Festival Review: Field Day – The Domain, Sydney (01.01.16)

Fuzzy’s Field Day is one of Sydney’s biggest remaining festivals. Held on New Year’s Day, it’s promoted as a day to ease into the New Year with a spot of live music and sunshine. With a fairly solid line-up, made up of several Falls Festival drawcards and a variety of additional acts, Field Day 2016 had tunes for everyone – however, to me, the same could not be said about the festival’s atmosphere.

In terms of first impressions, straight away, there was a pretty disappointing level of disorganisation. The guest services hub was too small and understaffed, and the staff working in there were a little underprepared. In fairness, I understand that it’s hard – it’s a one-day festival held on New Year’s Day, which comes at the end of the busiest few weeks of the year, and they probably face a struggle finding a surplus of time, as well as willing staff and volunteers to make it all run smoothly. However there were a few things that could be tweaked for a smoother run next year. For example, it seemed unnecessary having a VIP entrance that is separate to the general entrance, because this meant that ticketing staff and security were not briefed across the board. By having a general entrance with a few VIP lanes, with ticketing enquiries as well as guest services side by side, and big, obvious signage, I think a whole lot of hazy New Year’s Day confusion could have been cleared up.

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After getting into the Domain though, the music did not disappoint. Local singer and MC Jess Kent won triple j Unearthed’s annual competition to play the opening slot, and kicked off the day on the Island Stage. There’s a super British sound to her music, which makes sense seeing as she was born in England, moving to Australia at age 11. Included in her list of influences are early M.I.A and early Lily Allen, both of which are audible in a really good way. In saying that, Kent is making music that is very much her own, and it was rad to be at one of her first live shows. This is an artist who’s going to grow and grow, and she’s no doubt one to watch in 2016. Her closer was the unbelievably catchy, summery hit “Get Down”, to which the enthusiastic crowd definitely did get down. We also spotted Jess’ mum right up the front dancing up a storm, and her excitement and pride at the end of the set was not only my highlight of the day, but also may or may not have made me tear up!

The Left Field stage at the far end of the Domain provided a large shady seating area where you could grab some food and drinks, soundtracked by a bunch of dance and club outfits such as Set Mo, Motorik, Luke Million and Snakehips. Even from early in the day though, the well-sized dancefloor was always buzzing – probably because the music at Left Field was consistently fun and infectious. The Red Bull Music Academy Crate Diggers Stage (bit of a mouthful, that one!) was a small stage, but also kept music-lovers happy, providing space to dance to songs from the Seventies to the Seventies.

Tuka played an early set to a keen and boisterous crowd at Centre Field. Meanwhile, JOY. kept the female representation going strong at The Island stage with airy vocals and tight beats. Incidentally and unfortunately, this female representation severely dwindled as the day went on. As far as I’m aware, the only female artists and musicians during the entire festival were on The Island stage, leaving three other stages – including the main stage – that were entirely male-dominated. Sorry, are we in 2016? Really hoping the rest of this year’s line-ups do a little bit better with gender equality, as well as racial diversity (again, not too bad early on, but consistently decreased throughout the day).

Ngaiire followed JOY. on the Island Stage with what was possibly my favourite set of the day. Introduced by stage host Rufino as ‘a mix between Solange and Erkyah Badu‘, Ngaiire brought some much appreciated soul to the festival, with a full band and three rad backing singers accompanying her. She absolutely killed it, making the growing audience both boogie and sway at different points throughout the set. “Diggin'” was an absolute powerhouse of a song, and throughout the entire half hour Ngaiire’s vocals were completely on fire. She and her band closed on “Once”, a song that got significant triple j airplay this year. Here’s hoping that triple j give similar support to any of Ngaiire’s future releases, because she’s absolutely killing it and producing a style of incredible music that doesn’t seem to thrive in this country, unfortunately.

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Allday proved an early popular act on Centre Field, pulling a large crowd for his 2pm set. Scottish band Young Fathers were pretty fun, getting everyone dancing. Festival mainstays SAFIA surprised even themselves by completely packing out the Island Stage. They promised a full length album to be released this year, so if you’ve been hanging out for that one, 2016 is the year!

America’s Halsey was the final female frontwoman to grace the Island stage at 4:45pm. This was her first show in Sydney and the audience was stoked, singing along to every word. If the crowd weren’t already massive fans of her, she would have definitely won them over anyway, with big, unique vocals and a pop-punk sensibility almost reminiscent of Hayley Williams from Paramore. There’s no doubt she’ll be back in Australia soon with this kind of reception, so hit a show of hers next time she’s playing nearby!

By now, the sun was almost setting. RL Grime basically packed out the main stage with his trap, his set heavily featuring remixes and keeping punters excessively happy. As RL Grime wound up to a close, Pusha T played an enthusiastic set to a relatively small but devoted crowd, even dropping his verse from Kanye West’s “Runaway”. At this point of the day, a lot of people were enjoying the music from afar while grabbing some dinner from the food stalls at the periphery of The Domain.

At the start of the day, I suspected there were way too few food stalls for the volume of people that would arrive at the festival, meaning huge lines and people absolutely wasted for no other reason than drinking on a totally empty stomach. However, props to the caterers, such as Emmy’s Turkish Gozleme and Urban Pasta, who were friendly as well as efficient, tackling long order lines with considerable speed AND not making punters wait around for yonks for their food. Not to mention that these eats were top notch!

As the sun went down, the vibe that had been relatively pleasant thus far turned…well, gross, to be honest. Due to what could initially be mistaken for 100% slobbery – but turned out to also be partly because by 6pm, bins were not only few and far between, but also completely overflowing – The Domain’s usually beautiful grass was absolutely covered in litter. I doubt had there been more bins that were empty, the littering situation would have been much better. Half-eaten nachos and hot chips peppered the lawns, particularly under trees where festival-goers had enjoyed some shade earlier in the day – and honestly, I cannot understand how a majority of people could be okay with getting up and leaving their rubbish behind. The only reason there was a slight lack of cans strewn across the venue was the $1 recycling deposit that was included in drink prices, and refunded by way of drink tokens at a recycling station – not to mention that by 6pm, the line to this recycling station was much longer than reasonable to stand in line for a dollar, be it one or multiple. It kind of makes me sad that I feel prompted to suggest similar recycling cashback deals for all food stuffs, because if that’s the only way that people will not be completely careless and selfish with their waste, then I don’t really know what our world has come to.

However, the music kept coming! Django Django entertained a crowd that was modest but super enthusiastic, while Flight Facilities brought their beautiful Sydney-grown music to the Centre Field stage. Before long, The Wombats – almost honorary Australians, not only because of their namesake but because we’re lucky enough that they keep coming back and playing here! – were on the Island Stage. I felt like this was an odd choice, because they could have easily played on the main stage but no doubt, scheduling got in the way. Regardless, they played a sweet hit list, their back catalogue prompting mad sing-alongs and their new tracks well-received.

While Disclosure played on the main stage, a healthy-sized audience waited for Perth sweethearts San Cisco to close the Island Stage – and as always, the indie pop/rock four-piece played a tight and ridiculously fun set. With their new songs a little darker, a little more grown up, they still know how to have a ball playing their older hits, and this New Year’s Day they didn’t miss a beat. San Cisco finished up while Disclosure were coming towards the end of their set, closing with a euphoric sing-along to what is arguably their biggest hit, “Latch”. Once Disclosure closed the main stage, a lot of punters streamed out of the Domain and into the city streets, while the more electronic-music-inclined of the punters made a bee-line to catch the end of Zeds Dead’s set out at Left Field.

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If you’re after a wind-down after New Year’s Eve, I don’t know if I would recommend Field Day 2017 for you. Despite what it is marketed as, it’s more a continuation of some of the less-than-appealing things about NYE. As is evident from the amount of patients at Field Day – over 200, with one only just being released from hospital after being in a critical condition for hours – something’s not quite with the way we’re ‘enjoying’ our live music. However, the event certainly fills the gap of a live music extravaganza during the festive season that doesn’t involve you having to camp – and if that takes your fancy, then it may be the festival for you!