Plagued by delays, which forced several artists to cancel their sets altogether, the first day of Field Day didn’t exactly justify the festival’s move to the new Drumheads venue in north London’s Meridian Water. Yet a switch to somewhere new is never easy, and this year’s edition of the well-loved Lond0n festival still feel like a work in progress.
The site itself, which is run by Broadwick Venues, the same company behind industrial rave venue Printworks, won’t win many points for looks either — you’re basically dancing inside a dusty Ikea car park.
While the majority of stages are based inside disused warehouses, there are several littered around an adjoining field as well. Unfortunately, this gives the festival an air of inconsistency: the hangars are filled with the industrial techno and atmospheric light shows you’d expect, but outside there’s unassuming jazz, pop and soul. Side-by-side, this feels a little jarring. It’s as though the organisers didn’t quite have the conviction to commit to the thumping beats of an electronic festival, with the non-electronic stages feeling out-of-place and delivered with a lot less polish than what’s indoors.
This is reflected by the crowd, who have turned up for a rave rather than a festival that’s supposed to celebrate multiple genres. When Sinkane plays his psychedelic summer bop ‘Favourite Song’ on the main stage, the audience, who clearly are more prepped for a festival built around music you can gurn to inside a hanger, just don’t get it. The performance falls flat.
Despite his commanding stage presence, which is like Tony Montana mixed with Frank Sinatra, Pusha-T also struggles to draw out enthusiasm. Beyond the day one fans in the first two rows, the rest of the crowd just don’t know how to react to the piercing MPC hiccups of ‘If You Know You Know’ or the in-your-face aggression of cutting banger ‘What Would Meek Do?’ A girl to my left even complains: “I thought he was a DJ? What the hell is this?” before hurrying off to one of the hangars, but Pusha is let down the day’s forceful winds, washing out the boldness of his music.
So what of the hangars themselves? Well, they’re better suited to electronic music. It’s hard to hear anything indie pop singer MorMor plays and the words of punk rapper JPEGMAFIA are indistinguishable due to distorted bass and poor mixing. Despite these problems, the crowd doesn’t seem to care, with JPEGMAFIA, one of the most exciting live performers in music today, creating pure chaos in the Boiler Room warehouse.
The mosh pit for his subversive banger ‘I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies’ is particularly electric, but Peggy is forced to stop his set momentarily by security, who are scared things are getting out of control. The fact this even happens disappointingly suggests the Field Day team didn’t understand what kind of artist they’d booked in the first place, but Peggy somehow justifies his reputation as a “one man Death Grips” despite the interruption.
Headliner Jorja Smith’s sultry soul, which still feels rough around the edges and more like a decent Erykah Badu impression than the work of a truly compelling new artist, plays out the main stage later on in the evening. Yet she caps off a disappointing day of main stage performers who fail to lift off. This is partly due to a lack of energy in the crowd, which is more primed for Diplo playing landfill EDM than any live instrumentation.
The electronic music is definitely the best thing about the day. Todd Terje’s performance on the inventive Bulldog Gin Yard stage is a highlight, the producer mixing ballroom bops from Donna Summer with head-nodding house such as his already iconic 2012 anthem Inspector Norse. And, although the crush of people rushing to the warehouse stage following Terje’s excellent set reeks of the organisers’ unprofessionalism, the subsequent late-night performances by Canadian rave pioneer Tiga and DJ Denis Sulta are full of otherworldly synths and stirring bass, so at least Field Day knows how to get the best out of electronic acts.
However, at a time where there’s never been more choice of creative music festivals in Europe, travelling to the arse end of London to walk on pebbles, dance on concrete and look at the back of an Ikea just isn’t very appealing. Next year I’d like to see Field Day fully commit to electronic music, because in its current form it feels messy and inconsistent.
If it embraced the ugliness of its site and paired this with moody techno, then it would make much more sense, but it doesn’t feel right to see artists that aren’t DJs perform here. Field Day is a festival that’s having an identity crisis and still trying to fit in too many genres, despite being on a site clearly designed with only one in mind.