Music | Latitude Festival | Review

Bathed in the glorious British sunshine Latitude festival located just south of Suffolk in Henham Park, launched off a cultural extravaganza this weekend. Those lucky enough to arrive early and enjoy the best of Thursday were treated to theatre under the stars, a celebration of all things Bowie and healthy literacy debate on “Is the Book dead?”. Although live music was sparse on the opening night, BBC Radio 6’s Craig Charles was a highlight as he brought out the soulful side of festival goers. Tucked away in the woods Charles was an energetic presence and delivered a crowd pleasing outing behind the DJ Decks even without the help of his robotic chums. With the south east experiencing its first heat wave since 2006, the festival site itself is in glorious condition. With grass greener, the water clearer and the beer flowing, it seems as though the UK could be in the midst of a golden year for its festival scene.

Latitude festival is often described as the place where extraordinary music plays, and as the sun set on the first night of Latitude proper, the sentiment of extraordinary rang loud. Nestled away in the woods, I Arena headliners Japandroids ignited their set with an energy and verve of a hungry band riding a wave of critical success. Known for their up tempo and energetic performances, the Canadian duo are without a doubt an outfit to keep a watchful eye over. Slick guitar riffs, hypnotic drum hooks and a powerful stage presence make Japandroids the band you dreamed of starting.

Concluding their recent tour, Obelisk Arena headliners Bloc Party performed a solid if not slightly unrewarding set which at times showed signs of unrest amongst the band. Most evident was the absence of Bloc Party founding member and drummer, Matt Tong who was replaced for the night by Sarah Jones of Hot Chip fame. Sparking the set into life with ‘Hunting for Witches’ and an audacious laser show supporting third album hit ‘Ares’ could not cover up the inadequacies amongst the headline performance. Despite the undeniable charm of front man Kele Orekeke, witnessing a band in a ‘state of flux’ musically and potentially personally was never going to bare the fruits of yesteryear.

Afternoon offerings of acoustic wonder included New York native Willy Mason, who lulled the sun drenched BBC 6 Music stage into a country daze. Mason oozed a sense of calm and collection, showing off his experience of playing to a festival crowd with a performance of his hit ‘Oxygen’ mid set. While back at the I Arena, Malcolm Middleton (one half of the influential Scottish duo Arab Strap) played a selection of summer songs to an eager audience.

Chan Marshall better known as Cat Power appeared dishevelled and unorganised, lacking the usual style and polish of her influential back catalogue. After dropping out of her commitments to Glastonbury festival due to her recent rehab residency, the Obelisk arena was set to be the stage for a spine tingling, hair raising comeback performance. Unfortunately this was one of those occasions where expectations did not meet the reality. Incoherent speech, mumbling between songs and a glaring lack of interest made for a disappointing outing.

Beautiful, talented, young and Danish? That is just the start of the superlatives available to electronic phenom MØ. If powerful vocals, engaging guitar melodies, and addictive bass beats is your kind of thing; make sure to add MØ to the top of your must see list. Blessing the lake stage with an early evening set, MØ brought power and punch which served as an entré to great things.

While veterans of the music scene Yo La Tengo produced a truly rock and roll performance. Tengo’s eclectic mix of harmonies, guitar shredding and overall atmospheric vibe proved to be the perfect summer’s soundtrack. Despite the disabling heat, they performed with the gusto of their first gig twenty nine years prior.

Latitude Saturday Being a festival which is also complimented on its progressive approach to music and the arts, the announcement of a Kraftwerk 3D concert was met with varying degrees of intrigue. The Saturday night headliners preserve a special place in festival folklore; many careers have been made or undeniably enhanced by such a spot on the bill. Kraftwerk whose career has spanned the last forty years are considered by many to be pioneers of the electronic music industry, and their headline billing had be the talk of the festival. As arguably the biggest crowd of the festival gathered to the Obelisk arena with anxious eyes, cautious hearts, and 3D glasses at the ready; it’s difficult not to argue the techno maestros blew a fuse rather than lighting a creative spark. Kraftwerk opened with 1978 anthem ‘The Robots’ which was met with raucous cheers at the first signs of their 3D screen took precedence. Those also watching at home via BBC 3D could observe their telly boxes transform into a futuristic dystopian nightmare, complete with matrix like visuals and robot arms leaping out towards the viewer. Unfortunately for the German quartet, this would be the recommended platform of viewing, as back at the arena crowds started to evacuate faster than they could drive on the autobahn. Flocks of people dropped their 3D glasses to the ground in search of familiar comforts, which was met by a very different quarter in the form of English indie rockers Alt-J. Already cementing themselves as one of the biggest bands in the UK, Alt-J gave a solid performance to the overflowing BBC 6 Music big top.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs who performed earlier in the evening gave what could arguably be the performance of the festival. New York based post punk rockers played with the crowd like putty in their hands, with front woman Karen O leading an inspired set; complete with stage tricks including a giant eyeball being hurled into the audience. Opening on hit single ‘Zero’ and finishing on the song that was arguably their first ‘Date with the Night’ showed an impressive résumé complete with a perfect rock and roll attitude (RIP YYY’s Mic) Other highlights at the music stages included UK electro unit Hot Chip, who set the standard for electronic performances at festivals. Playing extended hits and deeper cuts from their decade spanning career demonstrated a definitive style and finesse of creating a main stage set list.

Coming off the back of her sell out performance at Somerset house, Jessie Ware performed with energy and enthusiasm but showed obvious signs of nerves and fragility. Despite an enjoyable set which was clearly a hit with the younger audience, Ware’s cover of Julio Bashmore’s house anthem ‘Battle For Middle You’ left a lot to be desired and verged on cringe worthy. Elsewhere at the festival the early entertainers included ‘Black Books’ leading man Dylan Moran who gave a dose of realism over at the comedy tent. Moran affectionately referred to Latitude Festival as a ‘Temple for the Middle Classes’ complete with ‘Jaspers and Tamaras’ a sentiment echoed by the howls of laughter echoing from his stage. Meanwhile at the Film and Music Arena, actor and director Paddy Considine gave a frank and honest interview detailing his struggles within the film industry, and his bromance with fellow director Shane Meadows.

Early risers on the Sunday morning were treated to a smorgasbord of cultural experience, as performances from the British Orchestra and Soul legend Bobby Womack coerced the sun out from hiding and got the ball rolling for the final day of Latitude 2013. Dressed head to toe in Red Leather, Womack who was joined by Alison Balsam and the English concert called for the crowd to ‘shake their money makers’ and shake they did. After such a performance, and the recent commercial and critically success of his 26th studio album, it makes one wonder why a Rock and Roll hall of famer like Womack was reduced to an early afternoon set.

Later in the afternoon Swedish singer songwriter Kristian Matsson, who is better known as ‘The Tallest Man on Earth’ brought acoustic music back to the obelisk arena in what was a highlight of the weekend. While personally I have objections to awarding acoustic guitarists a main stage berth, Matsson dispelled the demons of last year’s Saturday night (Two Words – Snora Marling) with a charismatic performance full of charm and heart. Elsewhere on Sunday solid performances from those associated with the electronic could be found in the form of singer/producer James Blake, up and coming Swedish singer Iamaimwhoami, and arguably two of the biggest club acts in the UK, Rudimental and Disclosure.

While at the comedy stage, special guest Eddie Izzard garnered the largest audience at the comedy arena with queues going back as far as the eye could see. Izzard, while certainly a talented story teller and actor, his stand up comedy which found him his fame went down as unfulfilling amongst the masses. Tucked away behind the behemoth that is the comedy arena, is the commonly neglected Cabaret stage. While some acts arguably aren’t ready for the main arena, Aisling Bea – only the second woman ever to win the ‘So You think you’re funny’ award at Edinburgh fringe, will deserve a promotion after her performance at the cabaret stage this year.

Obelisk arena headliners Foals sent the main stage into a heart pumping, adrenaline rush complete with guitar shredding and improvised conclusions. Frontman Yannis Philippakis, who had referred to their performance on the Sunday as the biggest of their recent history and a ‘pine tingling experience’, sang from deep and gave the performance of his career. While over at the BBC6 Music Arena, dream pop duo Beach House lulled their audience into a bunch shoe gazers and music appreciators. With a string of anthems from recent album ‘Bloom’ and a selection of hits from their back catalogue, Beach House were a calm and collected finish to what was a fantastic year for the always eclectic, and one of kind – Latitude Festival.

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