Located in the impossibly scenic grounds of Drumlanrig Castle – a sprawling bit of history on the outskirts of Dumfries, Electric Fields festival is a small-but-perfectly-formed pocket of activity nestled among the rolling hills. It may sit much further towards the family-friendly end of the festival spectrum than many of its other Scottish weekender peers, but it’s all the better for it: a reasonably civilised affair that favours genuinely brilliant music over lairy hedonism.
Friday afternoon kicks off with Dream Wife, whose never-ending touring duties have turned them into a well-oiled and unstoppable machine. Bounding onto an impressively packed-out Valley Stage, the band are a ball of endless energy, guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec spitting out chunky riffs while singer Rakel Mjöll flits between coy sweetness and screaming badassery in the blink of an eye.
It’s testament to the ever-growing lure of Shame that the band have been boosted up the bill today, taking to the Main Stage a good few hours later in a more rightful spot. With guitarist Josh Finnerty hurling himself around so much that his arm is covered in smears of blood, there’s no question as to whether the quintet deserve the bump up. ‘One Rizla’ rings through the field, while a closing ‘Gold Hole’ sees singer Charlie Steen standing fully upright, held aloft by the crowd in the literal palm of their hands. Need more proof? Why not ask headliner Noel Gallagher, who stands side of stage, nodding appreciatively throughout.
Back on the Valley, Sunflower Bean’s combination of lilting Fleetwood Mac-isms and ballsy riffola is even more powerful IRL. Getting the crowd to chant back sections of ‘Crisis Fest’ before dropping into the hazy melodic spell of ‘I Was A Fool’, the trio constantly switch up dynamics, while singer Julia Cumming is a proper rock frontwoman par excellence. Following them, meanwhile, is Baxter Dury, whose Jarvis-esque praying mantis stage moves should have their own dance class. Suited and supping on red wine throughout, the singer is a charming raconteur in the truest sense. At one point forgetting his lyrics, he chips in. “It’s not about the songs anyway, it’s about me,” he grins. He’s got a point, but the songs aren’t half bad either. By the time a random be-hatted child jumps on stage and proceeds to absent-mindedly dance through the whole of ‘Miami’, the surreal spectacle is complete.
Though Noel G is undoubtedly tonight’s draw, you wonder whether people are there for the name or for the songs. The reaction to the singer’s High Flying Birds material feels fairly flat while, though the Oasis tracks are of course sung back with gusto, it’s only really ‘Half The World Away’ that feels like a moment. The real headline set of the night instead goes to Young Fathers, who top the second stage with an hour that’s genuinely jaw-dropping in its relentless intensity. An absolute blitzkrieg of energy from start to finish, the Edinburgh trio take the intricacies of recent album ‘Cocoa Sugar’ and turn them into more immediate, visceral thrills, while standalone single ‘Only God Knows’ is a propulsive, ecstatic highlight.
Saturday afternoon, and though yesterday’s sunshine has given way to a more typically drizzly affair, that’s no bother as DIY have taken over the Valley Stage for a full day of musical treats.
It kicks off with a Scottish double whammy in the form of CRYSTAL and Lucia. The former channel a Wolf Alice-esque broadness, flitting between styles and sonic approach with deftness; at one point they’re all Queens of the Stone Age riffing and screamo vocals, the next they’re dishing up synths and propulsive dancefloor bass lines. Lucia, meanwhile, take tinges of Hole-channelling grunge and give them a melodic, poppier spruce. Think Black Honey (more on them later) at their most direct.
Hailing from Coventry, you imagine FEET probably stick out like a glorious sore thumb in their hometown. Dressed like extras from Kevin and Perry Go Large and armed with the kind of natty moves that would get you punched by a sports bro in under three seconds, they’re an absolute gem from start to finish. The twitchy jangles of ‘Backseat Driver’ recall much-missed ’00s heroes Good Shoes, while performatively they’re like the Sports Team of the Midlands; by the time they all throw their instruments and then themselves into the floor in one big group bundle, there’s not a person in the tent who’s not sold.
Former Camera Obscura members Tracyanne & Danny might have flown relatively under the radar on English soil, but in their home country there’s no such fate and their sweetly doe-eyed indie pop hauls in a huge crowd. Though the start of Black Honey’s set falls foul to a similar fate only in reverse (they’re up against Idlewild on the Main Stage), by the stomping disco strut of recent single ‘Midnight’ the tent is full and entirely besotted. The familiar spaghetti western whirlwind of ‘Spinning Wheel’ and soaring riffs of ‘Hello Today’ still fizz with excitement, but it’s in new track ‘Baby’ – a slow-burning torch song that sees frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips ditching the guitar to twirl round the stage, serenading the crowd –that the quartet show they’re a band capable of increasingly more variety at every turn.
With second album ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ released the day before, the excitement around IDLES right now couldn’t be more tangible. A lot of pressure? Almost certainly. But this lot show how it’s done with masterful aplomb. Sure, we know by now what an exceptional live band the Bristol punks are. Peppering the incendiary likes of ‘Mother’, ‘1049 Gotho’ and new highlight ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ with inspirational bon mots, skipping around the stage and descending into the crowd at any given opportunity, the quintet are a joy to behold at every moment (and if there’s a more gleeful sight than guitarist Bowen prancing down the photo pit with a cymbal like a particularly noisy Roadrunner then, well, answers on a postcard). What’s changed now, however, is the sheer vindicating reaction that the band get wherever they go. If the energy coming from the crowd during ‘Danny Nedelko’ – a song about celebrating immigrants – could be bottled, it’d be a highly worthwhile political tool. “We’re the middle class Sleaford Mods,” grins singer Joe Talbot before the band crash through a final ‘Rottweiler’. Funny, visceral and absolutely vital, IDLES’ rise continues to grow by the day.
It’s left to Ghostpoet to close out the stage. And though he’s got a mighty act to follow, the Londoner’s darkly atmospheric, cerebral noise provides a hypnotic end to proceedings. Though still a relatively small fish on the UK festival circuit, Electric Fields’ on-point curation should see the Dumfries weekender cement its reputation soon enough.
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