- With a capacity of 500 people, you could say Field Maneuvers is a festival with a difference. We can all appreciate that this is small for a three-day festival, but it's worth taking a step back to fully consider what that level of intimacy can do to a type of event that is otherwise synonymous with scale.
Now in its second year, Field Maneuvers is of course not the first event to experiment with club-sized capacities in the festival format. Freerotation, the cult festival held annually in Wales, no doubt served as inspiration for Field Maneuvers, especially with regards to the lineup. All of this seemed to suggest that I was about to step into a tight-knit musical community that I didn't already belong to. Indeed, within seconds of arriving, Field Maneuvers felt like one huge extended family, and I was the visiting in-law. But unlike awkward family events, there was no marginalisation of the outsiders here. Despite seeming like all of the 500 attendees were no more than one person away from knowing each other, Field Maneuvers was unmistakably welcoming to first-timers like myself.
The line-up across the three nights was eclectic, but there was a through-line that just about kept it coherent. This was a festival for those who appreciate untidier styles of dance music, epitomised by Auntie Flo on Friday evening in the main tent, who entertained a crowd that was overflowing with first-night energy and excitement. One of the most pleasing early impressions I had of Field Maneuvers was the sense of freedom there was throughout the place. The well-placed furniture offered plenty of areas to drink, chat or refuel only a few meters away from where the perfectly audible music was playing from.
Jane Fitz and Jade Seatle's back-to-back set flipped Auntie Flo's tantalising precursor on its head, replacing it with something unashamedly poppy. Fitz certainly enjoyed her synthy '80s selections, after an hour I went looking for something else. The Dome, which was more like a huge, smoky illuminated football, was just behind the main tent, and was where, to my delight, I found Ben Sims amongst a sea of pumping fists. It was stirring stuff, the perfect tonic for anyone after more frenetic tempos. Tama Sumo followed, the latter taking things back into the main tent for one final parade of thumping 4/4s, and a rousing nightcap in Diana Ross's "The Boss."
Field Maneuvers did a good job of blurring the lines between the first two days. Although the music ran throughout the afternoon, with a large captive audience, it was Elgato, Wookie and Brackles who were the chief orchestrators in the main tent at peak time. I liked Elgato's introverted style of UK bass, which I hoped (and expected) to be adopted by those who followed. Unfortunately, Wookie went for a more instantly gratifying sound, with one of those annoying remixes of Robin S's "Show Me Love" a low point. That said, this was one of the best vibes of the night and the festival in general—a palatable scrapbook of beats, anthems and classics.
Perhaps like all good festivals, the best was saved until last, starting with Steevio and SuzyBee's wonderful hunk of analogue gear and semi-improvised twitchy techno. This was when the similarities with Freerotation became particularly evident, especially as another favourite of the Welsh festival, Move D, followed for the festival's finale. Arguably the pick of the line-up, he was on top form, and was very much part of the warm and affectionate mood on the dance floor, rather than just being the guy supplying the music.
There's obviously something Move D likes about events of this kind, and it's rather infectious. The intimacy, the appreciation, the knowledgeable ears—whatever it is, he fed off the energy of the dance floor, and selected gorgeously deep and emotive records. It felt perfect, a sound as soothing as it was kinetic, which was exactly what we craved on the final night.
Photo credit: Jonny Pénzes-Underhill