A van pulling a trailer laden with fresh portaloos trudges up Brixton’s Effra Road, shortly after midday on Friday 1st June. A group of revellers with faces smeared with glitter yell words of encouragement as it trundles past. The van swerves into the entrance of Brockwell Park, the new home of London’s Field Day festival. Clouds, which have been looming above for some time now, thicken.
Festival goers pile through security gates into the Field Day compound. A recording of a saxophone solo issues from the speakers on the main stage, drifting softly on the breeze, over attendees who are sprawling, dancing and meditating on the grass.
Over at Field Day’s mock village green, festival goers engage in a tug of war competition to wolf whistles and whoops from onlookers nursing pints at the neighbouring bar.
Though the sky remains grey and foreboding, rain does not fall. It does not fall when repeatedly commanded to by the evening’s headliner, the renowned US R&B artist Erikah Badu who closes the day with a thrilling set.
This year Field Day organisers were forced to seek pastures new after international events company AEG gained 5 years exclusive events rights to the festival’s former Victoria Park site. Protests from Brixton residents followed the announcement of Field Day’s new Brockwell Park home. The curfews this weekend are strict, with audience members carefully chaperoned to and from the park by stewards.
There are excellent performances on Friday, largely from musicians who form part of South London’s jazz scene. On the ‘It’s Nice That’ sponsored stage jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia is exhilarating. The set reaches an explosive climax with a collaboration between herself, her band, trumpeter Sheila Maurice Grey and bassist Shirley Tetteh.
The Dimension’s sponsored tent sits at the end of Field Day’s vegan food and craft ale quarter. Inside the tent the smells of marijuana and sun cream mingle. Another stalwart of the South London jazz scene, bandleader and drummer Moses Boyd performs with jazz collective Moses Boyd Exodus. The ensemble break into energetic, ranging solos to the yells and cheers of the crowd before merging together artfully.
Evening falls and over at the village green IPA-emboldened individuals attempt to make off with the hay bales and the wheelbarrows. Crowds swarm past the green, jostling en route to Erikah Badu.
Thirty minutes after her allotted start time Badu solemnly appears to the song ‘Hello’, taken from her phone-themed mixtape, Can’t Use My Phone. Badu is a masterful performer, painstakingly and innovatively re-working music from her extensive oeuvre, extending back to 1997 debut Baduizm. Songs ‘On and On’ and ‘I Want You’ receive rapturous applause. Her vocals are acrobatic. Between songs she jests provocatively with the audience, eliciting shocked giggles.
At the curfew the plug is pulled on Badu as she tries to clamber from the stage into the open arms of her fans. Security personnel appear and urge her to depart. When the audience disperses some members are bemused, but many are jubilant.
The temperature is high on Saturday and the crowds are large. Rapper Princess Nokia fills the Crack magazine tent early on, her opening song ‘Brujas’ whipping the largely teenage crowd into a wide eyed frenzy. On ‘Tomboy’, she repeats the refrain, ‘my little titties and my fat belly’. Audience members echo her words, rubbing their own slender frames.
In Hydra’s The Barn tent a buoyant funk set from Daphni is dampened slightly by low sound and crackling from the speakers, but the crowd is undeterred. They spill out of the tent’s entrance and partway down the mound beneath. American electronic musician Panda Bear, backed by a montage video of flowers changing into lips and lips changing into bees, plays a wandering follow up set in The Barn.
By late evening the Crack magazine tent is surrounded by prostrate bodies, inside the tent a large white sheet hung over the stage tantalisingly conceals the Japanese electronic multi instrumentalist Cornelius and his band.
When the sheet falls, they play from the 2017 album Mellow Waves. The expansive and melodic ‘If You’re Here’ and the dreamy, intricate ‘Sometime/ Someplace’ lull the crowd into a reverie. Small beams of light swoop across the tent walls like white moths.
Shrieks are emitted at the opening bars of ‘Count 5 or 6’, off Cornelius’ cult 1997 album Fantasma. The crowd moves wildly to the rhythmic bash of the lead guitar. Their set provides the weekend’s highlight.
Fever Ray, the alias of Swedish electronic musician Karin Dreijer, headlines the Crack magazine tent. Dreijer and her band are sporting futuristic, animal costumes and cavort joyfully under streams of pink light. The music is polished and jubilant. One attendee nudges his friend, saying, ‘This is way more interesting than Four Tet isn’t it?’ referring to the day’s other headliners. His friend gives a vague nod.
Under the cover of darkness, festival goers funnel out through the security gates. With an incredible line up on hand, the few teething issues, mainly relating to the festival's new venue and the curfews that come with it, are the only downside to another successful offering from Field Day Festival.