Field Day
A festival that continually verged from inspired to chaotic...

The relocation of Field Day from East London’s Victoria Park to South London’s Brockwell Park for this year’s 11th edition hasn’t been without its problems.

Since Victoria Park has been monopolised for mega-promoter AEG’s All Points East series, featuring headline sets from the likes of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The xx, and Bjork, Field Day has been forced to expand into a two day event in an area half the size.

The relocation has sparked protests from locals concerned about damage to the park’s ecosystem, as well as the dangers of overcrowding. The opposition reached such a pitch that in April Lambeth Council decided to review its policy to allow the festival to go ahead and for a moment it seemed the two-day event, headlined by Thundercat and Erykah Badu, might be cancelled.

Yet, the festival organisers won out and this weekend Brockwell Park hosted thousands of sun-baked revellers, prompting a severely disrupted set from Four Tet due to overcrowding, Erykah Badu being cut off for playing past curfew, and a bevy of some of London’s finest new jazz talent.

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Friday
One of the most notable features of this year’s Field Day lineup was the heightened presence of jazz acts on the first day’s billing. Reflecting the jazz resurgence that has been taking place throughout London over the past year, Friday’s stages included a tent hosted by the Total Refreshment Centre – the Dalston venue responsible for much of the scene’s notoriety and output.

Highlights at the TRC stage included a propulsive afternoon set from saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings’ Sons Of Kemet. Playing through their latest album, ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’, Hutchings led the crowd in a musical exploration of an alternate monarchy, one comprised of Hutchings’ queens: Ada Eastman, Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis.

Hutchings acted as musical director for this year’s compilation of the London jazz scene, ‘We Out Here’, and one of the acts whose work he oversaw followed him on the TRC stage, drummer Moses Boyd. Laying down a beguiling mix of electronics and acoustic jazz, Boyd touched on everything from afrobeats to hip-hop and be bop in his set, cementing his place as one of the foremost members of the London jazz crowd.

On the adjacent main stage, Norwich-based trio Mammal Hands played a beautifully melodic set of subdued instrumentals taken from their latest LP ‘Shadow Work’. With the crowd sat and basking in the sun, Mammal Hands played through the intricate rhythms of ‘Mansions Of A Million Years’, featuring saxophonist Jordan Smart on a Coltrane-inspired tenor solo, as well as drummer Jesse Barrett simultaneously playing the tablas and drums on ‘Transfixed’.

Operating more within the bounds of straight-ahead jazz, Mammal Hands displayed the emotive capacity of their downbeat compositions, rather than mere movement created by the upbeat.

Another downbeat highlight was singer-songwriter Moses Sumney. Adorned in billowing black trousers and accompanied only by a guitarist, violinist and drummer, Sumney evoked the atmosphere of a chamber orchestra with the luscious renditions of numbers such as ‘Don’t Bother Calling’, ‘Make Out In My Car’ and ‘Doomed’ taken from his debut album ‘Aromanticism’. Sumney’s fragile falsetto teetered on being lost in the murmuring crowd but his percussive use of the microphone and inventive looping maintained presence and energy throughout.

Friday night’s headline slot was a performance from neo-soul icon Erykah Badu. Typically late to the stage and adorned in a gigantic hat and enormous leather jacket, Badu was a larger-than-life presence. Yet, living up to her singular reputation, she refused to play any one song in full, instead peppering her set with jams from her drum machine, vocal ad-libs, and snippets of covers such as Groove Theory’s ‘Hello’ and Aaliyah’s ‘Rock The Boat’.

With her set running only just over the one-hour mark, she left the audience somewhat disappointed with her fragmentary performance, packing in sections of notable numbers such as ‘On And On’, ‘Tyrone’ and ‘Window Seat’ before her mic was taken from her and the strict curfew enforced.

Dedicated to the “90s babies”, such as Erykah’s son Seven, her set felt more like a glimpse into a rehearsal than a polished performance.

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Saturday
The beginning of the weekend proper brought a surge of festival goers to Field Day, with the proceedings punctuated by thronging crowds unable to enter or exit stages, inadequate washes of sound, and a hedonistic line up of hard-hitting DJs and producers.

The day began with a last-minute cancellation from Earl Sweatshirt, adding to Madlib’s cancellation the day before. Instead, then, was a considered show from pianist Nils Frahm playing to an already oppressively busy Barn stage. Frahm artfully combined what looked like a spaceship’s worth of modular synthesisers with percussive keys and looped electronics to elevate the classical into a rave-like intensity.

Adding a fistful of grit into the electronic mix was the lineup in the Resident Advisor tent. Berlin’s Objekt went back-to-back with Bristol’s Batu for a 90-minute afternoon odyssey of blistering electro, tectonic horns and bashment bounce. Both DJs mixed such variations seamlessly while keeping energy levels in the laser-lit stage high – a testament to the club crowd’s increasing appetites for leftfield productions, as well as a pounding 4/4 kick drum.

Following on from Objekt and Batu’s upbeat party selections, Avalon Emerson moved into trance and the big room synthesiser sounds taken from her latest Whities release. The white light and mass of dry ice hanging onstage after Emerson’s set was the perfect setting for Helena Hauff’s relentless set of squelching acid and abrasive techno. Keeping tempos typically high, Hauff paid no notice to the golden sunlight outside the tent, instead transporting the crowd into the inky black of a club night with her fast-paced mixes.

On the less aggressive side of the dance spectrum, Dan Snaith of Caribou laid down a euphoric set of disco, jungle and garage under his Daphni moniker, while Australia’s DJ Boring subverted his ironic stage name with propulsive lo-fi house selections, including his stand-out release earlier this year with Stanley Schmidt, ‘Stay Young’.

As Snaith played his set, however, the Barn stage continued to fill, reaching a sweltering capacity for Floating Points before the entire space had to be closed during Four Tet’s opening. Eventually playing a shortened set, he left an increasingly angered crowd chanting for his return and a woefully inadequate security team to deal with the hoards of people still trying to enter the stage.

It seemed that at the close of the festival, the fears of the Brockwell Park locals had come to fruition, leaving festival-goers fearful of overcrowding and disappointed at what amounted to a 30-minute headline slot.

Luckily, all was not lost though as main stage headliner Thundercat powered through a set of jazz fusion and falsetto-laden renditions of the cat-themed ‘Tron Song’, the club-ready ‘Oh Sheit It’s X’ and R&B ‘Drink Dat’. Having played bass for Erykah Badu in the early 2000s, he brought out the Friday night headliner for a performance of ‘Them Changes’ to raucous cheers from the audience.

Countering Badu’s gigantic white hat with white leather sandals, knee-high Spiderman socks and a black cap with the tag still attached, Thundercat rattled through a litany of mind-melting bass runs, culminating in the flawless drum solo of Justin Brown on ‘Lotus And The Jondy’. The frenzied ending of Thundercat’s set seemed the perfect representation of the weekend’s events: invigorating and all the more so since it operated constantly on the verge of falling apart.

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Words: Ammar Kalia

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