When one year you win an award for being the best family festival, the next year you are, inherently, going to attract more families. Should a restaurant be given a prize for its steak, you aren’t likely to find the 9th Chapter of the United Brotherhood of Fruitarianism preventing you from getting a table for the next three months.
So, it’s fair to say, Latitude has found its niche. And as the prams and kids and babies asleep in trolleys will attest, it’s probably a different set of punters from those who you’ll find in Glastonbury’s Shangri-La at 6am, pupils larger than their face, limbs pointing in perpendicular directions.
It isn’t what you call edgy. Although, that said, in many ways the choice of headliners is amongst the braver of the major English festivals. There are questions. Will Foals be able to step up to the big stage? Will the vaunted 3D visuals gloss over the fact that live Kraftwerk are essentially four guys standing behind podiums pressing buttons? Will Bloc Party be able to get through 90 minutes without releasing a statement with barely guarded allusions to the fact that they’d rather tongue a lit barbecue than see each other again?
There is a lot to like about Latitude. It is laid back, easy going and the non-musical programming is varied, interesting and genuinely makes that ‘More Than A Music Festival’ subtitle feel warranted. But for some reason it doesn’t feel like a musically stellar year. There are some properly memorable performances, but there are also a number that seem to be greeted with a sense of apathy from the crowd, often in spite of the quality.
But more of that later. So pull up a pew, batten down the hatches and pour yourself a drink. This is musicOMH’s take on Latitude 2013.
Friday is hot. It may be boring to say so, but it is. Crippling hot. Painfully hot. So hot all you want to do is smile uncomfortably at people near you as if to say “I know. Hot, isn’t it?”. For Tim Burgess and his country and northwestern songs from Oh No I Love you, there’s a certain sense of them coming home to roast in the dusty bowl of the Obelisk arena.
Tobacco Fields is lovely, White is lovely, but even better is the make over The Only One I Know gets. It’s like a bit of Manchester with a Nashville skyline.
Over in the 6Music Stage John Grant is deep of voice, humble of banter and introduces himself with the question “do you remember when we used to fuck all night long?”, which is an excellent way of butting into any conversation, while down on the Lake Stage a slightly younger looking crowd bounce excitedly to the grungy Wolf Alice, whose energetic and entertaining set also sees lead singer Ellie Rowsell being presented with a birthday cake from Huw Stephens. And really, isn’t that what every 21-year-old really wants?
It seems a bit incongruous to find Chvrches on so early. But here they sit, mid-afternoon in the tree covered iArena, and there the crowd bulges out the sides of the tent, like the torso of a corpulent gourmand as they pull on the lycra to bicycle home after a fifteen course banquet.
There’s some degree of anticipation here. People are ready, poised to replace all of the u’s in their lives with v’s. And well, it doesn’t quite live up to it. It’s workmanlike and professional and The Mother That We Share is a fine old thing, but it doesn’t quite sparkle. Latitvde? Maybe next year.
Probably also questioning the billing decision is Rachel Zeffiria, for whom the iArena resembles the bit at the end of The Good The Bad And The Ugly, only with more trees. And less Lee Marvin. For those who stayed, her songs remain quite beautiful, and her musical dexterity remains baffling.
Yo La Tengo are on fine form over on the main stage, dry of wit and sharp of tune. Cuts from latest album Fade sparkle wonderfully, and OHM would have been the highlight had it not been followed by all ten feedback drenched, mesmeric minutes of Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind.
There are few main stage acts are as reliable as Cat Power. Opener The Greatest proves to be something of a red herring in a set that sees Marshall and company lean heavily on last year’s Sun album. Metal Heart and 1996’s King Rides By are welcome deviations, but the newer material proves captivating under the afternoon sun. Wonderful stuff.
For those seeking respite from the beating sun, you could do worse than stumble into the Film and Music tent, where singer-songwriter stalwart Ed Harcourt is captivating in the dark. Tracks are accompanied by video projections and Harcourt’s set liberally mixes pickings from a solid decade of music with excellent recent-album Back Into The Woods, making it a shady treat.
New for this year is the Alcove, a small stage near to the main site entrance. Last up on Friday is Chlöe Howl, who performs the neat trick of closing her set with a far larger crowd than with which she started. She grins, sashays and looks totally at home.
At the 6Music tent, Friday climaxes with Villagers‘ earnest, well crafted acoustic pop, confirming suspicions that they’re a credible successor to the Coldplay crown, while headliners Texas are sharper, and more impassioned than the ‘mum-rock’ tag they’ve been dogged with since the mid ’90s would have you believe. Summer Sun and Say What You Want have weathered the decades rather well, but the fact that Sharleen Spiteri hasn’t apparently aged since the turn of the millennium is actually a bit disturbing.
Back over in the peacefully bucolic woodland setting of the iArena, Vancouver’s Springsteen-aping rock duo Japandroids tear through a set loud enough to send any neighbourhood animals scurrying desperately towards Watership Down. While there’s little revolutionary about the pop-punk ballast, the pair pack a punch that belies their limited resources, and songs like House That Heaven Built are precision-tooled for bigger, and danker, arenas than this.
Bloc Party then. Who came on to gasps, as those staring at the screens admired how lush and long Matt Tong’s hair had got. And how womanly he now looks. And then… Oh.
It isn’t him. It’s an actual woman. Hot Chip drummer Sarah Jones, in fact. The thing is that, and some of the other on stage goings on would probably have been more easily dismissed had the shitstorm of bad feeling which seems to surround Bloc Party not been swirling long before this performance.
It is a patchy show. Good on occasions – the yearning disco pound of One More Chance; the sky-scraping Flux; a lovely closing This Modern Love – but also laden with a general feeling of unease.
Judging from the look Kele shoots bassist Gordon Moakes at one point, the slightly awkward end to the main set and the ‘I’d Like To Thank The Academy, our manager, our friends, that dude we met in 2004…’ soliloquy we get during the encore, it feels a lot more like an ending than any kind of rebirth.
Additional Reporting from Rob Watson and Marc Burrows