My third Latitude. The best ever? I suspect each one will feel like that in the immediacy of the event, but there was a sequence of bands on Sunday this year, which I suspect will be as good as it ever gets…
This year it was just three of us: me, my friend Jon and my son Kieran. We do our our own thing at times, when preferences are different, but come together for most of the key moments.
And there were so many key moments…
All the photos here are my own. As you will be able to tell by the quality. Just had my iPhone this year and it doesn’t cope with shooting into lights at a distance. But you get some interesting effects at times. Anyway, I hope they embellish the text.
The festival starts in earnest on Friday. We, like most of the all-weekenders, got there on Thursday, to pitch the tents and enjoy a relaxing evening, taking in a bit of entertainment and enjoying the various discos (if you still call them that) dotted around the place.
We did see one band, on the Waterfront Stage, called The Irrepressibles. Cabaret? I guess so. Some very subdued songs, then some grandiose ballads with a bit of electronica, with the singer and a dancer gliding on floorboards across the lake. From a distance it would have looked like they were walking on water. The singer reminded me of Morrissey a bit. Entertaining when there was nothing else.
The best venue at Latitude is the i-Arena, sponsored by the Independent newspaper. If in doubt about what to see, just go there. Doesn’t matter if you don’t know the artists. They are almost all really good. Whoever books them really has their finger on the pulse.
So that’s where Jon and I headed for the start of proceedings at midday on Friday. And we saw two excellent performances. First a young English singer calling himself Rhodes. In that current mould of young, sensitive singer-songwriters, which seems so popular with the youth. He had a bit more edge than some because he played a distinctive electric guitar and had an impressive vocal range. The blurb in the guide likened him to Jeff Buckley, and I could see why. Worth looking out for.
Next up Mighty Oaks. Simple categorisation would be Americana, but they had something extra about them, from a bit of hillbilly swing, to some big guitar workouts at the end. A familiar genre, but they did it really well. Multinational: singer was American, but others were English, Italian and German. I shall definitely be checking out their music.
The next three bands I saw were all in the BBC 6 Music tent. Hozier is an Irish singer who plays bluesy, R&B-inflected pop, with a hint of Irish folkiness too. It was good, but I didn’t get a strong enough impression, enough emotion, from it. Best thing was an interesting cover of Amerie’s “1 Thing”, a dance hit from a few years ago. Asgeir is massive in Iceland, so of course I was hoping for a bit of Sigur Ros-style expansiveness. In fact it was closer to the simpler Sigur Ros songs. So I liked it without getting too excited. Sohn is an Austrian electro wizard, with perfect English. For some reason, he was dressed like a monk. All in black, with a hood, in the heat. I liked the beats and electronic swirls. Another to follow up.
Back to the i-Arena for Koreless, a young Welsh electro-composer. It was one for a seat on the grass, a beer and letting the soundscapes wash over you. Cue for a shot of the i-Arena, with its big new red tent. Keeps a lot more people out of the rain!
Next up at the i-Arena was one of the highlights of the weekend: East India Youth. EIY is William Doyle from Bournemouth. He sings, plays bass and twiddles the knobs on a variety of keyboards, computers and beat boxes – all at once! It really was a virtuoso performance. It started steadily, with electronic soundscapes and pop melodies, and sped up at the end, with the last piece an awesome piece of rampant techno. Exhilarating! The performance ended on a massive high. With his black suit, shortish hair and animated style, he reminded me of a young Wilko Johnson chopping the riffs for Dr Feelgood in 1976.
We then hopped over to one of the smaller venues, the Alcove, for a “to be confirmed” gig – always the chance of someone interesting. In fact it was a Swedish folk singer called Sumie, who’d missed an earlier show on the Lake stage. Simple, affecting, but quite gloomy.
I then caught the excellent Cate le Bon on the Lake stage. She’s a 6 Music favourite. How to describe her music? A kind of pastoral Velvet Underground. Slightly quirky and psychedelic, but still grounded in sharp rock’n’roll beats. Those really came through live. Cate rocked out a few times. A captivating concert and really well-received.
I stayed around the lake stage for Bondax. I’d never heard of them. My oversight. For me they were a revival of Soul II Soul and some of the early nineties pop-house music. Well, when played by the youth of today for the youth of today, they were awesome. One of the liveliest reactions I saw all weekend. Amazing to stand back a bit and just enjoy the sight of hundreds of youngsters really getting into the grooves. This is what Latitude is all about. It’s for everyone. And the energy spreads.
The headliners on the main stage were meant to be Two Door Cinema Club. They had to pull out at short notice. Lily Allen stepped in. Mogwai were headling the 6 Music stage. Jon and I decided this was another moment for the i-Arena. Another electronic composer, this time James Holden. He had a “real” drummer. They exchanged some awesome beats. I liked it, but found it a bit relentless – I needed a little more light and shade. Jon loved it though. I thought Thom Yorke would too.
Kieran was back with us by this time and we went for a rare excursion into the Poetry tent, to see a blast from the punk past, Attila the Stockbroker. Now in his mid-fifties, he was still arguing for renationalisation without compensation, but also had some touching family stories. Kieran enjoyed it without knowing the back story. Kieran and I then wandered along to the Lavish Lounge, by the lake, having heard some funky South American beats. It turned out to be a band called the Meridian Brothers (though there women in the band) playing some psychedelic Latin grooves from Colombia. The genre is called Cumbia. It was rather good. It took place under the BBC Radio 3 Late Junction banner – a source of fascinating music from around the world.
After that, a tour round the dance venues. I settled on the Lake Stage for some familiar indie, dance and rap. Always a lot of fun. People of all ages dancing in their own way, with the real energy generated by the youngsters, of course.
Of course at festivals you are obsessed with the weather. Will the ground turn into a quagmire? Will you you stand there in the rain watching artists on the main stage, feeling rather miserable? Friday was a lovely hot, sunny day, with thunderstorms forecast for the evening. In fact the storm didn’t arrive until about 4am, Saturday. The night was lit up by lightning and the rain lashed down. You could sense it in your tent. Luckily, the time of day meant the ground wasn’t churned up.
More of the same was predicted for Saturday. We were lucky again for most of the day, until Damon Albarn’s encore…
We started in the i-Arena again, with a band called Vaults. They played a sophisticated mix of pop and electronica, with violins in support and a woman, whose name I still don’t know, dressed in a flamboyant red dress, singing with soul. It started a bit like Kate Bush (sorry, obvious comparison) but ended up a bit like London Grammar, with a dash of House. It was impressive. Vaults ought to be successful.
We stayed for another band at the i-Arena, called Teen. After the name of the singer, not the age of the band. Four American women singing a quirky kind of pop, which wasn’t what the blurb suggested at all. That was an ethereal folkiness. Anyway, it wasn’t that good. We didn’t hang around too long. A rare no-no for the i-Arena.
After grabbing a bit of lunch, we went up to the main stage for Tinariwen. The desert blues in the middle of a Suffolk park. It’s a good sound and one I’ve loved in the form, especially, of Ali Farka Toure. After that, I headed back to the i-Arena with Kieran, to see Marika Hackman. Sounds German, but she was definitely English. The blurb made her sound a lot more adventurous than her live sound was, but it was still pretty good. She could appeal to that current liking for singer-songwriters. She played a decent guitar too. Kieran gave her the thumbs up. He knows better than me.
I stayed on for The Acid at the i-Arena. Fronted by Ry X, who did a solo slot (which I missed) later in the day. They are Australian. The sound is electronic and reminded me of the way Atoms for Peace and Radiohead are playing live. Hard electro beats, overlaid by haunting melodies. At one point I was thinking: Depeche Mode veering into techno. It was really good. Ry X sings beautifully and played some searing guitar. This was one of the best things I saw all weekend. Exhilarating, especially as it was all so new to me.
My plan was then to head back to the 6 Music tent for some eighties soul nostalgia with Hall and Oates. On the way though, I planned to stop and catch a bit of a band called The Bohicas, who sounded like a good rock’n’roll act. Good? Brilliant! Dr Feelgood meets punk and a bit of hard rock. Straight down the line rocking. Irresistible. First time I’ve seen proper moshing by the Lake Stage – not just kids but middle aged men… and women! (Family and friends? Maybe, who knows). Needless to say, I couldn’t leave after ten minutes. Stayed for the lot.
Hall and Oates were good though. The 6 Music tent was packed and so hot! I caught “Sara Smile”, ” I Can’t Go For That” and “Rich Girl”, so I was happy. Super-slick.
Jon and I met a friend of his and sat at one of the tables in the open area for a beer or two. We met a guy who was about the same age as us and had charge of four fifteen year old girls. Except he had no idea were they were! One of the few faults of Latitude is that it’s hard to get a decent signal on your phone. The good thing is that it is such a friendly, safe place, you don’t have to worry if you have kids there. While we were sitting there, a duo called Slaves were bashing out some serious noise on the Lake Stage. Guitar and drums again. Fearsome.
I left Jon then and wandered up to the main stage to see Swedish folky sisters, First Aid Kit. They were good, but I couldn’t help thinking of Abba! Not fair, I know. They did a couple of interesting covers: Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” and Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of coffee”. Good stuff. With Kieran I then checked out James Vincent McMurrow in the 6 Music tent. I wasn’t overwhelmed, but could hear Bon Iver with beats. He did a good version of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” at the end. One of his top songs, Kieran tells me.
That took us to Bombay Bicycle Club. One of Kieran’s favourites. I remember buying a few of their early tracks, on an EP called “The Boy I Used To Be”. I particularly liked “Sixteen” and “The Hill”. They took me back to a band called the Feelies in the seventies. They’ve moved on from there, and have made some really good indie pop. There’s a bit of Vampire Weekend in there, but really, it’s their own sound. The show was excellent, the best thing I saw on the Obelisk stage all weekend. The reception for them was huge.
Then, before Damon Albarn started on the main stage, we hopped back to the Lake Stage, where Catfish and the Bottlemen were ripping up the place with their indie anthems. Jon was somewhere up front – we couldn’t find him. He saw them at The Alcove last year, and we saw them at the Borderline in London recently. (I blogged on it if you are interested). Frontman Van McCann was as engaging as ever. They have a debut album out in September. It must be a big hit.
I had doubts about Damon Albarn as the headliner on Saturday. What if he just played all his new stuff? Some if it is pretty subdued. No need to worry. He was superb. The main set was indeed recent vintage, but there was a real energy and passion about it. And towards the end of the main set (headliners get encores, unlike anyone else) we got excellent versions of Blur’s “Out Of Time” and ” End Of The Century”. As the set neared its end the clouds began to rumble. As the encore began, horizontal cracks of forked lightning lit up the sky, to gasps from the crowd every time. It’s fair to say it was a bit of a distraction. And the rain began to fall. The encores included “Tender” (with Graham Coxon guesting) and “Feelgood Inc” from Gorillaz days. Great stuff, though the lightning took equal billing.
The rain just didn’t stop after that. Down at the Lake Stage, it made no difference to the dancers. They weren’t wearing much so there wasn’t much to get wet. I watched for a while and felt some paternal concern for all these kids getting nasty chills by the end of the night. But they all seemed to be enjoying it. In the woods, the evening was seriously dampened. The actual In The Woods disco was wiped out. The music played on, but at one time it looked like there were only 30-40 stragglers. The i-Arena was the place to be, as it’s under a roof and bigger than before. It was packed to the rafters. But the music, when I was there, was a bit monotonous. The DJs there are specialist and no doubt reluctant to diverge from their planned patterns to accommodate a larger audience. Still, people seemed happy enough. On to another day.
I think this may go down as the greatest day of music I’ve experienced. All will become clear.
It was also a day for the wellies, after the mayhem overnight, this time with people walking over the sodden ground and churning it up.
First up, at noon, were those old indie stars, James. They had been scheduled for mid-evening on the Obelisk on Saturday, but flight delays had led them to postpone. The place was packed. The band were slick, tuneful, with lots of rousing choruses. Their new stuff was greeted enthusiastically – there were some great hooks. And when they did songs like “Come Home” and “Getting Away With It” the reception was rapturous. Singer Tim Booth was wearing what looked like a black skirt, or very wide trousers. Now bald, he looked a bit like Michael Stipe of REM. He was witty and relaxed. Surprisingly they didn’t do “Sit Down”. I thought I’d missed it, being slightly late for the start, but no. And no matter. It was a really positive start to the day.
Jon and I went up to the Obelisk to catch a bit of the William Onyeabour’s African music show. To be honest it didn’t really hit the button. A bit unfocused. Exhorting people to party at 1pm on a Sunday was always going to be a challenge.
Then it was down to the i-Arena for Nils Frahm. A real favourite of 6 Music DJ Mary Anne Hobbs, in whose judgement we trust. And she was so right this time. One of the moments of this year’s Latitude. A wash of beautiful, hypnotic electronica, embellished by some lovely piano. Looped phrases and rhythms. Maybe Philip Glass is an inspiration. Nils himself was a really nice guy – personable, humble, witty. It was a truly uplifting set, in the woods. Its natural location.
After Nils Frahm, we joined Kieran for new sensation, George Ezra. Another sensitive singer-songwriter. He did well at Glastonbury, and that rolled over to Latitude. The 6 Music tent was overflowing. Maybe the busiest of the whole weekend. I can see the attraction without getting too excited about it. But the youngsters spoke – George Ezra matters. I’ll go along with that.
We caught a bit of the Jayhawks on the Obelisk stage. I like the band a lot – they’ve made two of my favourite American songs – “Bad Time” and “Miss Williams’ Guitar”, both off their album, ‘Tomorrow The Green Grass”. But they just aren’t well-known enough for the main stage, and the crowd was the smallest I’ve seen for the arena.
But then it was time for a sequence of music made in heaven. Parquet Courts-Eagulls-Fat White Family-Augustines-War On Drugs. It wasn’t possible to see all of each band as they overlapped and were on the 6 Music stage and the i-Arena, but it was possible to catch most of it.
Parquet Courts are my discovery of 2014. First the 2013 album “Light Up Gold”, then the follow up, “Sunbathing Animal”. “Light Up Gold” is the best New York new wave album I’ve heard since the Strokes’ first. And “Sunbathing Animal” has been growing on me with each listen. I was so looking forward to this concert. And it didn’t disappoint, from the opening “Ducking & Dodging”, with the sharpest riffs ever, to the double treat of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time’, to the awesomely fast “Sunbathing Animal”, which closed the set. I got quite near the front and felt so excited as they thrashed out all my favourites – except “Stoned and Starving”, but I guess that was too long for this truncated set. Magnificently contrary. True New York rock’n’roll.
Then it was a rush down to the i-Arena to catch the last couple of songs from up and coming gothic punks, Eagulls. They make a wall of sound. It sounds to me like Joy Division gone metal. Jon saw them from the start and said they played one song twice in a short set, but were brilliant. Time to develop.
Er, then the Fat White Family. What an amazing lot! I knew I had to see some of them, even though it meant missing some of Augustines. The music is punk, blues, psychedelia, Stooges, rock’n’roll. On record it doesn’t always sound that great, but live they are awesomely bonkers. I left before singer Lias Sauodi took off his trousers. But I got the gist.
I had to leave the Fat White Family early, because I had to see Augustines. They are spectacular live, and were completely brilliant on the i-Arena stage two years ago. I’ve written plenty about them on this blog in the past. So I simply say they were as magnificent as ever.
And then the highlight. The War On Drugs. I’ve been listening to the album “Lost In The Dream” so much. Totally in love with it. Aching melodies and spaced out guitars. To see Adam Granduciel and the band close up playing so many of the great songs was not just awesome, but truly moving. As they played the magnificent “Under The Pressure” I felt like time was standing still. So lost in the moment. Adam’s guitar playing was incredible. At one point I thought, it’s like having the “Freebird” solos in nearly every song! And that is a compliment. When the show ended and Jon and I walked out to find Kieran, who’d watched from further back, I felt tongue-tied. If I’d tried to describe how good I thought it was, I think the tears would have flowed. When music is beyond speech…
Will War On Drugs conquer the world? I don’t know. I can’t see them writing for the stadium, like Kings of Leon did. Adam may just settle for Neil Young-style authenticity. But he may just become so good that no-one who loves rock’n’roll can resist.
After that, there was a feeling of, what do we do next? But we stayed on in the 6 Music tent, ceding the front to the youth this time, to watch Clean Bandit. The dance-meets- classical-violins combo. Hugely popular and brilliant live. The place was again packed and there were celebrations for just about every song. The dance beats were authentic and varied. A superb show. I couldn’t get a decent photo, through the combination of people’s heads and the flashing lights. But with Bombay Bicycle Club, it was the pop highlight. Which means that for many, it was the best of all.
Neither Jon nor I were all that bothered about the Black Keys, who were headlining the main stage, so we wandered down separately – having gone for food – to the i-Arena, for a final show. Julia Holter. Took us most of the show, despite the fact that the arena was only a third full, to spot each other!
It was a perfect end to the weekend’s music. On the basis that you never know what the i-Arena holds, this was one of the most leftfield performances. Haunting vocals that seemed to echo through the space left by the small crowd. The dark night sky, the silhouettes of the trees. An accomplished band playing avant-garde snatches of sound. A violinist who echoed John Cale in his best Velvet Underground moments. A saxophonist who explored the limits of his instrument. Backed by a rhythm of cello and drum. The songs were jazzy, quirky, soulful. A bit hard to pin down. But perfect for the moment. The close.
But of course, once the main shows stop, the music doesn’t end. Jon and I went over to the Lavish Lounge and watched an Italian drum and electro duo called Satellitti in the Late Junction slot. The music was harsher than I’d expected, but was another example of the the surprises you get at Latitude. Then we went back to meet Kieran by the Lake Stage. Funk and soul was the theme for a while. Not the kids’ music, but they were going for it. Jon parted company with me and Kieran at about 12.30 and we went into the woods. After a while we settled on a reggae party, with music courtesy of DJ Don Letts, who used to play reggae to the punks in the seventies. The music was brilliant. The rhythms had everyone skanking. We broke off at 2am to check MJ Cole DJ’ing at the i-Arena. It was good! Kieran decided to stay and disappeared into the throng. I went back to Don Letts and stayed until it finished at 3. The last moment at Latitude. You know when you leave and walk through those gates that’s it for another year. I left it as long as possible.
There was a lovely moment around 2.30 when Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” came on and everyone was singing. In the woods, the night air, beer in hand, is this love that I’m feeling?
This is love that I’m feeling!