When is a festival not a festival? When, we would suggest, it takes place in the middle of a park in the (not quite) middle of a major city? When it lasts for just a day and everybody makes the last tube home? When one of the highlights is the egg and spoon race? Yeah, definitely the egg and spoon race. Welcome to Field Day, one of the oddest festival experiences State has yet enjoyed. For a start we’re in East London (in Victoria Park, home to Lovebox, Madstock and Radiohead in recent years) but little would you know it from the crowd. It’s like the hipsters of Shoreditch and Camden have been transported here, in the shadow of the Tower Hamlets blocks of flats. Nor are they particularly prepared for the ugly turn that the weather takes in the mid afternoon.
It’s also a festival with no discernibly major names. When you have Mogwai topping the bill it means that the early part of the day is not exactly chock full of household names. What you do get are a variety of blokes (they’re always blokes) playing laptops, DJs, a band called Wet Paint and the post-Foals post-post-rock of Errors on the main stage. It’s not hugely thrilling and we have far more fun watching the sniffer dogs and they’re unerring ability to run up to anybody carrying slightly less than legal substances, who usually try to shoo them off before having their collar felt by the boys in blue. It’s hilarious, as is the succession of games taking place in the Village Mentality area (hence the egg and spoon).
Hilarious certainly doesn’t apply to the XX but they do fit in in this coolest of environments. So much so that the smallest stage on site, the Bloggers Delight tent, is rammed. On some occasions – Florence at Oxegen – this doesn’t matter, can add to the experience even, but the XX don’t really seem to have personality to fill even this tiny space. We love the record though so we resolve to give them another go tomorrow when they, amongst others, are back for the Underage Festival.
Over on the main stage, one young Canadian with a violin is trying to say the word -wanker’ in a convincing London accent. He doesn’t succeed but that’s the only foot that Final Fantasy puts wrong. What could easily be a horrible exercise in pretention but Owen Pallet has enough natural charisma to pull it off, even on this large scale. We hope the XX are taking notes. The Temper Trap are another band that rise to the challenge. Our first listen to their Conditions album had left us feeling a bit cold but today they are magnificent, particularly the falsetto vocals of Doug Mandagi. They bring a sense of togetherness and warmness to the huge space and we love them. Looks like we may have been wrong about them. It does happen…sometimes.
It seems that we were wrong about The Horrors too. Wrong in that we thought they’d outgrown they’re naff beginnings and turned into a good band. Yes the crap weather doesn’t help but they really are truly awful. The bass player poses like a Steve Coogan creation and Faris Badwan appears to be wearing a jumper that his mum gave him. Oxegen got a lucky escape.
By now the rain is really starting to hammer down so we head to the tents in search of something to lift the spirits. We won’t find it in the company of Juana Molina though, who seems to be having the worst of nightmares in the Village Mentality tent, failing to keep a sheltering crowd’s attention and storming off stage to scream at the monitor engineer. She doesn’t want to be here and frankly, nor do we. Passing by the Wild Beasts on our way, we sneak round the back as it’s the only way of getting near the stage for Little Boots. It’s not just the weather that has the Bugged Out! Tent so packed but the appearance of a genuine pop star in our midst. The promotion of Victoria Hesketh from a bedroom curio to mainstream artist is one of the year’s strangest stories. Here she is, sparkly to the max and with a team of backing singers doing that annoying formation dancing. You can’t help but feel that this attention has come a little too early though. As with the album, once the singles are out of the way the attention starts to wander and huge gaps start to appear in the whole concept. Little Boots – when she’s good she’s very, very good; when she’s bad she’s Sophie Ellis Bextor.
Salvation comes in the most unlikely form. A band with a banjo (albeit built into the body of an electric guitar), double bass, accordion and waistcoats shouldn’t have any place here but Mumford & Sons are the band of the day, and not just for us. Their music is as classic as the instruments they play it on, tinged with a folk feel but clearly not enough to alienate the Field Day crowd, who great them as heroes. The songs are great, Marcus Mumford has a stunning voice and all of a sudden their Dublin show next month has a great big red ring round it in the diary.
The rest of the evening passes uneventfully against the most beautiful sunset background, notable only for Santigold proving that she’s just a hipper version of Tina Turner. Soon it’s headliner time and, while it’s hard to find fault with Mogwai they do feel like something of an anti-climax. The sound is great, the lights spectacular but after a long, often trying, day great swathes of sound and the odd muttered thank you aren’t going to bring things to a rousing climax. That job falls to the Mystery Jets who despite their recent difficulties (not least putting the wrong fuel in their van and getting a tow to the site) are on splendid form and creating the best atmosphere of the weekend over at the Adventures In The Beetroot Field stage, while a welcome blast of life outside of the west comes at Village Mentality in the form Toumani Diabate, who plays past his curfew to ensure that the last sounds heard tonight bring a little bit of Mali to East London. A day of surprises, disappointments and downright strangeness. Tomorrow we’ll do it all again with a very different crowd.
Photos: Dan Dennison – click on images to enlarge.