In our late-capitalist condition, choice can become tyranny. Supermarket shopping turns out to be an anxiety-inducing exercise in self-discipline and Spotify algorithms leave you trawling through endless playlists searching for exactly the right song to fit the mood you’re in (which, in itself you can’t quite pin down). One annual event which displays this joyous excess and consequent frustration in equal measures is Field Day.
Now in its tenth year, the London day festival has garnered a reputation for building line-ups packed with so much talent that while being a music fan’s dream, it often turns into a clash-finding nightmare requiring a small army of production coordinators to navigate. Condensing their usual weekend line-up into a single day for the 2017 edition, this year’s Field Day seemed even more stuffed with must-see artists, including Aphex Twin whose headline set was his first UK performance in five years.
Strolling along a sun-speckled Regent’s Canal on the way to Victoria Park, you’d be hard pressed to find a more ideal setting for the day’s events. Beginning in the Resident Advisor tent, then, was Awful Records’ R&B songstress Abra. Accompanied by subtle electronics, she seduced the crowd through tracks taken from her standout 2015 debut album ‘Rose’, as well as from last year’s ‘Princess’ EP.
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The beauty of Field Day is its open-minded booking policy, meaning that you can go from an R&B auteur to German techno brutalism, all within a matter of minutes. As Abra brought her set to a close, therefore, techno icon and Berghain resident Marcel Dettmann was getting an afternoon crowd into the 4am spirit on the main stage, the Barn. Seemingly modelled after Brunel’s Paddington station concourse, the cavernous hangar-space of the Barn was the perfect setting for Dettmann’s austere selections, reverberating his machine sound off of the metal structure itself.
Conversely, as Dettmann lured his crowd into a techno trance through electronic manipulations, Ninja Tune experimentalist Forest Swords, aka Matthew Barnes, was translating his own mechanics of noise into live instrumentation elsewhere. Accompanied by a bassist while Barnes himself commandeered a rig of keys, the two flanked a stage displaying the luscious imagery of his latest ‘Compassion’ LP. A record borne from political despondency and the consequent desire to create new discourse, Barnes’ show was certainly powerful. Expanding tracks such as the eerie ‘Panic’ and the cinematic sweep of ‘Highest Flood’ with added bass-weight and ethereal vocals, Barnes evoked the texture of a Holly Herndon performance with the emotive melodic capacity of Moderat.
The very same Berlin trio followed Dettmann on the Barn stage with their brand of techno-infused synth-pop. Much like Forest Swords they produced visuals both figurative and abstract, translating their subby basslines and danceable drum patterns into a full audio-sensory experience. If you just wanted to dance to some choice selections and clean mixes though, the Bandstand was the place to be. There you could sit on a park bench in the sun while duo Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead played something of a split-personality b2b, pitting their two collective projects Raime and Yally against each other. Both projects are characterised by an insidious bass, with Raime’s murky gloom countering Yally’s high energy Bassline.
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Hyperdub head honcho Kode9 also featured on the bandstand, showcasing his clinical expertise in mixing half-time trap and grime seamlessly with the tripping syncopations of footwork, dropping crowd pleasers from DJ Rashad and the wider Teklife crew. Cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, his set was typically satisfying yet challenging.
By this point in the day, with the late afternoon sun receding and a morning’s worth of beer being massaged into the bloodstream with the help of a morning’s worth of bass-vibration, the food trucks were calling. Opting for a grilled cheese toastie, a thirty-minute queue meant missing Nicolas Jaar and the performance of his latest ‘Sirens’ work. Sadly, only complex carbohydrates and trans-fats could keep me sustained, rather than Jaar’s journeying groove.
Moving on, Detroit house legend Moodymann delivered a rousing set of ‘90s R&B and hip-hop, as well as his own Mahogany productions, looking the part in a signature white bucket hat and shades.
Moodymann was the perfect warm up for RA tent headliner Flying Lotus, laying down many of the producer’s influences before he took to the stage. Employing his custom setup of two screens with his equipment table sandwiched in-between, the psychedelic sonic assault launched immediately with a medley of tracks from FlyLo’s most recent ‘You’re Dead!’ LP. Unfortunately, the free jazz-cum-electronica and polyrhythmic trap was too much for a friend who promptly spewed out the day’s intake onto my foot, just as a calming remix of the Twin Peaks theme was played. Yet, delving into 2012’s ‘Until the Quiet Comes’ against the backdrop of Khalil Joseph-inspired LA cityscapes, FlyLo soon moved away from the jazz and onto new compositions for his film ‘Kuso’, as well as P-Funk explorations.
Once again, with disco selector Hunee, Syrian singer Omar Souleyman, and Run the Jewels all overlapping with Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin and many more, the choice of who to end the day with was a difficult one. Unless you were the man walking through the crowd with the Aphex logo tattooed onto your shaven head, that is. Sensing a kindred spirit in this rave warrior, it was the two-hour Aphex set for me, and it did not disappoint. Visually stunning with a full laser show, as well as a backdrop of screens depicting the classic ‘Window Licker’ face pasted variously onto British monarchy, Jeremy Kyle, Katie Hopkins, Blobby, and members of the audience, Aphex delivered on all levels.
Beginning with an ambient intro, the set slowly built to include breakbeats, ‘90s jungle, hardcore, and rave, as well as tracks from Squarepusher, Chino Amobi, and Underground Resistance. Aphex himself was hunched over a modular effects panel and other seemingly magical equipment at the back of the stage, mixing tempos and commanding the crowd with expertise. Keeping the majority of the set at around 80% volume, he reserved full power for only the choicest moments, whipping the audience into a frenzy before immediately cutting off and moving into obscure territory once more.
Always one to subvert expectation, at points his set moved into grime and trap territory before building increasingly in pace to reach gabber tempos; a speed so fast that for the final ten minutes kick drums melted into snares and the audience was immersed in a sound bath of cathartic noise, with the occasional vocal telling us to ‘fuck off’. Choice aside, if you only came to Field Day to see Aphex Twin, you would’ve spent your money and time well.
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Words: Ammar Kalia
Photography: Ben McQuaide / Rachel Lipsitz (As Credited)