Saturday, 25 August 2012

Review: Latitude Festival, Suffolk 12-15th July

      There's no doubt that it has been a difficult year for British music festivals, with declining ticket sales across the board, and Sonisphere being cancelled. However, Latitude came up on top with its rich diversity of acts, and despite the rain, the weekend was a huge success with brilliant sets from Elbow, Alt-J, Metronomy and Twin Shadow amongst many others.

     The fact that Latitude is very much a family festival certainly didn't detract teenagers from attending. The crowd gathered in the Obelisk Arena for Givers on the Friday morning was a good mix of ages, and despite having the difficult first slot on the main stage, Tiffany Lamson's banshee-like yet melodically brilliant scream bounced around the arena, pulling more listeners in as the set progressed.

     It was a general consensus amongst my friends that First Aid Kit turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. Dressed like peasants in their flowery embroidered kaftans, the Swedish sisters, although they had stunning voices, were underwhelming in their songs. Lacking energy, each song sounded much like its predecessor, and although their music would have been perfectly adequate in the background of a dinner party, the duo simply weren't strong enough as a standalone act.

      After a rather mediocre half hour spent watching First Aid Kit, it was up to Twin Shadow to turn things around in the i Arena, and that, he did. With his thick mass of hair being thrown all over the place, George Lewis jr. was in his element. Spitting out his words to the mass of people crammed inside the tent, the rich framework of electric guitars bled into the thudding drum with a frantic excitement, and although the set was short, it was exhilarating.

      Though much more relaxed in their style of music than their American counterparts, the slow moving pace of The Antlers' opener, Rolled Together, was never in danger of drifting into dull waters. There was little audience banter, which usually annoys me. However, for The Antlers, the silence between songs seemed fitting. The hypnotic nature of the set was mellowing, and provided a calmer moment amongst all the excitement of the day. 

     Due to an annoying clash with The Antlers in the schedule, I was only able to witness a short section of Amadou and Mariam's set. However, of what I saw, the couple's soulful music complete with a driving African drumbeat, and an explosion of colour in the clothing on stage warmed the shivering crowd who had gathered by the main stage in the rain to hear the Mali duo play.

Amadou and Mariam in the Obelisk Arena
      After watching Dexys, who appeared to be wearing the same clothes they wore the first time round, and learning exactly how many times the chorus of Come On, Eileen can be repeated before it becomes the very bane of your existence, it was on to the Lake Stage for Alt-J. Despite looking a bit geeky, the thumping bass gave them an edge which anchored some of the less catchy tunes from drifting into nothingness. Crowd favourite, Breezeblocks, was met with countless triangles of appreciation being made with hands in the air (Alt-J is the mac shortcut for the triangle symbol) and it was clear why. Leadsinger Joe Newman's voice rose above the synths and heavy guitar in a sumptuous sea of noise. Though only a recent addition to the British music scene, the sheer amount of people crowded around the stage was a testament to the success that they have become since the release of their debut album, An Awesome Wave. 

     Saturday brought yet more rain, but also the promise of some brilliant music. Of Monsters and Men played to a packed out tent in the i Arena, their songs a healthy dose of folkish tunes and glittering pop; whilst Theme Park lit up the Lake Stage with new single Jamaica which lived up to its name with its summery hooks and laid back beat. 

     Having narrowly missed out on The Crookes playing at the Borderline last year, I was excited when I heard they'd be playing at Latitude, and they certainly didn't disappoint. Playing new material (Maybe In The Dark, Afterglow) alongside some of their older songs, there was plenty of variety in the set. During Backstreet Lovers, lead singer, George Waite, suggested that as a solution to the rain, the audience shared the warmth the band were radiating, by jumping over the barrier, overcoming the small female security guard and storming the stage. Although in reality the crowd was far too placid to do such a thing, it certainly got a bit more movement amongst the spectators, and was a clever tactic on Waite's behalf. The chirpy Yes, Yes, We're Magicians, ended the set with a rousing finish, and sticking around to chat with fans at the end cemented The Crookes as not only skilled musicians, but officially lovely chaps as well.

George Waite of The Crookes talking to fans after their set on the Lake Stage
     It was a shame that Django Django, despite having a large following, were playing on one of the smallest stages. The Scots' jangling synth-pop, although brilliant, didn't carry well enough outside the tent to where hundreds of people were craning their necks to try and catch a glimpse of the band. After many futile attempts to get inside the tent, I gave up and instead settled for watching Laura Marling on the main stage. I've never been much of a Marling fan, but her set confirmed for me how truly dull I find her. It wasn't her fault that she was drowned out by the thumping bass of SBTRKT in a nearby tent, but her lack of stage presence didn't help either. Hardly ever looking up from her guitar, she seemed far away from the audience, and came across disinterested and cold. 

     However Metronomy quickly turned the evening around with their quirky electronic pop. With Anna Prior on drums (who is quite possibly the coolest woman in music) the songs had a summery feel to them, particularly crowd favourites The Bay and The Look. 

     Elbow continued the feel-good vibes with their headline set. As thousands gathered in the Obelisk Arena, the rich guitar hooks of Grounds For Divorce bounced around the field as drunken revellers shouted the lyrics with joyful enthusiasm. Despite lead singer Guy Garvey's incessant cries of 'Good attitude, Latitude. We have gratitude for your platitude.' wearing a little thin after the tenth hearing, he came across brilliantly. Singing 'it's looking like a beautiful day' mere hours after the sun appeared for the first time in the weekend as fireworks exploded into the inky night, was a magical ending to the second day. 

     Sunday got underway with Francois and the Atlas Mountains in the i Arena. Due to a late start, the set was cut to a paltry twenty minutes, and from the raptuous applause at the end it was clear that the audience had appreciated every precious second. Having seen them play only a month earlier at The Applecart Festival, I was surprised by how different the sets seemed. Perhaps it was the fact that the sun was shining down on Latitude at that particular moment (rather than the torrential rain Applecart witnessed) but the songs seemed to glitter in the sunshine with their glorious mix of French and English lyrics.

     Alabama Shakes lit up the Obelisk Arena with their blues rock. Lead singer, Brittany Howard's soulful voice rang out on Hold On, and the laid back nature of their songs created the perfect ambiance for a sunny afternoon.

Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
     Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes were next up on stage. Opening with 40 Day Dream, leadsinger, Alex Ebert (looking rather messianic with his white linen outfit and thick brown hair and beard) jumped into the crowd much to the delight of thousands of screaming fans as they shouted the lyrics back at him. It's safe to say that it was one of the most energetic performances at the weekend. Ebert was accompanied on stage by around 10 others on a variety of instruments, and they seemed to play up the happy family atmosphere on stage. However, at times the set came across as a tad contrived. Perhaps I'm just a cynic, but I thought it was all a bit twee (an accordionist with Heidi plaits and co-singer Jade Castrinos' references to how much she loved her mum didn't help matters). Despite their somewhat annoying on-stage personas, musically, the set was brilliant - a lesson for all in making upbeat, catchy songs with a good mix of instruments to create layers of rich sounds that knit together beautifully.

     It was obvious that Ben Howard was a little overwhelmed playing to thousands of people on the main stage, so it was no surprise when he stated: 'Jesus Christ, this is the biggest crowd I've ever played to, and I've just broken a guitar string'. However Howard needn't have been so worried. The crowd lapped up every note and every shy smile, and soon he seemed much more at ease, singing Keep Your Head Up with a fiery passion, spurred on by the fans eagerly singing along.

     The last act to appear at Latitude was the mod-father himself, Paul Weller. It was perhaps a sign of the 'family feel' of the festival, that it was mainly middle aged folk watching the set who remembered him from the first time around; however there were still plenty of teenagers having a boogie to classics from The Jam era like Eton Rifles and Town Called Malice. The crowd was noticeably smaller than that for Elbow's headline set the previous night though, and it seemed a shame that the sets hadn't been switched around - Elbow would have made a much more jubilant finish to the weekend. Despite this, the evening was still good fun, and a happy end to 3 days of wonderful music.

 For (much!) better quality photos visit the Latitude website

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