Latitude 2012 comes with a heavy weight of expectation. After a few years of a more commercially orientated bill, this year’s line-up stirred great excitement among the obscurists, hipsters and music fans of a more, ahem, ‘niche’ nature.
All this was shaping up to be a heady mix in the usual picturesque setting with one possible complication – rain. This summer has been majorly sucky, hasn’t it? Mid-July in Suffolk would be no exception, and while the rain largely stayed off for the weekend itself, the damage had been done in the run-up, and parts of the campsite and the village area that linked it with the arena were a mudbath well before the entertainment kicked off.
A pity, but the enthusiastic massive weren’t going to let it dampen their spirits and the first act of note – London’s Breton – were at least playing under cover at the iArena. More synth-based than Foals, the arty five-piece are incredibly tight with thumping keys and bass shaking the squelchy ground on which we stand in a thoroughly pleasant fashion. A little later in the same spot comes George Lewis Jnr’s Twin Shadow surfing on a wave of massive critical acclaim following the release of his Confess album. Coming on a little like Prince, the songs are hugely impressive on record, though fail to truly ignite the arena in the way that they should have. Maybe it was a little early for party central.
Party central is hardly a term that The Antlers will be familiar with, but their dreamy effects-driven take on noise-pop suits the dreiche atmosphere perfectly. Last year’s Burst Apart album is what they concentrate on, but oldie Two gets a gently raucous run-out to a sizeable crowd, many of whom will have seen them in this very spot a few years back.
With a little time to spare before we investigate an exciting 1-2-3 on the Main Stage, we take a chance on Vadoinmassico on the Lake Stage. Not knowing a damn thing about them is sometimes the best way to approach a band for the first time and this lot are a pleasant surprise. There’s a little feel of a mariachi band about them, bringing them up a notch from the usual folky fare and the closing Archeology of the Future is a very fine tune indeed. Ones to watch.
And so to the Main Stage. Anyone who saw Janelle Monáe‘s televised Glastonbury performance last year couldn’t have failed to have been impressed by the lady’s choreographed stagecraft and the sense of fun she brought to the occasion. We’re delighted to say that in the flesh it’s even better. The songs on 2010′s The ArchAndroid are good enough in their own right, but add in crowd interaction, formation dancing, moonwalking and perfectly judged Prince and Jackson 5 covers, you have a modern soul star that deserves as much recognition as those artists she looks up to. Act of the weekend? Yes, but my word Metronomy, on straight after, ran her damn close. Mercury-nominated Tidal Wave 2011 favourite The English Riviera has taken them to the next level and Joe Mount acknowledges their rise by reminiscing about their time on the Lake Stage a few years previously, and the Nights Out album gets a few nods. But for the pastel yellow-clad Mount, this a victory lap for his band and Corinne and The Bay are met with huge roars from the crowd.
And so to tonight’s headliner Bon Iver who has come a hell of a long way from the lo-fi origins of For Emma, Forever Ago. Justin Vernon is one of nine grizzled men on stage, who after a thrashy (yes really) version of Perth power through most of both albums. Many of the For Emma songs have been rearranged to take account of the larger band and Flume, for one, sounds incredible with added strings, brass and double drumming. Creature Fear was always built to be played loud however, and is just one of near countless highlights in a fat-free set. Bon Iver have their doubters after a mixed response to their (and yes, they do seem to be a ‘they’ now) second album but tonight’s performance vindicates both their popularity and their choice as headliner.
We’ve already mentioned our love for the Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North album on these pages as performed by Magnetic North, a.k.a. Erlend Cooper, Simon Tong and Hannah Peel, so seeing it performed at 1145 in the Film Arena on Saturday was a no-brainer. However, by the time we got down there they were already well underway with added string players, having started a good 45 minutes earlier than advertised – the first of a number of timing-related grumbles we’re to have over the next two days. That said, the live show, complete with grainy film accompaniments is superb, transporting a small audience to the northern isles and we’re glad we made the effort.
Over in the Word Arena, Sharon van Etten is showing us all precisely why her Tramp album has been such a praise magnet. van Etten’s voice is soulful and lush and her guitar playing is as good as anything else that fits with the country/blues genre that we can think of. Backed with a four piece band, the songs sound huge in a tent that’s fairly busy for the time of day it is, and everyone here has been treated to an early highlight.
Iceland’s six strong Of Monsters and Men have pulled an absolutely huge crowd to the iArena, seemingly just on the back of their Little Talks single. It’s hard to see them from our position but their take on chamber pop surfs dangerously close to the mainstream. They do come across as a likeable bunch though, and their upcoming album sounds worthy of investigation at least. Theme Park are another hot tip from the music press an get a decent crowd over on the Lake Stage. Musically tight, they’re not treading any new ground, and it’s certainly nothing that Vampire Weekend or Yeasayer haven’t ticked off already. Time is on their side though and again, they could be ones to look out for. More impressive are Tall Ships, on immediately after. The rain starts tipping it down halfway through their brand of math rock with added vocals but we’re enchanted by their sound, at times ferocious, at times blissful, and more notes have been made.
Low have been placed pitifully *cough* low on the bill, but it’s still only a half-full Word Arena that greets them. They also have a full hour to play and some feet are definitely getting twitchy towards the end. They veer away from self indeulgence and play the closest thing to a mass crowd pleasing set that they can muster, keeping the volume cranked up throughout. The louder numbers from last year’s C’Mon and Sunflower from Things We Lost in the Fire stand out.
Like Of Monsters and Men before them, Django Django feel a little too big for the iArena but this is one über-crowd the organisers could at least have anticipated. It’s almost impossible to find a point to both see and hear the band properly. Their debut album already feels like one of the year’s best and Waveforms, Default and Skies Over Cairo hit the mark, albeit in a fairly muffled fashion. SBTRK, playing the Word Arena are an enticing prospect with promises of bass and huge beats but after excellent single Hold On is tossed away early it all gets a little samey. Ticking more boxes marked ‘fun’ are Los Campesinos!, wasted on the Lake Stage, even as headliners. You, Me, Dancing and The Sea Is A Good Place to Think of the Future seem to wrap up a rapturous set until Gareth Campesinos! thanks the stage manager for letting them play another song – in advance it seems. The PA is pulled within 30 seconds of this surprise closing number and their set finishes with Gareth in the crowd, who are singing along anyway, more band members right at the barrier, and the rest of the band still playing, just not making any noise. Good fun to watch, but a pity it ended in such a fashion.
No such shambolic fare from Elbow who have found success in recent years after plugging away for ages. To see them headline such a huge event is wonderful feeling for those who have been following their progress, but the grandeur of this show – and many others that have come before it – has come at a cost. What made the band so incredible, a certain je ne sais que brewed from their songwriting, humour and stunning musicianship, seems to have been diluted and topped up with needless schmaltz and fannying about. Their first two incredible albums get nary a look-in in favour of some below par Seldom Seen Kid and Build a Rocket Boys album tracks. When they hit their stride – like on The Birds, Open Arms and Weather to Fly, they’re still an impressive proposition and if they’re the future of British stadium rock we’ll certainly take them over Coldplay and Kasabian, thanks very much.
Kicking things off ridiculously early in the iArena is Catherine AD who appears to have heard a few Regina Spektor records and offers a mellow start to the small crowd that have crawled out of their tents for the early start. The set overruns a little, which has an adverse effect on Francois and the Atlas Mountains who can only squeeze in four songs before a midday finish. There’s nothing else on the stage for another two and a half hours but the organisers seem to have insisted that no other music should clash with Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang on the Waterfront Stage and Rufus Wainwright‘s lunchtime guest slot. Francois and friends are as charming as ever though, and songs from this year’s E Volo Love bring some Gallic pop love to Latitude. Just a shame they couldn’t have played for longer.
We’re then hit with some rank rotten musical choices. Benjamin Bloom is utterly dire and seems to have forgotten how bad the Darkness were first time out. Little better is Gabriel Bruce, coming on like a tragic version of ABC or Heaven 17. Worst of all are Alabama Shakes, playing to an enormous crowd on the Main Stage, many of whom will have been left over from Rufus’ performance. The band have generated plenty of press on their own, but on the strength of this performance it’s impossible to see why. Boring, standard pub rock that makes the Kings of Leon look edgy.
Salvation – of various senses of the word it seems – awaits with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Frontman Alex Ebert is dressed as some kind of messianic figure and the band’s ‘thing’ is very much happy clappy, vaguely sinister cultish-sounding indie folk-pop. There’s a new album out but the songs from 2009′s Up From Below knock the spots off it, so it’s an astute move by the band to keep the old stuff to the fore. Home, in particular, gets a resounding cheer after another foray into the crowd from Ebert. A few new converts today we think.
St Vincent popped up briefly last year guesting with the National, so it’s lovely to see her back playing a set of her own. And quite the rock star she’s become too, clad in leather shorts and a black top. Wielding her guitar like a curly haired Joan Jett, male hearts in the crowd are all a-flutter, but cuts from last year’s Strange Mercy like Cheerleader and Cruel are outstanding and there are big, big things happening for this lady. Big things could be happening for Battles too, if only someone could sort out the bloody keyboard amp. The band and their crew spend ages trying to fix some unidentifiable fault and finally kick off almost half an hour late. We get Sweetie and Shag and Ice Cream, with piped in vocals and visuals from Kazu Makino and Matias Aguayo respectively, plus the towering Atlas. All are delivered with aplomb, all get feet shifting and all remind us of just how bloody good Battles are. But these math rock pioneers deserved more time to treat us to their clanging guitars, pounding drums and hissing keys. But once again, time constraints denied us.
Gentlemen’s heart rates quicken again on the Main Stage for Bat for Lashes. Natasha Khan feels at home here and mixes things up nicely. Despite a third album being imminent, we only get a handful of new tunes, which all sound great, edging towards the thumping synthy sounds of Two Suns rather than the more organic feel of Fur and Gold. Songs from both those albums get space to breathe and mega-single Daniel wraps up with a big singalong. We also managed to catch the end of M83‘s set in the Word Arena and unlike their Glasgow show earlier this year, the band are full of energy and a closing Couleurs brings a massive rave-up to the tent. Genuinely scintillating stuff.
Lucy Rose is hardly what you’d call scintillating and nor is her gal ‘n’ guitar motif desperately original, but over some of Latitude’s finest grub – seriously, it’s awesome – it’s plain to see why everyone from Radio 1 to 6 Music has been sniffing round her. The voice is strong and the tunes are good, which is more than you can say for a lot of other singer songwriters.
The Sun’s threatening to go down as Perfume Genius tentatively start up on the iArena. Mike Hadreas’ latest album Put Your Back In 2 It has been furnished with plaudits across the board and this woods-set stage is the perfect backdrop to his plaintive songs. Like a less grandiose Rufus Wainwright, his backing band is sparse but recent singles Hood and Dark Parts don’t need heavy instrumentation. Perfume Genius is all about short bursts of minimalist melancholy, perfect for the encroaching twilight.
And so to our Main Stage headliner, Paul Weller, a man who’s undergone a phenomenal creative and critical renaissance in the last few years. Such is his confidence in his last two albums, that little else gets a look in until a rousing version of Start! which gets hundreds of forty-something men to their feet. As good as his modern material is, let’s face it, Weller wasn’t getting away from here without a substantive rake through his back catalogue and the man duly obliges. Solo hits like Broken Stones get a burl, and even the presence of piss poor Weller acolyte Miles Kane can’t ruin In The City. The Modfather says next to fuck all over the course of ninety minutes, but then even in 2012 Eton Rifles needs no explanation.
Once again Latitude Festival has delivered the goods. So who’s up for next year?
All photography courtesy of Latitude Festival. For more please go to http://photos.latitudefestival.co.uk.