Sonic Onslaughts: Sunday At Field Day Reviewed

Bryan Brussee, Ben Graham, Julian Marszalek and Luke Turner round up some of the highlights from the sun-baked and rock-leaning second half of this year's festival. Photographs by Valerio Berdini

Ex Hex

13:25, Shacklewell Arms

"We’ve slept for like, one hour after our last show, and then flew straight here." It’s no wonder that Ex Hex are hitting the Jägermeister on Sunday lunchtime, or that the trio look as pale and gaunt behind smoked mirrored shades as three (Andrew) Eldritch sisters casting literal hexes on the heath. It’s understandable too that their half-hour set lacks some of the sheer life-affirming energy of last year’s joyous UK club dates, but Ex Hex still play note-perfect renditions of some of the best power pop blasts since The Go-Go’s’ debut album, and manage to pull off some stylish rock poses too.

Months on the road have also given them a welcome taste for feedback-strewn jams alongside their tightly-structured pop songs – not that they’ve turned into the Grateful Dead or anything, but there’s a certain wasted, morning-after looseness to these bittersweet party anthems now, and a clearer note of Only Ones-like ironic desperation sounds in their expertly-rendered punk-glam Runaways strut. Ben Graham


14:25, The Quietus/EYOE

This year’s Goths In Summertime slot falls to Leeds quintet Eagulls. While there’s still a mint to be made for the designer who nails black clad clothing for those partial only to moonlight and forced to endure the sun, it’s doubtful Eagulls would give two hoots, such is their dedication to their policy of dressing down.

Sartorial shortcomings aside, Eagulls make an impressive fist of bringing their fearsome fusion of Killing Joke headbutting The Cure repeatedly in the face to the masses at this ungodly early hour. ‘Nerve Endings’ is a shredded joy, all pounding beats, driving guitars and a dedication to effects pedals that verges on the evangelical. As evidenced by ‘Possessed’, Eagulls are not afraid of chucking in a brilliantly snotty petulance to the woozy sounds emanating from the stage and this is an attitude that serves their occasionally frightening yet consistently exciting music well. They deserve a greater audience and one that recognises the benefits of human pyramids, waving arms and the spiky chicken on the dancefloor. Julian Marszalek


15:30, The Quietus/EYOE

I stand, a sober 20-year-old, among a sea of drunk dads in Ride T-shirts. I’m okay with this; such a future is a personal aspiration of mine and their company sure beats the crowd of 20-something kids sporting flower tanks with that inexplicable front pocket I’ll encounter at Mac DeMarco’s set later on. The Brooklyn Kraut-gazers keep the stage banter to a minimum except to tell us over and over that they are in fact DIIV (maybe they want to make sure we know how to pronounce their name?) and what songs are new.

Good for that latter part, because before long the set all kind of blurs into one big, pretty wash of guitars and motorik rhythms. As on 2012’s impressive Oshin, the band’s effects-heavy guitar jangles obscure Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals while Devin Perez’s Simon Gallup-esque bass adds further ebb and flow to his band’s oceanic melodies. Here is a band inspired by the sea. Considered alongside contemporaries Wavves, Best Coast or just about any other indie act aiming to evoke visions of surf and sand, these guys come closest to capturing that elusive endless summer. Bryan Brussee

Viet Cong

15:35, Shacklewell Arms

Viet Cong apparently arrived on site from Portugal just as they were due on stage and have to go pretty much straight on, meaning that ‘Silhouettes’ is as much soundcheck as performance, though its yodelling hook and driving, shifting post-punk rhythms still enthral. Unfortunately not only is the set cut short due to their late arrival but it’s plagued by technical problems too. Guitars malfunction and drums are kicked over in frustration, but an impressively full tent for mid-afternoon is still definitely won over. The epic ‘Death’ in particular is astonishing, taking up half their running time as it crashes from one movement to another, its drawn-out, climactic mid-section merely the cue for yet another vertical take-off. Like The Doors’ ‘LA Woman’ fed through an industrial meat grinder it careers off the freeway, onto the autobahn and off into the darkest recesses of both outer and inner space. In the final few minutes, the outwardly mild-mannered Canadian quartet are finally in the zone and possessed by the visceral, violent darkness that drives their music. Ben Graham

Tuff Love

15:40, Jagerhäus

Glaswegian scuzz-poppers Tuff Love are growing in stature and yes, they’re getting tougher. Earlier performances revealed a band hampered by nerves and harmonies that didn’t quite hit the mark but clearly their recent spate of live work – including a support slot with tonight’s headliners Ride – is now beginning to pay off.

What becomes apparent during a performance that sees the crowd swell with each passing number is that Tuff Love have less to the do with the twee end of indie and more with influences such as The Breeders. Each subsequent song becomes more powerful than the last and with the harmonies of guitarist Julie Eisenstein and bassist Suse Bear locking in, songs such as ‘That’s Right’ and ‘Slammer’ spring into vivid life. Indeed, the latter song’s quiet-loud-quiet dynamics are bolstered by a confidence that sees Tuff Love feeding off the audience, who in turn feed from the band, and so it goes in a glorious cycle of life. Julian Marszalek

Gaz Coombes

17:40, Shacklewell Arms

Ah, the perils of the tea time festival slot. It’s a truism the world over that any artist taking to the stage at this time of the afternoon can face no stiffer competition than the rumbling of the stomach and the parching of mouth, even if the only alternative is overpriced food and warm lager.

Sad to report then, that on the back of a career-best album in the shape of Matador and an early turn from Ride’s Loz Colbert on the traps, Gaz Coombes’ set fails to truly keep the festival’s vendors at bay. Not that it’s a bad set by any standard – the motorik pulses of ‘Detroit’ give way to a glorious chorus – but sadly the looped grooves of ‘Buffalo’ and the tenderness of the delicate ‘The Girl Who Fell To Earth’ refuse to cut through and connect to make the necessary impact. One suspects that performing on his own terms, Coombes would leave a far greater impression. Julian Marszalek


19:50, Verity

The barefooted Oli Burslem’s eyes are rolling to such an extent that he resembles a demented slot machine. His bandmates – bassist Andy Jones and drummer Elliot Rawson – are casting the kind of glares in his direction that suggest an almighty punch-up might be in the offing, yet the moment they crank up their unholy racket, any thoughts of the frontman’s mental well-being are tossed into the wind.

Such is the ferocity of their sonic onslaught that the crowd in the compact environs of the Verity tent soon explodes into a heaving mass of jumping bodies and flaying arms as new converts pile in to join the fray. Yak don’t so much play songs as indulge in one long ceaseless orgy of ramalama that mashes psychedelia, heavy rock and punk with near-destructive glee.

The super tight rhythm section frees up Burslem to elicit shrieks and squalls from his tortured guitar when not jumping from the stage or climbing over the PA. An exuberant and exciting performance from start to finish, it perfectly matches their intensely insane row. Fucked-up music for fucked-up people, their debut album can’t come quick enough. Julian Marszalek


20:00, Shacklewell Arms

The London sunset sends its warm glow sideways 20 metres or so into the Shacklewell Arms tent. Beyond it, the stage is a dark and murky void. Savages open with a tidy one-two of ‘City’s Full’ and ‘Shut Up’, before Jehnny Beth, with pomaded hair looking like she’s auditioning to play Pinkie in a progressive adaptation of Brighton Rock, announces that they’ll be playing new songs – a bold move. Savages have always been an intense live band, but this is something else. They’ve upped their power and lost none of the subtlety, Beth becoming ever more commanding, using the backing grind of the group to deliver lyrics that seem to be becoming ever more freeform over the top. I’ve always thought that Gemma Thompson plays guitar with a hint of Blixa Bargeld; now Beth screams like him. The new songs played suggest that the next Savages album will be a wonderful, prowling, dark creature. There’s a track that’s cinematic and sprawling, Beth singing: "I will die for you tomorrow". It’s basically their ‘Asphalt World’, and suggests that in tone and atmosphere the forthcoming record could be a similar sort of leap that Suede made from their debut to Dog Man Star. ‘I Am Here’ is all gigantic billows, ‘Hit Me’ has Beth towering over the front of the crowd, pointing at individuals and yelling at them as she does so. "Keep me on a leash/ Put me on my knees like a dirty little dog," she intones over the racket, flourishes with her hand, sinks behind the heads of the crowd, then pops up on the other side of the stage. To combine something so lyrically submissive with a presence so completely commanding is bold and necessary. These explorations of sexual dynamics rarely make it to pop, so to have FKA twigs also visit them the night before Savages is exciting indeed. ‘Fuckers’ comes with a rousing cry against the grim next five years of Tory rule, while the song itself has been completely reworked with a militant body music rhythm before Savages close their set, one of the best of Field Day, with a bruising ‘Husbands’. Luke Turner


21:00, The Quietus/EYOE

Ride are arguably more popular now than they were in their 90s heyday. As the area in front of the stage begins to fill up with the faithful, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were bigger than they actually were. For sure, they failed to match to My Bloody Valentine in the influential stakes, but their pin-up looks and unabashed pop sensibilities ensured that they had the wider reach.

What is clear is that Ride sound much better in 2015 than they did way back when. It could be down to technology, but the truth of the matter is that Ride genuinely care about this reunion. Tonight they sound muscular as Andy Bell and Mark Gardener run their guitars through (but of course) a phalanx of pedals and allow their voices to coalesce and harmonise with the sweetness of honey. Underpinning it is Steve Queralt’s fearsomely rumbling bass and Loz Colbert’s skittering drum patterns.

They make the bold move of opening with ‘Leave Them All Behind’ but as they move into ‘Like A Daydream’ and ‘Polar Bear’, the excitement at the front of the stage increases palpably. As exemplified by the beautiful ‘OX4’ – and what should be learned by subsequent generations of shoegazers (yes, Pinkshinyultrablast, we’re looking at you) – is that if you’re going to blast off, then it’s best to have a killer melody as your launch pad. Just check ‘Vapour Trail’ for evidence.

Far better than expected, Ride’s next move of challenging themselves will be one worth watching too. Julian Marszalek

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