The end of the summer is like when your best mate goes away to the other side of the world. You know they'll be back someday, but it still doesn't lessen the sting of them leaving any less. You know the warmth and happiness you had when they are with you may not be around for much longer, but at least you know the leaving party is always going to be a banger. So it is with Field Maneuvers, the intimate Oxfordshire based festival that is the going away party the fleeting English summer truly deserves.
The site is only an hour's drive outside London but it's well hidden, so much so that it's not even on Google maps and our car ended up missing the turning for it about three times, doubling back on ourselves until we noticed the very modest roadwork sign that basically just said: “F.M, THIS WAY MATE.”
And then it's only when you arrive onto the site that you realise how small it really is. Suddenly the name Field Maneuvers makes a whole lot more sense because the place is literally one field, and yet there is a whole lot of fucking manoeuvring going on when you get there. The festival is essentially a camping bit slightly bigger than your rich mates back garden and a field with an outdoor stage, a Sputnik looking dome stage and three other tents, two for holding the dance and one full of hay, sofa's and a bar to take a breather in. You can hear your mate call your name from the end of one part of the field to the other, and after having to traipse 45 minutes across dusty or muddy pathways to get from one spot to the other for the whole of the summer it was actually a huge relief to be in a place such as this, which at times felt more like a old school illegal rave than a proper festival, but was all the more better for it.
And you could tell the people who ran the gaff had obviously been to a few raves or two themselves because even though the stages were small; for example the main tent (called the Potala Palace) was only really able to hold no more than 200 people at a time, they all packed a serious wallop in terms of sound. I thought it was strange that I could hear the systems bang it out so hard and crisp even to the early hours of the morning every night until I realised that the organisers had cleverly put stacks of hay around the two tents to minimise the noise, to the point that you could stand right outside them and have quiet conversation with a chum with absolutely no fuss. The Sputnik Dome tent didn't seem to have the same hay outside it but still pumped just as loudly, and even though it was so small you could spit from one side to the other, whenever you stepped inside it the smoke and the atmosphere really transported you to another world for as long as you could take the heat. Because all of the tents got extremely hot and sweaty within seconds of when some of the best DJ's started playing. Again, all very old school illegal rave, and all very fun to be in the middle of.
But really the reason why the atmosphere and the fun was so prevalent across the weekend was line up, one that was extremely well put together for a festival that was only meant for 700 people. As in, so well put together that I'm suspicious the organisers must have some serious dirt on a lot of people in the dance scene because some of the acts they managed to get you regularly see play to crowds three or four times the size of the whole festival let alone the stages. On Friday there were raucous sets from Pariah, Ben Sims and Randomer in the Sputnik Dome and a typically wild a carefree closing set from Honey Soundsystem in Potala Palace. Saturday didn't let up, with Mark Archer b2b Jerome Hill bringing out all the old school ravers, acid smileys and a pure 90's vibe in the Sputnik Dome, carried on by Jane Fitz doing a typically eclectic '88-92 vinyl only' set, only for Ben UFO b2b Elgato and Brackles to tear the house down in the main tent with a mix of thumping techno, house and old school garage classics. By Sunday, a few people had left and two stages had closed, but there was the added bonus of the main tent being moved outside for a dirty deep down dance with Dan Beaumont b2b Hannah Holland and a lovely sunshine filled set of dancefloor classics from Greg Wilson. Then, and it was crazy to see for such a small stage and crowd, but there was a line up of Mike Servito, Studio Barnhus (including Axel Boman), Ryan Eliot and a huge finisher from the ever enigmatic Black Madonna to play out the rest of the night. It was truly a pleasure to see such a collection of massive acts so up close and personal, and also see them play so many cheeky tunes. It always feels like when the crowds are smaller the DJ's let loose and play some of their more outlandish or harder stuff and it definitely felt like it was the case with Sunday night's line up.
And outlandish and harder definitely describes a lot of the punters there as well. There was a great collection of seasoned veterans, young whipper-snappers and the ever present festival glitter fairies, cross dressers and everything in between all coming together, making friends and partying like the old times. I mean, with 700 people it's quite hard to not know quite a lot of the faces by the end of the weekend and I'd definitely made a few new friends or two by the time it was ready to leave. There was a special moment on the Sunday that really seemed to sum up the vibe of the whole festival when pretty much everyone who was there in attendance (including security, bar staff and a few police for good measure) all came together for what was one of the biggest 'traditional zany group shot at the end of a festival' pictures I've ever been a part of. It was a lovely moment and one that could only really happen with such a small but well rounded crowd.
Overall Field Maneuvers was a really special little event and one I'm recommending to all my friends (that means you, you are my only friends in this world). It really did feel at times like a hark back to my teenage illegal raving days in forests, fields and car parks, complete with old school ravers, old school tunes and an intimate and special atmosphere you just can't seem to get at the more highly polished raves and festivals going on these days. Obviously it didn't exactly replicate those kinds of events, because it was far more well run and safer, but if you do want to get a little glimpse into the days when all you've got for a party is some mates, a field and some vinyl to spin, you could do no better in England (legally) than go to Field Maneuvers.
FM2017 happens September 1st-4th.
Photo credits Jonny Pénzes Underhill.
Field Maneuvers addition: "banging sound was due to Sound Services and Funktion 1 in the main tent and Sputnik Dome and to Glen's legendary Opus rig from Freerotation in the Field Moves tent. We owe you guys alot. x"