Driving down the motorway at about 1:00 AM, I happened across the entrance to the Field Maneuvers site, almost by accident. Taking my eye off the SatNav for a moment, I spied a small sign that read ‘FM’ through the darkness. Driving too quickly to make the abrupt left turn, I had to double-back on myself to recommence the final approach, and by then, anticipation levels were at an all-time high. That was, until I reached the gate where a security guard informed me that the box office was closed and wouldn’t open again for another nine hours. Slightly bemused and not quite ready to come to terms with notion that I might have to head home, spirits were lifted when a voice came from out of nowhere to say he could in fact let me in. ‘Divine intervention?’ I thought to myself for a second, but no, it was the production office over his radio. Not that it mattered though. I was waved through the gate and finally in. Sure, I had missed the best part of the Friday programming, but all of that was quickly forgotten.
In true British free party fashion (as stated in a recent feature on the festival, such raves served as inspiration for the organisers), I had the faint sound of a kick drum to guide me while I stumbled through empty fields, only to be greeted at the gate by a couple of friends ready to help pitch my tent and get me into the dance with as little fuss as possible. That moment pretty much set the tone for the weekend – you might have heard, but Field Maneuvers is quite a friendly affair. In fact, I’m not sure whether I’ve been amongst such a generous and approachable festival crowd. Rounds of drinks were bought and forgotten in a blur of plastic cups, and come sunrise, I found myself sat with a bunch of friendly but previously unfamiliar faces, one of whom tells me he’s playing early evening that night as one half of South London duo, Local Group.
Wandering into the Sputnik stage at 6 PM, we beelined it right to the front to make our presence known. Reaching for razor-edged breakbeat cuts, the Local Group guys happened to provide my favourite set of the weekend so far, but the following back-to-back between One Eyed Jacks and Radio Quantica founders Violet and Photonz will go down as one the best I heard all summer. An incredible energy buzzed around the domed enclosure as the Portuguese couple played a bold and varied set of techno and house, finishing with this classic slice of euro-trance. Irrepressible stuff, perfect for the smoke and lasers.
There was an inescapable energy and vibrancy to many of the highlights across the weekend. Live sets from Soichi Terada and Octo Octa were delivered with infectious and endearing vitality – both animated throughout their respective performances, Terada proved himself quite the showman, serenading the crowd and breaking into fits of dancing between banging out Far East Recordings classics like ‘Tokyo XXX’ and ‘Do It Again’. The live rendition of ‘Fleeting Moments Of Freedom (Wooo)’ on the other hand showed us exactly why Octo Octa fully deserves of all the plaudits coming her way right now.
There was plenty of variety on offer. The Golden Filter delivered their idiosyncratic hybrid of techno, post-punk and synth-pop, and everything from the UK techno of Pearson Sound to Hysteric‘s Italo edits and exhilarating EBM by Nitzer Ebb could be heard over the weekend. The Saturday night also served up a UK-centric exploration of the hardcore continuum, with sets from Mark Archer, Groove Chronicles, and the ‘First Lady of Drum & Bass’, DJ Storm.
Special mentions go out to Miro Sunday Musiq and Spencer Parker for their semi-secret after-hours sets in the Sputnik. The former delivered an amorphous blend of dancefloor oddities – played way below the originally intended speed, it felt incredibly appropriate as the small crowd swayed to his selections, eyes probably closed for much of it – while the latter gave what was essentially a continuation of his excellent set from earlier in the evening. Fun and completely unpretentious, Parker served up the perfect finale, reaching for tasteful crowd pleasers and classic dancefloor bombs throughout.
People looking for something a bit more heads-down and introspective could be left wanting. The site itself is also pretty nondescript, but that’s not really what it’s all about. I mean, you don’t call your festival a ‘dirty little rave’ for nothing. The organisers have their priorities straight and everything’s streamlined down to the bare essentials: the limited food options made perfect sense after attending festivals where I couldn’t stomach the abundance of grub on offer, no matter how enticing the aromas.
Everything is tailored to provide the best dance you’ve had in ages, from the lineup to the size of the festival itself – you can probably walk from the crowd to your tent and back before a DJ has made the transition to the next record. That’s the beauty of Field Maneuvers, and with half the lineup either residents or festival regulars, you’re just as likely to find them on the other side of the decks. It’s also refreshing to see organisers keen to break away from the monotony of booking the same old names as the majority of dance music festivals.
At a time when the club scene found an hour’s drive south in the capital feels increasingly sterile and commodified, Field Maneuvers shows that we can still aspire to something better. It was hands down the best party I’ve been to on British soil this year.
Photos courtesy of Jake Davis and Mike Massaro.