Field Day 2018: Review
Organisational issues loom heavily over this year's Field Day festival, despite playing host to some solid performances across both days
Making the move to South London for the first time – while All Points East festival takes over their previous home of East London’s Victoria Park – Field Day returned with as strong a line-up as ever for 2018, including UK festival exclusive appearances from Erykah Badu, Fever Ray and Cornelius. In the much smaller surroundings of Brockwell Park, however, the festival’s move doesn’t exactly run smoothly.
Friday: Erykah Badu, Loyle Carner, Moses Sumney & more
With the threat of rain looming on the first day of the festival, Friday revellers are thankfully only treated to a light drizzle during Moses Sumney’s set before the sun fights its way through the clouds. Before that though, Wu-Lu kicks off our weekend at Field Day with a bang, quite literally. The South London local and brother of Childhood frontman Ben Romans-Hopcraft, Miles Romans-Hopcraft’s jazz/hip-hop/metal-infused throwdown widens the eyes of the crowd, many of whom, like us, have just arrived at the festival during his main stage opening set.
It’s a drastic change of tone as Moses Sumney takes to the stage next, his mic stand resembling a church altar and his fragile, angelic vocals sounding too good to be true. As the clouds start to part and the sun makes its way through, Sumney’s set feels almost spiritual, taking us out of the darkness and into the light. Largely performing tracks from his debut album, 2017’s Aromanticism, the understated beauty of the album too shines through, particularly on tracks like Plastic, Lonely World and Indulge Me. Sumney’s voice and stage presence is simply outstanding, and why he isn't more widely known is a mystery but if this performance is anything to go by, that’s about to change very soon.
In yet another drastic change, we head to the absolutely packed-out, roasting hot Dimensions tent next, where people are spilling out of the entrance and furiously attempting to fight their way through the crowd to get closer to the stage for Manchester rapper IAMDDB. Not being able to get near the front ourselves, the sound quality from the back of the tent is poor but as soon as the opening notes of Shade drop, the crowd begins singing along so loudly, the volume of her mic becomes irrelevant. Wheeling it up for another go after the first verse, the antics escalate even further as not a single person in sight remains still the second time the track drops. Sadly though, many seem to only have been interested in catching that one song, or perhaps they simply can’t handle the heat of the unbearably crowded tent any longer, as about half the crowd make a break for it afterwards, despite IAMDDB only being halfway through her set.
Back in the more freeing surrounds of the main stage, NAO’s soulful R’n’B-tinged pop sounds are the perfect accompaniment to the late afternoon sun. Singles Fool to Love, Girlfriend and Firefly all have the crowd dancing and singing along, with smiles stretched across their faces, in one of the brightest and merriest moments of the whole weekend. Closing her set on breakout single Bad Blood proves a popular choice and everyone does their best to reach that high ‘cuckoo-oo-oo’ note, with varying results.
Following on from NAO’s delightful set though, Lambeth local Loyle Carner’s set falls a bit flat. With the stage decked out like an old man’s front room – an armchair and side table with a small lamp are set in the middle of the stage and the DJ decks sit on top of what appears to be a bookshelf – it all feels a bit intimate for such a big stage, and given his second-from-the-top billing it just doesn’t feel like he’s quite there yet. Carner himself announces that he’s very nervous, having grown up “just around the corner” from the festival’s site, but his nerves don’t show. He is a very confident performer and transitions smoothly between freestyling a capella and rapping over beats, striding back and forth across the stage and working it as much as he possibly can. It may feel too soon for Carner to be in this slot now, but he has all the potential to fit there more comfortably soon.
As the crowd starts to expand and anticipation rises, we eagerly await our Friday headliner; and wait we do. Arriving on stage well over half an hour late, Erykah Badu is quickly forgiven, instantly mesmerizing every member of the crowd with her unchanged voice and endearing demeanour. Badu’s star quality extends far beyond just music, interacting with the massive crowd as though you would with your closest friends. Set highlights, naturally come in the form of tracks from her seminal debut album, 1997’s Baduizm – including On & On and Next Lifetime – which Badu dedicates to “all the 90s babies,” who seem to make up a large portion of the crowd, given the volume of the cheers. She also throws in a few new tracks for good measure though, suggesting a new album may be on the way. However, her lateness means that her set is forced to be cut short due to curfew regulations and the organisers eventually have to cut off her mic, while she’s literally rolling around the stage clearly reluctant to leave.
Saturday: Princess Nokia, Fever Ray
As we arrive on site for day two, it's visibly busier and more hectic than Friday with huge queues at the entrance and the inability to move around the site without tripping over someone sitting down or knocking into someone walking past.
With a last minute cancellation from ex-Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt – later said to be due to ongoing issues with anxiety and depression following the recent death of his father – our first act of the day is the absolute powerhouse that is Princess Nokia. The New York rapper, formerly known as Wavy Spice, comes bounding on to the stage in the Crack tent and immediately launches into a double whammy of bangers – Kitana and Tomboy – from her 2017 breakthrough, 1992 Deluxe. This is Nokia in her element, spitting aggressive, fast-paced bars and furiously pogoing around the stage, but this incredible energy is sadly short-lived.
Nokia’s set hits a swift lull, as the middle section is taken up by tracks from her recent emo-inspired mixtape A Girl Cried Red, broken up by interludes of throwback emo tracks, like Sum 41’s Fat Lip and Blink 182’s I Miss You – a track which she later performs an uncomfortably long and incredibly cringe-worthy a cappella cover of. Thankfully, it picks up again towards the end as she expresses her love of British music and goes on to perform a selection of drum’n’bass and jungle-influenced tracks, as well as paying homage to her Latin roots with Bikini Weather / Corazón en Afrika. By this time though, half the crowd have already cleared out and moved on to the next.
In the much smaller Superdry tent, Norwegian trio SASSY 009 appear happier to be here than anyone else at the festival. Frequently exchanging glances and smiles as they perform their unique blend of dark, ambient techno and electro-pop, featuring live flute and glorious vocal harmonies. However, our attempts to catch a glimpse of Helena Hauff’s DJ set in the Resident Advisor tent afterwards are hindered by our inability to even get inside due to the swarms of people.
In contrast, as we make our way back to the Crack tent, Cornelius plays to the smallest crowd we've seen all weekend. With the crowd barely even 20 deep, it’s clear only his most dedicated fans have turned up for this set. As a black curtain drops, Cornelius and his band appear on stage dressed like The Velvet Underground in black trousers, white shirts and 60s-style sunglasses. His renowned synchronised visual show does not disappoint, beginning with karaoke lyrics on the screen in Japanese for the opening track before moving on to skyline views of Japanese cities and archive karate footage. On the other side of the park, Four Tet’s set in The Barn is delayed and eventually forced to be cancelled due to overcrowding, reducing his set time from the intended two hours to just over 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, overcrowding issues continue to be a problem in the Crack tent for Fever Ray’s headline set. Forced to stand by one of the tent’s entrances, the stage is barely visible and the sound completely distorted, with sound spill from other tents and noise from passers-by overpowering the tent’s sound system. This is no judgement upon Fever Ray though, as what we can hear and see is an artist completely in her own league. Performing the vast majority of latest album Plunge – with highlights including Wanna Sip, This Country and IDK About You – Karin Dreijer prowls around the stage with her two backing singers/dancers in a set that’s manic, disturbing and ultimately a vision of artistic genius.
Let down by its poor organisation and consistent overcrowding across the weekend, Field Day have some serious thinking to do about how to resolve these issues for next year. On both days, getting anywhere near enough to see the stage in the tents is a no-go and exiting the festival is a total nightmare, as security pen everyone in behind barriers in an attempt to steady the crowd flow out of the park. Nevertheless, the festival plays host to some solid performances from a unique range of artists, and long may it continue this way if they are able to neaten things up.