Words like ‘intimate’ and ‘community’ are banded around liberally when it comes to small festivals. At a capacity of 700, Field Maneuvers is certainly on the smaller side of things, and like events of equivalent or lesser size, the same old superlatives crop up when people sing its praises. What sets this festival apart from its competition, however, is the fact that those terms of endearment are used with the utmost sincerity by both artists and punters alike. Founded by a group of likeminded friends in 2013, their modus operandi has remained steadfast from the get-go: falling out of love with larger, cookie-cutter music festivals that have become the standard, this was curated as party they would want to attend.
Speaking to directors Ele Beattie and Leon Cole, they explain that the seeds were sown in the early hours of a festival that despite having an excellent lineup, felt “run of the mill, over-hyped, over-produced and atmosphere-free.” Instead, they were “inspired by the UK free parties,” aiming to emulate the “no nonsense, no frills raving, but in a safe and friendly environment.” Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, many have tried to take a similar approach only to see their event to fade into obscurity, so the fact that Field Maneuvers has managed to stay so small – the capacity has only increased by 200 since it began – and resist temptation to expand, all the while remaining sustainable, is deserving of praise.
Beattie and Cole go on to highlight that FM is not for profit, with the money made reinvested back into helping to create their “dream party.” Striving to “prioritise fun over function,” it’s this selfless, idealised attitude that has paid dividends for the event fondly known as a ‘dirty little rave’. The 2016 edition of the festival came at just the right time, and was just the tonic for many feeling the effects of an increasingly beleaguered club scene in the UK. That’s not to say they didn’t encounter a few hurdles in the licensing process themselves, including one environmental health officer suggesting that music is “twice as loud” when two records are played simultaneously.
Any challenges faced by the organisers have been swiftly overcome, and gearing up for a landmark fifth edition of the festival, they recognise its successes have been built on a foundation of “like-minded people and DJs who come back ever year.” It isn’t every day you encounter an event that can list household names like Ben Sims, Auntie Flo and Jane Fitz among its residents, with Fitz even programming a stage alongside Night Moves collaborator, Jade Seatle.
The love for Field Maneuvers extends way beyond its immediate family though. Approach almost any DJ the festival has booked since its inception and the general consensus is that it’s one of the favourites to play. Booked again this year, festival regular and Radio Quantica co-founder Violet described the atmosphere as the “friendliest, most open vibe” she’s ever experienced. “It’s so easy to make friends there, by the last night you feel like you’re dancing with your new family,” she continues. “I also love how it’s not a hetero-normative festival and values queer culture as the very basis of our scene, running a drag show (my fav) and making everyone feel safe about their identity.” Unfortunately neither encouring open-mindedness or placing an emphasis on inclusivity are yet the norm, even for dance music, so these qualities need to be cherished and celebrated.
Another former booking, Don’t and Super Rhythm Trax boss Jerome Hill was also happy to wax lyrical about the event. “Lots of festivals play on the ‘it’s a family thing’ angle, but with FM, it really does feel like that’s so,” he says. A veteran of the UK scene, Hill has played festivals of all sizes, but that doesn’t get in the way of him finding something “small enough that everyone is considered by default; crew, just for being there” incredibly endearing. Dekmantel might have the lineups; Dimensions might boast an incredible site; Houghton and Gottwood have a balance of the two; what makes Field Maneuvers special though is ten times harder to replicate.
Field Maneuvers takes place from September 1st – 3rd – buy tickets and view the lineup here.