Review of Field Day festival which took place at Victoria Park, London on Saturday 6th August 2011

As one-day music festivals go, London's Field Day stands out from the crowd as being the most ambitious and forward-thinking certainly in terms of its booking policy. Concentrating on the more hip end of the spectrum along with legendary artists of yore, the Eat Your Own Ears curated event has hosted the likes of Wild Beasts, Laura Marling, Foals, The Horrors and Bat For Lashes at very early stages in their artistic development since its inaugural bash in 2007. Situated in Victoria Park just a stones throw away from Mile End tube station in the capital's east side, this year has seen Field Day expand its number of stages to seven, with the Do You Come Here Often? and joint venture between the Lock Tavern and Shacklewell Arms each hosting line-ups for the first time.

Field Day

Of course despite the quality of its bill - and this year's is no exception - Field Day has regularly come in for its fair share of criticism, usually due to organisational, scheduling and pricing issues. Although the layout of the site has changed somewhat, the main stage now situated at the top end of the park so as to allow a more clockwise flow through doesn't appear to have eased the congestion problems of yore. If anything, by mid-afternoon, the enormous queues for both the toilets and bars coupled with dangerous bottlenecks emerging around some of the tents, especially the Bloggers Delight and Laneway stages suggest the organisers have oversold this year's event, while the prices upon finally reaching the bar - £4.10 for a can of San Miguel or a half pint bottle of cider aren't exactly justifiable, whatever the weather (and for the most part today remains scorching hot and generally rain free).

Nevertheless, for a £40 ticket the line-up was nothing short of incredible, even if the scheduling could have been a little more user friendly (The Horrors, Wild Beasts and Factory Floor all clashing just one of many timetable annoyances). Upon entering the site just after midday, we're confronted by what sounds like a minor explosion occurring in the Village Mentality tent. After a brief examination, we're relieved to see it's legendary German outfit Faust going about their hypnotic, and exceedingly loud business.

Further down the field on the Laneway Stage, London combo The History Of Apple Pie are taking the spirit of 1986 via Seattle and beyond into a 21st Century vortex all of its own. Like fellow conspirators Yuck and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, their influences are present for all to see and hear, but they're alarmingly proficient and surprisingly engaging at what they do all the same. SCUM too show a marked improvement from their lack lustre performance at the Camden Crawl in April, frontman Thomas Cohen throwing a variety of shapes and contortions amidst their unashamedly Horrors inspired post-punk.

Back on the Village Mentality stage where London outfit Toy are about to demonstrate why they've been creating both a buzz and air of mystique with their sophisticated pomp-rock, we're somewhat reminded of 1991 when an avalanche of similar sounding bands appeared in the wake of 'Loveless' and 'Nowhere' respectively. By the fifth song it all becomes quite formulaic. Cliched lyrics ("We'll take you for a ride"), borrowed riffs and a steadfastly learned cool make them seem rather contrived as a result. Still, we were saying the same things about The Horrors five years ago and look what's happened to them since.

There's also a large crowd gathered in the all-too-small confines of the Bloggers Delight area for Matt Mondanile's Ducktails, which seems to veer between a series of interludes ranging from surf guitar hooks to mash-ups of dance tunes, the most recognisable being Martin Solveig's reworking of Dragonette's 'Hello'. Suitably confused, we leave for a well-earned alcoholic respite where we later find out the group of musicians that were supposed to be assisting Mondanile failed to turn up, hence the hurriedly improvised set he embarks on.

Infinitely better are London based trio Darkstar, whose eerie, feedback drenched take on Dubstep sounds like Spiritualized covering Portishead and vice versa. Mixing new material with revamped versions of songs from their understated 'North' long player, they're one of Field Day's early highlights and another unerring reason why this festival has risen in popularity over its five-year existence.

Villagers split opinion as ever between those in the red corner decreeing Conor O'Brien and band as a "low rent Bright Eyes" and those in the blue one insisting if he was American he'd be lauded in a similar fashion to messrs Oberst, Vernon et al. Personally, there's a slightly rockier edge to where the likes of 'Ship Of Fools' and 'Becoming A Jackal' were a year ago, O'Brien exuding a more confident approach, no doubt enhanced by a seemingly omnipresent twelve months on the road.

Electrelane meanwhile are a minor revelation. Re-united after a three-and-a-half year hiatus, they continue where 2007's 'No Shouts, No Calls' left off, weaving krautrock patterns through their shoegaze inspired post-rock culminating in a delightful cover of Bronski Beat's 'Smalltown Boy' that seems to unite the entire main stage audience as one. Now if only they can be persuaded to enter a recording studio together one last time.

Zola Jesus too is a pocket dynamite of controlled aggression and visceral dynamics. Like a portable Siouxsie Sioux plugged into Trent Reznor's box of tricks for effect, she brings the high points of last year's 'Stridulum II' to life in full effect, while offering a mesmerising insight into her psyche. While only a month until album number three 'Conatus' drops, I for one am genuinely excited, and why not.

John Cale's teatime set is nice and pleasant yet somewhat perfunctory. I guess everyone wants 'Venus In Furs' and 'I'm Waiting For The Man', which we don't get and in all honesty were never really likely to. Warpaint however are an entirely different proposition. Dressed in various types of headwear - guitarist Theresa Wayman's 1940s style army helmet the most striking - they've gradually honed their melodic Californian drone pop into an intrinsically charming beast of radio-friendly proportions.

With daylight subsiding, the decision to put The Horrors into the tiny Laneway tent looks increasingly misguided judging by the number of people pushing and shoving towards the end of James Blake's heavily distorted set. Sound problems aside, 'CMYK' sounds as resolute and emotive as it first did on the EP that undoubtedly launched him into the public eye. When Faris Badwan and co. take to the stage a good fifteen minutes later than advertised, the tent is already at bursting point and by the time 'Who Can Say' and 'Endless Blue' create a uniformed surge early doors, the front row is a heaving mass of tangled and trampled bodies. However, their set, exclusively comprised of material from 'Primary Colours' and 'Skying' is a revelation that even a bass-heavy mix can't spoil. Sprawling set closer 'Moving Further Away' underlines the band's heady progress having taking over from 'Sea Within A Sea' as the pinnacle of their live show, and with talk already rife of several shows being upgraded to larger views for October's UK tour, their long-awaited rise to mainstream success looks imminent.

Catching the end of Wild Beasts set on the main stage, we can only echo the sentiments of closing number 'End Come Too Soon', and while Field Day may still be a long way from perfect, there's no better UK festival for cramming this much music into such a short space of time either. Several hours later we hear of escalating violence on the streets of London, yet here in the salubrious confines of Victoria Park, such feelings of disrespect towards others and their properties could not be further from anyone's minds. Fingers crossed, we'll be back again for more, same time, same place, next year.

Dom Gourlay

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