This year's edition of Field Day had every member of clubland chomping at the bit. Excitement levels were sky high in the run-up and tickets sold-out before the event, with people clambering to get their hands on them a few days before.
The line-up boasted acts like Flying Lotus, Omar Souleyman and Âme (live) and there was plenty to choose from but one artist's return to the fold was the real reason Field Day was pulsating with so much energy. This year Aphex Twin, yes, Aphex Twin, no seriously, Aphex Twin, made his way back to the top of festival line-ups around the world and it was finally London's turn to taste the electronic fury of a 2017 version of Richard D. James.
After bursting back onto the scene in 2014 with 'Syro', James has been steadily dropping music, teasing appearances and generally causing a bit of a stir, so the fact he was billed for a Victoria Park appearance justifies the Field Day ticket price alone. In broad terms, this year's festival was one of the best editions yet, with a considerable improvement on sound quality and a nice layout of the site.
The most impressive new feature and perhaps the complete game-changer for Field Day is The Barn, the new 15,000-capacity structure that played home to Eric Prydz' Epic 5.0 show a week earlier and, along with Aphex, also houses live acts like Moderat, Nicholas Jaar and Jon Hopkins over the course of the day. The staggeringly big, dome-like structure has instantly become the jewell in the festival's crown and opens up a whole new realm of possibility in terms of acts that can play and how well their artistic vision can be translated.
Aphex begins his set at around 9pm but not before Nina Kraviz has teed him up for it. Seemingly the perfect choice of warm-up DJs for an artist that has always specialised in the damn right weird and experimental. Her set navigated through fiery 4/4 kicks and that zipped along at 134-136bpm, with the crowd reacting well to her leftfield techno selections. The sound could have done with being a bit better though and she clearly wasn't happy about the technicals. A shame considering Kraviz would no doubt cite James as an influence on her music.
After a lengthy five minute pause following Kraviz's set, a low buzz throbs around the arena and the long-haired enigma takes to the stage. If it was busy before, you can't move now. Blue lights pan across the structure and a thick 4/4 beat hits, with the salivating crowd reacting accordingly. 80 per cent of the people in The Barn clearly came for this set and now that it's rolling, it doesn't feel real. Aphex Twin is in session and we've waited all too long for it. His trademark logos wash across the multiple screens littered at the back of the stage and the strobes match the kicks being pummelled out.
The mixing is out of place, completely sporadic and the music is scattered and harsh on the ears. Upsetting yet elegant, we had no idea what to expect but at the same time, it's exactly what we thought it would be. There are moments of clarity that come after 15 minute bursts of spine-tingling noise. When you think the sounds are hitting breaking point, James carries on, taking you further out of your comfort zone before everything stops. Acidic, full-time rollers come thundering in. It's not exactly a soothing transition but it offers respite in the form of music that is more linear and "danceable".
Before now nothing has really made sense. It's been a personal journey through noises and abstract rhythms and the crowd is finally dancing in some sort of unison, something that's not happened for the last 40 minutes. There's stability. The only comparable venue in the world that can offer the same level of high-octane visuals, expert sound and a stadium-sized unity is Awakenings in Amsterdam but even this makes that look like playtime.
Of course, the visuals were as barmy and choreographed as we had hoped. James has built his career on a very particular aesthetic and one that's just as recognisable as his music. Cameras panned across the front row of the crowd, seemingly giving the ravers who braved the crush of the front row their moment in the limelight. However, the gut-wrenching Aphex face was beamed onto the dancers and everything took a turn for the outrageous. Images of Jeremy Kyle, Theresa May, Winston Churchill, even Neil Buchanan from Art Attack were grotesquely deformed with James' iconic, grimacing grin. It's the perfect backdrop for the nightmarish music at the forefront.
For the remaining runtime, James showcases a heady mix of jungle, acid, techno, weird shit, more weird shit and then some weirder shit thrown in for good measure. It's amazing to see the set transform and evolve into a festival show as he gets further into it. He was always going to unnerve and test the audience, as he has done for years, but it's clear he's conscious that it's a headline festival set, one that has to have those big, arms-in-the-air, rip-roaring cheer moments. He's evidently been doing his homework in the time between playing and releasing music as well. Artists like FIS, Kamixlo and Roy Of The Ravers popped up in the two hour performance, proving that a finger on the pulse has always been James' way of operating.
Completely unpredictable, utterly insane at points and a whole lot of fun, every Aphex Twin fan's dream was realised. We'd got to see one of the greatest electronic musicians of all time, perform in a way we knew he would. He fucked with us, we wanted him to fuck with us and we're glad he fucked with us. A true highlight of the festival circuit, Aphex Twin has not only managed to completely reinvigorate his career in the live sense, he's taken a defibrillator and shocked a whole new lease of life into Field Day, one that we hope the London day event can capitalise on next year and beyond.
Funster is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, you can follow him on Twitter here