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FIELD DAY 2023 REVIEW: IDIOSYNCRATIC ELECTRONICA FOR HEADY RAVERS

Despite sound issues, Field Day provided an awe-inspired showcase of contemporary electronic music from some of the world's most esteemed DJs and performers.


Words Jay Fullarton (@jaymfullarton)

Photos Matt Higgs



Last weekend Field Day returned to Victoria Park for a euphoric night, hosting some of the world’s best electronic and alternative talent. The get-together attracted hedonists old and young, with legendary headliners Aphex Twin and Bonobo amongst the loaded lineup. London’s ravers were hand-delivered a stacked day of awe-inspiring sounds, and we were even treated to a blissful day in the sun, after one of the wettest July’s on record.


As soon as the gates opened, the muffled sound of rattling bass could be heard right across Victoria Park. Fans flocked through by the thousands to experience another year of the East London day fest. Across the board were some of the finest musicians and DJs all competing for our attention, as painful clashes were plentiful. Whilst we couldn’t be in all places at once - and disappointingly had to miss out on enormous performers like Arca and Jon Hopkins - we wanted to give a rundown of some of the day’s best sets.



Sudan Archives

The first set we saw in the late summer afternoon set the bar unrealistically high with an absolutely nuts performance from Sudan Archives. Along with her supremely skilled DJ, the pair brought hysteria to many peoples first performance of the day. Every time she unsheathed the bow of her violin the crowd were left dazed by her dexterity and expertise. Performing her inimitable, arty fusion of R&B, folktronica, and experimental hip-hop, she delivered a set that was both eerie and sexy, shaking her ass to booming 808s and sugary strings. Despite a couple of old tracks, and a comically fun ode to traditional fiddle music, she mostly performed cuts from one of last year’s finest LPs, 'Natural Brown Prom Queen'. Tracks like ‘Ciara’ and ‘Selfish Soul’ were gorgeous in the August sun, whilst the breakbeat-influenced ‘Loyal (EDD)', and the bass heavy drop of ‘ChevyS10’ conjured up a storm in the crowd. It was an anthemic set from someone with a genuine superstar presence on stage, making the violin sound as arena-ready as the electric guitar.



SBTRKT

After ducking out of Yunè Pinku’s disappointingly mild blend of Ice Spice and garage, we were craving a bigger party. It already seemed impossible to top Sudan Archives spellbinding set, but SBTRKT’s first UK festival performance in eight years was surely the answer. Whilst not as unpredictably batshit, we knew we were in for a special time when he opened with ‘Pharaohs’ from his 2011 self-titled classic. The whiplash-inducing jungle rhythm of ‘Miss The Days’, and the dreamy, synthy chillwave of ‘DAYS GO BY’ only furthered the notion for us that this is SBTRKT’s comeback year, as did the crowd spilling out the tent. From there on, the atmosphere got wilder, hearing classics ‘Right Thing To Do’ and ‘Hold On’ reimagined with a live band. When the women in front of us somehow pulled out three water pouches full of wine from a petite bag, we were half hoping she’d sneak out Sampha from hiding too. Unfortunately, she did not, but collaborator LEILAH filled in on most of the guest vocals and did a fine job. Thankfully though, as sirens sounded and the unmistakable drums of ‘Wildfire’ crept in, Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano’s incomparable vocals were left in the mix. What a closing track that was, and one of the most blissful singalongs we’ve had in years.




Kelela

After juggling overpriced chips with four small cups of JINRO, we stumbled back into the Cupra North Arena. Awaiting us were the seductive, hypnotic sounds of alt R&B, UK Bass hybrid Kelela. She came onto the low-lit, shadowy stage hidden inside a white onesie, and delivered one of the most fascinating shows we’ve seen in a long time. Performing a handful of mesmeric standouts from her two fantastic records – 2023’s ‘Raven’ and 2017’s ‘Take Me Apart’ - it was the perfect interlude after two of the liveliest sets of the day. Wielding the ability to transform the crowd from completely static whenever crooning, to uncontrollably dancing at the sound of a breakbeat, she managed to completely overcome the muddy, drowned out sound issues. The sound was a frequent complaint amongst festivalgoers at this year’s Field Day, but this was the only time we really faced this issue. Still, ending the set on an intoxicating, druggy LSDXOXO edit brought the energy back up to 100.



Bonobo

As the sun set over the West Stage, Simon Green’s nocturnal vibrations were the perfect transition into nightfall. He also comes equipped with a full live band, which made it quite puzzling to think we were only an hour away from Aphex Twin and still yet to see a full DJ set. But this was no bad thing, the instrumentation added layered texture to his rich, dreamy downtempo and electronica. From classics like ‘Cirrus’, to all-out showstoppers like ‘Otomo’, there was an abundance of ethereal sounds to get lost in. Green is clearly a master of his art, refining his live show to perfection for decades. He even brought out Jordan Rakei for a stunning rendering of ‘Shadows’, once again reminding us that this isn’t just any chaotic, rave-adjacent electronic festival, but foremost a crowd-pleasing one.



Aphex Twin

Before Bonobo had a chance to finish, thousands of Aphex Twin worshippers headed east, like a pack of shroom-spiked wolves starving for a sensory assault. This was Twin’s first show at the festival since 2017, so many were hoping for a career-defining return. Expectations were certainly met for those well versed in the idiosyncrasies of Richard D James’ puzzlingly brilliant IDM. Whilst ‘Intelligent Dance Music’ is a pretentious label, and sometimes pretentious music too, the cult of Aphex Twin logo-garbed 30-somethings will surely just say you don’t get it, and some in attendance definitely did not get it. Many left the show early, or quickly moved to the back, but can you blame them? This isn’t exactly music for a festival of 50,000 attendees, but for us, seeing it in this setting was a marvellous subversion of what is traditionally a headline set.


The bad trip provoking selection of unnerving images (provided by James’ visual artist Weirdcore) on the towering LED screens, mixed with the onslaught of harsh, constantly evolving noise felt dystopian. As lasers lit up the sky, pictures of James’ grimace morphed into the likes of Stormzy, Charli XCX, and Dua Lipa, before mutating into more disturbingly hallucinogenic imagery. The first hour of Twin’s set was without doubt disorderly, but certainly easier to dance to than the last half an hour of non-stop skeleton vibrating drums. It’s hard to describe the performance without addressing the fact that it was at times intense, uncomfortable, and unforgiving, but don’t be fooled into thinking this wasn’t an incredible bucket list experience for anyone who is yet to see the genius at work. Songs were often indecipherable, but that didn’t stop the frenzied fanboys from trying to dance. Twin was set on making sure we had the most bonkers 90 minutes imaginable, with absolutely zero space between each penetrating, abrasive track to breathe.



At age 52, Aphex Twin has defied anyone silly enough to have any preconceived expectations again. Whilst you can try and lump it into a category like acid techno, IDM or drill and bass, this DJ set was indescribable, indefinable, and incomparable to anything else you’ll ever see amongst a crowd this big.


Find out more about Field Day here.

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