Compared to last year’s completely sodden offering, Field Day 2017 is a sea change. Not only have the east London festival’s organisers compressed its traditional two days of music into one – they’ve also constructed a temporary, massive new superclub called The Barn and, for everyone on the outside, the sun is shining for the majority of the day.
Unchanged is the eclecticism of the lineup – from Death Grips’ barrages of noise to Whitney’s sun-kissed Americana and Aphex Twin’s intense electronica, this is a day of extremes, kicked off in earnest by Methyl Ethel at the Shacklewell Arms tent.
This Perth band are commonly lumped in with… well, other Perth bands – Tame Impala and Pond – but they offer something quite different. Tuning up every so often, these perfectionists show off the intricate melodies of their recent second album ‘Everything Is Forgotten’, with the labyrinthine ‘No. 28’ creating an early stir. By the time their most recognisable hit ‘Ubu’ comes along, they have the 2pm Field Day crowd dancing and spilling out of the tent into the blazing sunshine.
Over in the dark recesses of the Crack tent, meanwhile, HMLTD are converting hundreds of new supporters with their twisted glam/electro carnival. Clad in green, with matching hair and smeared pink makeup, frontman Henry Spychalski looks the spit of Batman’s Joker as he relishes the words of ‘Satan’: ”I’ll be your fucking sacrifice”. Recent single ‘To The Door’ – a mash of spaghetti-western guitar and thudding beats – has the crowd yelling along, as does final song ‘Where’s Joanna?’, during which the many crowdsurfers include Spychalski himself. As he flails around onstage during the song’s final moments, the seething mob at the front follows suit.
It’s a very different vibe back at the Shacklewell stage, where Aussie alt-country upstart Julia Jacklin is serenading a chilled, primarily seated crowd. As things come to a head with her upbeat jam ‘Coming of Age’ she has the audience bringing out gold party hats and dancing, and Foals’ Yannis Philippakis stops by to watch before she closes with the atmospheric ‘Pool Party’.
Taking things up a gear on the main Eat Your Own Ears stage is south London MC Loyle Carner, who recalls the wash-out of last year. “We played here last year but it was fucking raining,” he tells the crowd. “Make some noise for the summer time!” He delivers, taking us through upbeat jams from his debut album ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ and calling out his friend and collaborator Tom Misch in the crowd.
Nothing yet has quite prepared Field Day for the arrival of Sacramento noise architects Death Grips, who soundcheck over at the Crack stage with 2011’s ‘Guillotine’ and make everyone go nuts. They leave briefly, to a deadly silence, before returning and blasting out an hour of their trademark brutalist hip-hop. Barechested, roaring, and straight in from Primavera Sound in Barcelona, MC Ride is on top form for the band’s first UK show since October. There’s no sign of their recent 22-minute track ‘Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber)’, but timewise that’s probably a good thing: they end on the previously soundchecked ‘Guillotine’, bringing the moshing crowd to a furious boil.
You might think Brooklyn-based songwriter Kevin Morby would be a welcome relief on the eardrums, but the ‘Singing Saw’ balladeer is rocking out with a three-piece band as he plays material from his heavier new album ‘City Music’ (out June 16). On its title track he’s ‘Oh’-ing up with the best of them from under a mop of hair, and he channels Jim Carroll on his new, three-chord punk stormer ‘1234’. After switching his high-slung guitar for the keys on ‘Destroyer’, he reverts to guitar for the final three songs – including an extended-outro version of ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ and a transcendent, bittersweet ‘Dorothy’.
Next up on the main stage are Whitney, who draw in a growing crowd with music from their sunny, lovelorn 2016 debut ‘Light Upon The Lake’. Fans may already be familiar with their habitual covers of Lion’s ‘You’ve Got A Woman’ and NRBQ’s ‘Magnet’, alongside their own trumpet-backed Americana. ‘The Falls’, ‘Follow’ and ‘No Woman’ are all standouts – as is ‘Polly’, during which singing drummer Julian Ehrlich and bassist Josiah Marshall have an unprompted snog onstage. They even throw in unreleased track ‘Rolling Blackouts’ and their cover of the Golden Girls theme, because hey, why the hell not.
The moment we’ve all been waiting for – Aphex Twin’s first live set in five years – is next up at The Barn. The new hangar-like construction, decked out with massive lighting rigs and a huge soundsystem, can fit more than 10,000 people inside and earlier in the day it’s played host to Jon Hopkins, Nina Kraviz and Nicolas Jaar.
As a swirl of blue light announces the arrival of the experimental electro pioneer aka Richard James, the sense of anticipation peaks for the day. Distorted video of the wide-eyed crowd plays out on the screens of the venue as lasers pan across the long-awaited gig – which is being livestreamed across the world – but the man himself is focussed on delivering his set, with mind-blowing tunes of his own taking pride of place alongside the likes of Kamixlo and Plastician.
Back at the main stage Run The Jewels, the festival’s other headliners, are kicking off a very different set. A brief rain shower precedes the arrival of the impassioned American rap duo, who thank the crowd for sticking it out and go on to blast out a peerless hour, drawing heavily on new album ‘RTJ3’.
Giant inflatables of their signature hand symbol bookend the stage, and they’re mirrored by the crowd throughout. People actually get rowdy enough during ‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’ that Killer Mike has to tell security we’re all on the same side – but, he adds to the audience: “If you touch a girl and she doesn’t want you to, we’re gonna beat your fucking ass.” Cheers erupt all round, just as they do after the blood-sweat-and-tears closer ‘Down’, when Mike says: “Shoutout to the Labour Party.” Right on.