Having really been through the roster of UK festivals this summer – and tired ourselves out in the process – Field Maneuvers offered something different, with a mere 500 capacity.
Arriving on Friday, confused by the seemingly random placement of decorative objects and having walked around the site in under ten minutes, we ventured into Sputnik, or the affectionately named Techno Dome. Sounds of Nathan Coles’ ‘Raasbucket’ filled our ears, before we made our way to watch Bristol’s own Golesworthy hold down a steadily amassing crowd with breakbeat-infused chillout in the Main Tent.
This first night seemed to serve as a bit of a warm up for the soundsystems. Most of the artists we saw after Golesworthy were a little underwhelming, such as Jane Fitz and Jade Seattle, who poorly mixed their way through a largely uninspiring and pedestrian selection, while Pariah‘s set in the Dome lacked the punch we were looking for in such a space. The real surprise came from the unknown-to-us Aidy West in the Field Moves tent; triangular lights pulsating different colours behind him, he started strong with Ron Trent’s ‘Sundance’ and led us through party-starting techno to some gorgeous 90’s numbers.
A hotly anticipated set from Gene Hunt started strong, with tracks like Joe Smooth’s ‘Promised Land’, George Kranz’s ‘Trommeltanz (Din Daa Daa)’ and a great edit of Moloko’s ‘Bring It Back’, coupled with Giorgio Moroder’s bassline from ‘I Feel Love’, before taking a nosedive with Disclosure’s ‘F For You’. After a brief stint fist-pumping to Ben Sims‘ 135 bpm pounding in the Dome, and a sway to the slow electro selections from Honey Soundsystem, which didn’t completely work at that time of the evening, it was time to hit the hay, slightly underwhelmed and hoping for more in the days to come.
Veggie wraps and more swaying to percussive techno were the order of the day upon waking the next morning. The quality of the music slowly built during the first few hours, with a great atmosphere created by Cervo, part of the Banana Hill crew on the main stage. It wasn’t until we were in the dome, completely filled with smoke, and listening to Sandy B’s ‘Make My World Go Round’ played by a DJ we couldn’t even see, that we really felt that the festival had got going. Bake had the job of bridging the gap between Al Dobson Jr and Auntie Flo, and did so perfectly with an injection of energy.
By the time Auntie Flo (above) stepped up, the crowd were fully warmed up. It’s refreshing to watch a set less about mixing one track into another, and more about developing a groove. The rolling basslines fed into each other beautifully, with up to three tracks blending at once; a particularly fine example of a spin back had him moving the platter back in time with the music, matching the outgoing beat with the new tracks. Finishing with Omar S’ ‘Heard’ Chew Single’, he handed over to Ben UFO, who again stepped it up a gear. Playing with Elgato, they were extremely generous with each other, showing what a successful b2b set can look like. Brackles rode out the night with some tracks from the heavier garage songbook and classics like Steve Rachmad’s ‘Bling It Up’.
The following morning saw us woken up by Aidy West, who we realised was camped next to us, leading a group yoga class right in front of our tent. His pupils consisted of a guy dressed as a banana, a man in full cricket whites, and an assortment of other under-slept partiers. With the clouds breaking for the first time in the weekend, the daytime music moved to an outdoor stage. Ornaments that once seemed randomly placed, made the utmost sense and the mood was joyous, silly and friendly, as we all assembled to dance by a huge sign reading ‘IDIOTS’. By the time Arnaldo stepped up, the largely sedentary or horizontal crowd had grown considerably. Tracks like Prince’s ‘Purple Music’ and Aaron Carl’s remix of UR’s ‘Hardlife’ set things perfectly for for Greg Wilson‘s set laced with acid basslines and disco edits.
While people shifted inside for the beginning of the night shift, it was possible to take stock of our surroundings. Shielded by trees on all sides, and with a canal, complete with barges, forming one of the borders, it seemed like a family party that we’d stumbled on, a sort of village fete gone wrong. With the sort of lineup Field Maneuvers had, we were expecting a slightly more serious crowd, ones wearing long black t-shirts and boots, but instead we got gold sparkly capes, multicoloured leggings and an abundance of glitter.
Axel Boman had begun inside, playing as part of Studio Barnhaus takeover and deftly mixing the punchy, vocal-led sound for which the label is famed, interspersed with Stadust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ and a wonderful edit of Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’. Noticeably ramping the energy levels up, Ryan Elliott peppered his eclectic set with numbers from DJ Sneak and KiNK, laying the foundations for The Black Madonna to close out the festival. She capped off what was a glorious night of music with a selection of techno and disco that held the energy of the stage from start to finish.
Stepping back, it’s possible to see just how powerful Field Maneuvers is as a concept. Instead of packing people in, they have stuck with a model that works. While the ‘Secret Location’ tagline at first seemed like a naff gimmick, in fact it just serves to keep certain people from attending who might not be there for the right reasons and, in turn, this means that during the day and around the fringes of the site, there wasn’t the need for excessive security presence that you might have elsewhere. This, coupled with the community vibe of the crowd, made for one of the most relaxed and free-spirited festivals we’ve ever been to. While, at points, it would have been nice to have more things to do on site, in fact this time for decompression alongside great friends – old and new – was the recipe for a perfect end to our summer festival season.
Photo credit: Jonny Pénzes Underhill