Warped Bliss: The Quietus At Field Day 2017

Heralding the start of the UK's 2017 festival season - and what a promising start it was too with the sun shining for most of the day - Thomas Hobbs, Patrick Clarke, Aurora Mitchell, Tara Joshi, Anna Wood and Christian Eede report back on what this year's edition of the festival had to offer. (Photographs by Valerio Berdini unless stated)

Photo courtesy of Fanatic Live

After a storm crushed the spirits of many early into the weekend at last year’s tenth edition of Field Day, you’d have been forgiven for not placing too much faith in the overwhelmingly positive weather reports leading up to the festival’s return to East London’s Victoria Park earlier this month. As it turned out though, proceedings mostly passed without any issue in that department, and the festival turned in one of its best editions yet, particularly thanks to one of its strongest line-ups to date.

Slimming down from the two-day affair of the last few years to focus efforts on just one day, the team behind the festival certainly didn’t disappoint in covering all the bases that have come to be associated with the festival over the last 11 years, be that world-class DJ talent, under-the-radar rock or big-name draws such as, well, your only opportunity to see Aphex Twin play at a UK festival in 2017.

In addition to that headline set from Aphex Twin in the brand new, gargantuan Barn, the festival also played host to a number of other tQ favourites such as Run The Jewels, Lena Willikens, Arab Strap, GAIKA, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard. Field Day consistently finds the balance between booking the names that they know will immediately shift tickets, while shining a light on new and fascinating talents. They did that once again this year, and long may they continue to do that.

Aphex Twin’s set closing out The Barn certainly formed one of the day’s biggest talking points, particularly thanks to the merchandise stall set up by Warp Records at the festival selling limited copies of a brand new mini-album from the producer. Importantly though, that didn’t take away from what else was going on throughout the day across the site as various strands of music got a look in and revellers filled out the tents and stages to take in the line-up that the Field Day team had assembled. With that in mind, we sent a reviewing team along to the festival to report back what they saw through the day, and you can read their thoughts below. – Christian Eede

14.20 – ABRA, Resident Advisor

It’s sunny out, and Abra’s puffa comes off almost immediately after she hits the stage – “I brought this big ass jacket for what!?”. Her clothing merits a mention not to be reductive, but because – all in white – she’s dressed like the main event in a Hype Williams video. Indeed, the “first lady” of Awful Records’ output pushes that afrofuturist R&B sound, albeit with a noir edge to it. For all she smiles infectiously, arms lithely swimming about her as she slides around the mic stand, what’s most interesting about the Atlanta artist is the commanding duskiness to her performance.

The self-proclaimed “darkwave duchess” keeps her sunglasses on almost throughout the set, retaining an aloof disconnect as she effortlessly pours fluid vocals over lo-fi sounds. The winding beat of ‘Fruit’ is mesmerising, and by the time she gets to ‘Roses’ and ‘No Chill’’ people are singing along with wide smiles and closed eyes. In spite of seeming nonchalant, there is a quiet determination to Abra’s subdued theatrics – this is an assured performance that shows a potent artist. Tara Joshi

14:45 / 17:00 – Lena Willikens, Bugged Out! / Resident Advisor

Lena Willikens often incorporates UK sounds into her hypnotic, oddball sets; two of the most brain-squeezing moments in her contribution to the Dekmantel mix series come from a pair of closely tied Bristol residents – Batu and Ploy – for example. So it makes sense that the force of heavy percussion-led music is pumping in her first set of two sets at Field Day in the Bugged Out! tent. However, the tent is airless and humid, the claustrophobia making it hard to concentrate especially in the sweltering heat so I wander over to the Resident Advisor stage two hours later in a more open, breathable space to catch her again. There’s a fraction of the people that should be there to catch one of Europe’s most singular selectors play but it doesn’t taint the atmosphere at all.

A visualiser beats steadily with a neon blue jagged line pulsing across the screen like a heart monitor as Willikens builds up gradually with slow, druggy acid. Each tracks morphs into the next, the tension rising as the visualiser behind starts to spiral out of control – moving in uncontrollable patterns. Squelching 303s bounce off the walls of the tent and then a shift occurs, robotic techno emerging and growling from the void. But before anyone can get their body into the next phase of the set, it turns to silence. One of the most captivating sets of the day clocks in at only 30 minutes long, finishing just when it had only begun. Aurora Mitchell

16.10 – GAIKA, Moth Club

Jarring industrial-infused music shouldn’t work in the middle of a bright and sunny afternoon, and yet GAIKA proves himself a master at winning over even the most improbable of crowds. In fairness the Brixton artist’s output is undoubtedly very London, but not quite in the same way as J Hus and the rest who lay claim to current “sound of the city”. Yes, GAIKA’s music sweats and pulsates with a humid energy that brings in searing R&B, thudding dancehall and elements of abrasive grime, but there’s a subtle, introspective darkness here that isn’t quite like any other London artist right now.

The production sparkles with all the beautiful menace of broken glass, and GAIKA spends half the set shirtless, working the stage like a deviant, captivating D’Angelo. He stands in a tradition of powerful black music and yet occupies a very different, very experimental kind of space. Sunshine might be pouring in from outside, but as the crowd gyrates it’s evident that GAIKA has brought forth the smoky plumes of night with his strange, intoxicating sounds. Tara Joshi

16.50 – Death Grips, Crack

Spare a thought for Esther Joy. Booked to DJ before Death Grips, as a particularly lairy crowd swarms the Crack tent, her set is going reasonably well. That is, until, MC Ride and co. barrel past her, ten minutes early, and before she has a chance to stop her set simply blast over it, pummelling immediately into ‘Guillotine’ to delirium from the crowd. For ten seconds that is; they depart as soon as they appeared, leaving Joy to play out the rest of her set.

Though pretty rude where the DJ is concerned, it’s a masterstroke in manipulation of the crowd. Anticipation reaches fever pitch, with a slight inflection of worry – as a band with a reputation for cancellations and anti-industry stunts, could that be the whole set? Of course, it isn’t. When they return, so ensues a set of utter, furious chaos. The entire tent – and I mean that quite literally – becomes carnage, with nowhere for the tamer to turn for safety from the pandemonium. The nuances of how the band actually sound feel of lesser importance, as long as MC Ride keeps barking them into shape. A set of bedlam, extremities, and pure, unadulterated terror. Patrick Clarke

18.15 – Arab Strap, Crack

‘Is something wrong?’ asks Aidan Moffat as he orders the rest of Arab Strap to cease playing after ten seconds of their opener, ‘Stink’. From his end, it seems there’s a few sound issues. For a few minutes it feels like they might be taking their toll – it’s hard to wallow in the band’s wonderful melancholy as much as one would like when Moffatt feels a little more on edge than usual.

After ten minutes or so, as the band kick it up a notch with the inflection of electronica they’ve often been partial too, and with their frontman on fiery form as he lambasts the Tories and an ill-judged pint-thrower in the crowd (“I’ll kick yer fuckin’ cunt in”), before long they’re pretty damn sublime. A closing ‘First Big Weekend of the Summer’, in particular, is one of the festival’s absolute highlights. Patrick Clarke

18.20 – Moodymann, Resident Advisor

Warming up for Flying Lotus, Moodymann’s set takes an entirely different approach to Lena Willikens’ not long before him. It’s bookended by some surprises, with Future’s ‘Mask Off’, The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ and even Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex On Fire’ making appearances. While The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ is received warmly seeing the entire tent chant along with the lyrics, ‘Sex On Fire’ receives a considerably less welcoming reception as people leave the tent in droves with perplexed faces, wondering perhaps what prompted the selection – was it played with the intentional purpose of making people leave? However, it’s not entirely off-base when taking into consideration past infamous selections such The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’ in sets played elsewhere. His Field Day set may be bookended by surprises but the middle is packed with warm, sensuous house that gets everyone bouncing around the tent and smiling on the grass. Aurora Mitchell

18.50 – Joe Goddard, Bugged Out!

When Joe Goddard plays the Bugged Out! tent at 7pm, hands are actually already in the air. Men are wearing sunglasses, people are hugging, it’s baking hot outside and there is a whiff of early-’90s Ibiza about the whole situation. Goddard’s solo sets are somewhat subdued and mellow, particularly when compared with the full squelching party joy of sets by Hot Chip and The 2 Bears, both of which he is of course a member, but there is no denying the pleasure of the acid squelches that can be heard this evening, especially the sing along one-love rave magic of ‘Music Is The Answer’. Anna Wood

20.15 – King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, Shacklewell Arms

In comparison to Joe Goddard, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard are not mellow or subdued. The tent is packed and the crowd is fully engaged right from the off, yelling along: "Rattlesnake! Rattlesnake! Rattlesnake! RATTLESNAKE!" The band stand stock still, all pompous and brilliant, while the assembled throng within the tent is much less composed. In the first five minutes I hear two people exclaim "I fucking love this band," while a friend is slightly less gushing, saying: "They’re like Kasabian but not cunts"; they prove to be plenty more than that tonight. The psych tornado and Sabbath-y mass that their sound drums up is undeniably compelling: they are not fucking about. Anna Wood

20.30 – Lady Leshurr, The Quietus / Eat Your Own Ears

Strutting onto the stage with Pharoahe Monch blaring is a solid statement of intent: channelling Simon, Lady Leshurr says get the fuck up. She foregoes rap briefly, starting a singalong to Sister Nancy and explaining how much reggae means to her. The West Midlands artist is evidently an MC who knows exactly how to do her job: gloriously charismatic, she works up the crowd’s energy with a chant of “mad ting”, essentially getting everyone to palance and eventually even inciting a mosh pit.

Cartoonishly bouncing around in her red wellies, Leshurr never takes herself too seriously – “if you’ve got clean underwear make some noise!”, she cheers in relation to highly sassy ‘Queen’s Speech 5’, before offering “crispy bacon lip balm” to the crowd. This hilarious personal hygiene obsession is most famous from ‘Queen’s Speech 4’, her boisterous viral freestyle that – though it gets stick for being too poppy – evidently means a lot to the rapper as she performs it via an excitable reload or two. Sweaty new banger ‘Juice’ gets a run through, as does ‘Where Are You Now?’, and the sheer exuberance of her performance topped with her slick bars mark her out as one of grime’s funnest MCs. Tara Joshi

20.55 – Aphex Twin, The Barn

Bags emblazoned with the infamous Aphex Twin logo can be spotted across the Field Day site for most of the day. I later discover that this isn’t in fact down to Richard D. James’ obsessive fanbase, but rather because Warp Records had been selling limited copies of a new record from the producer at the festival. Said records had naturally sold out within just a few hours of the gates opening. Unbeknownst to me at the time as I watch his set roll out across nearly two hours in the impressive surroundings of the brand new Barn stage, two tracks from that record feature. One arrives at the very top of the set, a spluttering, off-kilter blast of drum machines with the kind of time signature that suitably throws the crowd’s feet off-pace and gets them prepared for the sometimes chaotic and sometimes blissful madness that follows.

Just as the set gives fans a chance to see RDJ roll out a couple of recognisable synth lines from his back catalogue – though in relative deep cuts such as ‘Airflow’ (from his Caustic Window moniker) and ‘Audax Powder’ (released under his Polygon Window guise) – it also offers a glimpse into just what new music he’s currently into. Across the set, recent releases from Kamixlo, Chino Amobi, Lorenzo Senni and Mark Fell & Gábor Lázár all make an appearance, assisting RDJ in warping the massive crowd’s minds further with every twist and turn. Gradually building from a simmering 100BPM pace and offering one of the most head-spinning moments around 30 minutes into his set thanks to a cut from Mark Fell & Gábor Lázár’s 2015 record released via The Death Of Rave, he further moves into the realms of hard-edged techno with a selection of Detroit-based and Detroit-influenced tracks from Underground Resistance, Public Energy and Heinrich Mueller remixing Duplex.

Combined with an unbeatable laser show and some distinctly wonky visuals placing the infamous Aphex face amongst various members of the front row as well as a selection of modern trash culture figures – Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins, Jeremy Kyle et al – Aphex’s return to the stage in the UK certainly was a noisy spectacle. With more Underground Resistance material and a rumoured collaboration between the producer and Jlin figuring in the second hour, the set’s highlights arrive in the final 15 minutes as he unleashes a hail of jungle and gabba on the faithful that remained until the very end. If anybody can ID the 300BPM "FUCK OFF!" gabba track, then do please get in touch. Closing out on a blast of noise, it feels all the more satisfying to leave the site knowing that one of the most challenging and uncompromising sets of the day draws the biggest crowd, but then we always knew that was going to happen. It’s Aphex Twin after all. If you want to treat your eyes and ears to the set, you can do so here. Christian Eede

21.45 – Run The Jewels, The Quietus / Eat Your Own Ears

The rain started to fall just as Killer Mike and El-P took to the stage for their closing slot, with El admitting to the drenched crowd “We’ve had no sleep!” Yet as Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ blasted out of the speakers and the two veteran rappers emerged, standing back-to-back like the cover of Lethal Weapon, it was clear that suspect London weather and post-Primavera hangovers would not prevent a triumphant Field Day set.

There’s a sense RTJ’s music is becoming darker with the times and RTJ3’s themes of political resistance were present throughout, with Mike’s militant call-to-action of “Kill our masters and start again!” on ‘A Report to the Shareholders’ drawing some of the loudest cheers of the evening. However, the group’s penchant for lighter Beastie Boys-esque goofiness – something seen a lot more on their debut record – still translates best in a live setting. When the silly schizophrenic bass line of ‘Call Ticketron’ drops, mosh pits form like a Nirvana show back in 1992. While ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’ and El’s toilet humour – “You can all run naked backwards through a field of dicks’ – amid a chaotic, techno-heavy beat leaves the whole of the front row bouncing with playful irreverence.

For anyone that’s seen RTJ perform before, it’s clear their set is showing small signs of fatigue. For example, recycled jokes about El’s spoken poetry career and the group’s marijuana budget both fell a little flat. But when Killer Mike passionately raps “If I die today and there’s hell I should pay, tell the Lord Mikey said ‘fuck it was fun’” as sweat drips down his portly frame during an authoritative performance of ‘Legend Has It’, it feels less of a braggadocio boast and more like a sermon.

When El-P jokes that their set had a budget of $725, Mike retorts: “That exchanged to about £42”. And although their set retains a stripped down boom bap DJ-plus-microphones aesthetic, the raw energy RTJ brought to the stage made it feel (at times) gargantuan. Performing while unaware that a terror attack was unfolding in the capital, Mike’s persistent messages of solidarity (“If someone falls in the mosh pit, our fans will pick them right back up!”) felt poignant, with strangers in the crowd hugging and embracing in a way live hip hop rarely sees. Thomas Hobbs

22.00 – Thee Oh Sees, Shacklewell Arms

It feels a little churlish to complain about Field Day’s line-up being too good. With Aphex Twin, Run The Jewels, Slowdive and Thee Oh Sees all headlining their respective stages, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a headliner. The best bet for this writer seems to be an hour’s worth of Aphex Twin, before a frantic trip to the other end of the site to catch the start of Thee Oh Sees (a walk that takes me past the main stage for a glimpse of Killer Mike and El-P unleashing madness).

Among all these worthy bill-toppers, Thee Oh Sees (or Oh Sees, as they renamed themselves a few days later) are the most primal. There are no bells and whistles here, other than their always-glorious decision to wield two drummers, just straight-up visceral guitar-bliss. Having come from the futuristic terror of Aphex, they’re a dramatic shift in tone, but in their own way equally brilliant. Though they’re playing to an unadorned tent, bereft of the lasers and drones that Richard D James has at his disposal, they’re just as worthy a send-off to the festival as anyone else. Patrick Clarke

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