Field Day 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Francis Whittaker | 04 August 2009

Overall - 6/10

The curse of Field Day strikes again! Well, at least to some extent. The East London one-dayer has gained a reputation as the festival that never quite goes to plan and, while there is some improvement on previous years, the 2009 installment still leaves the impression that had one or two things been organised better the whole thing could've gone a lot more swimmingly.

For all its good intentions (a diverse line-up of left field bands, low ticket prices and an imaginative and rather twee 'village fête' theme), a mixture of rotten luck and poor organisation has left many of those who have attended feeling frustrated, a bit empty and in some cases pretty angry come the end of their day.

In 2007, a woeful underestimation of how many people might want to use the toilet or have a drink saw queues for these basic facilities stretching back to somewhere in mid-Essex. On top of this, capped sound levels and a laughably impotent PA system meant that the music people had paid to hear couldn't actually be heard. A year later, an unending downpour that reached biblical proportions hampered modest organisational improvements.

So the pressure is on for festival bosses Eat Your Own Ears to get it right in 2009 and, to their credit, the basics aren't done too badly: toilets are plentiful, there are rarely queues at the bars, and the line-up is one of the strongest and most diverse yet.

However, there are a few problems that still need ironing out - particularly those half-arsed sound levels in the tents. Unfortunately the main issue with this year's festival is again the weather, which ensures that for the most part Field Day 2009 is a washout.

Ever-present grey clouds linger over Victoria Park right up until Mogwai's headline set and they seem intent on showing those below just how many different kinds rain they have inside of them. This makes any form of outdoor activity – including Field Day's trademark sack races - nigh on impossible.

Obviously this can't be helped and the festival is noticeably better organised than in previous years, but there remains a lingering sense that Field Day might never get it completely right and small examples of 'how not to run a festival' do crop up throughout the day.

Getting there and back - 7/10

By their nature, urban festivals are rarely difficult to get to and Victoria Park's proximity to Mile End tube means there aren't any real problems getting to and from the site. However, the Hammersmith and City and District Lines are down for the weekend, meaning there's a slight over-reliance on the Central Line and bus network.

The site - 6/10

On the surface, it would seem Field Day's Victoria Park site has everything: a nice little wooded area, the odd paved walkway, a bandstand, even a Grade II listed drinking fountain contained in an ornate stone pavilion.

However they may as well have tried putting all of this on a thimble with the amount of people that are crammed into this tiny site and some of the principle walkways get a little bottlenecked at times.

Atmosphere - 3/10

Imagine a small collection of friendly music lovers sitting in a field, politely and patiently waiting for some of their new favourite bands to play. Now imagine a gigantic, God-like hand has reached down from the sky and torn the rest of this part of East London from its foundations, turned it upside down over Victoria Park and began shaking it.

As the majority of the respectable, 'nice' population manage to cling on for dear life, a giant 'idiot magnet' is activated beneath the park, sending all the most gregarious, posturing, abhorrent walking clichés in the area plummeting towards the Field Day site.

Confused, these individuals stand up, dust themselves down and decide they don't really want to listen to any music, or indeed acknowledge the existence of anyone who does.

Instead, they get off their faces on £3.70 cans of Red Stripe and talk loudly to their equally idiotic mates about iPhones, “the London scene” and the time they bought some “bangin' Class A's” using their trust fund money. Meanwhile all those in earshot struggle to hear anything through the substandard soundsystem as the idiots' inane babble drowns out the music that most have paid to see.

There are of course a fair few nice people around, willing to have fun without spoiling the enjoyment of others. But stereotypical scenester morons are out in force: barging past like no-one other than their own friendship group is there, backing into people, filming each other being idiots and using live music as background noise for boasting about their decadent, parent-funded lifestyles.

Music - 8/10

The superb bill of music is one of Field Day's main draws and the imaginative booking policy ensures that there's something for everyone who likes their music a bit left of centre.

On top of obvious 'indie' choices such as The Horrors and Mystery Jets, there's freeform jazz from Swedes The Thing, Malian kora from Toumani Diabate and quirky Argentine atmospherics from Juana Molina. It's just a shame that, on some of the tented stages anyway, the sound quality just doesn't do the music justice.

Mogwai - 8/10

A rip-roaring finale from the Scottish post-rockers ensures Field Day is capped off in the most epic possible manner. Twinkling arpeggiated guitars give way to a soaring wall of noise that leaves the Main Stage crowd (bar the aforementioned chattering idiots) rapt.

The rain even stops, which is surely the only time this has ever happened to a soundtrack of unashamed Glaswegian gloom.

Micachu and The Shapes - 3/10

The feeble speakers in the cavernous Adventures in the Beetroot Field tent ensures critical darling Micachu's quirky, homespun DIY pop dies on its arse. Crowd chatter and the noise of the lashing rain on the roof causes the band to walk off half way through the set, only to plod back on to bash out a couple more disappointing tunes. Very poor indeed.

Four Tet - 7/10

How do you pep up your live act if it consists only of you hunched over of a laptop? Why, you recruit on four hula girls to gyrate enthusiastically inside multicoloured light-up hoops - that's how!
Four Tet's imaginative choice of backing dancers for the early part of his show nearly makes for one of the sets of the festival. However, Kieran Hebden is also thwarted by those pesky sound levels, as frustrated crowd-members chant 'turn it up' to the sound desk to no avail, forcing Hebden to wheel out the hula girls once again to win them back.


Aside from the rain and of the attitude of certain sections of the crowd, the sound on the second and third stages really needs to be sorted out for future years, as the aforementioned sets by Micachu and Four Tet, as well as Juana Molina's valiant but futile attempt at battling the PA system, prove.

Put simply, the speakers are far too weak to adequately cover tents of that size, and those at the back end up talking amongst themselves or seeking entertainment elsewhere, usually in another tent where they can't hear anything.

Also mammoth drink prices and a £3 charge to use the onsite cash points (unavoidable for many with the 'no re-admittance' policy for those wanting to leave the site) do leave the impression that someone has spent the whole day violating your wallet.

Random events

“I am from the British colony of Canada. I can't understand how none of you are obese with your delicious food. I want to see British people jiggle,” Owen Pallett - aka Final Fantasy - announces perplexingly upon taking the stage, addressing the crowd as if they're aliens and seemingly forgetting that Vanessa Feltz is British.

No one wants to see Vanessa Feltz jiggle. Apart from that bloke from Phats and Smalls. Bizarre onstage banter indeed...

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