Live Review

Latitude Festival

The days are filled with long and pleasant walks in the wood.

What makes Latitude’s identity is the fact that, seemingly unlike every other summer festival, this one’s not just about the music. It’s hard to take that into account when you take a look at mini-breaks such as Glastonbury, Bestival and Secret Garden Party; festival goers no longer look for the music, they don’t really care if they see all the bands they planned on, just as long as they get the all-important ‘festival experience’. This experience generally requires that you spend an indecent amount of money on novelty hats, face paint, awkward outfits and a lot of booze. To put it bluntly, to really gain said experience, you must, at all costs, come back having left most of your dignity in the fields.

Strange feelings set in upon a Friday afternoon arrival; maybe down to the disturbing news of a woman being raped in the woods, maybe down to the fact that there are already many, many children to be seen. The painted sheep definitely don’t help matters: why? What did they do to deserve this? They never asked for the ‘festival experience’, that’s for sure.

The upsetting news of the attack took residency in the crowd’s conscious. Surprising, shocking, but ultimately a sign that festivals have taken on a new issue; this festival ‘experience’ is at risk of joining the ranks of the ‘Magaluf experience’, et al. Cynicism sets in.

While jaded, the first pleasure remains that of the surroundings; it is impossible to feel bitter when the trees are so welcoming. The woods… now holding some darker connotation, they’re still so tempting. There’s something very wrong here, but still, the show must go on.

“Is this Sting or what?!” There is a sound not unlike him coming from the woods. Oh god. Down to the woods we wander and what do we find? None other than the spawn of Sting, Coco Sumner, taking the stage with her band, the oddly named I Blame Coco. Her voice, so very like that of her father, adds to her overall androgyny. It’s strange. Uncomfortable. A first cider is needed.

Though the Friday begins on a bizarre tone, it ends on an ecstatic high. Having made our way through acts such as Esben & the Witch, Engin Earz and Wild Beats, the night gives us The National. Though Florence & the Machine is headlining the main stage, the Word Arena hosts an impressive crowd. A sea of beards, dotted with the odd bare face; the audience is united in what can only be deemed an incredibly moving performance. Frontman Matt Berninger emotes every song with earnest conviction. Hammered, though. But that doesn’t matter, when he performs ‘England’ of the latest, critically-acclaimed High Violet, it feels as though he is singing to every individual in the crowd. This is the country that loves him. The performance of ‘Afraid Of Everyone’ is almost too much. Everything is perfect, upsettingly so. Despite the elation of seeing this fantastic band live for the first time, a sense of melancholy sets itself deep within. This feeling will stay with us all weekend. A constant internal struggle of exquisite pleasure and elusive sadness.

The arena holds not only stages for the artists, but is, in itself, a stage for all. A piano is sheltered by a small custom-built shed, bare-naked and laid open. Anyone can play. It whores itself out to drug-addled grown-ups and children alike. The children, now the grown-ups, are the ones who truly benefit from this place. There’s so much to do, but only youthful feet can succeed. The Latitude site is a contradiction in itself; bursting with good, healthy, cultural options, the sweet taste of alcohol stalls any pro-activity. The adults sit, tired from the sun and the bar queue, content to enjoy the art from afar. The children come and go, dancing, listening, laughing… There are two very different worlds at work here. Parallel, though.

All that isn’t music is so compelling yet so hard to actually see. The Film & Cinema tent is constantly heaving, there is no way of squeezing in. Adam Buxton is evidently the funny guy everyone wants to catch. But Steven Machat is pretty funny too. Taking to the Literature stage on a Sunday afternoon, he looks like he could easily camouflage himself within the festival crowd. Funny glasses, a bright, open shirt and flip-flops. Laid back(,) man. He’s reading from his book, ‘Gods, Gangsters & Honour’; it’s like sitting in on the best gossip ever. A nice break from all the serious art and a great taster of what should be a cheeky read.

The days are filled with long and pleasant walks in the wood. Baby, it’s so hot outside and the trees provide the shelter we need. Active Child is hidden among them on the Saturday; Pat Grossi’s voice is one hell of a beautiful instrument. He does not hit one bad note and the harp makes for a fairy tale show. These New Puritans on the Sunday; their music militant, their air disenchanted. “Have a great Latitude…2011” Well they do look to the future, dem boys.

While Dirty Projectors’ set wows and excites, culminating in long and very impressive renditions of ‘Stillness Is The Move’ and ‘Bitte Orca’, and Yeasayer provide some real good times, it’s hard to deny the realisation that takes place Saturday night. Lights down, it is time for the ultimate night time music.

What other act can boast, less than a year after the release of their eponymous debut, a headline slot, top billing, marked on the poster by a simple ‘X’? This time last year, they were slowly but surely gaining momentum, but it wasn’t really ‘till the release of the album that the world went xx-mad. Their sound continues to mesmerise and move and it is just so hard to feel anything but utter happiness for these kids who’ve done so well. As is always the case, the set begins with album opener ‘Intro’ and the band look totally overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd. The reception is immense and the trio power through what must be crowned as the most meaningful performance of the weekend. The intimacy and perfection of the record is, as usual, beautifully translated onto the stage. Some don’t like the fact that this band have been so well received, but there’s nothing wrong in something being liked by all. A Mercury prize would not be “too obvious”, it would be justified and deserved. Thoughts turn to the follow-up: here’s hoping they’re given enough time and space. Let them eclipse themselves back into the night, ‘cos that’s where they shine.

The night, despite the darker goings on, is where it’s nicest. The light in the watery mist, the stars in the sky; it’s hard to be afraid. It’s hard to feel anything concrete, walking through the woods at night.

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