Spurred on by the repeat mantra ‘there’s no way things can go wrong a THIRD year in a row', DiS’s Charles Ubaghs and Andrzej Lukowski headed down Victoria Park way last Saturday to sample the delights of this year’s capital-based Field Day festival. And barring some rain, things didn’t go wrong: bar queues? Nuh-uh. Lines for the toilet? Seemed pretty non-existent (or at least from a gruff, manly perspective). There were a few other issues, mentioned below, but here be our highlights.
Before the Adventures On The Beetroot Stage gets full (and consequently before it becomes apparent that a small family of church mice could cause a disturbance there; could anyone hear Micachu’s acoustic song? Even at the front?), the Sian Alice Group sew a little afternoon darkness amongst a small but not disinterested crowd. New record Troubled, Shaken, Etc is a little on the polite side, but live the confusingly-named Sian Ahern and cohorts coalesce matters to demon intensity, a mass of menacing feedback-bedecked kraut grooves that blacken the afternoon air. The concluding ‘Way Down To Heaven’ finally breaks down into a Stooges-flecked wig out, Ahern shaking like a demonic doll as she negotiates her way through a small ocean of FX pedals.
Arguably at least half the main stage bill should have been moved elsewhere and certainly Errors’ natural environment is not an outdoor stage at 2pm, but the fact they do by-and-large carry this off is impressive. Can’t see anybody dancing, but their bloopy builds take on a hypnotic quality as they cut through the afternoon air, and they’re still unquestionably a far better band than a year ago when their debut album came out. New material is promised for next year. It seems unlikely that it will be bad.
Final Fantasy, aka Owen Pallett and his violin, is one of those acts that seem destined for the more intimate confines of a tent or smaller stage. DiS is pleasantly surprised then to discover the young Canadian filling up the space of the Eat Your Own Ears Stage in a manner that leaves bands with a larger regiment looking like runners-up at the international air guitar championships. Pallett’s fey tones and pedal-assisted layers of sound may not cause even a single arm to be waved in the air, but his chin-stroking charms successfully capture the attention of the early-day crowd gathered before him.
Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. They discover their singing voices sound rather nice together and decided to make a go of it with a Young Marble Giants heads to the melancholy disco sound. Such is the tale behind The XX and it’s one that’s proving to be one of the year’s sleeper success stories. Though, it’s a tale that runs into a bit of a snag here today. In a Bloggers Delight tent filled to the brim with an eager crowd (so much so that DiS is forced to spend the majority of the set on the edges of the audience), the black-clad quartet periodically suffers from the unwelcome throbs emanating from the nearby Bugged Out tent. When heard as intended, the band’s fragile songs sparkle like a freshly scrubbed disco ball, introduce any outside interference and the whole thing shatters. Let’s hope The XX quickly graduate to headlining slots soon then, because what is audible today deserves the respectful silence it so skilfully demands.
A friend of a friend is a jazz purist, and grumbles something about how The Thing aren’t really playing as a band, it’s just three dudes doing their own, uh, thing with as much vigour as they can physically muster. Works for me. Sure some bits are better than others, and certainly they don’t exactly lock into much resembling a groove, but when the skronk out holy-shit-the-walls-of-reality-are-caving-in bits are so exhilarating, you can forgive the fact there occasionally doesn’t seem to be much thought behind the attack.
The skies are grey, the rain has started to fall and five dark figures have just appeared on the horizon. Either the apocalypse is upon us or The Horrors are finally on over at The Eat Your Own Ears stage. By all rights, this is one set that should be in the proverbial bag for The Horrors. They’re performing in their own backyard, their neighbours – members of The Klaxons and Big Pink spotted huddling together – are out in support and they have songs from a critically acclaimed new album to flaunt in front of a willing audience. And yet, from the opening chimes of ‘Mirror Image’ to the guitar squall of ‘I Can’t Control Myself,’ The Horrors play a surprisingly muffled set, with much of their vaunted daring reduced to a series of textbook manoeuvres. The rock star motions are made and the Primary Colours sound is replicated to a tee, but even with Faris sporting a goth version of a Christmas jumper, what passes before our eyes is far too clinical for a band who insist that we accept them as the sonic adventurers they so obviously want to be – and occasionally are.
The festival climax has arrived, and for guitar lovers, it’s a choice between the stern post-rock of Mogwai or the pure pop thrills of Mystery Jets. Flagging from a day of constantly running for cover from the rain, we opt for the Eel Pie Island quartet. Having cancelled their appearance at last year’s Field Day due to singer Blaine Harrison’s health problems, Mystery Jets are on a mission to make up for lost time tonight. Bouncing their way through highlights from Making Dens and Twenty One, practically every song is turned into a festival anthem with arms held high and the packed tent singing along to favourites like ‘Flakes’ and ‘Young Love’ – which is only slightly marred by the lack of Laura Marling reprising her vocals. Even the testing out of new material is met with encouraging shouts from the audience, though one of DiS’ companions is quick to cry out "What the fuck is this shit? It sounds like the Proclaimers." Similarities to the Reid brothers aside, Mystery Jets return to Field Day as triumphant pop stars tonight. Let’s just hope they avoid the Scottish accents for album number three.
A certain school of thought would suggest that for many peoole, Field Day ultimately turned out as a Mogwai gig with soggy bells on. Maybe unfair, maybe not, but certainly when Stuart Braithwaite’s troops stomp out under a hail of orange lights virtually the second Skream has left the stage, the hitherto noisesome skies decide to clear up, and it becomes clear that somebody has turned the bloody sound up, then the initiative falls to the Scots. Arguably it was still too quiet – certainly this stately, melodious gig is a far cry from the Rock Action tour and attendant mutant soundsystem – but if ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ no longer pulverises you at its climax, the fact several thousand people are standing in a field gawping at a band playing something of this ilk is pretty heartening. Maybe the lack of earth-shattering thunder in those early tracks makes for a more balanced set – ‘Auto Rock’, 'Friend Of The Night' and pretty much all The Hawk Is Howling sounds magnificent, a slow, dignified eruption drenched in nocturnal piano. There’s perennial cynicism over whether Mogwai haven’t just fallen into a comfort zone since their early days, but listening to a crowd roar approval as ‘Hunted By A Freak’ from the once criticised Happy Songs... swooshes into gear, and you have to wonder whether this headline set isn’t valediction enough.