Field Day review – Skepta and Jorja Smith impress in London's edgelands

Meridian Water, London
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

It’s not only first-time house buyers who are getting pushed out of inner London – it’s festivals, too. After getting priced out of Victoria Park by the live events behemoth AEG and its flat, white offering All Points East, plus a not particularly charmed year in Brockwell Park, Field Day has – much like the nightclubs cropping up around the capital’s periphery – decamped to Tottenham’s marshlands in the far north of the city. This site features an outdoor main stage next to four cavernous warehouse units; it’s no surprise that they’re working with the team that turned a London printing factory into atmospheric, daytime clubbing space Printworks.

The central warehouse space is the most successful. It doesn’t have quite the same sci-fi drama as Printworks, but it does have an equally pounding soundsystem. John Talabot’s DJ set, built around portentous minor chords, finds a sweet spot between rational techno and emotional deep house, while Mall Grab’s breakbeat trance and junglist breaks perfectly matches the 90s-nostalgic fashion – platform Filas, Moschino shirts – worn by the Gen Z crowd. However, this space is host to the worst live set of the weekend, by Lost Souls of Saturn, the duo of Phil Moffa and Seth Troxler (the latter has sustained his career by being 10% more charismatic than any other tech house DJ, which is to say 50% less charismatic than almost anyone else). Boring, self-important ambience links undercooked rhythmic passages, under embarrassingly juvenile visuals that juxtapose commerce (bad, but looks cool) with war (ditto). Their overblown grandeur is shown up by Kelly Lee Owens and Marie Davidson, who are spellbinding with little more than a mic and a kick drum.

Jorja Smith.
Perfect vocal control ... Jorja Smith. Photograph: Trevor Pake/The Guardian

The sound is underpowered and lacking range on the other stages, though sometimes fascinatingly so. The tinny production afforded Death Grips gives songs like Get Got a harsh, snow-blind quality, while Deerhunter created a cauldron of noise off the flat surfaces of the third stage. That space also gives the pop choruses of MorMor’s brilliant outsider neo-soul – somewhere between Maxwell and Mac DeMarco – a floating ethereality. Other acts, though, are let downs: pinpoint flow from Flohio and Octavian is blunted by echoey sound, and Julia Holter’s chamber-pop is harangued by techno bleeding through the walls.

Headlining on Friday is local boy Skepta, who – like Earl Sweatshirt and Pusha T this weekend – bucks the trend for half-arsed rap performances at festivals: trading bars with guests including J Hus and JME, his words bob and feint on the balls of their feet. On Saturday, Diplo, a performer pathologically opposed to the crowd not having their hands in the air, intersperses Vengaboys, Spice Girls and Little Nas X’s Old Town Road amid blurts of nonsensical prang-step noise – a display of pure kitsch. With the crowd by now thoroughly refreshed, it’s unclear how Jorja Smith’s jazzy and ruminative soul will close out the night, but her perfect vocal control on Tomorrow sends everyone into a blissful daze.

By keeping pace with the porous taste of today’s youth, and choosing a new location with appealingly postapocalyptic edge, Field Day’s move is essentially successful – but it needs its acoustics treating if it’s going to be more than a vague backdrop to the very British business of losing one’s mind.

Field Day is at Meridian Water, London, until 9 June.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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