Not content with our photo recap? Head honcho Tom Geraghty writes his review of the 2018 iteration of London’s Field Day festival that had highs, lows, oversights and some damn good music.
For reasons outside of Field Day’s control, the 2018 iteration of the much-loved London festival had a lot to contend with. Having been ousted from their long-standing home in Victoria Park by All Points East, a festival doggedly encroaching on the London day festival scene by throwing as much cash towards acts and the local council as humanly possible to guarantee a slice of the market, Field Day 2018 had the challenging task of starting afresh in a different environment altogether, south London’s Brockwell Park. Field Day 2018 was a fresh start with an eclectic selection of excellent artists, albeit one that didn’t go off without a few hitches to accompany it.
The Friday of the festival was a resounding success. Boasting a lineup that heavily featured neosoul, contemporary jazz and a healthy injection of funk, the day was engineered to compliment headliner Erykah Badu and featured numerous acts that did exactly that. NAO’s deeply funky sound was practically designed for the main stage, bolstered by the blistering weather that leant itself to the funky R&B tendencies of the east London singer-songwriter. On the harsher end of the spectrum sat JPEGMAFIA and IAMDDB, the latter of which garnered an immense crowd of enthusiastic fans who called every song she played ‘the one’.
Loyle Carner continued proceedings on the main stage, bringing an infectious energy as he lurched and thrust around the stage, calling out his love for Brockwell Park and south London and bringing out Tom Misch to the stage for a bit of guitar action. A surprise – at least to myself – came in the form of Mr Jukes, the moniker of Bombay Bicycle Club’s Jack Steadman. Uncompromisingly jazzy, the set was a collaborative effort that saw brass players (one of which weirdly resembled my father), keyboardists and vocalists each take the limelight at various points to belt the shit out of their respective instruments, an unexpected feature usually reserved for the jazz club scene.
Queen Erykah Badu closed the day, stepping onstage wearing an assortment of garments that only Badu can pull off so well. Performing a slickly streamlined set of classics and foot tappers, Erykah Badu soulfully slunk through her set with such effortlessness and groove it was impossible not to enjoy. ‘Window Seat’ and set-closer ‘Bag Lady’ were personal highlights, although I must admit a certain affinity for the interspersing of newer material from her But You Caint Use My Phone mixtape. A lot of the crowd were clearly there just to see Badu (which figured as the price of a weekend ticket was probably the same as to see her live on tour), and whilst her stage production didn’t dazzle, her expert musicianship and personality didn’t disappoint the hefty crowd.
If the Friday of Field Day was a relaxed billing of tripped out soul for the sun, the Saturday was content on cleansing itself of anything relaxing and diving headfirst into a wealth of underground house and techno. With the addition of The Barn to the Saturday of the festival, attendance was notably higher and the sharp increase in population certainly felt more than the reduced-size The Barn could accommodate. While this was nothing more than an observation to start with, it later became apparent that some oversights had been made regarding the organisation and layout of the festival.
So here’s the elephant in the room: Four Tet’s set in The Barn. Postponed for an hour and a half due to intense crowd pressure and an ensuing crush, Four Tet’s set was called off amid safety concerns, and quite rightly so. There is no doubt in my mind that something had to be done to ensure safety; throughout the day The Barn had demonstrated inadequacies in planning and Four Tet’s set was certainly not the first crush of the day. The majority of this came down to the positioning of the entrances and exits of the stage. By having two entrances/exits on one side of The Barn was a drastic oversight that practically begged for an unsafe experience, resulting in two bottlenecks that prevented freeflowing movement. As a result, the left side of the stage was spacious amid the Four Tet crush, all the while the two entrances/exits crushed under the strain of people trying to get in.
This was not the first demonstration as to how poor this layout was. Daphni’s phenomenal set that danced through intricately hectic jungle rhythms into playful garage before winding up on Thelma Houston’s ‘Don’t Know Why I Love You’ experienced similar issues, as did Floating Points’ gritty analogue solo live performance that had me experience a long-standing favourite, ‘Nuits Sonores’, live for the first time. Both Daphni and Floaty P delivered spellbinding sets, albeit ones I didn’t get to experience the entirety of due to the poor layout and overcrowding of the stage. All of this was accentuated for Four Tet’s set – or lack thereof – on account of only two stages being open. There simply wasn’t anywhere else for people to go, and it was a costly omission from the Field Day team that compromised safety and paying ticket holders to see a headline act.
However, for most of the two days, Field Day was a uniquely London experience that delivered some sensational moments. Oumou Sangare brought the flavour to the mainstage with her masterclass in African music, HAAi belted out some heavy hitters to get the day going and Jayda G warmed up the crowd with her deep crate selection and bubbly energy. The spellbinding funk prowess of Thundercat instilled deep grooves whilst chatting shit about anime and Dragonball Z, cementing him as one of the fucking coolest dudes around, delivering signature falsetto and insanely complex bass rhythms.
Fever Ray sounded fantastic live, bringing an apocalyptical electronic rave vibe I simply wasn’t expecting, sounding especially thunderous accompanied by the bongos and percussion experiments of ‘IDK About You’. ‘To The Moon And Back’ felt earthshattering live with arpeggiated synth lines hammering the skull in a shimmering manner, all made cathartic by shouting the final line ‘I want to run my fingers up your pussy’ in unison with the crowd, followed by ecstatic applause by all and sundry.
But the real highlight of the weekend goes to Princess Nokia, who smashed the living shit out of her set so hard that we forewent the vast majority of the monolithic pairing of Objekt b2b Batu, a decision that was not made lightly. Jumping like mad around the stage, Nokia got the crowd worked up into a frenzy during the hype-as-fuck ‘Kitana’, singing along to Blink-182, blew minds during a jungle breakdown, whacked out some dancehall and ended on the afro-centric and sublime ‘Corazon en Afrika’. Diverse and incredibly performed live, Princess Nokia stepped up to the plate and defied already lofty expectations with a phenomenal set that’ll long last in my memory.
In most respects, the missteps made by Field Day 2018 were so disappointing not because it ruined the weekend – far from it – but in the fact that it hampered what the festival should have been. Having attended for the last 3 years, Field Day consistently brings an eclectic and diverse range of underground music in the form of DJs and bands, and the return to a two-day format this year was a welcome one. Unique in it’s ability to coax you in gently on the Friday just to smash heads in on the Saturday, Field Day delivered several fantastic sets from original artists who don’t get airtime at other festivals. Sill uncompromisingly a London festival despite having moved, let’s hope that the festival learns from it’s Brockwell Park teething issues to deliver a more organised festival next year. For the most part, however, Field Day excelled in bringing uncompromising visionary artists together in one place to create festival that prides itself on diversity, inclusion and – most importantly- incredible music.
Image: All photos by Rhys Phillips