Photo: Courteney Frisby

Field Maneuvers Festival, 2023

Midway through Aloka and Mistress’s ebullient set at Field Maneuvers back in August, my best mate tapped me on the shoulder. “I can’t believe you’re here,” she screeched, wrangling me in for a hug. When I turned back round, I took a teary-eyed moment to consider the fact, because yeah, my attendance at this sweaty little love fest wasn’t guaranteed. For some years now the illness monkey has been perched on my shoulder and it can make festival-going a slippery business. So to be dancing alongside core pals in the sweat-bubble that is Sputnik was a pretty momentous moment. Progress maybe, hopefully.

I dare say FM organisers Ele Beattie, Leon Cole and Henry Morris had similar epiphanies, not just because this year marked the 10th anniversary of the festival, but also because of the circumstances in which it was saved after 2022’s edition. Finding themselves in financial dire straits due to rising costs and shrinking funds, the trio launched a Crowdfunder last September, calling on the dedicated FM crowd to chip in if they could afford to contribute to the longevity of their beloved little rave. They responded in kind, raising over £40k to keep the team afloat as it guided the festival into its first decade.

“The situation we found ourselves in after FM2022 was genuinely scary,” says Leon. “So the community response to our SOS was a heady mix of extremely uplifting and a massive relief. It felt great, but not as good as not having to ask for help in 2023!”

It’s likely that this shared sense of triumph fed into the giddy mood this year, which was jubilant, even by FM standards. Held at a secret location in a Norfolk field over three, sun-speckled days, all the key elements of a customary FM party were in place: sweet line-up, blistering sound systems, and 1,500 top people gadding about a field in a state of hazy glee.

Our weekend started on Saturday afternoon after a five-hour drive on which we had the crushing realisation that we’d missed Ben Sims b2b DJ Bone the night before. We drowned our sorrows with an espresso martini pitstop, arriving tipsy and just in time to catch the Moonlighting takeover (one of many organised to mark the festival’s 10th birthday). Leanne Wright, Marshmello and Zakia were laying it down at the newly jazzed-up, outdoor FM Tent; the latter providing an early-festival highlight with DJ Marky’s ‘LK’, which I can confirm sounds best surrounded by skimpily-clad ravers in cowboy hats or when driving really, really fast.

Photographer: Khris Cowley

As darkness drew in, we spent our time ricocheting between the three tents: immersed among thuds and smoke in Sputnik for Chrissy and Sharkey, before seeing out the night with a perpetual hardcore pounding from Angel D’Lite and DJ Sweet6teen; unravelling Tim Reaper’s jungle mind- benders in the FM Tent, where Danielle later reined it in with reliably guttural techno; and briefly over at Laika, where we mostly used the teepee’s structure as a climbing frame.

One sweet snooze later and Sunday arrived, bringing with it a fresh dose of sun-induced euphoria and the familiar feeling of football-related deflation, this time courtesy of the Lionesses. Most of the afternoon was spent at the FM Tent, where the Dalston Superstore takeover had us glued to the spot. Hearing T2’s ‘Heartbroken’ and a mashup of ‘We Like To Party’ by the Vengaboys amid the rest of Buggery Grips’ wonky bassline set was peak excellence worth missing the legendary pub quiz for, and was matched in spirit by FAFF later spinning Livin’ Joy’s exuberant classic, ‘Dreamer’. Everyone gathered together for the annual FM family photo (apart from my mate, who was waiting for me outside the loo — with us in spirit) and then it was back inside for the finale.

A queue snaked around Sputnik for most of the night, especially for Optimo, which we briefly considered frequenting before scurrying back to the sticky surrounds of the FM Tent, where two of the best sets of the weekend unfolded. Bored Lord warped the senses with a selection of rambunctious UKG, but it was I.JORDAN who harangued us best with a mishmash of hard house and trance that no one will be forgetting in a hurry. In fact, hearing seminal tunes like ‘Binary Finary’ by 1998 and Mauro Picotto’s ‘Lizard’ will go down as dance floor core memories for me. What a way to wrap it up.

Photo: Courteney Frisby

No sentimentality intended, but it strikes me how much we need festivals with vibes and intentions as pure as this. No messing, just straight up sound people and tunes, with the occasional pickled egg thrown in for good measure. The festival may have needed rescuing last year, but maybe it’s rescued us all in return when we’ve needed it. Maybe we’re all just here to rescue each other, and the dance floor is where it all starts.

“We’ve seen a lot of festivals come and go in the past 10 years and running a small event like ours is a precarious beast so I’ve no idea how we’ve stuck around,” says Ele. “Will there be another 10 years of FM? The optimists within us say yes, the realists within us say fuck knows, so you better buy a ticket for next year cos it could well be our last!”

Tickets for next year’s FM are available to purchase here.

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