Field Day has had a curious existence. Across its 13 editions, the event has gone through various iterations, locations and fortunes. 2007’s debut was billed as London’s “new psychedelic summer fete” and its lineup, in places, was worlds away from where the festival is now: Gruff Rhys, Mystery Jets and Florence and The Machine all featured. Since then, they’ve experimented with different formats (whole weekends or single days) and new locations (Brockwell Park in 2018, Meridian Water in 2019). Acts as varied as Aphex Twin, Skepta, Pixies and Erykah Badu have headlined in that time.
Its identity and purpose, then, have always been slightly muddled. Alternative pop and chin-stroking indie is well-catered for in the festival schedule these days, so this year’s one-dayer (August 20), back at Victoria Park in east London, felt like a return to what it does best: showcasing the past, present and future of electronic music.
The festival has zeroed in on the scene, leaning heavily on dance and club culture for one of the capital’s biggest – and shiniest – raves. And the interpolation with All Points East‘s set-up – APE will host four shows at the same venue over the course of two weekends – works wonders for both, catering for all audiences but not compromising on the line-up quality. This year’s edition of Field Day proves to be one of its most thrilling curations yet.
A mix of fans young and old mingle in bucket hats and clutching cans of Red Stripe from the off, giving a leg-up to the new acts who’ll be working their way up the bill in the years to come. Anish Kumar is greeted with enthusiasm for cuts from his debut EP ‘Postcards’, his breakout songs ‘Blackpool Boulevard’ and ‘Steamroller’ pummelling out the speakers. Likewise, fans flock to Eliza Rose to hear summer smasher ‘B.O.T.A. (Baddest Of Them All)’ get an airing. Her early-doors set time no doubt confirmed long before that song broke into the UK Singles Chart’s Top 10 last week – an act whose fortunes will likely look vastly different come next summer.
Whether the new set-up and stage layout works for every act is debatable: the blazing sunshine blows out any intricate visuals and club vibes on the duelling main stages at either of the site. But many acts, like Haai, whose debut album ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’ was released earlier this summer, relish the challenge, leveraging the huge sound system to enhance their heaviest cuts; ‘Lights Out’, a standalone collaboration with Fred again.. and The xx’s Romy, sounds particularly delicious.
Beloved producer Floating Points, performing at his fourth Field Day, leaves behind the delicacy of his recent collaboration with jazz titan Pharaoh Sanders on last year’s ‘Promises’. In his set he chops up the classic riff from Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ with his own heavy material, and drops his pal Four Tet’s ‘00s-sampling single ‘Looking At Your Pager’ to round things off. Daniel Avery debuts his latest live iteration in the sweaty North tent, repurposing much of his superb 2013 album ‘Drone Logic’ in an immense set.
Much of today’s festivities would be impossible without co-headliners Kraftwerk, whose relentless innovation practically invented much of the music and beats floating across the site. The fact that they still command headline slots 50 years on from their formation – and almost two decades from their last record, 2003’s ‘Tour De France’ – is a testament to their legacy and respect in the scene. The timeliness of ‘The Model’ and ‘Computer Love’, two of the most brilliant pop compositions ever heard, is not lost on a crowd that spans several generations.
Billed as an entry in their 3D concert series – which first premiered in 2009 – the group hand out paper glasses to enhance the show’s visuals, programmed live on stage alongside the music. In an early evening slot with the sun not quite set, the format wavers in its effectiveness: ‘Radioactive’ and ‘Tour De France’’s bright colours pop on screen, though ‘Computer World’ and ‘Numbers’ struggle. It makes some of the more playful moments – including ‘Autobahn’’s meandering journey – surprisingly endearing; it looks like a naff screensavers from Windows 95. They could update the visuals and bring it slightly more up to date – though this crowd, as much as any other, is willing to enter their world and adopt the vision.
There are no such quibbles with The Chemical Brothers, mind. Their closing show is as spectacular an assault on both the ears and eyes, leveraging their commitment and desire to pair cinematic visuals with rave anthems which, much like Kraftwerk’s, will live on for decades to come. ‘90s favourites including ‘Block Rockin Beats’ and ‘Chemical Beats’ are bolstered by accompanying mini-movies, breathtaking in their scope and execution.
If there were any danger of their show feeling too familiar – the band’s last album was released in 2019 – rest assured: there’s enough here for repeat viewings. Snapshots of two new compositions are teased, suggesting that Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are warming up for something fresh in the near-future. The strength of recent material from ‘No Geography’ and 2015’s ‘Born In The Echoes’ remains pleasing to see; particularly ‘Wide Open’, their wistful collaboration with US indie hero Beck from the latter album.
The fact that both the Brothers and Kraftwerk can reasonably be considered as the past, present and – who knows – future of electronic music is testament to their legacy, and proof that Field Day is a home to all.