Review of Field Day 2009 held at Victoria Park, London on 1st August 2009.
Whoever's idea it was to close the Jubilee and Metropolitan lines today of all days should be put against a wall in front of a fifty-man firing squad; or at least locked in a darkened room for twenty-four hours with little more than a copy of 'Music For The People' and Peter Andre's post-marital memoirs for company. Having arrived in the city of London a good hour and a half before Field Day opens its gates, Contact should have been in good spirits for the events that lay ahead. However, thanks to that old chestnut "maintenance works", and a three-hour wait in the world's biggest moving car park (aka the A41), we finally arrive at our destination to be told we've already missed Fanfarlo, Jon Hopkins and Sian Alice Group. Damn you Boris Johnson.
First, a bit of background about Field Day itself. Now in its third year, this independently backed all-dayer has been a focal point of the London scene's calendar since its conception, and with five stages of music not to mention various other activities (Tug Of War anyone?) boasts an array of off-kilter events that make it almost impossible for boredom to set in. Sadly, as with every other UK festival, the one element the organisers have no control over is the rain, and for the most part of the day we find ourselves clamouring under brollies, taking refuge in one of the many tents on-site or simply relaxing in the comforts of the hospitality bar (kudos to the DJs in there between 8 and 9pm by the way - MC Luck & DJ Neat into A Flock Of Seagulls 'I Ran' = RESULT!).
Of course, we also watched some bands, and even though the disappointment of arriving later than originally planned hadn't quite subsided, its fair to say that one of those at the top of most people's "must-see" lists were undoubtedly The Horrors. With a Mercury nomination under their belts for 'Primary Colours', arguably one of the best two records released this year, it was always going to be something of an achievement to see if they could pull off the record's diverse layer of sounds in a live environment. Let's also not forget that two years ago, The Horrors were regarded as little more than carton garage schlock rock, so to have made such a giant leap forwards in such a short space of time deserves credit in itself. However, first impressions aren't good, with technical problems causing several heated discussions between frontman Faris Badwan and Field Day's sound engineers throughout the opening couplet of 'Mirror's Image' and 'Three Decades'. The guitars seem way too low in the mix, the keyboards inaudible, and although the band appears to be doing their utmost to create a spectacle, the accompanying soundtrack is weedy by comparison. Thankfully, by the time 'Sea Within A Sea' closes their nine-song set, parity is restored, the band just about having nailed their most ambitious eight minutes to date. Maybe it's the outdoor setting, mid-afternoon timeslot, or just the fact 'Primary Colours' is inundated with numerous overdubs. The jury is still out on The Horrors live show, but at least marginally contented that the rest of their festival appearances this year are due to take place in the great indoors at a slightly more witching hour.
That the Field Day organisers chose to put The Horrors more or less head-to-head with fellow album of the year contenders Wild Beasts across the other side of Victoria Park proved to be another bone of contention, so a mad dash across to The Adventures In The Beetroot Field Tent was in order upon 'Sea Within A Sea''s final note. In hindsight, maybe this was the choice we should have made from the outset, as the five songs we do catch from Wild Beasts set stand head and shoulders above almost anything else witnessed today. Older songs such as 'Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants' sound masterful and revitalised alongside newer material like 'The Fun Powder Plot' and 'Empty Nest, while the frivolous interplay between Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, both in terms of vocal and musical exchanges is a joy to behold.
A visit to the capital city wouldn't be complete without encountering The Big Pink in some shape or form Robbie Furze and Milo Cordell have certainly created a duel persona as 2009's main faces about town, and if it weren't for the fact their music more than lives up to the hype, they'd probably be dismissed faster than you can say the words "Sienna" and "Miller". Playing here as a four-piece, their sound is the most perfect we encounter of the day, billowing spheres of noise emanating from Furze's guitar as 'Too Young To Love' and 'Count Backwards From Ten' set the scene admirably for the delectable charms of 'Velvet', already a candidate for unlikely single of the year. By the time a wondrous 'Dominos' closes proceedings, it becomes apparently clear that we'll be talking about The Big Pink as a musical tour de force rather than celebrity namedroppers in months to come. A revelation, in no uncertain terms.
With the rain now beating down heavier than before, and only Santogold's tired heard-it-all-before recyclopop to keep us company, alcoholic refreshment helps us count down the minutes before Mogwai take the stage. Surprise headliners for an event such as this, the post-rock veterans live up to their billing in admirable fashion, dropping in a casual 'Mogwai Fear Satan', dedicating songs to the late Bobby Robson and generally displaying a jovial mood not normally associated with the dour if passionate Scots. Their main facet however is also something of a minor criticism, in that little has changed as far as their stage show is concerned over the past fifteen years, and while their reliable measure of consistency ensures you get a "business as usual" style performance, there are few surprises to get THAT excited about either. Having withstood their sonic onslaught for the best part of an hour, Contact hears about a nearby house party that's happening right now and trudges off through the mud, dreaming of shelter.
As far as festivals go, Field Day can be proud of its achievements this year considering the awful weather, and if there's one minor gripe we could aim its perhaps that there is just a little too much variety crammed into one short day. Here's to next year.