Loving & Longing In The Flat Field:

Field Maneuvres 2022

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Last summer’s mission involved grifting my way into as many free festival tickets as possible. Back in June I’d managed to secure press access to Primavera Porto to shoot footage for a non-existent documentary about the impact of recent economic fallout on UK DJs touring the continent – an issue central to this ecology that I’m certain essential contemporary journals like the DICE and Pirate Studios blogs will be allocating adequate resources to, considering their colossal stakes. 

Alas, less than twenty-four hours in the Iberian Peninsula, Gnon punished me with a weeklong bout of unsourceable food poisoning; my wretched ass strewn across the floor of our Airbnb in shaking cold sweats mere miles from Sangre Nueva’s closing set. Months went by and I’d blown my summer holiday budget on some failed hucksterism. Deep fomo set in as I saw the lineup announcement for one festival in particular: Field Maneuvres. A secret location ‘2 hours NE from London’ promised an exquisitely curated weekend of the kind of dance music that begs rigorous categorisation from the 1500 or so people you could fit into the festival or as ‘like, rave vibes’ to those 1500 punters’ coworkers. 

At least that’s how I pitched it to my day-job manager when I asked for the Monday off, having found out last-minute that Texture Magazine were invited to attend and none of their actual writers could make it. The first task was getting there: I was given a what3words code for a castle in Norfolk roughly four local bus rides away from King’s Lynn train station, which is famous for its 100-year-old buffet bar, by the way. Unable to escape the (wfh) office early on Friday, and thus unable to arrive at King’s Lynn in time for the FM shuttle bus, I had no choice but to source a lift, which thanks to the festival’s active Facebook group is easy enough even for the last-minute, bedroom-dwelling freaks. 

That was the first thing I noticed whilst setting up my tent during the opening portion of OK Williams’ set on Friday evening – everyone at this festival seemed very well-adjusted and kind considering the consumerist connoisseurship typically associated with this corner of dance music. Strolling through the crowd of the main stage, I resisted the urge to guess people’s NTS Discord usernames and instead began to dance to the music – something I’m not very good at in general, but somehow OKW’s deft club navigation endured a spirit unfettered by fears of sober and stiff movement as the peak of her set leaned into some of the most fun and physical styles circling at the moment. Old Funkyish Nervous Horizon cut Come to the Dance feat. Jammz and the anthemic Xtasis by Nick Leon immediately come to mind in recalling the vibe.

Courteney Frisby

Unsurprisingly, Leon’s latin-inflected techno hit would be the tune I heard most that weekend, much to my pleasure. In many cases it did feel as though it was a spicy track thrown in for good measure amongst a plethora of sets that were otherwise thoroughly grounded in codified British, especially London, club sounds. I wasn’t upset to hear so much highly-swung and expertly mixed UKG and fortunately the festival was mostly void of those shitty ‘new’ garage edits with soulless drums and little cartoon dubplate Bandcamp art that plagues much of the Keep Hush weekend warrior industrial complex. 

Still, I’m yet to be totally convinced this new era is prescriptive rather than reactionary; I could live without some of the ironic trancey numbers. Stuff like that has its place, sure, there were a number of Day’n’Nite nxc versions coming out of Sputnik that launched universal wois for instance – even Parris’ geeky signals were rounded off with a remix of the Kid Cudi classic. On a recent radio show, Lupini coined ‘the softcore continuum’ as an umbrella for this cross-pollination of bashful jouissance in a time of economic crisis. Young adults of the 2008 crash used to say sorry for party rocking, now we’re witnessing indie sleaze and bloghouse make a comeback under the influence of 10-hour screentimes and a sofa-surfing epidemic. The excitement of internet ubiquity is replaced with the limbic sludge of jaded creatives constantly having to market themselves via algorithmically-approved formatting.

Towards the end of Overmono’s live set, after a section looping The Streets’ Turn the Page, I bumped into a duo I’d encountered in real world smoking areas. One lady was a PhD candidate who asked me if I’d joined the London Renters Union and then her friend proceeded to argue that politics wasn’t important anymore. He lived in Soho and worked in marketing but had claimed to previously live in Detroit with Omar S. A lot of the interactions I had went like this, it seemed like almost everyone in the festival was either working or volunteering for FM or had bizarre connections to a broader dance music network. The ones who were able to enjoy this music purely as a fan, without the need to turn it into a career, seemed the happiest.

Courteney Frisby

A middle-aged French man camping behind me said that from around the ages of 24 to 32 he slept no more than 3 hours a night, 3 days a week. At the time he was regularly putting on parties with people like Theo Parrish, mostly in Shoreditch, but he now lives in Kent with his wife and children. Meanwhile, the Old Street roundabout is no closer to being a functional experience for anyone. The French man introduced me to his friend – a wizard called Joe who was about 7ft tall and just as wide. Joe gave me a small amount of speed then they asked if I’d seen the moon recently, it had disappeared.

Joe had a career building soundsystems across the UK for over 20 years, but after being stranded halfway between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees in lockdown decided that life as a handyman in rural France suited him better now. All his favourite places in the UK had shut down, mostly because those working round the clock to run them got burnt out trying to keep up with the rising curve of commercial rent amid waning ticket sales. In the distance, I heard Teki Latex playing an extended piano-only version of Gyspy Woman to a rapturous Sputnik crowd.

I decided instead to stick it out in the main tent for the insane triple-shot of Shy One, Fauzia, and Kode9 whose sets were typically more adjacent to the hardcore continuum. Nonetheless, even Hyperdub head and posterboy for bassweight materialism Steve Goodman’s set lent into a frivolity you’d be unlikely to expect from the seriousness of other tenured FWD / Plastic People alumni. In the space of 10 minutes, he went from DJ Paypal’s Alunageorge remix into juke and footwork edits of Rosalia by himself, Doja Cat by Orange Julius, and Little Dragon by DJ Chap. There was also DJ Chap’s remix of the Arthur theme song by Damian Marley, and DJ Phil’s version of festival classic Final Credits by Midland. 

Georgina Cook

Sunday was a much sleepier affair for everybody at the festival, with many packing up their tents to get back home and into workmode. As it had been the day before, the pre-sundown sets allocated to the main tent in the festival pamphlet were shifted to a makeshift outside stage in what seemed like an impromptu weather-based decision. The generosity of this festival is both its best feature and its achilles heel. Allowing festivalgoers to spend most of the day outside means time spent away from the bars inside the tents, which I wrongly presumed were closed a lot of the time. I heard rumours circling that Sputnik, the only stage without a bar inside, had to be closed on Sunday and shifted into Laika so that they could try catch up on enough bar sales to break even. 

Already feeling like an imposter, I decided the best plan of action to support the festival was to buy as many cloudy ales and frozen cocktails as I could. Surrounded by pints, I sat and watched the Dalston Superstore outdoors takeover trying to assemble some notes. So far all I’d managed to jot down were my favourite tracks from the weekend which I guess was indicative of a broader fun or joy or something like that. I stumbled into Laika for Parris, followed by two mega sets to round things off – Jon K b2b Elle Andrews, and Laurel Halo b2b Elena Colombi. According to my notes app – which by this time was full of spelling errors and lacked any cohesion – my favourite tracks were Nunun by Nidia, and Shut Everything Down by Mosca respectively. But who cares what my favourite tracks were? It’s a festival engulfed in flames, some of the best tracks I heard were off some guy’s iPhone at the Choripan truck, and I swear I heard a bleep and bass version of Steely Dan at like 11 in the morning.

There was another mega b2b closing the main tent – Octo Octa b2b Eris Drew, which I tried to get a peak of but it was by far the most crowded set of the whole weekend; I gather that Octo did most of the set on her own. Luckily for me they were pretty much the only act I saw in full at Primavera earlier in the summer. It’s crazy to think that festivals on that scale can probably get the bar takings required to keep FM alive in the space of a headline set, and afterwards get loaded up with brand deals across the site. Pavement, the indie rock band who peaked almost thirty years ago, had the Saturday night headline slot, and they’ve got five sold out shows at the Roundhouse next week. Tame Impala were also playing. There was recent news that p4k darlings Animal Collective will be unable to financially sustain a tour this year.  Live music is a viable career for increasingly few.

Courteney Frisby

Rock music and dance music both have a rich history of their respective undergrounds being built upon an interdependent network of labels, record stores, and tech crews to sustain them for so long. Meanwhile on the consumer end, it’s totally accepted now that paying for music is reserved for the weirdos of the world, and going to a concert is reserved for special occasions that ought to be worth the hefty price tag. So in a culture where you can go to a larger festival for the same cost as a boutique one, the inevitable trickle-down failure leaves small promoters in a steadily more sticky situation.

It’s tough that ‘rave culture’, something coveted for having such a universal appeal in the 1990s, now seems to operate on a much lower level of identity formation. It’s hard to believe that this identity formation even occurs within music spaces anymore. Young people are far more likely to have an intensely customised personal brand that draws a web between the way they interact with things in real life versus online than they are to have a scene identity based on their music taste. It’s even less likely that this identity will be based upon music they can only experience physically once they’re old enough to get into clubs. It’s important that spaces like Field Maneuvres are maintained not because of their potential resemblance to the freer modes of partying available last millennium, but because they incubate faith in the idea that being amongst strangers somewhere unfamiliar can spark new ways of being together.

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