Live Review: Field Day 2017

Date: 03/06/2017

Venue: Victoria Park, Hackney, London

Consolidating to just one day this year, I found myself with a pretty hectic schedule for this year’s Field Day. Despite halving the festival’s length, the organisers managed to congregate as strong and diverse a line-up as ever – in fact, I think there was even more I wanted to see on just one day than across last June’s two days – and that’s by no means a criticism, with last year’s outing perhaps my musical highlight of the year.

I started my day with HMLTD at the CRACK stage. Having seen London’s most exciting punk band at both the 100 Club and Scala this year, I noticed a significant growth in their sound and live dynamics with only months between these shows. After rapturous accounts of their European dates and an impressing outing at last month’s Great Escape, I was intrigued to see how the band might pull off their electronica and backing-track heavy set in a festival environment.

I must say, I was pretty sceptical from the moment I arrived in the tent. I turned up about 15 minutes prior and caught the end of a pretty bewildering, long-running soundcheck, with the band’s sound guys frantically plugging and unplugging equipment. One technician spent what felt like an age testing the main microphone with the monotonous chant of Seinfield quote “What is gum? It’s not a liquid. It’s not a solid. It’s not a food. What is gum?” repeated to such extent that the packed out crowd were chanting it themselves somewhat menacingly as they waited for the glam rock pack to arrive on stage.

Disappointingly, my cynicism was justified as buzz track ‘Is This What You Wanted?’, opened the set, a song that relies on mounting tension until a fizzing crescendo of noise rock that ultimately fell extremely flat due to a bad mix. It’s hard to blame the band with issues like this, and despite it plaguing what should be a head-rattling set for its entirety, HMTLD’s freakish, writhing on-stage demeanour was as infectious as ever. Frontman Henry Spichalski still managed to swoop an eager crowd up into the palm of his hands, and despite sound issues presenting a different challenge to the one I’d set them, they managed to soldier through in style.

Half an hour later, legendary wordsmith Dr John Cooper Clarke took to the stage. His announcement was out of the blue and extremely exciting to me and he delivered on all accounts. Equal parts comedian, poet and outright genius, the beloved Northerner produced a hilarious offering including impromptu two-liners, a poem he had just written – and was still working on (“if you lot don’t like it, it’s out!”) – about the “pitfalls of a chimpanzee butler”, and fan favourites such as ‘Twat’ and ‘Evidently Chickentown.’ He even had time just after he had bid the crowd farewell to treat us ‘I Wanna Be Yours’, a poem immortalised in recent years on Arctic Monkeys’ 2013 album ‘AM’ – an unexpected privilege.

Death Grips were up next, a band I had been dying to see for years, though sadly they were victims of the same sound issues suffered by HMLTD. The band took to the stage complete with their usual vicious demeanour, and their energy was somewhat infectious, but there was virtually no bass to be heard for the entirety of the set – and anyone who is familiar with their music will know that Death Grips without any bass is like Phil Spectre without cocaine: something pretty good, but would undoubtedly be 100 times better if it was there. Similarly, mosh-pits were tame too, something virtually unheard of at a Death Grips set, undoubtedly a by-product of the lacklustre sound.

Next on our proceedings was Kevin Morby at The Shacklewell Arms. Arriving on-stage rocking an all-white suited adorned with various musical notes across the sleeves and legs, he waltzed through a delightfully relaxed set consisting mostly of latest album ‘City Music’. His backing band were tight, with the simplistic lead guitar work of Meg Duffy an unexpected delight.

Moving over to the Main Stage for the early evening, I caught Whitney. Like many I was saddened by the news of Smith Westerns’ break-up, but primary duo Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek returned soon with Whitney’s debut record ‘Light Upon the Lake,’ a beautiful record that took me completely by surprise. Drummer and lead vocalist Julien brilliantly sits at the front of the stage to counter-act the potential loss of frontman freedom, and he was on fine form. An equally excellent percussionist/vocalist, he led the band energetically through the majority of the record and two covers. The six-piece were tremendously tight, fan-fare horns chiming in and out of Harrison-esque dried out guitars, bouncing bass-lines and deliciously warm keys. There’s all sorts of country and soul influences to be found here, but it never feels phoney. Julien was sarcastic and occasionally hilarious, letting out energetic cries between songs (“I feel like Chris Martin every time I do that… I’m not ripping Coldplay, they’re great… Anyone who wants to argue about it can see me after the set”).  They wrapped up a triumphant performance with album highlight ‘No Woman,’ an excellent track which will continue to be a fan-favourite in the coming years.

Beckoning into the night were King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard at The Shacklewell Arms stage. I was lucky enough to catch my favourite Aussie band play ‘Nonagon Infinity’ in its entirety at Reading Festival last year. They were probably my favourite band at that festival and once more were my favourite at Field Day too. Simply put, they’re on a ridiculously higher level than most over guitar bands. They rip through note-perfect renditions of tracks from across their last couple of records, as well as upcoming soon-to-favourites from their next album ‘Murder of the Universe’. Bizarre time signatures, 200mph guitar riffs, double drummer and a brutal crowd to go with it – what more could you ask for? The band’s ability to still write an unbearably catchy riff, 10 albums into their seven year career, is perhaps summed up best by the fact that they opened with grumbling groove ‘Rattlesnake’ from their latest album ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ – and I’m still singing it to myself as I write this.

Slowdive took to the stage to sign-off the CRACK stage for the year, a band I never thought I would witness live when I found them. Doused in mystery and ultimately little more – at the time – than a very popular cult band, their reunion over the last two years is unique in that very few can argue that they’ve come back just for the money. And this was proved right with the release of their first album in over 20 years, the self-titled ‘Slowdive’ that’s not even two months old and already complimenting fan-favourites in the set. It was as every bit as ceremonious as I was hoping for, the trance-like shimmers of ‘When the Sun Hits’ and ‘Souvlaki Space Station’ sending shivers down my spine. The band managed to conjure up every bit of emotion I find myself feeling from the brilliance of their recorded work. Guitars soar and glide between shattering snare crashes and thundering bass lines. Rachel Goswell’s voice has remained as graceful as it ever was, and entwines with Neil Halstead’s as beautifully as it ever did. A triumphant set for a band so undeniably inspirational to the wave of dreampop and shoegaze that has become increasingly popular in both British and American guitar scenes in the last five years.

Closing off the night for me was the raucous thrashings of Thee Oh Sees, rattling through a relentless set of fan favourites and a sprinkling of new songs. The wild-like nature of King Gizzard’s atmosphere was back in full-force, frontman John Dwyer writhing over his guitar and twisting knobs on pedals to create a force field of sound only penetrated by the dual drumming of Dan Rincon and Paul Quattrone. Psychedelic rock at its rawest and most enjoyable.

Sound issues aside, it was an immensely enjoyable day of diverse music. Field Day continue not only to pick some of the finest cult acts in the world to come and play their festival, but manage to do so for the small asking price of £60. Having seen 10 bands that day – and with very little time to stop between them all – it’s very hard to find a British festival with better value than this.

Words by Conor Richards

 

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Image By John Lubbock (Field Day Victoria Park37) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

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