeste, Night Moves duo Jade Seatle and Jane Fitz (the latter of whom is programming the nearby Tea Tent for the second year running), re-edit king turned house selector Mark E and Marcellus Pittman, a Detroit resident and one third of the Three Chairs alongside Theo Parrish and Moodymann. 

But even this fine ensemble isn’t enough to keep us locked on one dancefloor, as we flit between here and Sputnik, a Tardis-like dome filled with smoke, lasers and the fiercest, face-melting techno. Volte Face, Casper C’s latest incarnation, dispenses jagged sci-fi sounds before Daniel Avery sends heads spinning with swirling, radioactive rifts. Ben Sims then dispenses with any such niceties, Randomer’s ‘Stupid Things I Do’ one of a boshing selection welcoming back techno in its direct and most brutal form.

If there’s one criticism of Field Maneuvers, it’s that Friday night’s enjoyment – which sees the music finish at 4am, but the partying continue on the camp site for much longer – is so substained that Saturday takes a while to get going again, a shame since mid-afternoon features the likes of One Eye Jacks boss Photonz and Ben Sims playing a versions reggae set. Come nightfall again and there are yet more decisions to be made, Ethyl & Flori storming the Tea Tent, the returning Ryan Elliot taking off alongside Francis Inferno Orchestra in Sputnik and a run of grime, funky and garage stars, Elgato, MJ Cole, Slimzee and Brackles tearing out the insides of Potala Palace.

Sunday brings a literal burst of late blooming summer, with the main stage also being moved outside early on. It’s the perfect backdrop for Auntie Flo to ply his brand of Afro sounds and classic house, like Dennis Ferrer’s ‘Son Of Raw’. Soaked in solar energy and daubed with face paint, the festival moves back inside en masse as Black Madonna begins the final push, a runway specially installed in front of her DJ booth. Quando Quango’s ‘Love Tempo’ proves the takeoff track for her timely blend of funked up disco and jacking Chicago house, and Nick Hoppner stokes the fires further until it’s time for festival closers, Optimo. 

Part woozy, wonky techno, part dance classics – Fatima Yamaha’s ‘What’s A Girl to Do’, ‘I Feel Love’, Ben E King’s ‘Stand By Me’ – it’s a frenzied, euphoric finale that has everyone spilling out into the cinema tent at midnight refusing to accept it’s all over. Several hours and two Valium later, it is for us. Optimo might have sounded the final note, but with plenty of DJs already clamouring to play again, next year’s line-up is already promising to outdo 2015.