Field Day festival review – a collective roar in the face of the storm

Victoria Park, London
A lineup including Skepta, Deerhunter, James Blake and PJ Harvey prove more than able to banish wet weather blues with warm and powerful performances

“Maybe you can just dance the rain away,” says one member of cheerful Brooklyn art-pop band Yeasayer to a soggy field of umbrellas and plastic ponchos. “I dunno. I’ve tried everything.” The best way to enjoy Field Day is to dash around the site sampling as much as possible, but that’s a lot harder on a grey, sloshy day which never quite recovers from a punishing mid-afternoon downpour.

The bands do their best in sub-optimal circumstances. On the main stage, Atlanta’s unpredictable Deerhunter have never sounded so warm and inviting, signing off with the joyfully slinky Snakeskin. Elsewhere, Kelela performs dreamy, slow-motion R&B, Floating Points reboot jazz fusion for clubbers and ferocious young Dubliners Girl Band play techno-influenced noise-rock like someone trying to cough up a razor blade.

Bradford Cox leads the charge for Deerhunter at Field Day.
Warm and inviting … Bradford Cox leads the charge for Deerhunter at Field Day. Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns

There are two very different manifestations of urban ill-temper: the permanently furious Sleaford Mods and grime star Skepta, whose panicky mean-streets anthem It Ain’t Safe is bellowed lustily by people whose biggest anxiety is wet feet. Notwithstanding brief episodes of techno and grime, James Blake is an unusually intimate headliner but his introspective electronic soul swells to suit the occasion, reaching a powerful climax with The Wilhelm Scream’s oceanic roar.

On Sunday the average age of the performers vaults at least a decade, and the crowd is bigger, older and drier. The Shacklewell Arms tent fills to overflowing for the thrillingly volatile Fat White Family. Like the young Libertines, they strike you as the kind of band who would ask to crash at your place and then make you regret saying yes. Frontman Lias Saoudi ends the set stripped down to his pants, as is his wont. Sweden’s mysterious Goat also have a sinister edge. Dressed in robes and headdresses, they play sinewy, shamanic psychedelia that could be the soundtrack to a hair-raising ritual. John Grant, contrastingly, is charm incarnate with his funny, beautiful songs about depression and self-hatred. Only the Avalanches disappoint; the Australians are about to release their first album in 16 years but this messy DJ set leaves many fans nonplussed.

Skepta performs at Field Day.
Mean-streets anthem … Skepta. Photograph: Gus Stewart/Redferns

When PJ Harvey takes to the main stage, feathered and regal like a black swan, storm clouds are roiling and lightning flashing. It’s a fittingly dramatic backdrop to a set which begins with five forbidding songs from recent album The Hope Six Demolition Project, before slowly ratcheting up the energy. Harvey is never less than mesmerising as she physically inhabits each song: a serpentine hypnotist for Down By the Water, a thrashing live wire for 50 Ft Queenie. During the eerie When Under Ether she arches her neck and holds the pose so that she resembles, on the black-and-white screens beside the stage, a still from a silent movie. Her band, which includes former Bad Seeds, look like grizzled bodyguards protecting an exiled monarch. She closes with A Perfect Day Elise, crying: “It’s a perfect day!” Field Day wasn’t quite that this year but Harvey’s theatrical intensity makes for a memorable finale.


Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Wireless festival review – British rap stars show Americans how it's done
In his first major set since leaving prison, J Hus made a joyful homecoming and outshone much of the A-list American talent – the irrepressible Cardi B aside

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

08, Jul, 2019 @11:12 AM

Article image
Wireless review – global rap stars give London weekender a clear message
With a lineup that offered an up-to-the-minute survey of the transatlantic rap and grime scene, this contrary festival may have finally found a USP to hang on to

Hannah J Davies

10, Jul, 2017 @1:24 PM

Article image
Parklife festival review – Manchester turns night to day with punishing party energy
Liam Gallagher is incongruous, but prompts massive singalongs, while the xx and Confidence Man are other big successes

Daniel Dylan Wray

11, Jun, 2018 @12:44 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest BBC music performances – ranked!
As the Beeb celebrates its centenary, we take a look at its most memorable pop moments, from the birth of grime to the first sightings of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley, plus TOTP goes Madchester and countless classic Peel sessions

Guardian music

06, Oct, 2022 @12:12 PM

Article image
Field Day review – Skepta and Jorja Smith impress in London's edgelands
The sound isn’t always up to standard in Field Day’s new Tottenham home, but Diplo, Deerhunter and Death Grips are among those who transcend it

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

09, Jun, 2019 @11:32 AM

Article image
Lovebox review – Childish Gambino leads diverse corrective to Trump visit
While SZA was delayed by the Trump protests, other artists were energised – including Childish Gambino, who scaled up his music to unprecedented size

Natty Kasambala

16, Jul, 2018 @10:52 AM

Article image
Liam Gallagher, Skepta and the xx to headline Manchester's Parklife festival
Big-name pop, rap and R&B stars flock to Heaton Park weekender, with Lorde, NERD and J Hus also joining the bill

Laura Snapes

31, Jan, 2018 @9:18 AM

Article image
Abba to Zappa: pop, rock and classical music to look forward to in 2022
UK rap’s biggest star goes on tour, Wet Leg drop a deadpan debut and Rosalía gets into reggaeton. Here are the albums, concerts and tours the big hitters have in store

Alexis Petridis and Andrew Clements

30, Dec, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
Every Mercury prize-winning album – ranked!
Following the announcement of this year’s nominees, we run the rule over the 26 albums that have earned the crown, from Klaxons and James Blake to M People and Talvin Singh

Dave Simpson

26, Jul, 2018 @10:45 AM

Article image
Field Day review – the Aphex Twin's live comeback raises the temperature
The one-day festival has a gigantic new Barn stage, suitably filled by Aphex Twin’s spine-tingling live return, supported by an eclectic lineup of pop, rap and dance for every taste under the sun

Malcolm Jack

04, Jun, 2017 @2:12 PM