Henham Park, Suffolk, July 15th-19th
“Thy eternal summer shall not fade,” William Shakespeare once wrote. For some, summer came to an abrupt end in horrific circumstances at this year’s Latitude Festival. For most others, Shakespeare’s promise was upheld, as Suffolk played host to the finest music, comedy, art, poetry, theatre and film to showcase the best in contemporary culture. Festival fiend ANDREW TRENDELL sees through the tabloid nonsense to guide us through what can only be described as a midsummer night’s dream.
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Latitude Festival has received a great many column inches this year, for all of the wrong reasons. On the first night of the festival, Latitude’s idyllic, middle-class, family-friendly image suffered a severe blow when a woman was gang-raped. A few days later another, unrelated rape was reported, and the press lapped it up. Needless to say, the focus on what Latitude is really about was shifted and the onus of the festival was questioned. Horriffic as these attacks may have been, Latitude is still far from being a festival with anything that could be considered a threatening atmosphere.
As a Latitude regular and festival veteran, let me assure you that Latitude is one of the greatest festivals in the country. As the promotional material says, it is ‘much more than a music festival.’ Centred around a gorgeous lake in the Suffolk countryside, Latitude is an event tailored with an immense attention to detail (mostly, see below) and designed to cater for those who wish to escape to a hidden paradise where all aspects of culture are celebrated.
With pink sheep, pixies and poetry it is as Melvin Benn told us earlier this year, the perfect festival for the ‘Sunday broadsheet reader.’ Yet do not be misled – it is not a pretentious festival by any means, just one dedicated to binging the most credible and otherworldly entertainment to those who want to see it. It is a million miles away from the filth and the fury of a festival like say, Leeds and Reading. There was far more danger of an infant by the name of ‘Tarquin’ or ‘Jonty’ slipping on hummus than there was of experiencing any real violence or unrest.
Now that all the ugliness has been dealt with, let’s discuss what people really went for: the music. It all kicked off with Tom Jones performing an intimate set on a tiny stage in the woods. So intimate in fact that neither I nor a few hundred other people could get anywhere near the bronze legend. If this was any other festival, a riot would certainly have erupted as a wall of festival security told us to go away and that we had “no chance.” But as this was Latitude, there was just the grumbling of phrases like “my word, this is preposterous” and we all went on our way. Still, some pretty disgusting organisation there. The idea of a festival should be to entertain as many people as possible, so why put such an icon and festival highlight in such an exclusive area? Luckily, this was amended by Mr Jones returning to play on the main stage on Sunday.
Those awake early enough on the Friday were treated to the rich, warm sounds of Jonathan Jeremiah at The Word Arena. Full of grit, passion and soul, Jeremiah’s set blew the sleep out of punters’ eyes and provided the perfect start to the festival. Bafflingly, Kassidy were on the main stage shortly after to send the audience back to sleep with some bland, pedestrian blues rock.
The mercury-nominated Villagers then took to the Word Arena in a slot which they’d outgrown by the end of their opening song. Real name Conor J O’Brien, Villagers played a remarkably gorgeous set which saw him up live up to his reputation as the ‘Irish Conor Oberst,’ and then some.
Lo-fi legends Spoon drew a hefty crowd to The Obelisk Arena, with Adam Buxton and Villagers amongst those enjoying Spoon’s journey through their legacy of indie-Americana including rabble rousing renditions of ‘Don’t Paint Me A Target’ and ‘Got Nuffin.’
Spoon’s lo-fi DIY aesthetic was soon forgotten when Empire Of The Sun glammed up the main stage with some epic, celestial theatrics. With dancing swordfish-women, comets and a head dress worthy of Jamiroquai, this rare live outing for psychedelic Antipodean Luke Steele was certainly a feast for both the eyes and the ears. The former Sleepy Jackson frontman was already renowned for his dramatic stage presence and sweeping overtures, and tonight he brought his unique brand of cinematic synth-led techno to life. The infectious danceability of ‘We Are The People’ and ‘Breakdown’ showcased Empire Of The Sun’s impeccable ability to shake off any MGMT comparisons as they filled they late evening sunset slot with style and aplomb.
As the soothing dulcet tones of Richard Hawley drew to a close at The Word Arena, an army of morons flocked to the warbling ginger mum of the nation, Florence And The Machine, to see her shout and prance her one, overplayed album until her headlining slot was finished. Those with the winning combination of good taste and common sense however, witnessed one of the most triumphant festival appearances of recent years courtesy of The National.
Clad in black suits The National performed a fittingly dark set of wild and vivid anthems from across their consistently excellent, brooding back catalogue. ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ pumped and surged with a driving sinister charm, while classics such as ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, ‘Slow Show’ and the explosive ‘Abel’ were deservedly welcomed with wild adoration, marking The National’s deserved gradual ascent to becoming renowned as one of the finest contemporary American acts. Clearly overwhelmed with their rapturous reception, The National have finally been recognised as the best in their league. To judge them on tonight’s performance alone, it would be fair to say that REM-sized stadium-stardom awaits them.
Saturday began with a lesson in hypnosis from the ghostly, ambient dream-pop from School Of Seven Bells. The gorgeous, semi-conscious trip-hop haze of ‘Half Asleep’ created a near-heavenly atmosphere and the child-like charm of ‘Windstorm’ sent the audience into a horizontal swoon.
The heroes of the day were undeniably Platform favourites Frightened Rabbit. Their performance felt more like a victory rally than an early evening show, with Frightened Rabbit on their finest form, with electricity and conviction flowing through their veins. The sense of sheer elation and passion was nearly tangible as the fiery Scots played a relentless show of sheer energy.
Latitude Festival was designed to play hosts to beautiful songs ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’, providing the perfect setting for such moments of blissful escapism. ‘Old, Old Fashioned’ was delivered with a delightful magic before lead singer Scott Hutchison lost himself in the thrilling moment during ‘Keep Yourself Warm,’ scouring the depths of his soul for an inexorable energy, dropping his guitar and howling across the stage.
But the peace-loving harmony was short lived. How anyone in their right mind came to the conclusion that it would be a good idea to have Crystal Castles playing a mainstage daytime slot before Belle & Sebastian is completely beyond me. “I heard someone was gang raped,” sqwawked the wired, inebriated Alice Glass. “If you know who they are castrate them…it’s f*cking easy,” she continued, promoting the retaliation of mindless violence with further mindless violence, before she dived into the crowd to punch audience members in the face, before cutting their set short. Fair play to her mentioning it, but it’s a shame that the set that followed was an embarassment. Some have hailed their performance as a glorious shambles, those with functioning eyes and ears recognised it as the unforgiveable mess of a woman, out of her mind, gurning and stumbling as she falls apart.
Then, as if the hideous atrocity of Crystal Castles had never happened, Belle & Sebastian brought an overwhelming sense of sheer joy to the proceedings. Having not played live for over four years, the band were as tight and enthused as ever, showcasing that their twee, heart-warming pop ditties have grown over time into classic, mammoth musical landmarks.
“This next song is the first of many written about animals,” chirped jaunty frontman Stuart Murdoch, before launching into the beastial beauty of ‘Judy And The Dream Of Horses’ and ‘The Fox In The Snow.’ With magnificent anthemic flourishes and bountiful banter, Belle & Sebastian’s good cheer was infectious, culminating in a hilarious impromptu rendition of the Rolling Stones ‘Jumping Jack Flash.’
Cuts from the colossal ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’, the splendid ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ and a promising new track were all performed with an eternal sweetness, reminding their adoring public of how blessed we are to see their return. Tonight cemented Belle & Sebastian as not only a treasure of British music, but also a timeless monolith of pure pop brilliance, carrying with them the same hysterical adoration of the next generation’s Smiths.
Sunday was quite a day, proving to be a non-stop onslaught of incredible acts. It began with the second performance from aging Sex Bomb Tom Jones. Performing only tracks from his recent critically acclaimed album ‘Praise And Blame,’ we were spared cringe-worthy renditions of ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and ‘It’s Not Unusual’ with the accompanying crotch thrusting and chest baring.
Instead, the silver badger, with his natural curly grey mane, performed a plethora of rumbling blues and gospels numbers, including a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘What Good Am I?’ and searing delivery of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Burning Hell,’ reminding the world that he is a credible artist and that he was given a voice that could shatter the earth and part the seas for this very reason. Tom Jones has finally decided to grow old gracefully, and is said to be entering his ‘Johnny Cash’ stage. It’s a shame he didn’t decide to do this years ago, if he lives for decades to come, I daresay we’ll be truly spoiled with his dark and sultry tones.
This was followed by the fuzzy and disorientating Plath-inspired pop of Antlers, impressing the early afternoon crowd with their schizophrenic brew of dreamy, unhinged yet infectious melodrama. Then over to the Sunrise Arena in the woods for Egyptian Hip Hop to see what all the hype was about. Plagued by sound problems, the young grunge whippersnappers buckled under expectations, as their youthful exuberance gradually ebbed away as they sulked the stage like cantankerous children. Shame.
Dirty Projectors provided the perfect soundtrack to the divine sunshine with a little bit of afro-beat spacious balladry and synth-led sultry explosions. Yeasayer also seized the day with a electrifying Word Stage performance of wild, electro-psychedelia, from the slow-burning haze of 2080 to the tribal and thundering celebration that is ‘Ambling Alp.’
It’s no wonder that Temper Trap have gained the reputation as an ideal festival band in their short career. In this live setting ‘Fader’ becomes a far more infectious moment of shimmering disco-rock and ‘Fools’ offers a near-tangible sense of tender intimacy. Their new material suggests a more expansive change of direction while ‘Sweet Disposition’ provided a predictable additional ray of sunshine.
But the weekend belonged to crazy little fella from Iceland. A Latitude veteran, Jónsi headlined the festival a couple of years ago with post-rock giants Sigur Rós. It was a life-affirming lesson in spell-binding abandon, the likes of which many doubted Jónsi could contend with. How wrong they were.
Jónsi is music’s Peter Pan, and tonight Latitude became his own Neverland. ‘Go Do’ was played with his trademark eccentric flourishes with a wonderful balance between pop sensibility, experimental trickery and vocal witchcraft. Backed by a charming sort of electronic birdsong, and awesome backing band he sang “You should always know that we can do anything.” Latitude is with you Jónsi. ‘Around Us’ was delivered with a haunting falsetto and infectious twinkling reminded the audience that Jónsi is a spirit with countless, undiscovered colours to his palette. With a naive innocence and beauty on display, it seemed as if Jónsi was at play; donning a headdress, banging a drum and falling to his knees to howl the ending to ‘Grow Till Tall.’
As his wild-child imagination exploded across the stage it was clear to see that he has a talent and passion that cannot be contained by this, or any stage. This was a performance that transcended genre and description. Be gone Björk, Iceland has a new monarch.
Bringing the event to fitting summer-y climax were American college-rock kings Vampire Weekend. Their performance seemed quite limp-wristed in comparison to the face-melting odyssey previously provided by Jónsi, but that suits Vampire Weekend just fine.
They have proven themselves as masters of camp, summer indie – painfully infectious and sickly sweet. ‘Cousins’ was played with a fierce and fiery 180mph immediacy, while ‘Giving Up The Gun’ allowed for a more laid back seasonal sing-a-long. ‘A-Punk’ was predictably explosive, forcing a sea of fists into the air and sending indie-darlings into a wild frenzy and the choral call and response for ‘One (Blake’s Got A New Face)’ clearly overwhelmed the band, admitting this was the perfect send off to their gruelling three year tour schedule. Tonight at Latitude it was proven, that if Carlsberg can’t bottle the essence of eternal summer, then Vampire Weekend certainly can.
Review by Andrew Trendell
Tags: antlers, belle and sebastian, crystal castles, dirty projectors, egyptian hip hop, empire of the sun, florence and the machine, frightened rabbit, jonathan jeremiah, Jónsi, kassidy, richard hawley, school of seven bells, Sigur Rós, spoon, temper trap, the national, tom jones, vampire weekend, villagers, yeasayer