Field Day review – shifting sounds tighten up London's festival scene

Brockwell Park, London
Under orders not to upset new neighbours, Field Day got strict with its headliners – pulling the plug on an overtime Erykah Badu – while serving a jazzy lineup of fresh stars

When the sound gets shut off on the first night of Field Day, Erykah Badu has just peeled herself off the floor, where she’s been serenading us on her belly like a teenager on a late-night phone call. The neo soul queen may be upfront about her age – tweaking the lyrics of Me to sing: “This year I turned 46” – but she still has the youthful insouciance that brought her acclaim as a thrilling live performer in the 90s. Drowned by an oversized cream suit and enormous wodge of crimped hair, Badu is the sparky counterpoint to her ultra-tight backing band, bashing out beats on a drum machine as she introduces “the 90s babies” to classics like Next Lifetime and Tyrone.

But she’s late, and the curfew comes anyway – after barely an hour, she’s on a mid-set high during Bag Lady when the plug is pulled. It was always going to be this way; Badu isn’t renowned for her punctuality, for a start, but Field Day, now in its 11th year, is under strict orders to keep a lid on the noise and chaos. This is the festival’s first appearance in south London after events behemoth AEG nudged it out of its slot in east London’s Victoria Park. Residents of the affluent area around Brockwell Park were quick to raise the alarm, warning of vandalism and damage to biodiversity.

the packed crowd at Field Day.
South side … the packed crowd at Field Day. Photograph: Helena Pliotis/The Guardian

Their concerns seem to have been taken seriously, with curfews strictly monitored and stewards for miles around. The downsizing just about works – Field Day has always had a homespun feel to it – but at times the site feels overwhelmingly packed. With Badu in the headline slot, Friday’s lineup demonstrates a shift in priorities for London’s younger music fans, who have developed a serious thirst for jazz. From the 70s-style ensemble showdowns of Moses Boyd Exodus and the Comet Is Coming to the hypnotic Ethio-jazz of Hailu Mergia, about half the day’s acts are loosely jazz, often cross-pollinating with hip-hop, Afrobeat and soul. And on the main stage, the extraordinary falsetto of Moses Sumney heralds a potential successor to Badu’s eccentric crown, with the LA singer beefing up songs from last year’s Aromanticism with violin, clarinet and guitar.

Four Tet in the rave tent.
Crushing it … Four Tet in the rave tent. Photograph: Mike Best/The Guardian

The perplexing charms of Jimothy Lacoste start Saturday off on a different note, as north London’s viral wonderkid brings a hint of knowing wit to his absurd iPad pop about “future baes” and London buses. New York rapper Princess Nokia caters to a similarly young and enthusiastic crowd, mixing juicy autobiography with hip-hop, jungle and, on new tracks, early 00s emo. Her a cappella Blink-182 cover is dreadful, but who else would dare?

Elsewhere, dance music is the focus. The Barn, a high-spec rave tent, fills up immediately and stays full – Four Tet’s headline slot has to be paused temporarily to relieve the crush. Finally, Fever Ray closes the weekend with a dose of a radical art-punk energy. Karin Dreijer is flanked by two singer-dancers – one in a stunningly grotesque muscle-suit – and an all-women band as she turns the abrasive rave-pop of 2017’s Plunge into a choreographed celebration of queer sex and mental rebirth. The anthemic peak comes with To the Moon and Back, as Dreijer’s voice is drowned out by thousands of (mostly women) hollering: “I want to run my fingers up your pussy!” For once, it’s a welcome disruption to the festival order.

Contributor

Chal Ravens

The GuardianTramp

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