Say what you like about the number of UK festivals currently bombarding the summer calendar months but in terms of quality control, there's no doubt the majority of the more intimate gatherings have upped their game this year. Take Field Day for example, brought to you by the Eat Your Own Ears collective and previously seen as little more than an excuse for East London's trendsetters and fashion victims to converge in one place and be seen while a selection of hot new artists and DJs play shambolic sets on badly organised stages. Over the past few years, it's fair to say Field Day hasn't always received the most positive of write-ups from various segments of the media, and while the 2010 model isn't without its minor gripes - £5 just to obtain a copy of the stage times, the inevitable clashes between stages and £4 for a can of lukewarm lager or cider - it's a vast improvement on previous years, not least due to a fairly impressive line-up from start to finish.
Indeed, Contactmusic is somewhat spoilt for choice right from the word go, and although Anna Calvi's elegant torch songs make for a pleasant festival introduction, there's something eerily uneasy about her midday billing that doesn't seem quite right. Experimental three-piece Is Tropical fare much better, their eclectic post-punk with added beats and polyrhythms sounding like a cross between The Invisible's ice cold funk and Big Audio Dynamite's latent, politically charged calls to arms. It's a potent combination that ensures a kind of swaying motion rather than dancing throughout the Adventures In The Beetroot Field tent, which I guess our southern counterparts would tell us represents a healthy show of appreciation.
Mount Kimbie don't really set the pulses racing in the ridiculously cramped Bloggers Delight tent. While it would be difficult to lay any blame at their feet - and let's face it, 'Crooks And Lovers' is possibly the most forward-thinking dance-infused album released so far in 2010 - two men stood behind various kinds of laptop and keyboard devices doesn't make for the most invigorating of spectacles, and after craning one's neck to the point of causing severe muscular damage, Contact decides to seek its thrills elsewhere.
Two weeks ago at Latitude, The Kissaway Trail's Mew-like sound tapestries went down a storm, and similarly here their set, a carefully combined mixture of tracks from both their self-titled debut and recent follow-up 'Sleep Mountain' has the same effect. 'Friendly Fire', with its "We don't care about them!" refrain is a particular standout, and undoubtedly one of the most rousing pieces of music we've heard all year. Manchester's Egyptian Hip Hop on the other hand are something of a disappointment considering all the hype surrounding them at present. Sure, technical faults and sound issues don't exactly help their progress, but with the stage presence of frightened rabbits caught in headlights, even throughout a dub-heavy 'Moonhammer' that almost threatens to turn the tide back in their favour, one gets the feeling that maybe the expectancy levels are too much too soon for such a young and inexperienced band.
Fortunately, These New Puritans are nothing short of mesmerising. While their beat-orientated, orchestra assisted stage set-up is a million miles from what it was during their 'Beat Pyramid' era two years ago, musically they're an entirely different proposition. 'We Want War' is monstrous in its delivery, 'Hologram' all pantheistic and sublime. Even older tracks 'Elvis' and 'Infinity Ytinifni' sound more vociferous and accomplished in their newer climate, the only mystery remaining being why their 'Hidden' opus wasn't nominated for a Mercury. Oh well.
Los Angeles duo No Age are something of a revelation. Specialising in a primitive, lo-fi, effects-laden brand of noise rock one step nearer to tunesville than say Lightning Bolt, their no-holds barred foot to the floor set results in the first real moshpit action of the day not to mention wanting to jump into a time machine and fast forward to late September when forthcoming long player 'Everything In Between' hits the shops. 'You're A Target' sounds both ethereal and visceral in equal measures, while 'Eraser' and closer 'Boy Void' tear a massive hole in the Beetroot Field tent roof via the heavily brutalised speakers.
Afterwards while trudging back to the main stage, the enthusiastic spectacle of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble seems too striking to ignore. Unfortunately, on closer inspection there's an element of poppified jazz punctuating every last note, and upon expecting Mark Ronson to appear from behind the stage at any moment, hastily retreat to the Village Mentality stage for the Archie Bronson Outfit. Again, as with These New Puritans and 'Hidden', their 'Coconut' long player is undoubtedly one of the year's best. Sadly, despite a blistering set that mixes the best bits from the aforementioned current album with those of its predecessors 'Derdang Derdang' and 'Fur', not to mention an impromptu costume change midset, the sound levels are way too low in the mix and what should be a halo of melodramatic noise peters out into a whisper.
The stage times in the XOYO tent being a little all over the place, Contact heads off to see Factory Floor only to be greeted by Toro Y Moi instead, which is a pleasant surprise as his 'Causers Of This' album is another of 2010's gems, and his blissed out, shoegaze inspired chillwave sets the scene poetically for the day's climax.
Having been around for fifteen years and initially flirted with the European club scene along with Daft Punk and Justice, the sudden elevation to festival headliners and genuine contenders for album of the past decade may have come as something as a shock, yet Phoenix ably take it in their stride here, and some. 'Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix', their fourth studio album, didn't just bring about a sea change in the band's fortunes but actually made them one of the most endearing, must-see acts on the planet, and this evening topping the bill at a UK festival for the first time they're nothing short of magnificent.
Opening with 'Lisztomania' in a set that relies heavily on 'Wolfgang Amadeus.' material for obvious reasons, 'Consolation Prizes' slays while an elongated '1901', vocalist Thomas Mars scaling the side of the stage during the instrumental breakdown, brings their show and Field Day 2010 to a spectacular close.
Although not quite at the levels of perfection less corporate events like Indietracks and Truck currently enjoy, there's no disputing Field Day has made significant progress over the past twelve months and this year's may just have been the best one yet. More of the same next July and its place as the capital's most prestigious one-day festival should be there's for the taking.