Sunday, June 3, 2012

Field Day at Victoria Park, 2nd June 2012

They said it was deserted on the streets of Dalston today, like the opening of 28 Days Later.  I'm inclined to believe them.  Field Day has gotten a bit of a reputation as the official summer starter among young Londoners.  It's a popular and trendy festival focussed on up and coming bands rather than enormous headliners.  You tend to walk out of there into at least a few new and interesting bands.

But before you walk out of there you have to walk in.  Which is easier said than done.  Since its inception, Field Day has had a bit of a reputation for making you wait.  But even so, yesterday was ridiculous.  I bought my ticket in advance from Seetickets, and was given a booking number.  I arrived at half past two and with a sinking heart saw a queue stretching off somewhere into Mile End.  My hands were shaking with nervousness as I approached an event organiser and asked which queue was which.  Fortunately (or so I thought at the time) he directed me to a seemingly shorter queue.  Don't get me wrong, it was still long, but I felt I had at least the comfort of schadenfreude.  

"Things may be bad, but at least I'm not one of the poor bastards in the WeGotTickets queue."  

An hour of queueing later and I hadn't even reached the metal pens that snaked in front of the ticket huts.  The crowd was starting to turn nasty.  People who'd been happily chatting away became somewhat stony-faced with a thousand year stare.  The occasional shout of "what the fuck is going on?" rang out over the distempered queue.  The security guards looked on nervously.  

Another half an hour and you start to question what kind of operation Seetickets are running here?  Do they care?  Why should they care? After all, they already have our money.  A sort of cabin fever sets in.  The paranoia is not helped by the fact that next to our queue is the box office where you can buy a ticket.  There is no queue there, people seem to skip gaily towards it, illuminated by shafts of golden sunlight, before heading into the festival.  At this point the gates of Field Day are looking somewhat like the shining gates of St Peter, and us poor bastards are waiting out our time in purgatory.

Eventually, after just over two hours of queueing I reach the ticket desk.  I am shocked by what I see.  A trestle table with a big book on it with everyone's ticket number in it, the guy's working there have to look through the big book to find out people's name and address.  It all seems somehow rustic, and takes forever.  By all accounts we're living in the age of computers here - surely some kind of electronic system would speed things up.  I'm given a ticket, and wearily make my way to the gates.  They scan the barcode and I go straight in.  I am not some kind of ticket-designery genius, but why don't they just print the barcode on the fucking print out confirmation like any normal person would do?

By this point I'd missed a few of the bands I wanted to see, and was feeling generally a bit pissed off with the whole affair.  I glumly bought a bottle of cider (£4.30, fact fans!) and looked at the big boards to see what bands were on.  I should point out that I had to look at the big boards, because to actually own a copy of the stage times cost £5.  

So with the festival organising being a complete pile of shit, it was down to the bands to uplift the day.  And thankfully they did.  Top of my priority list was Grimes, so I headed to the Village Mentality tent to get a good spot in the crowd. Afrocubism were on before her, who I had vaguely heard of, but didn't know much about.  Their jazzy West African, vaguely psychedelic sound cheered me up quite a bit.  It's the kind of music that seems to brighten up a summer's day, and seems very, for want of a better word, festival-y.  There was a surprisingly big crowd there to see them, and I half suspected most of them were jockeying for a decent spot to see Grimes rather than turning up for Afrocubism, but nonetheless everyone seemed to be smiling, dancing and enjoying themselves.

Soon after they'd finished, Grimes came on stage.  She wasn't there to play, she was helping her roadies set up.  Even though it's a bit of a let-down theatrically, I kind of liked seeing her plugging her keyboards and synths in, and generally being all technical.  I can't imagine her being her own roadie for long, an enormous crowd packed into the tent to see her, and by this time next year she'll probably be enormous.  She's had quite a lot of hype piled onto her, and she more than lives up to it.  Her music is a mixture of waves of delicate synths with the occasional crunchy and thumping drum beat over the top.  She sounds delicate and fragile, a little like a synthpop Kate Bush and occasionally slipping into something slightly Bjorkish.  She bundles herself up in a too-big camouflage coat and a cap that reads 'Boy', it's a nice bit of genderqueering and this, coupled with her hands-on nature in setting herself up gives her a nice air of authencity.  As she plays her biggest singles, Oblivion and Genesis, the crowd goes crazy, surging forward.  It is at this time that someone decided it'd be a great idea to carry two pints of beer through the tent, they get shoved, and I get approximately £3 worth of beer spilt over me.  If this had happened an hour ago I'd have probably taken it as a sign that this day wasn't going to work out, and sodded off home.  But Grimes had cheered me up so much that the mishap dissolved away like water (or beer I guess) off a duck's back.

I went for a bit of a wander around after this, popping my head into the Red Bull tent to see a bit of Chairlift, but couldn't really see or hear much of what was going on in there.  I watched some of Metronomy from a distance.  I would have liked to get a bit closer, but sods law being what it was most of the bands I wanted to see clashed and I didn't have time to get caught up in a big crowd.

Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells was next on the agenda.  We got there a little late, finding the tent already jam-packed.  I think I enjoy the idea of Sleigh Bells more than the actual execution.  Abrasive, unreconstructed riffs with an angry female singer sounds like exactly my cup of tea, but as good as their formula is, most of their songs follow it a little too closely.   After 6 or 7 pounding, shouty songs that sound much the same I was a little aurally beaten up and when a friend said they wanted to go and see Beirut on the main stage I didn't argue.  I still like Sleigh Bells, although it's a bit telling that I've never made it all way through one of their albums in one sitting.

Everyone seemed to be eagerly anticipated Beirut.  I'd managed to get them confused with a Lebanese punk band, so when a load of trumpet and trombone wielding Americans took the stage I realised I'd screwed up.  Their music was a lot more pastoral than the electro-rock I'd been listening to earlier, and they seem like a great festival band.  Unfortunately by this point a definitive shroud of grey had blotted out the sun, and the occasional threatening drop of rain fell.  The crowd was drunk and rowdy too, shouting and screaming and throwing things about, which didn't really compliment the folkyand delicate music on stage.  They went on a bit too, having to seemingly be ushered off stage abruptly as they bargained for some more time.  I think I'd have enjoyed them much more if I'd been sprawled in a sunny field in the countryside rather than in a rapidly damp part of Hackney.

By this time I'd been on my feet for quite a while, and was feeling a bit tired and sore.  What with the wet ground there wasn't really anywhere to sit down, so I half thought about heading off.  Fortunately I was lead to the Shacklewell Arms tent to see Austra, who put a spring back into my step.  Their singer, Katie Stelmanis, reminded me of Florence Welch, quite a bit, but I far prefer the melodic, light and bubbly synthy electro that accompanies Austra rather than the slightly overblown current sound of Florence and the Machine.  It's atmospheric music that doesn't seem to take itself overly seriously, falling into catchy, easily singalongable choruses, especially on Lose It.  With a newly renewed sense of vigour, I set off to watch the last band on the checklist, Mazzy Star.

I don't know anything about Mazzy Star when I went into the tent to see her, and I still don't.  As I stepped into the tent I felt something fall into me followed by a thud on the ground.  I looked down at my feet to see a woman face down in the mud, not moving.  Ah crap.  It's one of those situations were you suddenly realise you're going to have to be the one to do something.  So I helped carry her outside.  She was disturbingly floppy and non-responsive.  I really hoped she wasn't dead.  Fortunately someone came out of the tent who knew first aid, and while she did her thing I ran off to the bar to ask the staff to get a doctor and call an ambulance.   They looked at me with blank surprise, one of them handed me their mobile and asked me to call one as "I don't know how to do it!".  I suppose they are used to serving bottles of cider and beer rather than emergency medical attention but even so you'd think they'd been told who to call if something like this happened.  The woman regained consciousness soon after, but still looked much the worse for wear.  Her boyfriend had emerged from the crowd and seemed to be taking care of her.  I took this as a good cue to get out of Field Day.

This is the third Field Day I've been to, and I'm not sure if I'm going back next year.  While the lineup is generally great, it seems more and more like a money-gouging exercise.  Apart from your hard-earned dough, you're not allowed to take any food or drink in, even if it's in sealed containers.  Friends of mine had their picnics summarily thrown away, forcing them to eat the slightly questionable (and obviously over-priced) festival food inside.  It wouldn't be too bad if the organisation of the thing was up-to-scratch, but it always seems kind of half-assed there.  

The music is always great, but man do they put you through a load of completely unnecessary hassle to get to it.

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