It’s our first time at Field Maneuvers- a festival which has been described as the last remaining bastion of ad hoc 90’s rave culture in an increasingly over-commercial electronic music festival scene. It’s fair to say we are excited. With a crowd of a mere 800 people- an increase on the 700 of previous years- it is the smallest festival I have ever been to and feels more like a private party than a ticketed event. I emerged on Monday morning with a desire never to go to a big festival again. Here’s how it went down and why FM proves to me that smaller is better.
a. Maybe it’s because I am advancing into the responsible mid-point of my twenties, but practicality is key to a positive festival experience for me. Field Maneuvers was unparalleled in this respect. We were through the queue, searched and putting up our tent within 15 minutes of arriving at the site. Security were incredibly friendly and unintimidating, and we were greeted with smiles and welcomes from all members of staff we encountered. There was loads of space to sprawl out in the campsite. Forget the competitive tent Tetris that is an inevitability at any other festival- we had a vast grassy patch to ourselves, and no one asking if they could shift us over.
b. The festival has 4 stages, and the whole site is walkable in 5 minutes- THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION. This creates an added element of relaxation and immersion into the carefree hedonism that is the aim of festival-going. No longer do you have to stress about leaving your portable charger in the tent and maybe running out of phone battery and then losing your friends and also not knowing what time it is and how long it is until Bicep is playing on the main stage a 15 minute walk away and do you have time to go to the loo first. You can dash back to your tent and be back on the dance floor before the peak of ‘Blue Monday’ has had time to play out (real life example), without the fear of being separated from the group.
Perhaps because of the seriously relaxed atmosphere, the crowd was the best I’ve ever experienced. People were genuinely friendly because it was impossible not to run into the same people time and time again, so it was actually possible to make and retain festival friends throughout the weekend. There was also a majority of returning F.M punters- in the queue I witnessed several reunions between people who had met at the festival last year- and this meant that I felt buoyed along by a crowd of willing hosts eager to ensure we shared the magic that they had experienced in previous years. There was even a full-festival group photo on the Saturday afternoon, where some geezer up a ladder shouted for everyone to gather and took some snaps from on high with a drone.
a. When I booked tickets for Field Maneuvers, it wasn’t on the merits of the line-up alone but on trust of the reputation of the festival. I was reassured by the fraction of the artists advertised that I knew and loved, such as Jane Fitz, Andy Blake, Shanti Celeste and Shed, that the music would be up my street. However, most of the programme rang no bells with me and my relative ignorance to the artists was in fact a godsend. Without the pressure of ticking off a list of sets which can sometimes seem copied and pasted across festivals all summer and which reads like an index of RA’s top picked nights for the whole of the last two years, I actually discovered a load of new artists that I wouldn’t have known to check out if I’d been distracted by trying to catch all the big hitters. Furthermore, with Field Maneuvers having a 50/50 female/male line-up- something which in 2018 is still shockingly rare- I got to see so many awesome women tear up the decks throughout the weekend, which is always a treat. Artists also had a lot of freedom to play around- there were a number of crossover sets- Ben Sims did a reggae and dub set, Auntie Flo played an italodisco set and Grooverider played a jungle set (too packed to get into the tent, but I heard it was great). These experimental forays seemed to come out of a lack of pressure to play just what the people wanted to hear, and an expectation of openness from the crowd that was unhesitatingly given.
Here are sets that were especially notable for me:
This Japanese DJ and producer played a stonkingly mischievous set on Friday night in the main tent. Thick with acid lines, weighty low ends and fantastically unfamiliar sounds, she took us on a heady journey that took no prisoners and kept everyone marching. She’s popping up loads in the coming months so make sure to check her out.
Listen to a recent recording of Powder.
Once you know Iona, you’ll start to notice her on line-ups everywhere. An old hand on the London club scene, she used to work the door at Dance Tunnel, and worked her way up the ranks to playing their closing party. She ripped up the daytime stage on Saturday with some breakbeatty techno goodness, effortlessly coaxing the tentative mid-afternoon sitters onto the dancefloor which was packed by the end of her set.
Listen to a recent recording of iona.
Jade Seatle b2b Jane Fitz
Jade Seattle is often seen on line-ups with Jane Fitz, who is already one of my favourite selectors, but I’ve never had the chance to see the two together myself. Jade and Jane's set left me rattling. It was deep and surprising, and one of those ones you remember for seamlessly carrying you through an ebbing, flowing sticky soundscape which seems as if it is being sculpted for you in the moment. In less abstract terms, they played some really good dark techno. I can't wait to see them again, and will definitely be making time to give Jade Seattle's sound more of a listen.
Listen to a recent recording of Jade Seatle.
Hosting a show on NTS, this Frenchman has been stomping around the UK for about 20 years and seems to have got fingers in lots of pies genre-wise. He is unafraid of weirdness- I listened to one of his shows pre Field Maneuvers to try and understand his vibe, and was delighted and also confused. He played a phenomenal set at Field Maneuvers. His eclectic influences and desire to push boundaries was evident throughout. It was decidedly moody and dance-driven, and he really blew it out of the water for me.
Listen to a recent recording of Ivan Smagghe.