Festival review: Electric Fields

'I hope you'll all agree with me that this is the kind of festival Scotland needs,' Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison implored his audience on the Saturday night of Electric Fields, as the Selkirk indie-rock band made a proud ascension to festival headliners at this compact and coming event in the Dumfries and Galloway countryside. 'You've suffered too long under the reign of T in the Park,' he added provocatively.
Scott Huchison of Frightened Rabbit PIC: Greg MacveanScott Huchison of Frightened Rabbit PIC: Greg Macvean
Scott Huchison of Frightened Rabbit PIC: Greg Macvean

Electric Fields ***

Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

Hutchison had a point, at least insofar as the rumoured-to-be-permanent cancellation of Scotland’s biggest music festival this year presents an opportunity for other events to rise up in its wake. Certainly Electric Fields offers great appeal: several eye-catching left-of-centre artists, quality food and drink and an altogether more grown-up, family-friendly offering apt to an older demographic (tellingly the queue for the crème brûlée and coffee food truck was often the longest of the weekend). But it’s an event which, on the basis of this year’s instalment, the fourth to date and the first to sell out, still needs to refine its sense of identity and work through a few planning issues before it fully realises its considerable potential.

The location in the gently rolling grounds of the Queensberry Estate on the banks of the River Nith is a verdant gem, within quick and easy striking distance from Glasgow and Edinburgh by road (the drive down between steep hillsides is beautiful). The site was quickly and easily navigable, and never felt remotely overcrowded – indeed you could feasibly have wandered up to the barrier at the front of the stage mid-performance for about any of the artists, headliners notwithstanding.

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The downside of the layout was that it was too crammed together. While stage times across the main open-air stage and three tents were staggered as far as possible, sound-bleed was an issue at times when louder and quieter artists overlapped. The general cacophony of noise from different sources made for an inescapable soupy din throughout the weekend.The line-up – a bit of a mixed bag – was excellent in spells, if not always consistently so. British Sea Power’s slanted rock songs – complimented eccentrically with dancers in giant bear costumes – sounded glorious on the sunny Friday afternoon, as did Anna Meredith’s interstellar baroque electro-pop. Then we got Peter Hook and the Light – the ex-Joy Division and New Order bassist’s covers band of his own former bands, effectively, an undignified fate for some epochal songs like Love Will Tear Us Apart and Blue Monday, between Hook’s dodgy singing and cringey insistence on inserting assorted “yeahs”, “c’mons” and “woahs” into lyrics.

As it did both days, Friday’s bill rapidly rose to a crescendo as the day wore on, between Car Seat Headrest’s scuzzy-tuneful 90s US college rock revivalism and Band of Horses’ widescreen rootsy anthemry.

Frightened Rabbit seemed genuinely humbled to be headlining a festival and they gave it their all under a bright moon and a clear starry night sky. No confetti cannons, Hutchison joked, just “a f**kload of songs”. Many of them – The Modern Leper, Old Old Fashioned, The Woodpile and eventual closer The Loneliness and the Scream – suitably roar-along rousing, warming hearts and lungs in the bracing cold.

Winchester alt-folk ensemble This is The Kit were a delicate standout of Saturday afternoon. Picking things up after a long lull, New Jersey jangle-poppers Real Estate were a joy. So too the Jesus and Mary Chain, cranking out a generous helping of Psychocandy classics among swirls of feedback and dry ice, and especially Foxygen, who brought a welcome shot of LA glamour and decadence with their 70s psych-rock and horns-tinged retro soul.

Dizzee Rascal made for an unlikely Saturday headliner in the context of the wider line-up but proved the runaway highlight of the weekend with a tirelessly energetic, good-natured and party-starting set encompassing plenty of his hip-hop dance-pop chart bangers from Bonkers to Dance Wiv Me and Holiday, among more back-to-basics grime tracks from his latest album Raskit. He acknowledged his mate and collaborater DJ Calvin Harris – who hails from these parts – by mentioning that he’d contacted him before the show: “I said I’m in Dumfries tonight,” Dizee revealed. “He said, ‘What the f**k you doing there?’ ”

Even when a technical fault caused the lights to cut out during Bassline Junkie, the party kept on going. “It was freezin’ cold and it was dark and you were still doin’ it,” Dizzee saluted his crowd, neatly capturing the indomitable spirit of the Electric Fields audience, many of whom will no doubt be enthusiastically making a return next year.