This weekend is one of great British summer traditions: football hooliganism beer, live music, and rain. Lots of rain. Field Day, thankfully, only experiences the latter few of these, as revellers from all over London, and some from further afield (pun definitely intended), descend on Hackney’s Victoria Park for the festival’s tenth birthday.
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Nicholas Allbrook – Pond frontman and ex Tame Impala bassist – kicks off the weekend’s festivities at the Eat Your Own Ears stage, a waif-ish pixie man decked out in dungarees, bouncing and meandering about the stage in a childlike dream state. His stripped-back set gives centre stage to his idiosyncratic vocals, showed off at their most unique on recent track, ‘Advance’.
Next – as the heavy rain begins to fall outside – it’s Let’s Eat Grandma at the Moth stage tent, looking eerily twin-like (despite not being related) in identical outfits, waist-length brown hair swinging in time to the heavy synth, their sickly-sweet, almost creepy vocals filling the space with an air of mystery. It’s an impressive set from the two teenagers Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, already carving out a musical niche for themselves.
As if to welcome London’s golden boy to his homecoming, the rain gives way to bright sunshine in time for Skepta on the Eat Your Own Ears stage. Despite a shaky start – the bass popping and breaking – once the sound issues are fixed, he and his brothers in grime from Boy Better Know get the crowd bouncing, shouting the lyrics to ‘Shutdown’ and ‘That’s Not Me’ back to the stage. Meanwhile, at the Crack Magazine stage, DIIV bring their Brookyln shoegaze-grunge with a set mainly drawn from this year’s epic 17-track 'Is The Is Are', taking suggestions from the audience for the final tracks.
Back at Eat Your Own Ears, more Brooklyners take to the stage. Yeaysayer do their best to brighten the damp crowd with quips about the USA – “We ‘re from a stupid country called America…we might elect a psychopath as our next president” – and suggesting the crowd “dance the rain away”. By the end of their set, with infectious new single ‘Silly Me’ and crowd-pleasers from 2010’s Odd Blood, we’re showing those rainclouds who’s boss.
There’s time to catch some of Gold Panda’s beats, traipse through the mud for a well-deserved beer break and somehow closing act James Blake is already upon us. While it could easily have been too small a sound to fill the park, Blake’s set more than rose to the challenge, turning the subtle and intimate into something more soaring and euphoric, helped along by an appearance from grime MC Tink, upping the tempo and the Saturday night ambiance.
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Parquet Courts draw a massive crowd for the opening set on Sunday – slacker fans from all over London have obviously managed to drag themselves out of bed uncharacteristically early. "You're a lot calmer than the French press is making you out to be. Maybe that's just because there aren't any chairs around…" quips Austin Brown towards the end of a blistering set, taking in tracks from 'Light Up Gold' (to the joy of the fans up front) all the way through to this year’s 'Human Performance'. Our fears that the band’s punky edge might be lost in such a big space is dispelled, and we’ll be forever thankful to have witnessed ‘Master Of My Craft’ live.
Then comes Adam Green – introducing himself as “Aladdin” – dancing in a fez. He is the epitome of joy during his set of tracks from his latest short film, Aladdin (guess what character he plays?), creating a sort of Arabian-Nights- meets-Charlie- and-the- Chocolate-Factory type scene. Green’s impish glee infects the crowd; we spot him later, happily chatting and hanging out with fans in the sunshine.
Over at the Moth Stage Molly Nilsson – Swedish-born and Berlin-based – is as ice- cool as you’re expect given her birthplace and city of residence. She delivers a slice of intelligent, politically relevant synth-pop (all put out on her own label), in moody, nonchalant Nico-esque tones, her poise and composure making the rest of us (already having been rained on at least twice) feel excessively scruffy and undignified.
Composure isn’t a priority for Fat White Family at the Shacklewell stage – Lias Saoudi, a tightly wound spring let loose in front of his band, stripped to his Y-fronts, working the crowd into a frenzy with his manic, angular convulsing. Apocalyptic and downright dirty, the south London boys lend a much-needed angry London voice to the day’s line-up.
It speaks volumes about the quality and variety of Field Day’s billing this year that we can wander past the main stage catching snippets drifting over from a founding member of Sonic Youth, while on our way to see some Swedish psychedelic world fusion afrobeat: good times indeed. GOAT do not disappoint on the Shacklewell stage, swirling and yowling their way through numbers from 2012’s 'World Music', masks, head-dresses and robes shimmering in time with the infectious beat, sending shamanic shockwaves through the crowd.
Back in the afternoon sunshine, John Grant takes to the Eat Your Own Ears stage. While his soul-baring lyrics plunge the darkest depths of what it is to be human – rejection, self-loathing, sickness – the funky electronic grooves, witty lines (“Half of the time I think I'm in some movie / I play the underdog of course / I wonder who they'll get to play me / Maybe they could dig up Richard Burton's corpse.”) and Grant’s uninhibited dance moves – man, the guy can twerk – uplift the crowd beyond anything we’ve seen so far. Truly “the greatest motherfucker” (his words, not ours) to grace a Field Day stage.
Ruling over her army of be-suited men (among them long-time collaborator John Parish) PJ Harvey launches into the day’s triumphant closing set, trouping through her latest record, delivering melancholy, almost detached, observations on the world’s suffering, set against the backdrop of a marching band. Slinky and writhing like a snake, cloaked in tar-black feathers, she gives us older gems too, like ‘To Bring You My Love’, ‘Working for the Man’, ‘Down By the Water’ – the power of her sensual, almost animalistic guttural moans has only been empowered by the years – and ‘A Perfect Day Elise’, demonstrating her versatility as an artist and ability to flit between moods, while forever maintaining that idiosyncratic dark magic.
Queen Polly Jean gives us a magical end to a weekend of music so diverse – and of such high quality – it’s no wonder the crowds come back year after year, whatever the weather.
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Words: Emma Finamore
Photography: Holly Whitaker