Festival review: Field Day, Victoria Park, London

  • @johnmatthewhall

After seven years, east London’s trendiest music event appears to have finally got to grips with festival site logistics. There are significantly more bars, toilets and refreshment stands, and the stages seem to be located according to genre; meaning fewer cross-site dashes to catch complementary acts.

All this, not to mention that rarest of treats - a brilliant blue sky and blazing sunshine -gives Field Day the kind sanguine atmosphere that has arguably been missing during its initial dark and dubstep-heavy years.

Perfectly capturing that newly invigorated mood are Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited; a wonderful Zimbabwean collective who, against all odds, drag the usually stony-faced hipster crowd onto their feet for a gleeful mid-afternoon dance; their political Chimurenga music packed with strong African rhythms and charming vocal melodies.

Somewhat more in-keeping with Field Day’s darker, more provocative side are Savages, whose explosive anarcho-punk draws one of day’s largest crowds.

Frontwoman Jehnny Beth is one of the more powerful vocalists in the resurgent London indie scene, and she drives her band and audience forward with fist thrusts and frayed vocals chords. A lack of really striking choruses – the excellent "Husbands" aside – is the only thing that lets the band down.

The same could be said of Solange who, as Beyoncé's younger, cooler sister, was always going to draw a large, mostly curious crowd. Incredibly stylish, with a pleasant enough sound, her songs do feel slightly devoid of substance when the baggage surrounding them is removed.

That is certainly not the case with Kurt Vile, however. Performing his critically acclaimed new album Wakin on a Pretty Daze almost in full, Vile summons the spirit of early 70s Bob Dylan through his beautifully-structured psychedelic folk.

Four Tet emerge as the ideal soundtrack to the day’s beautiful sunset, with Kieran Hebden’s initially jazzy set growing darker and more sinister with the sky. The huge crowd to watch the DJ perform are testament to his innovation and staying power, as elsewhere post-dubstep artists draw little attention.

After a day of largely crowd-pleasing acts, it’s left to Animal Collective to introduce a little impenetrability. Perhaps it was the drop in temperature as darkness fell, or it may have been rumours of huge delays at nearby Tube stations, but by the time the Baltimore-band were mid-set, the crowd had dwindled to around half the number Four Tet performed to.

Those who stayed were treated to a brilliant career-spanning set, but in being there to watch the band finish, you couldn't help but feeling like the slightly awkward last guest after a really great party.