Review: Field Day 2011

Arriving at this year’s edition of Field Day soon after the gates opened, it was possible to watch Pearson Sound’s DJ set and bask in the festival’s humongous surrounds long before the rest of London descended. Whilst the notion of catching David Kennedy at 1 in the afternoon in the Bugged Out! tent seemed odd at first, it certainly didn’t put him off running through a typically upfront selection, with Auntie Flo’s forthcoming “Oh My Days” sandwiched in between his own Night Slugs bootleg and Four Tet’s dramatic “Locked”. The bleary eyed gathering quickly grew ten fold as his set progressed, rapidly adapting to the notion of an ice cold San Miguel at midday. His performance was of the high quality expected from the Hessle boss, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he turned up much higher on the bill again next year.

After this it was time to take in the amusing sight of a sack race in the Village Mentality area and reacquaint myself with the site which had moved around considerably since last year, before heading to the Laneway Festival stage to catch Matthew Dear. The last time Dear played Field Day it was in 2009 in his Audion guise, and despite the huge visual show he had, his set left me slightly cold that day, being a largely sterile experience that didn’t particularly suit the cavernous interior of the Bugged Out! stage.

However, his performance this year in his solo guise, complete with live band, was one of the most captivating performances I saw all day. I had no idea that Dear would be quite the showman, but appearing on stage with white suit and black shirt, hair slicked back, he looked like a 21st century Elvis and performed with all the enthusiasm of a new romantic frontman on Top of the Pops in 1982. “You Put a Smell On Me” was a particular highlight, its Kraftwerk style industrial arpeggios and crunching beats earning the most moving bodies of his set, while “Slowdance” elicited the first audible sing-along moment, and the epic “Little People (Black City)” was as exciting a closer as its multi layered structure suggested.

“Whilst the notion of catching David Kennedy at 1 in the afternoon seemed odd at first, it certainly didn’t put him off running through a typically upfront selection”

Dear managed to nail the most elusive of feats: he sang and manipulated electronics live on stage with an effortless swagger, and looked like he was having fun in the process. That I went away quite as impressed as I did, given the awful sound quality at the stage (which was the worst I heard that day) is testament to Dear’s impeccable attitude to live performance.

After more San Miguel and an exciting diversion via the energetic Konono No.1 where James Holden was watching intently from outside the Village Mentality tent, it was time to make my way to the Bloggers Delight stage to be in good time for Actress. As it was, I needn’t have bothered being so conscientious with my timekeeping, as he arrived 25 minutes late for his set, with a lot of eager fans (this one included) speculating that he wouldn’t turn up at all.

When he eventually did arrive, the tent filled to bursting, he came garbed in what looked like a full black wizard’s cape, complete with talisman around his neck. Despite my worries that this may have finally been the moment the man’s famous reluctance to show his face had spilled into full on mania, he delivered an exhilarating laptop set of unfamiliar jams and old favourites. Beginning with 15 minutes of driving, compressed techno, he managed to cajole the crowd out of their early evening lull and incite some of the most excited dancing I had seen all day. Bringing this furious section to an end, he moved on to the bubbling strains of “Maze”; despite its near beatless composition, its arrival elicited not just the biggest cheer of the set, but it also managed to coil the crowd’s tension up to palpable levels.

The final third saw Actress doing what he does best: the completely unexpected. After building the crowd up into a frenzy he moved into stranger tempos, with his soundscapes becoming increasingly alien, and his set closer, a drawn out piece of jungle influenced hauntological half-step, saw the compression and buzzing rhythms fall away, leaving a vocal sample suspended in the space that he usually fills with dense noise. It was a risky way to end, but I went away more convinced than ever that the man is nothing less than a genius.

One of the more unique prospects of the day, and one of my must see events came from the promise of a rare back to back set from Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) and Border Community boss James Holden. The last few years have really seen Hebden’s music develop in ways that nobody could have foreseen (the upcoming “Pyramid” to be released soon through Text being a case in point) and though he is known for his live sets, this performance on the Bugged Out! stage probably saw Hebden DJing to more people than ever before. His sets usually span the breadth of his influences, crossing from house, through bass, garage, to jazzy broken beat, and techno – it doesn’t always work, but here, alongside Holden, arguably the more accomplished DJ of the two, his set was curiously reined in, and it was something that really worked to his advantage.

“After building the crowd up into a frenzy, Actress moved into stranger tempos, with his soundscapes becoming increasingly alien, and his set closer, a drawn out piece of jungle influenced hauntological half-step, saw the compression and buzzing rhythms fall away, leaving a vocal sample suspended in the space that he usually fills with dense noise. It was a risky way to end, but I went away more convinced than ever that the man is nothing less than a genius”

Obviously deciding to pool from their collective interests, the beat was decidedly four to the floor for the most part, opening with Daphni’s “Ye Ye”, the initial strains of which were enough to get even the most casual observer moving, as did Four Tet’s huge remix of Rocketnumbernine’s “Matthew and Toby”, which quickly followed. It was fairly obvious when Hebden was selecting: the tempo was raised, energy levels came up, whilst Holden’s selections were decidedly slower, and richer in texture, with acidic gurgles and lush synths contrasting nicely with Hebden’s darker, sparser techno selections. It’s something that could have backfired, but the push and pull between the two styles gave the set an interesting dynamic, with Holden’s style offering some breathing room between Hebden’s more frenetic picks.

The aforementioned “Pyramid”, with its arcane chopped and screwed vocal sample was an obvious highlight, as was Holden’s own “Idiot”, whose power only sought to remind everyone that the world needs a new album from Holden. It wasn’t all perfect – sound levels were an issue throughout, lacking in the necessary punch to convey the full impact of what they were doing, but even still, their set was arguably more exciting than either Michael Mayer or Carl Craig’s that followed. Nowhere was this more obvious than their spectacular closing track, a particularly Holden-esque piece of rhythmically complex, ascending analog psychedelia. It was the kind of brave choice that stuck out a mile on the usually conservative Bugged Out! stage, but one that made it clear why these are easily two of the UK’s most exciting DJs. Big room sets from Michael Mayer and Carl Craig followed, and were well received by the majority of the festival’s many revellers, but for this writer at least it was the UK’s electronic talent that largely stole the show.

Scott Wilson (with minimal input from Tony Poland)

Matthew Dear photo taken by Katura Jensen