Night + Day, Hatfield House
Performance date: 22 June 2013
Attending a music festival in your (very late) twenties can be an entirely different experience from the heady teenage years of Big Days Out, featuring mini-champagne bottles with straws, losing your friends for hours on end and making new ones in the bar queue, being crushed in sweaty moshpits with zealous thrashers, missing headline performances when trying to travel between stages, mocking the hilarious sunburn of other festival-goers before noticing the weird red stripes on your own skin. My friend Ruth and I had cause to ruminate on this while waiting for 20 minutes in the toilet queue at the quaint and overwhelmed train station at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, at 3pm on Saturday. Key differences were subtle but included, for example, that we were the only ones not wearing fluoro, denim short shorts or animal print playsuits. We were not holding an oversized mixed-drink in a can in hand (which was most often taken “in stall” for pee-side refreshment). We did have rainwear and most of our flesh covered (surely a reasonable response given the weather forecast of torrential showers and a maximum of 15 degrees C. Ah, summer.). We could still stand up.
We further demonstrated our trend towards respectability through taking a tour of the superb Jacobean pile of Hatfield House, the grounds of which were being used for the festival, before joining the music lovers. The house was built in 1611 and has stayed in the same political heavyweight family ever since. We wandered up the beautiful carved grand staircase, admired a couple of portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and listened to Flo’s reminiscences about being a kitchen maid there in the 1930s. Luckily, these reminiscences were recorded and we could move quickly away. Queens Mary and Elizabeth I spent parts of their childhood in the Old Palace on site, which we also peeked into, as well as looking out over the knot garden. The gardens included a little hedge maze and lots of blooming roses, wisteria and vines curling around arches. Hatfield House is a very atmospheric historic home, and worth a look for Tudor history fans.
So anyway, this was supposed to be a post about a festival. Night + Day is a music festival curated by understated English electronic act, the XX. It had been to various kooky European locations and now it had come home to the UK. The band had even The vibe of the festival was relaxed. The weather was cold and skies ominous for most of the day, but festival go-ers were happy and polite – whether bopping away to fantastic music or standing in the enormous queue for donuts. Maybe being a grown-up at this festival wasn’t such a bad thing – apparently even the food stalls were “curated” by the XX – so there was no need to feel self-conscious about ordering the elderflower pop instead of a Jagerbomb. The Tudors seemed aoens away, with the grounds set up with a main stage and a DJ rotunda, with DJs playing in between sets from the main acts.
The handpicked acts performing included the American band Poliça, atmospheric electronic instrumentals from Mount Kimbie, modern R&B from Solange Knowles and a headlining set from the XX themselves. Poliça are a new discovery for me, heavy on re-verb and bass, with haunting vocals from Channy Leaneagh. Solange rocked enormously long hair extensions and a fluoro Violet Crumble of an outfit which helped those of us lurking at the back spot her. She got the tempo rising, getting the audience to grind for her like at a school dance, and left us all wanting more with her funky break-up tune, “Losing You”.
Finally, the XX took to the stage and delivered a slick set of great songs from their two albums. Romy Maddley Croft and Oliver Sim’s cool vocals owned the space completely. Songs from their first album, which to me was a companion to late night overtime for so many months, as well as their slightly more synth-based second album, worked incredibly well live, somehow delivering intimacy across the field. Highlights included: “Heart Skipped a Beat”, “Reunion”, and “Chained”. A few tracks – especially from “Evolve” were played at a much slower tempo than the album versions. The slow tempo coupled with extended pauses disturbed the flow a little but it was still interesting to hear a band at the top of its game experiment. Their delicate sounds were supported by a fantastic light show, all geometric purples and pulses and smoke.
In the encore, the XX came back with something special – the first live performance of “Together”, the closing song they had written for the Great Gatsby soundtrack. It was the only way to close Night + Day, a creative project achieved for the XX and a fantastic (if grown-up) festival experience for all those lucky enough to attend.