In some ways, it’s hard to believe Field Day is still going. Criticism constantly plagues the festival, but each year it returns with an incredibly strong line-up, drawing the punters back.
Despite being first on stage in the midst of gloomy weather and the threat of rain, Willy Mason still manages to draw a considerable crowd. His performance sweetens the blow of the overpriced alcohol and six years on, ‘Oxygen’ still has everyone singing along. In the lunchtime lull of the festival, there’s plenty of time to navigate around the seven stages (a necessary expedition considering the Kadinsky-esque site maps handed out at the gate) and prepare the rest of the day’s schedule.
And so, over to Blogger’s Delight where Ducktails’ sleepy guitars and woozy synth waves soak the crowd. Matthew Mondanile’s mesmerising chillwave sounds are so soothing that it’s a shock when a recent chart hit comes pounding out of the speakers. As a sample, it’s surprisingly loud and overpowers whatever sounds Matthew Mondanile is aiming to combine. But it provides a poppy segueway to the next performer. Hackney native CocknBullKid’s sweet electro pop fills the Laneway tent with dancing joy. One of the lighter highlights of the day, Anita Blay proves herself as one-to-watch.
Onwards to Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti where at barely 3pm, the Village Mentality tent is packed out. Many people stand on the fringes, constantly buffered by crowds entering the festival. The performance is underwhelming, not helped by the overpowering music coming from empty fairground rides beside the tent. At one point, a John Maus song drowns out whatever noise Pink is making and eventually State gives up.
It’s a recurring theme. Too many small stages with too many people means it’s hard to catch a full glimpse of anybody, particularly later in the evening when the whole park starts to feel oversubscribed. Once again, the Blogger’s Delight stage is tiny, too much so for the incredibly popular Jamie xx and Zola Jesus. Always filled to capacity, the overspill clutters a narrow throughway between stages.
At one point State wanders between three tents, barely managing to enter any of them. James Blake sounds great but it’s hard to tell from our vantage point near the toilet queue. There’s plenty of room for the excellent dj battle between Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden and James Holden, but whipping up a frenzy is impossible with a volume that low.
Elsewhere, Villagers’ main stage slot goes down surprisingly well: Conor O’Brien’s dark folk, intense and brooding, seeps out over the park capturing the attention of the distracted afternoon crowd. And later in the Village Mentality tent, Congolese seven-piece Konono No.1, widely recognised for their influence on Vampire Weekend, drum up a sunshined riot. Combining the traditional likembé instrument with voice, dance and instruments made from scrap, the Kinshasa collective create uplifting rhythms and as the set draws to a close, the sun finally shows itself above Victoria Park.
Sitting in the sun, drinking a jug of Pimms and watching John Cale seems like an excellent idea in theory but the former Velvet Undergrounder’s set is amusingly bad. Ambling from straight-up predicta-rock to desperately dated ’80s synth, it’s all tied together with a collection of cringe-worthy lyrics. But it makes an amusing interlude from the trendy tunes elsewhere and most people seem happy to just recline in the sun. When Californian quartet Warpaint take to the stage however, the crowd stand to attention. It’s rare to see an all-girl group so high on a bill, and rarer still to see them in such glory. Dazzling with their mellow drone, ‘Undertow’ and ‘Bees’ are stand-out highlights of a strong set that dares the sun to keep shining.
And when the rain comes again later, Michael Mayer’s banging tunes in the Bugged Out tent are warmly welcomed before settling back down on the grass to catch the swooping melodies and swirling dreams of Wild Beasts’ closing piece.
Once again it seems as if Field Day has a lot to learn, overpriced and with the same organisational issues it’s been fighting from day one. Every year, east London forgives the foibles and comes back, it’s the atmosphere that maketh the festival after all. And that, Field Day has in eclectic spades.
See all photos by Kieran Frost in the gallery.