After another summer festival calendar fit to burst, there can sometimes be a risk of overkill by the time September comes around. However, an eye-catching lineup at one of Scotland’s most talked-about new weekenders led us to Drumlanrig Castle just outside Dumfries for a feast of musical talent at Electric Fields 2018.
We arrive during the afternoon of the festival’s opening day. There’s a couple of hours until the arena area opens, but already a good portion of the event’s 6,000 attendees are pitching up.
It’s a stripped-back offering on the Thursday with only three of the festival’s six stages running. That said, the quartet of acts kicking the Main Stage off are a vibrant mix.
Garage-pop foursome The Orielles are a glistening curtain-raiser beneath the sunshine that beams down from above the castle up the hill. Their releases via Heavenly Recordings have been gradually building an impressive fanbase for a couple of years now.
Next comes a performance from another much-loved star of the modern indie world, Bella Union signee Ezra Furman. Constant comparisons to the likes of Violent Femmes and Daniel Johnston are inevitable, but Furman has carved out a thoroughly absorbing niche of his own with his eccentric rock ‘n’ roll. As his arsenal of material grows, old favourites like ‘My Zero’ occasionally drop out of the set, but its replacements are more than adequate.
The first real stalwarts to grace Electric Fields’ Main Stage are Oxford shoegazers Ride. Since reforming four years ago, the band have demonstrated they did it for the love with some commendable new material alongside a host of well-received live shows. With a noticeably more family-heavy vibe since we entered the main arena, it’s encouraging to see some parents introducing their kids to seven-minute motorik soundscapes nice and early. Luckily the majority of youngsters have ear defenders on – because it’s without doubt the loudest of the weekend and probably the highlight of the first day.
This day is the brought to a close with headliners James – who arrive on stage to a tribal percussive interlude. They then waste little time bringing the crowd back to 90s euphoria with mega-hit ‘She’s a Star’. At this point the audience are raring to go, but the next 45 minutes or so is heavily dominated by newer material – which despite keeping the whole audience engaged, fails to deliver the sing-along moments they crave.
‘Tomorrow’ and a stripped-back, hymnal-like version of ‘Sit Down’ are undoubted highlights of the set, but a couple false starts and Tim Booth’s exclamation that the cold (only relatively for the end of August) weather is playing havoc with the band’s guitar tuning is something of a bore.
The arrival of the weekend proper sees the whole of the site open to revellers. There’s the large Valley Tent in association with BBC Introducing, as well as pop-up stages hosted by Edinburgh’s artistic show-casers Sneaky Pete’s and Neu! Reekie!, with the former tucked away down the hill towards the castle’s forest area. Its toe-tapping bill of DJs is something of a mecca for the thrill-seekers once the early hours come around.
Back over at the festival’s epicentre, however, it’s another enthralling mix on the Main Stage, with Hull quartet LIFE, opening up proceedings with a hugely entertaining arsenal of quirky post-punk.
Our first act over at the Valley are North Yorkshire’s Avalanche Party. Despite their early set time they lose none of their trademark energy, with the frontman in and out of the crowd. There’s a touching tribute to Amazing Snakeheads and And Yet it Moves frontman Dale Barclay too, with his forename written across the singer’s bare chest.
Occasionally the afternoon sun calls for something a little more groove-heavy, however, and we get that back over at the Main Stage with the Nigerian electronica of Ibibio Sound Machine. Crowd interaction aplenty makes their set one of the most joyous of the weekend.
Shame and The Coral then offer contrasting takes on the rock ‘n’ roll spectrum, with the former offering a shot in the arm for anyone struggling to shake off the previous night’s excess. The Coral combine solid material to have come since their reemergence with classics like ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Dreaming of You’. It’s perhaps a bit of a lesson to James on how to get the mix right 20 years down the line.
As night falls, it’s undoubtedly the biggest crowd of the weekend for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. His current stripped-back persona is a little meek at times and latest LP Who Built the Moon? is far less experimental than it’s marketing spiel would have you believe. But again, sprinkling Oasis hits like ‘Whatever’, ‘Half the World Away’ and of course ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ are a guaranteed formula for success. Is ‘Radio 2 fodder’ too harsh an assessment though? Probably not.
The Valley Stage provides a blistering end to the day with two exciting names from the changing face of UK hip-hop tearing the tent apart. Birmingham’s Lady Leshurr is infectious and witty in equal measure, before Far Out favourites Young Fathers inevitably take our title of band of the day. Main Stage headline slots surely await them.
The final day starts with a slight bit of disappointment due to the news that the Comedy and Cabaret Tent is unsafe for use. This revelation also coincides with the heavens opening. But the sign of a good festival is always the odd unexpected surprise. This comes as we take shelter at the Neu! Reekie! with Glasgow hip-hop artist Erin Friel. Her dexterous lyrics switch from heart warming-to-breaking in an instance. A new discovery we intend to pursue.
Luckily the weather clears up in time for some blissed-out reggae courtesy of Holly Cooke. She swoons through her 45-minute set with an abundance of charm and charisma that the more mild-mannered among us would probably not expect from the daughter of a Sex Pistol.
The adjacent Arc Tent has is situated riskily close to the Main Stage, but is a source of pure enchantment as cultured psych-rockers Flamingods take us into the evening.
However, in all honesty this really acts as something of a starter for a packed out final evening that sees us darting between stage to try and take it all in. We sacrifice a portion of Leftfield’s spellbinding headline set in favour of Bristol punk-rockers IDLES over at the Valley. We’re not left disappointed. Joe Talbot and co are in and out of the crowd, barking out their abrasive social commentary with a directness that is often all too lacking in this diluted modern world. The frontman also demonstrates he has the crowd in the palm of his hand by conducting a mass chorus of ‘All I Want for Christmas’.
It appears many may have shot off straight after Leftfield, as it’s a slightly underwhelming crowd for Ghostpoet’s closing set – however this does nothing to dampen the spirit of his reverb-tinged trip-hop. He’s an artist that seems to evolve his sound with every album, meaning it is truly impressive to see re-workings of ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’ and ‘Off Peak Dreams’ fitting in perfectly.
As we trudge back to the campsite in the chilly late night rain for one last time, it’s clear Electric Fields 2018 has been a largely successful outing for an ever-developing festival. It’s combination of stunning surroundings and unbridled north-of-the-border passion make it an undoubted box-ticker of the UK’s fit-to-burst festival circuit. Recommended.