Field Day 2012

Field Day has become a serious contender in the boutique festival circuit as it passes its 5th year. It has become the herald for the onslaught of music festivals, as it is poised on the brink of summer at the 1st of June. Yet the festival is only one day and so serves more as an appetizer than supplement for a summer in music. However, the festival contains two strong facets that will continue to encourage festival-goers to divert on this brief sojourn. Firstly it contains a healthily eclectic line-up with the alternative balanced by the big acts. Secondly, Field Day is very reasonably priced, at only £45, especially considering such a strong line-up. It is certainly a bonus that the festival is based in the scenic Victoria Park in East London.

However, these positives are inevitably weighed against the festival’s disadvantages. The greatest conflict of all one-day festivals is being able to fit in as many acts as possible within such a short time frame. Field Day had six stages in quite a small area, which sometimes meant that the loudest sets often overwhelmed the quieter bands in the neighbouring stages. For example in 2011, Mark Kozelek, the acoustic musician of Red House Painters fame, stopped his set as his music couldn’t be heard over the band playing nearby. This year, perhaps the organizers avoided the problem by not choosing many quiet bands, although a tension still remained for the musicians to be heard over the background noise. Furthermore, many acts were reduced to half-hour or 40 minute sets, which barely allowed the bands time to express beyond their normal routine.

The most frustrating factor was perhaps the festival’s crowdedness. It took my friend over an hour to pick up his tickets and get through the barriers, and then another hour to get money from the cash machines. Also security was the tightest I had ever seen in a festival, with pat-downs, bag searches and security dogs. And though perhaps this was necessary in London, there was no need to throw my cheese sandwich away. A friend also noted that the security guards were probably taking pleasure in roughing up the wax-moustachioed hipsters.

The festival started at noon and we arrived at 2.15. The first act was the hippy survivor R. Stevie Moore at the “Village Mentality” stage, who apparently has made over 300 records, yet only recently has entered the broader limelight. His stage antics lived up to his reputation with marijuana print latex, a blue beard as well as bluesy jams.

The ever-transforming dance-punk Liars were on the “Eat Your Own Ears” main stage to promote their new album WIXIW. The softly menacing sounds did sound impressive, however it was totally at odds with the sunny mid-afternoon surroundings, and so would have been better to have placed them at a later time.

I was very excited to Fennesz play, as the Austrian musician distorts guitar riffs into layers of ethereal feedback. We encountered an middle-age guy in leather jacket at the cosy “BleeD/Lanzarote Stage,” and he was certainly not disappointing. We had to lie down to handle the face-melting distortion, and a friend had to leave as the sound became to heavy for him, but it was totally worth enduring.

Andrew Bird was next port-of-call back at the main-stage. Although his most recent album Break it Yourself isn’t one of his best, the man was reliably entertaining with faultless violin and whistling. He is also perhaps one of the best-dressed musicians on the circuit these days with amazingly casual suits.

Grimes, the squeaky Quebecois girl, had certainly become the new buzzword in alternative music, as her set at the “Village Mentality” tent was packed. So packed that even on someone’s shoulders I could only see the silhouette of a girl at the stage. She definitely sounded like she was having a good time, as squeals could be heard between verses, but it was so crammed in the tent, and the stage was barely above the ground, that there was a strong disconnection between the musician and the crowd a few layers from her. She definitely should’ve been on the main-stage where there was space to dance and a chance to actually see her.

Post punk legends Tortoise played after Grimes at “Village Mentality.” They were superb, with surprisingly catchy riffs, and incredible drumming, at one time with three drummers. It was a real shame to leave them early to see The Men.

The Men, the New York punkers supporting their second album Open Your Heart was perhaps our most anticipated band. They played at the tiny “Shacklewell Arms” Stage and had only a half hour set, but this didn’t deter them at all. The set seemed more like an extended jam session, where three out of the four members sang lead at one point and messy solos ensued. Perhaps the highlight of the whole festival was when they began playing their anthemic “Turn it Around.” The small crowd immediately transformed into a mosh pit with crowd-surfing, while I (perhaps wisely) stuck to the railing. After their brief set there seemed huge camaraderie as moshers were shaking hands and hugging each other, going back into the real world.

Beirut, the percussion festival favourite, played next at the main-stage. They played almost all of the classic sing-along-songs such as “Elephant Gun” and “Nantes”. However, as a few friends noted the set seemed quite subdued. And the reason why most of the audience ended in a gargantuan jig (which I’d like to claim responsibility for starting) may have been that the music began to sound a bit samey, and so the crowd focused more on dancing than the band itself.

After much debate between Franz Ferdinand and Mazzy Star, we eventually settled for the former to conclude the night. It was a good decision. Apart from diehard fans, most music-lovers would agree that Franz Ferdinand’s first self-titled album was incredible, but they have not paid much attention to the band’s later works. Franz Ferdinand certainly knew this, which is why they began the set with “Michael” and eventually went through over half their first album. What became progressively apparent was that Franz Ferdinand have so many instantly recognisable songs, as they segued from “No You Girls” to “Walk Away”. And although there were a few new songs that weren’t as stellar, such as “Fresh Strawberries” and “Trees and Animals”, the whole set was thoroughly entertaining, and a perfect conclusion to the night.

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