Okay, so I’ll be the first to admit that, along with a sizeable proportion of previous attendees, my expectations were less than sky high for the fourth edition of Field Day. The first year was something of an organisational fiasco, with dodgy sound and overcrowding further dogged by a laughably small number of both toilets and bar staff – surely two of the most essential commodities for a baking hot day festival. That the problems of the last two years have been largely due to circumstances beyond the organisers’ control – namely the sky’s unfortunate tendency to open without warning just as things are getting interesting – perhaps justifies the ‘act of God’ as a form of heavenly revenge for such a poor start. Still, the fact that every year I find myself walking through terrifyingly heavy security at the entrance to Victoria Park must be evidence of something; either I’m just a sucker for punishment, or my faith in their consistently impressive bookings was duty bound to pay off eventually.
Thankfully for all concerned, this year’s event proves to fit largely into the latter category – the first Field Day that actually lives up to the expectations drummed up by its pretty interesting roster. Admittedly, signs aren’t initially promising. As our train pulls into Hackney Wick station, its arrival is met by a thick front of ominous cloud and what feels distinctly like the humid calm before an almighty thunderstorm; the patter of light drizzle as we wander through the site’s entrance hardly does much to quell concerns. Initial worries aside, the promised explosion fails to materialise, instead disintegrating to leave a sunblushed early afternoon crowd for Flower-Corsano Duo. Live, Chris Corsano’s drumming is a thing of unabashed wonder; as much as anything else it’s difficult to understand quite how he manages to wring such a vibrant array of timbres from what is ostensibly a fairly simple kit. The key lies in his versatility – one moment he’s teasing out a diffuse spray of metallic clicks and lulling cymbal wash, the next he’s slipped seamlessly into a stumbling funk beat, all jazzy fills and muted snare stutter. Tangled up with Mike Flower’s rich drones, the effect is energising despite the heat, and half an hour swiftly vanishes.
From one duo to another: Mount Kimbie have become something of a buzz-band over the last few months, off the back of an escalating wave of media love for the dreamy moodiness of their early EPs. Slightly strange, perhaps, given that the Maybes EP was released at the start of 2009, but a deserved side effect of the growing love for all things Hotflush [Scuba, Joy Orbison, et cetera]. There has been a tendency – largely because of their label and closest contemporaries – to lump them in alongside the dubstep masses, but if the cool, windswept landscapes of Crooks & Lovers weren’t enough to convince people otherwise, today’s show certainly is. Set in packed Bloggers’ Delight tent, Kai Campos and Dom Maker wring out a wholly immersive half-hour of aquatic loops and quietly rumbling ambience that recalls the hypnagogic drones of James Ferraro as much as it does, say, Scuba. Both are clearly still finding their feet in the live arena, and the whole affair has an endearingly shambolic feel, but any technical blips are easily outshone by inventive reworkings of their sketchy recorded output. ‘Carbonated’ and ‘Field’ are particularly lovely, and a dewy version of ‘Maybes’ downplays the original’s overt sentiments for something a little more opaque. And judging by general reactions, it won’t be long before the duo are hitting far larger stages than this.
The heat hits the crowd as we leave Bloggers’ Delight, and its midday shimmer is too much to take, so the goth-tinted spaces of Esben & The Witch provide welcome respite. They’ve really developed as a live band in the last year, and closer ‘Eumenides’ is formidable, torn in two by a breakdown that sees all three members gather round a floor drum. Later on in the evening, Moderat’s slightly stadium-ish take on techno proves an impressive spectacle but curiously unengaging, as though the transition to a tent the sheer size of Bugged Out has sapped them of the sweaty energy Modeselektor usually bring to their sets.
Which leaves the day to be thoroughly stolen by a pair of heartstopping mid-afternoon performances from occasional collaborators DaM-FunK and Hudson Mohawke. Resplendent with keytar and red-rimmed sunglasses, DaM-Funk is a consummate showman, strutting like a peacock across the stage while the musicians behind him churn out swirling layers of deeply psychedelic electro-funk. Despite the almost unbearable crush of bodies simultaneously attempting to force themselves into the Bloggers’ Delight stage (again, a larger tent would be a blessing next year), it’s both mentally and physically compelling, and his set feels almost painfully short. The same is true of Glasgow’s prodigious son HudMo – even down to the surges of people shifting back and forth in front of him. His debut album Butter was very the definition of a grower, and it appears his fanbase has increased at the same rate: the scattergun funk of ‘Zooo0000ooM’ sends shockwaves through the tent, and the closing salvo of ‘FUSE’ and his anthemic remix of Tweet’s ‘Oops (Oh My)’ is easily the peak of a festival surprisingly short on dull moments. A triumph then, finally.
Words : Rory Gibb