Field Maneuvers landed for its fourth instalment at a riverside location 60 minutes north of London from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th September; an intimate affair with just a 750 capacity at the tail end of the British festival calendar.
Despite its small size, Field Maneuvers manages to pack in a stack of names from the underground house and techno scenes, with performances from Ben UFO, The Black Madonna, Studio Barnhus, Pariah, Ryan Elliott, Honey Soundsystem, Randomer, Gene Hunt, Ben Sims, Mike Servito and many more across the weekend.
For a festival of its size, with a tiny site made up of just three stages that are all placed only a few yards from each other, the production at the event is impeccable, with quality systems churning out perfect sound for the duration of the weekend.
Potala Palace, which serves as Field Maneuvers’ main stage (but is actually not much bigger than a bar at many larger festivals) also features a two screen VDJ for the duration, which adds an extra dimension to some of the weekend's more warped DJs.
The Sputnik Dome, a tiny, intense and sweaty space, hosts some of Field Maneuvers more slamming DJs, whilst the Field Moves tent sits halfway between the two in terms of size, and hosts long-term friends of the festival including Jane Fitz, who plays three times across the weekend, as well as Jade Seatle and Dan Harrington.
Each stage is tightly programmed too, with Friday afternoon on the Potala Palace offering classic house sounds from acid right through to disco, whilst Sputnik offers techno from Pariah, Ben Sims and Randomer on the same night. On Saturday, the Potala offers a mix of trippy dub and tribal sounds, all before Ben UFO spins b2b Elgato, whilst Sputnik hosts an array of classic rave sounds.
On Sunday, only the Potala Palace opens as the numbers thin, which gives an even more intimate feel to a strong line-up that sees The Black Modonna close out the weekend, spinning a set that proves why she’s becoming one of the world’s biggest DJs on underground dancefloors.
Rain hammers the Field Maneuvers’ site for much of the weekend, however with all three stages inside, it does little to dampen the spirits of another of the festival’s major assets: the crowd. But when there’s rarely a queue at either of the festival’s bars, and such a strong roster of music throughout the three-day event, there’s little to dullen their fine spirits.
One of the obvious things about Field Maneuvers is that those behind the festival have a discerning taste, without taking things too seriously. If you don’t fancy Al Dobson Jr. spinning spaced-out cosmic dub on the main stage, Hectick is dropping '90s dance anthems to a rain-soaked crowd on the Sputnik stage just a short walk away.
Feeling more akin to an old school rave than a modern day festival, there’s an abundance of flawless sets across the weekend. Here’s five that stood out above the rest.
Feet & Léo Cuenca feat. Sophie Delila
‘Something Going On’
Mark E warms up for Chicago legend Gene Hunt on the Potala Palace on the first night of Field Maneuvers, spinning house classics including Roy Davis Jr’s ‘House Inferno’ and Alex Gopher’s ‘The Child’ before the Chi-town selector takes things deeper with tracks like Son of Roosevelt’s ‘Over Me’ and La Nouvelle Epoque’s ‘V’, as well as the Dennie Ferrer remix of The Sunburst Bands’ ‘Journey To The Sun’. But it’s the contrast he creates with tracks like the vocal mix of Feet & Léo Cuenca’s ‘Something Going On’ that get the biggest reaction, as they burst out of a masterfully crafted set.
‘Get Yo Ass Off My Grass’
Honey Soundsystem have had a massive year in 2016, spinning their kaleidoscopic filter of house music old and new at parties including the opening of Block9 at Glastonbury, Detroit’s Movement Festival and Circoloco at DC-10. At Field Maneuvers they prove exactly why they’re becoming such a go-to name for the skewed sounds they play, as they shift from sleazy house into jackin’ and tripped out acid with abandon.
Mike Servito’s 730 Reshape of Justin Cudmore’s ‘Crystal’ is a huge dancefloor workout to introduce Honey on deck, but it’s the thumping bottom end of Marquis Hawkes’ ‘Get Yo Ass Off My Grass’ that stands out across a set that starts with acid and ends on a massive vocal disco.
‘Picadillo (Carl Craig 12” mix)’
Bake has been building a name for himself through a slew of shows in London and his hometown of Glasgow through the summer, as well as regular appearances on Rinse FM, known for spinning bold sets built of tracks many would never dare approach a dancefloor with.
At Field Maneuvers he moves through percussive workouts and tribal affairs with effortless ease, weaving in samba workouts and gear changes without ever breaking the crowd’s energy. However, it’s the piano breakdown on Carl Craig’s rework of Johnny Blas’ ‘Picadillo’ that truly sums up his set, timed to perfection.
‘I’m Waiting For A (Woman) (The Revenge rework)’
Auntie Flo’s Highlife parties in Glasgow have steadily become one of the best underground events in the UK, and his set at Field Maneuvers proves exactly why. Going deep, dark and tribal, the Scottish-born, London-based selector explores the sounds around the future Afro beat on last year’s ‘Theory of Flo’ album, which introduced a producer working on his own trajectory to a wider audience.
Daniel Bortz’ ‘Don’t Forget Your Sword’ is sublime, but it’s the deliriously gorgeous The Revenge rework of his own ‘I’m Waiting For A (Woman)’ that gets the biggest reaction on the dancefloor.
Andy Blake has a tough job lining up against Ben UFO on the Sputnik Dome, but the festival’s smallest stage remains as packed as it has for the duration of the weekend for the south Londoner, who has spent seven years at the helm of his World Unknown parties alongside fellow veteran Joe Hart.
His set works through a broad palette from start to finish, keeping those on the dancefloor locked in a sonic journey. Mad Afro banger ‘Sun King’ by Kay Suzuki and the darker edge of Smoke’s ‘Nuutri’ both get delirious reactions, but it’s the ocean deep pads of Midland’s ‘Blush’ at the close that make smiles break out across every face in the crowd, as they have so many times already this summer.
(Photos: Jonny Pénzes Underhill)
Rob McCallum is DJ Mag’s deputy digital editor. Follow him on Twitter here.