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By James Benge
What is immediately apparent when you arrive at Victoria Park is just how achingly ‘hip’ (is that the right word? How do you say cool nowadays?) the crowd at Field Day is. Rizla sales must have gone through the roof in Mile End and Bethnal Green on Saturday; these kids roll their own fags don’t you know. Frankly this is hardly conducive to a positive atmosphere at the event; everyone seems far too desperate to show just how blasé they are to show anything remotely verging on enthusiasm for most of the bands. These hipsters are pretty spoilt for choice with this year’s lineup oozing style and sophistication and with many of the bands responsible for this year’s best albums in attendance.
Starting off the day with Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti may not have been the best of ideas. Despite drawing a sizeable crowd so early on in the day the band’s take on pop muzak, so bright and enjoyable on record, drew confusion live. It hardly helped that Ariel looked more like a caveman than a pop star and he seemed to engage the audience as the latter, rarely communicating with the audience. Even the magnificent ‘Round and Round’ drew an at-best mediocre reaction. Villagers didn’t fare too much better either. It was all very nice but, psychotic-looking bassist aside, I would struggle to find much memorable during the gig. It’s all very nice, especially ‘I Saw The Dead’, but nothing more than that.
Memorable is one thing Zola Jesus certainly is. From the very first second she appeared on stage all eyes in the overflowing tent were on the young woman with the extraordinary voice. Truly hearing it live is quite something, every note she sings sounds like it’s within inches of ripping her vocal chords to shreds whilst she careers around the stage, looking as if she’s going through some sort of breakdown. ‘Sea Talk’, the highlight of her all-too brief set, was quite possibly the moment of the festival, a torch-song of hugely emotive power. It was hardly surprising that as the huge crowd filtered away from the tiny stage there was only one word on everyone’s lips, ‘wow’.
Jamie Woon managed his own ‘wow’ moment: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many people streaming away from a tent at once. Not that this was entirely his fault, the sound throughout the day on the Laneway stage was stodgy and difficult and particularly bad for Jamie. Indeed it was a tough day for all the post-dubstep Jamies with Jamie xx’s appearance on the Bloggers’ Delight stage drawing one of the largest crowds of the day. I heard it was quite good, particularly when he closed on his remix of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ but I, like a large chunk of the crowd, couldn’t hear anything and soon left.
James Blake, appearing on the Laneway, was also bedevilled by sound problems, but pulled it all together for a spell-bounding set. His live performance brought the crowd out in an odd mix of reverential singing and awkward dancing. Even album tracks like ‘I Never Learnt to Share’ were met with as ecstatic a reaction as ‘Limit to Your Love’ whilst an outing of ‘CMYK’ was greeted like an old friend. What may sound cold and unemotional on record became spectacular live, with Blake experimenting with every track and morphing them into dance classics.
Following them onto stage were Britain’s Biggest Indie BandTM, The Horrors, who performed a set that oscillated between Primary Colours and Skying to devastating effect. ‘Who Can Say’ sounds like a buzzsaw whilst the ‘groovier’ songs on their latest album were ideally suited to live performances. And any band that can perform ‘Sea Within a Sea’, ‘Still Life’ and ‘Mirror’s Image’ (three of their best songs) back-to-back without any noticeable drop in standards throughout the rest of the set are quite clearly something special. The band cut through the limitations of the stage’s sound system whilst Farris, all 6 foot plus of him, has become a front man who menaces and threatens so much that no one in the audience can keep their eyes of him. It’s hard to imagine that four or five years ago this band were a joke; now, playing music they seem to believe in, they truly are amongst the best bands in the country.
Field Day is undoubtedly building a reputation for itself but such a reputation will bring its own problems. Spending all day in a park full of urban hipsters is something I’d be reluctant to pay £40 for again. Then again organisers can’t be entirely blamed for the riff-raff that turn up and whilst they keep booking the likes of Zola Jesus I suppose I have to give them a chance.