Suffolk’s Latitude Festival prides itself on diverse music, cultural titbits and quality comedy. This is our second trip down and unlike last year, our review will focus purely on the music – and God knows there was enough of it!
Opening everything up on a scorching day are Canada’s Braids in the Sunrise Arena who pull a more than decent crowd for a late morning slot, though surely because there’s little else on. Each slice of melodic drone-pop bleeds into the next so chat is minimal, but the band express their delight at how receptive the audience at their last European show have been, so we all leave happy.
With the music now firmly underway, Avi Buffalo have new material to test on us, often a bit of a chore at festivals. So it’s just as well that it’s very much in keeping with the distorted Americana of last year’s fine debut album, with upcoming single How Come a particular highlight. But it’s older choice cuts What’s It In For? and Remember Last Time that get the biggest cheers.
Edwyn Collins‘ comeback album Losing Sleep was stuffed full of guests but sadly there’s no Cribs or Drums onstage with him today. We do get Paul Cook behind the kit though, and Collins’ mini-me son William takes Jonathan Pierce’s vocal part on In My Eyes. Rip It Up and A Girl Like You prompt the first big singalongs of the day and it feels like Latitude has started for real.
Continuing on a Scottish tip – with Isobel Campbell and KT Tunstall gracing the main stage we arguably could have filled our day with nothing but kilted types – are the Phantom Band back in the Sunrise. Set-up issues mean they only have time for five songs but they power through A Glamour, O and more with gusto. “Getting to this stage was like Planes, Trains and Automobiles. And boats” moans Rick Redbeard but it feels like it was worth their while. Special mention to guitarist Duncan Marquiss who toppled head over heels mid-song to huge cheers. And laughter.
A little later in the Word Arena, Deerhunter‘s Bradford Cox is complaining of voice problems and seems more than happy to let guitarist Lockett Pundt take the strain on spiralling opener Desire Lines. Cox’s voice holds though, and the band noisily tear through highlights from Halcyon Digest and a handful of older songs. You suspect that the drawn out jams test the patience of the casual festivaller, but that’s half of what this band are about, and this is a quality set.
Caribou‘s Swim album was just about perfect and the presence of Dan Snaith and co in the Word Arena is a terrific piece of booking. Playing as a tight four piece, the tent is absolutely packed for their hypnotic euphoria. After a difficult start they settle into a groove with the chiming Bowls and push energy levels higher and higher until a stunning Sun brings everything to a close, leaving the crowd exhausted but grinning like idiots. Arguably the band of the weekend.
At the other end of the spectrum are Jonny, Norman Blake and Euros Childs’ little country-esque side project. Both are surely used to playing to bigger crowds than this, but they’re unfazed and cheerily charm the gathered faithful, largely by taking the piss out of themselves. Speaking of *ahem* jonnies, our spies over at the Sunrise Arena tell us that Jenny and Johnny are in fine form, all cute couply rhythms and rhymes, but there’s a warning that they may not be doing many more shows together. Aaaww.
“There’s always one Scots cunt ruining it for everyone” sighs Louis Abbot after a misplaced chant of ‘Here we, here we, here we fucking go’. “A nation’s shame.” There’s a definite partisan element to the Lake Stage crowd for Admiral Fallow, but the impressive numbers present can’t be all be Scots. Both band enthusiasts and casual listeners having their tea couldn’t fail to have been moved by a short, heartfelt performance. Old Balloons stands out but the increasingly anthemic Squealing Pigs gets the biggest cheer. Admiral Fallow’s UK fanbase is clearly growing and things are looking decidedly up.
Dutch Uncles‘ debut album Cadenza may have gotten a mixed reception, but it’s a firm favourite at Tidal Wave towers. Their Lake Stage headline set – their first – is an absolute beauty with the quirkiness of XTC and the edge of Gang of Four. Their similarly articulate Manchester cousins Everything Everything played this slot last year and haven’t looked back, and we fully expect Dutch Uncles to follow suit. What a pity then, that the inexplicably huge Vaccines are on at the same time and annex a large proportion of their potential crowd. Looks like the multi-coloured woolly jumper suppliers that Latitude is famous for, aren’t the only sheep present today.
There had been a few pre-festival doubts as to the National‘s status as main stage headliners. Incredible though they were in the Word Arena a year ago, and with High Violet continuing to rack up sales, this still felt like it could be a step up too far. And yes, it does take time for them to grow into their set. Recent singles Bloodbuzz Ohio and Afraid of Everyone are thrown away early to a muted reception. But half an hour in, Squalor Victoria provokes a mass singalong and the introduction of Annie Clark adds a little extra class to proceedings (although why St Vincent weren’t booked to play if she’s here is anyone’s guess), and come the end, and in particular, the encore of Mr November and Terrible Love, they’re in stunning form.
With lighters already having been aloft for Fake Empire, they’re back out for Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, reduced to a near-unplugged piece for a few thousand hardy souls. Oh yeah, that’s the thing. While the band may have conquered the stage, the crowd was a little lacking in numbers. Shame.
Saturday brings an altogether different atmosphere – rain. And lots of it. It starts tipping it down well before the gates open, so when they do, it’s a scramble to find anywhere with shelter. The first ever live Never Mind the Buzzcocks is happening over at the comedy tent, a popular enough draw without the need to stay dry, and hundreds are left outside watching it on the big screen. Getting wet.
After finding ourselves in the Poetry Arena listening to some girl whine about what a b!tch she is (easy solution: stop being a b!tch!) something catches our ears from the Word Arena. Something from our childhood…… unbelievably, a post-psychosis Adam Ant playing Stand and Deliver from 500 yards away sounds amazing and we’re drawn over to squeeze into a packed tent alongside the 40-something Mums and dandily-attired uber-fans for an early highlight. The artist formerly known as Stuart Goddard does everything you’d want him to and we get Goody Two Shoes, Kings of the Wild Frontier and Prince Charming – all without signs of the madness that he’s almost now equally well known for. Although a man who wears his own t-shirt does often look a little foolish.
The rain’s still beating down, so we’re in no rush to leave and it’s Villagers up next. Becoming A Jackal continues to shift units by the bucketload and it’s easy to see why – these are unchallenging but beautiful little songs with charm to spare. The full live band adds plenty of ooomph too.
The skies are starting to clear but it seems no-one has told the Walkmen. The snappily-dressed Americans have brought us their tales of angst and woe to keep spirits low. Angela Surf City and – naturally – The Rat are clear highlights but it’s hard not to wonder, for all Hamilton Leithauser’s razor sharp vocals, whether the band would be half as good without drummer Matt Barrick. The man does much more than just keep time, he’s just about the best thing we’ve ever seen behind a kit. Outrageously good.
That’s not something you could say about British Sea Power‘s last record. In fact you’d struggle to say anything good about it at all, but at least in a live setting songs like Who’s In Control and Georgie Ray manage to hold their own alongside singalong anthems No Lucifer and Waving Flags. It’s good to see the fans in high spirits too, with many bringing in scavenged bits of foliage, harking back to the band’s stage sets of old.
With the rain off, it’s time for some outdoor music and the Cribs on the main stage will do just nicely. Ryan Jarman is sporting a bizarre purple wig but at least it beats his usual awful bowl cut. Far removed from their indie schmindie roots, they’re now one of the UK’s finest indie-punk bands. With a circle pit in full flow we’re treated to hit after hit – We Were Aborted, Our Bovine Public and Men’s Needs all feature but if pushed on a highlight, Sonic Youth man Lee Ranaldo’s video screen appearance for his backing vocals on the feedback-strewn Be Safe would have to be up there.
All very much a contrast to My Morning Jacket, whose appearance near the top of the main stage bill, where singalongs rather than drawn-out jams should be the order of the day, came as a huge surprise. The crowd haven’t turned out in huge numbers either, and it takes a while for them to generate any kind of movement among the few that have taken the time to come along. Wordless Chorus and Holding On To Black Metal finally get heads nodding but it’s disappointing overall. Good band, but an odd place to put them.
Ex-Beta Bander Steve Mason was here playing acosutically last year and is now back with a full band headlining the Sunrise Arena. As the sun comes down, his beat-laden dream pop is met with rapturous cheers from a sizeable crowd. Tracks from last year’s terrific Boys Outside dominate but fans of older material aren’t left disappointed either.
The slow build-up for My Morning Jacket, isn’t something you could ever say about Foals who get things moving so quickly that opener Blue Bloods has to be stopped halfway through due to a moshpit collapse. Mud, dancing and blitzed teenagers are always a lethal combination, and to the band’s credit they demand that everyone calms down a bit before restarting the song.
The dancing’s a little more tentative but there are no further problems and the Word Arena well and truly gets its top blown off. We’ve never really understood why Foals have such a young audience demographic – they’re basically Gang of Four channelling Battles and Slint, but if this leads kids to discover those bands then all’s well and good. Their last show on the lengthy Total Life Forever tour, Yannis Philippakis and co are on stunning form. Spanish Sahara is a beautiful moment and urgent closer Two Steps Twice is a blur of activity with Yannis throwing himself all over the shop. It’s not just the bairns that leave happy.
Thankfully it’s not raining as things get moving on Sunday. The cloud-based party pooper does make intermittent unwelcome appearances through the day, but not to the same extent as the sodden Saturday which has left the site a bit of a sludgy mess. But no matter, we have Latitude’s prestigious Sunday lunchtime guest to look forward to don’t we? Well no, not really. The announcement of Belgian girls choir Scala and Kolacny Brothers was met with a massive shrug all round, and while they’re perfectly pleasant, covers of Radiohead, Coldplay and Peter Gabriel are played far too straight for this to be anything other than wallpaper music. Compared to previous incumbents of the slot, Joanna Newsom and Thom Yorke, this is a massive disappointment.
If PJ Harvey taught maths rather than politics and shopped in Morgan rather than the Barking Mad Banshee Emporium you’d pretty much end up with Anna Calvi. Her debut album has been a huge success, but she seems a little lost on the main stage and has about as much chat as Marcel Marceau. Album highlights Blackout and Desire sound good but the performance is a little workmanlike.
What we’ve been lacking so far this weekend is a little apocalyptic post rock, always a favourite round Tidal Wave Towers, so three cheers for These Are End Times who bring precisely that to the Lake Stage. Adding trumpet, harmonium and melodica to the quiet/LOUD post rock sound is a fresh and interesting take on the genre and there are scattered vocals too. Their short set feels like a complete piece of music with a number of ‘movements’ and is certainly something different, not least for the lunchtime diners caught somewhat unawares by the sporadic blasts of noise.
Over in the Word Arena, the Naked and Famous are an altogether poppier affair. The Kiwi five-piece seem set for big things and the juicier cuts from Passive Me Aggressive You justify the hype and the tent – stuffed again, partly due to the rain – is jumping by the time they hit party favourite Young Blood.
Brazilian legends Os Mutantes, very much on the reunion trail, are a fun addition to the Word line-up and after a few technical hitches, spray out some fun psychedelic pop for a fun-sized audience.
On paper Iron and Wine are the perfect Latitude act – sunny-sounding Americana with flashes of pop nous. The bushily-bearded Sam Beam looks genuinely happy to be here and while an over-use of saxophone and needless jams occasionally rankle, Walking Far From Home and Tree By the River reward the patience of those with a shorter attention span.
Despite the awkward nature of their music, Everything Everything haven’t half gotten popular and a stuffed Word Arena is further evidence that they could be on their way to the very top. Opener Qwerty Finger could strip paint and a year on the road has helped hone them into a formidable live act. Last year’s math pop gem Man Alive seems to have yielded hit after hit but it’s the closing salvo of Schoolin’ and Photoshop Handsome that truly gets the crowd bouncing.
Back to the Lake and grunge revivalists Mazes are running a little late and having a few technical difficulties, which is a damn shame, as when they do get going, they’re great. It’s just a shame that much of their vocals are sacrificed for added distortion, when the two sit together in perfect harmony on record.
Oxford’s Fixers are on next and while their synth-y indie-pop is utterly harmless, they don’t do a great deal for us. The band don’t seem to be enjoying themselves much either, perhaps down to the smallest crowd we’ve seen all weekend. Oh well.
Lykke Li has no such worries and it’s a busy Word Arena that greets her stylish but defiantly odd brand of pop. She’s developed from a softly spoken ingenue into a huge performer and with the aid of an excellent, percussion-driven band puts on a storming show. Wounded Rhymes is stuffed full of future classics and unsurprisingly dominates proceedings but Youth Novels highlights get a look in too. The pounding, filthy Get Some rounds things off and we’re wondering if that Gaga fellow may have something to fear if Lykke Li keeps putting on shows like this.
Alas, that’s where Latitude peaks for us. We’d never been big Suede fans but feel equally ambivalent towards Eels whose Word Arena performance clashes with Brett Anderson’s mob on the main stage. They kick off with The Drowners and blast through Trash, Film Star, Animal Nitrate and numerous other biggies early on and shattered from a full weekend of standing in a field, we don’t feel compelled to hang around. We troop off with So Young drifting across the site, by which point Brett Anderson still hasn’t said a single word to the audience.
Once again, a terrific weekend and the discerning festival goer should still consider Suffolk for their outdoor music needs.
PHOTOGRAPHY A MIXTURE OF LATITUDE’S OFFICIAL PICS AND TIDAL WAVE’S OWN. BET YOU CAN’T TELL WHICH IS WHICH, EH?