New years resolutions have often been the bane of my existence. At around 11:50pm on December 31 I, like so many other Australians, have made the mistake of promising myself that I would run 5 kms each morning, not touch the grog or the Maccas and finally try to wrap my head around Pink Floyd‘s discography in the coming 12 months. 2017 was no different. I’d pledged to find as much positivity in “the moment” as possible, and being sent to Field Day on January 1 gave me the perfect chance to put my new philosophy into action.
After wading through the sea of sniffer dogs, policemen and suspicious security guards on the edge of The Domain (I nearly didn’t make it to the gate after I was accused of being a “preloaded bufoon” by a security guard due to a badly timed stumble on a tree-branch) I surveyed the scene before me. For those who have never been to The Domain in Sydney, it’s a beautiful place for a festival. A massive meadow flanked by trees and a mixture of heritage listed terraces and modern skyscrapers, it’s both scenic and convenient. As I acquainted myself with the grounds I noticed with a hint of irritation that the food stalls were located out of reach in the far right corner of the grounds. Sticking true to my resolution, however, I instead busied myself with enjoying the drum-pad laden set provided by Triple-J unearthed winner Nyxen. The coveted opening slot has been a launchpad of sorts for up and coming names in the local EDM scene… a producer by the name of Flume springs to mind. Bopping around the stage, the fresh-faced producer seemed unphased by the small crowd, lost in her own world of beats and samples.
It seemed wrong to put REMI on at a time when not even a quarter of the crowd had dwindled into the grounds, but given the titanic names on the lineup, the festival organisers evidently had no choice. Not to be perturbed, the rapper, accompanied by his drummer, producer and musical partner Sensible J, kicked off the marathon party with a whirlwind set that was dynamic and exciting through and through. The contrast of XTC Party with the soulful beats of For Good helped to ease punters into the day in the grooviest fashion possible.
If Remi got the party started, Client Liason brought it to the next level. Their new album Diplomatic Immunity isn’t thematically a party album, with the tracks attacking the government over sub-standard leadership. Musically, however, it’s perfect blend of 70s disco and icy pop to send a crowd wild. From the costumes to the synchronised dance moves to the giant water cooler props, everything about their set felt perfect. Some live saxophone in their tunes, notably World Of Our Love would be the icing on the cake, but minuscule details aside, there was a lot to be liked here.
When MO pulled out of her Australian tour it left a huge hole in the roster for Field Day. Rising star Montaigne may not have been the most logical replacement given the nature of the festival crowd, but she nevertheless delivered a magnetic performance, truly showcasing how far she’s come as a live act throughout the past year. Jerking and bouncing around the stage like a woman possessed, she passionately belted out tracks like Because I Love You and In The Dark, before closing with Till It Kills Me, the singer’s contagious energy is as electrifying on stage as it was on her debut album Glorious Heights. The young ARIA winner is continuing to move from strength to strength, and is absolutely one to watch over the next few years. Read our interview with her here.
Next up came Adelaide MC Tkay Maidza. With the Island Stage filled all the way to the back with punters hoping to hear some live originals, their expectations were met when the 20-year-old appeared and broke straight into a live version of Triple J anthem Carry On. The addition of live drums and synths was a masterstroke, with the perfect amount of energy and groove added to classics Switch Lanes and Simulation. A further testament to the fact that nothing will beat live music performed by real people.
After an incredibly well-cooked German sausage for a reasonable $10, I headed to the centre field stage and began to work my way to the front for the big headliners of the evening. The one thing that surprised me was the sheer amount of bodies crammed behind the barricade for What So Not’s set, which leaned pleasantly towards his recent, original material, including cuts from his latest EP, the incredible Divide & Conquer. Tracks Buried and Waiting sent the amassed crowd into a writhing mass of sweaty bodies, with the steady rainfall only adding to the sense of liberation in the air. The tunes produced by Emoh, and formerly Flume as well, are designed for festivals such as Field Day, and the stupendous attendance during his 45 minutes was testament to this.
I expected the same from Alison Wonderland, but was left disappointed by her performance. I was hoping to hear more original tunes, and feel that live vocals would have really enhanced the set. With a full-length album featuring your own incredible vocals, why not sing live?
Regardless, true to my promise, I countered these thoughts by noting that the debut Sydney appearance of Chance The Rapper was up next.
Sprinting onto the stage, accompanied by his band The Social Experiment, Chance proved why he has had such an incredible 2016. With the rain adding to the atmosphere of the occasion, the rapper opened with a collection of songs from Acid Rap, slyly finding out who in the crowd were OG fans, and who were only waiting for new material. He soon informed the crowd that he was losing his voice for going too hard at the start of his Australian tour, a feat which would have seen many other artists cancel their set entirely. Not one to shy from making new friends, the rapper quickly turned it up with No Problem, prompting 30,000 Sydney-siders to lose their collective shit. What makes Colouring Book so wonderful is the pure sense of joy that flows from the tracks, and the same can be said for his features with other artists.From All Night, All We Got and Mixtape to renditions of his guest verses on Action Bronson’s Baby Blue and Kanye’s Ultralight Beam, the performance glowed with pure happiness – in spite of the frequent breaks between tracks, and encouraging the audience to sing along as his voice had been lost. One final rendition of the incredible Summer Friends and it was over all too soon. Chance the Rapper is an absolute treasure to hip-hop and music in general right now, and his debut Sydney show was absolutely unforgettable.
Of course, though, Chance was only second last on the centre field stage due to the enigmatic Childish Gambino‘s highly anticipated headline slot. His sensational new album Awaken, My Love may not have won all his fans over, but the polarising new material didn’t lessen his appeal with what felt like all of Sydney cramming in to watch his set. Taking to the stage to the opening twinkles of Me And Your Mama, Gambino demanded the crowd acknowledge the brilliance of Chance before him before he positively exploded into a set laden with energy, musicianship and colour. Have Some Love built on the old school feel that has soul legends so excited, with the crowd shyly dancing to the 70’s beats, before the simple call of “Wooooorrrld Staaaar” brought the field to life.
In a way, I felt a hint of irritation that the crowd was so clearly there to hear the work of his seismic-sized LP Because The Internet (chants for 3005 picked up after every song) but it wasn’t enough to taint the brilliance taking place on stage. The Palisades hit like a punch to the guts, with the thunderous beats of the drums proving to be infectious for the dancers throughout the crowd. Similarly, Redbone reminded punters of the magic found in a simple beat, with the soulful vocals of Gambino simply dazzling. As with Chance, there were hints of joy amongst the darker sounds of Gambino’s catalogue, with Sober bringing goofy grins to the throng of humans, who erupted en masse at the breakdown of the tune.
Finally, after 12 hours of scorching heat, sweat and pounding bass, Gambino closed out his triumphant set with 3005, thus bringing the first day of the musical calendar to a close. As I walked back to the station, I reflected on the sheer diversity of sounds that now exists in the world of dance and hip-hop. Field Day had perfectly balanced out its genres for 2017, but I can’t ignore the fact that the day’s best sets were those that consisted of mostly real humans playing mostly real instruments. DJ sets can be thrilling too, of course, but the magic of acts like Client Liaison, Montaigne and Childish Gambino prove just how much more exciting live music can be.
That said, in a final bid to make my resolution last at least one day, the diversity of these sounds and styles are precisely what keeps events like Field Day at the cutting edge of local festivals. It’s not easy to draw a huge crowd on the single most hangover-ridden day of the year, but time and time again, Field Day manages to push past our expectations, and prepare us for an incredible year of music ahead.
Image: Stoney Roads