“This is a nice festival, isn’t it?” asked TracyAnne Campbell, singer of Camera Obscura, who was making an appearance on early Saturday evening at Electric Fields in the Dumfriesshire countryside with TracyAnne & Danny, her new side project alongside Bristol-based singer Danny Coughlan, aka Crybaby.
Electric Fields, Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries & Galloway ****
It’s a true assessment; with T in the Park gone, this festival is arguably Scotland’s largest countryside music gathering, but it still possesses the delicate balance of big names, breadth of line-up and intimacy of surroundings to be described as nice.
Celebrating its fifth year, Electric Fields had added a smaller-scale Thursday night bill headlined by Mancunian indie group James for the occasion. Elsewhere, throughout the usual Friday and Saturday line-ups, there was a strong array of larger acts and extremely talented Scots artists, with smaller-scale selections of spoken word programmed by Edinburgh’s inestimable Neu! Reekie! night, electronic music – much of the DJs provided in a wooded glade by the same city’s Sneaky Pete’s club – and a tent filled with late-night cabaret acts.
A compact event with good food and drink, there was plenty of variety here to keep the attention. On a sunny Friday night, the headliners couldn’t come much more opposite than, on the main stage, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, an anthemic if middle-of-the-road group whose cover of The Beatles’ All You Need is Love has become a festival crowd-pleaser this summer; and, in the tented BBC/DIY Valley stage, Edinburgh’s Young Fathers, one of 2018’s most ferocious live acts, whose crowd were piled out of the entrances.
On the Saturday, meanwhile, the big buzz act on the same smaller stage was Bristolian punk group Idles, a white-hot melting pot of political energy and nerve-rattling rock antagonism, while 1990s big-stage electronica act Leftfield brought their own form of futurist punk rock to the day’s headline slot. Another performer who caused a tent-packing, although on a smaller scale to Young Fathers, was Loki the Scottish Rapper in the Neu! Reekie! stage, playing his second set of the weekend; a boiled-down version of the Poverty Safari Live show which caused ripples at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, albeit shorn of some of the razor-sharp, class-conscious nuance which made the full version such a must-see.
At Electric Fields there’s a defining sense of astute localism, a view of Scottish artists which is aware of who’s really good out there, rather than just happy to welcome everyone with a van and the petrol to make the trip out west. So we had much-loved elders in Idlewild and Teenage Fanclub, the astute and infectious indie-rap of Stanley Odd, dense and dark electronic production in the Arc stage from the outstanding Makeness, and TracyAnne & Danny’s tender indie, a striking cover of Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You in the End included.
The music of shoegazing psych-rockers The Horrors didn’t appear entirely suited to the outdoors in daylight, but the pseudo-nostalgic stock footage-backed soundtracks of Public Service Broadcasting gained added atmosphere in misty darkness, the lights of the funfair illuminating the site. Yet the most affecting point of the weekend involved no artists taking to the stage; with the late Scott Hutchison’s side project Mastersystem having been due to play here, their album Dance Music was played to the DIY stage instead, and a respectful crowd gathered to hear it once more. - DAVID POLLOCK