Thursday, 19 July 2012

Review: Latitude Festival 2012

Performers in the Comedy tent are all too quick to point out how middle-class Latitude is. The festival, now in it's seventh year, has a long-running reputation for being overrun with families and posh folk from the neighbouring Suffolk towns. It's probably fair to say that's it's a little more polite and pretty than festivals like Reading and T in the Park, but I struggle to see why that would put anybody off.

As well as being set in the middle of a forest and offering the most scenic festival camp-site of them all, the line-up this year was one of the strongest yet. Headliners included Bon Iver, Elbow and Paul Weller, but the most exciting acts were on the smaller stages, especially the Lake Stage and i Arena. This year saw performances from Twin Shadow, Alt-J, Splashh, Tall Ships, Weird Dreams, Peace and Perfume Genius on the smaller stages, and proved that Latitude are just as good as getting up-and-coming bands as well as established headliners.

These were my highlights.

Lana Del Rey

After so many mixed reviews for Lana's live performances, my expectations for her set at the Word Arena were muddled. Having thoroughly enjoyed her album, I really wanted her to be brilliant live. Instead, Lana sashayed from one side of the stage to another, trying but somewhat failing to sing in time to the music, and looking incredibly nervous. The silence and wait between each song was hard to ignore, and cut into the set quite awkwardly. Her descent into the audience mid-way through the set left a huge gap, and didn't do much to excite the people further back in the crowd. However, the set list definitely showcased the best of her album, and her nervousness and confusion was actually weirdly quite endearing. Ending the set on current single National Anthem, Lana gave her strongest performance and just about managed to win the crowd over (those of them who had stayed long enough, mind).

Metronomy's slot just before headliner Bon Iver could've proved tricky for them, considering they don't necessarily share a fanbase, but even oblivious audience members seemed to be quietly tapping their feet. Frontman Joe Mount reminisced about the first time he played Latitude, and how good it felt to be playing "at the top of the hill, now." Since his first performance there, all the way back in 2007, Metronomy have gained a bassist and a drummer, and songs from latest album 'The English Riviera' fit perfectly with tracks from their first two albums in a career-spanning set.

Bon Iver

Taking to the stage just as the sun began to set, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and his massive band (including two drummers) launched straight into Perth. At this point, a devoted (read: drunk) fan next to me burst into tears, and didn't pause for breath until the end of the set. Her reaction was obviously over-the-top, and should have been irritating, but I think everybody in the audience could sympathise with her. Songs from both Justin's debut, and Grammy-winning eponymous follow-up are transformed live, with his full band giving a thickness and a fullness to the songs that couldn't quite be captured in a studio environment. Predictably, mega-hit Skinny Love garners the best audience reaction, inciting a deafening singalong.Other highlights include fan-favourites Holocene and Beth/Rest, again both from the second album. However, the encore is comprised of first-album tracks, The Wolves (Act I and II) and For Emma, Forever Ago. Whilst the size of the band threatened to overpower the more sparse songs, instead they served only to emphasise them, and this is where Bon Iver gave their strongest performance of the night. 

Summer Camp
A last-minute cancellation meant that Summer Camp were booked to play in the Film & Music Arena directly after Bon Iver finished. Backed by their usual footage of 80s films and dance sequences, Elizabeth and Jeremy played a set of songs from the Young EP, debut album Welcome to Condale, and new EP Always. For a band who only released an album last October, they have an impressive amount of material to play, and were given a generously lengthy set to show it off. The band seemed genuinely thrilled to be playing the festival, claiming they were big fans of it (Jeremy had also previously played there when he was still a solo act) and it might have been excitement about their booking, or excitement about their latest release being so critically praised, but Summer Camp gave one of their most energetic and brilliant performances to date.

Theme Park
Sound problems aren't uncommon at festivals with a high turnover of bands, and unfortunately this time it was Theme Park that suffered. Their set, which was comprised of very promising sounding songs from their upcoming debut, was interrupted a few times by harsh feedback sounds, and the vocals were somewhat lost under overpowering guitars. Regardless, the band played an excellent set, and the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, it's just a shame their performance was interrupted by something they couldn't control.

Laura Marling
With a back catalogue of three albums (and a fourth in the making) to choose from, it must be difficult for Laura Marling to choose a set list. Having seen her a week before at Royal Albert Hall, where she played her entire third album in full, as well as a selection of old and brand-new songs, I was interested to see what made it to the festival set list. By some miracle, the crowd (largely comprised of Elbow fans - AKA dads/drunks) stayed completely silent for the entire set, which is exactly what you'd want at a Laura Marling gig. Playing songs from her second and third album, and a guest spot from first album bonus track Alas, I Cannot Swim, Laura was quiet between songs, but her minimal interaction included a thanks for the audience for coming, and an appreciation of the lovely weather and setting for her performance. Laura also introduced the audience to her band, before revealing that this would be her last gig for a "very long time", before ending on an encore-worthy trio of Do Not Ask Me Why/Salinas and I Speak Because I Can.

The Horrors
Playing on almost the year-anniversary of the release of third-album Skying, the Horrors set was a perfect way to round off a year that saw them tour the UK multiple times, and win the NME award for Best Album. The Word Arena was looking pretty empty as the band took the stage, which could've had something to do with them clashing with headliners Elbow, but as soon as the opening bars of Mirror's Image began, a stampede of people came flocking up the hill to the tent, which filled out considerably. Playing a set of songs from both Primary Colours and Skying, including newly-added You Said, The Horrors filled their headline slot perfectly. Strongest were the singles from Skying, I Can See Through You and Still Life, and the would-be encore 15-minute version of Moving Further Away. 

Lucy Rose
"I know exactly who I'm clashing with, and I can't thank you enough for coming" says Lucy, mid-way through her set. She was talking about a very ill-thought-out clash with Ben Howard, who drew one of the biggest crowds at the Obelisk Arena for a daytime slot. Despite the clash meaning the audience at Lucy Rose was about half of what it would have been otherwise, Lucy was still heckled with marriage proposals and admissions of love. Her set was made-up of songs from highly-anticipated upcoming album Like I Used To, which has just been mastered at Abbey Road Studios, and is set for release this September. Highlights were fan-favourites Night Bus and Bikes, which Lucy has been playing for the longest, but the newer songs suggested what we can expect from the new album, and it's very exciting stuff.

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