REPORTER Andrew Trendell reviewed Latitude 2012 to find out why it’s ‘much more than a music festival’.
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, 12th – 15th July
“HELENA Bonham Carter wishes she could be here,” smirks Rufus Wainwright to a sprawling Sunday morning crowd. “She’s just like you – a British eccentric.”
But beyond the flamboyant Rufus and his absent music video co-star, that’s exactly what Latitude is all about – the home of the eccentric, the extrovert and the interesting.
For a start, the atmosphere at Latitude is better than most. There’s none of the filth, the fury, the loutish goings on or the piles of vomit, rancid smells or huge queues that you’d expect from most summer festivals. You’ve all heard about the multi-coloured spray-painted sheep, the idyllic lakeside setting and the beautiful decorations, but there’s also great food, an irreplaceably relaxed vibe and a near microscopic attention to detail in everything from bunting to bands.
‘It’s more than just a music festival’ reads the banner above the impressive Obelisk Arena, and how. With a line-up that boasts comedians like Jack Dee and Tim Minchin alongside authors and poets like John Cooper Clarke and Dave Gorman alongside huge names from theatre, film, cabaret and God-knows-what-else, Latitude is a worthy destination for the rest of the bill alone.
But let’s not be daft, the incredible music line-up is why we’re here, and the first act to show that were First Aid Kit.
The Swedish sisters’ folky-foragings cast a ray on sunshine over a fairly overcast day. As the waif-y and weightless melodies of Emmylou drift out over a sea of aloft arms, First Aid Kit shine ever brighter in a world of dull landfill-folk.
Things pick up the pace over in the Word Arena with a chunky slab of powerhouse Americana from The War On Drugs before The Antlers bring their colossal and intoxicating transcendental sounds to the fore. Opening with the hypnotic Rolled Together from Burst Apart (arguably the best album of 2011) Antlers prove their staying power with a consistent and ever-expansive set of blissed-out, otherworldly aceness.
Those who can see past the vast sea of hands forming triangle symbols outside the Lake Stage for mighty young upstarts Alt-J may have caught a glimpse of thousands of kids and rapturous squealing girls clamouring for a view of Lana Del Rey.
“Are you having fun?” she asks in a coy whispered pout before the packed-out tent erupts in sheer hysteria. Teen screams drown out her dramatic rendition of crossover hit Video Games before she descends into the crowd for a near-religious reception. Whether she’s little more than a talented actress or a true pop diva remains to be seen, but she certainly is the master of ceremonies when it comes to wrapping the world around her melodramatic vision of film-noir melancholy.
The melancholy continues late into the night as main stage headliner Bon Iver reduces a crowd of grown adults into a sea of quivering emotional wrecks. With a stage decked out in rags and lamps, Mr Justin Vernon unites all of Henham Park in one epic hug as we shudder and weep our way through tearful renditions of Skinny Love and Holocene. There wasn’t a dry eye in Suffolk.
The eclecticism continues on Saturday as hundreds flock to the Film and Music tent to sit through a titter-filled recording of mild-mannered Radio Four show Kitchen Panel in order to secure a decent position for underground comedy hero Adam Buxton as he turns the simple act of reading out Youtube comments into a true artform.
Then it’s over to the main stage where an incapacitated Richard Hawley is wheeled onstage by Guy Garvey before delivering a slow and silky run through his crooning love songs to the city of Sheffield.
The turn-out for alt-rock legends dEUS is disappointing to say the least – it’s more like a grave injustice. Regardless of that, they prove one of the highlights of the weekend: standing tall as Belgium’s answer to Radiohead, Tom Waits, Sonic Youth, Prince and Beck – all rolled one into one uber-danceable, funky, space-age ball of grunge, guts and glory.
Speaking of glory, it falls on the shoulders of Elbow to stake their claim as true people’s champions. Elbow were last at Latitude in 2008, playing just before Sigur Ros. Tonight, they proved exactly why they born to be headliners. Highlights include a rare outing of political tirade Leaders of the Free World and the gut-wrenching lullaby of Scattered Black and Whites, but it’s the celebratory every-man anthems from their Mercury-winning Seldom Seen Kid that unite us all in song. As fireworks light up the sky and the words “one day like this a year will see me right” bellow from thousands of fans, it’s clear that there will be days like this for many more years to come.
Acclaimed classical pianist Lang Lang treats the Sunday morning crowd along the lake to some delicate sounds for some delicate bodies before Rufus Wainwright plays his much-awaited Sunday lunchtime slot on the mainstage. Donning his new guise of a funk-fuelled, Bowie-esque Prince of Pop, Wainwright proves an unlikely burst of energy to the day’s proceedings and a highlight of the whole festival.
Then comes a rumbling set from Alabama Shakes to get the early afternoon crowd dancing, but it’s not all plain sailing and nothing in life is truly perfect. Proving that in abundance are lo-fi grungers gone wrong Gross Magic – an excruciating and unlistenable shambles of a band. With no redeeming features whatsoever, their squawking tunelessness baffles the passing crowd into either a fit of hysterics or simply leaving. “I wish that I was somewhere else,” they groan on Can’t Ignore My Heart – tell me about it. Whoever booked them, shouldn’t have.
Later, raising the standards back high up above the bar is St Vincent – a cross between a she-devil and a firecracker whose quirky vocals and spiky guitarwork send the word arena into a pogo frenzy.
The highlight of the entire weekend comes from Bat For Lashes. If you could draw on the best elements of Latitude and build them into one performer, it would be Bat For Lashes. She’s got the summer fairytale magic, the down-the-rabbit-hole mentality, the pleasure and the poetry. Simply put: Natasha Kahn out-Latitudes Latitude. As she flirts and darts her way across the stage, it’s clear that she’s the most mesmerising performer that Britain has produced in living memory. Old favourites What’s A Girl To Do and Daniel are welcomed back like old friends but it’s new track, the piano ballad Laura, that sees grown men stood with mouths gaping and bawling like infants.
Watching Kahns’ bewitching, wild-child imagination spill out into the Suffolk countryside fills one with the hope that she’ll finally crack the mainstream and become as massive and influential as her potential has always threatened to.
Brimming with charm, character, ideas and a fistful of fun, Latitude successfully proved that in 2012, you don’t need Glastonbury to have a good time.
It seems only too fitting that it should be left to Wild Beasts to bring proceedings to a full stop with their own inimitably British idiosyncrasies.
“Congratulations guys, you’ve made it to the end,” smiles singer Hayden Thorpe, raising a glass of red wine. “Now let’s party like there’s no tomorrow.”
Amen. Bring on next year.
Words and photos by Andrew Trendell