It’s the beginning of September, the twilight of the summer, and, for me at least, of another year on this earth: as the season drew to a close, so did my 23rd year. Driving down to Field Maneuvers, I’ll confess, I was in somewhat of a subdued mood, my thoughts coloured by the shortening of the days, and the lengthening of my age. Hardly the most apt mental state for someone approaching a weekend rave-up.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. Field Maneuvers is a festival with an optimistic orientation. Age isn’t something to be rued, the veteran heavy line-up seems to speak, but rather, a chance for development. Moreover, while summer might be coming to a close, it’s certainly not over yet. Friday sees revellers descend on the field, determined to eke the last drops out of the season.
Anyway, it’s hard not to get swept up in that early festival rapture. Festivals are always most euphoric in their initial stages. The realities of work still a distant prospect, the first hangover still a conveniently concealed reality of that fifth pint, and the portaloos still just about intact, it’s natural that happiness prevails.
First night headliners Auntie Flo and later, Soichi Terada perfectly capture the mood, bringing the music, as well as atmosphere, of sunnier climes to this green and pleasant field. Flo channels a truly global gamut of sounds for his set, with everything from Yuroban praise chants to Cuban conga getting a look in, while Terada zeroes in on his native Japan for a hands-in-the-air house set.
Far from being limited to the early stages of the festival, elation would prevail throughout, firmly guided by the festival’s old school free-party orientation. At times it would even border on the carnivalesque. Before his Saturday night set, Midland asks me and a group of friends, “what couldn’t be made better with the addition of some drag queens?” Answering his own question, he brought three of the aforementioned on stage with him. It was, indeed, improved immeasurably.
That’s not to say everything at Field Maneuvers displayed sunny sensibilities. Elana Colombi’s standout Saturday night set was thoroughly doom laden, defined by metallic abrasion and driving beats. Just next door, the Sputnik tent was resolutely dystopian in its direction throughout the weekend. In the tent, smoke machines work on overdrive, layering the dancers in thick shrouds of fog, only the driving bass of Ben Sims & Neil Landstrumm's take-no-prisoners techno managing to penetrate the gloom.
But whatever the sounds coming out of those speakers, at Field Maneuvers you could be assured that it would be both impeccably clear, and above all LOUD. Amazing Funktion-Ones in most places, complemented by Glen's special Opus system in the Field Moves tent.
It’s an unfortunate reality of the UK festival scene that, all too often, the sound leaves much to be desired. Whether hampered by lacklustre sound-systems, unsuitable environs, or otherwise suppressed by noise complaints, it is far too often the case that the sound seems an afterthought. Thankfully, none of that applies here. If there are local residents around to complain, they’ve probably been quelled into submission at this point, or otherwise converted to the cause – I’m informed at the start of the festival that the site has a history going back decades as the host of innumerable free parties.
But, really, responsibility for the high-fidelity is the festival’s own. Throughout the weekend, artists speak in revered tones about the festival’s sound-systems. In particular, I learn that the mixing console routing the sound on the festival’s three stages – the Formula Sound FF6.2 – is a game-changing piece of tech, and receiving some of its first outings at this very festival.
Recognising that the specifics of a mixing console might only be of interest to the geekier of audiophiles amongst you, I’ll spare you the details. However, needless to say, we’re all beneficiaries of their attention to detail, whether knowingly or not. You certainly don’t need to be a tech-geek to have your bones rattled by the rumbling bass at two in the morning.
In fact, Field Maneuvers generally seems guided by the conviction that running things with the interests of the artists in mind is beneficial to us all. And in pretty much every case, they seem to be right. For instance, the line-up seems more intended to get the crate diggers creaming more than it is to pander to the masses.
Often the distinction between artist and audience feels merely functional. There’s no VIP section here, and largely, the artists seem to hang about all weekend, often delivering multiple sets in the process. After storming the Sputnik tent in the wee hours of Friday night, Ben Sims is up bright and early playing a rocksteady-inspired b2b with Billy Nasty (Jah Nasty).
Leaving the site on the Monday morning, I find all my earlier reservations resolutely dispelled. Intimate, eclectic, and lovingly crafted, Field Maneuvers turned out to be the perfect end to the summer and start to my year.