Latitude 2011 Review
It is easy to be cynical about Latitude, not least because when the rain happens, you spy people swathed in Guardian-branded waterproof ponchos. Its faux-Woodstockian, blobby-fonted signs and its Granta-redolent £9 programmes and its heinous £3 glass deposit are all clearly vile. To heap insult upon dread, they also have this sort of neon signage in the woods:
So before you have been there five minutes, some bleeding heart or other will be saying how middle class it is. Maybe it is you who will be saying it. People will ho-ho-ho. But: there are no men pissing in cups. But: the loos have attendants and queuing systems. But: there is a CHEESE and WINE stall.
Latitude IS delightful. I mean, say what you like about the middle classes, but Lore, do they know how to make things nice. And given that the weather forecast for Latitude 2011 essentially amounts to IT IS GOING TO PISS IT DOWN: ALL DAY, EVERY DAY; and since I have discovered a three-inch split in one welly on Thursday night, I want as much nice as I can get. I am going to lap you up, Latitude, with your civilized air. I am going to gulp down your bourgeois values and your well-behaved childers with both hands and a pint of cider. Maybe two.
Despite the thunderstorms forecast, Friday's sun has definitely got his wacky festival hat on, and I duly spend my first morning wandering about, beaming, free as the youngling girls in floral dresses and with garlands in their hair. One of whom (I realise when I get closer) is really and hactually saying - out loud - ‘I love THE TREES and the TREES love ME'. I go to a wicked book stall and purchase a cheap as triple-cooked-chips Edward Gorey about recently deflowered girls; I do a scoff at the Mind, Body & Spirit tat; I seriously consider buying a vintage Flamenco dress, and I wander past Tom Warner doing his poem about mushroom-picking in the Poetry tent. Eventually I settle in the shade; half a cow in one hand, a glass of cider in the other, listening to Edwyn Collins sound-checking triumphantly on the main stage.
Avi Buffalo has the dubious honour of kicking things off, musically speaking, occupying an unholy, non-glory slot of 12:45. It's hardly fair, partly because I think the first band of any festival should unite and uplift - Scala & Kolancy Brothers (who will actually play on Sunday) - would have been amazing for this. But Avi does what he can, making a virtue out of whine, beginning with recent single ‘How Come', and making it sound considerably less slight than it is on record. Some teenage girls squeal when he begins ‘What's It In For' - and I notice a line I have not before: ‘You are tiny and your lips are like two pieces of bacon,' which pleases me. There is drone, there are psychy flourishes, The People are pleased, but he does do a song called ‘Five Little Sluts' (oh, Avi) and overall it is not quite the starting pistol it might have been.
Not long after, and against my better judgement, I stick my beak into the Cabaret tent. Which is where I discover Richard Dedomenici halfway through a PowerPoint presentation which I gather is about Eastenders' fictional borough. Also: dogging, and Richard is asking if we would like to do some, as well as enquiring if anyone has a car we might borrow (‘It's ah, quite difficult to go dogging, if you, ah, haven't got a car'). He posits that the best time for us to go dogging is when Paolo Nutini is on, as there is likely to be little crossover with his fans. And then he shows us a Venn diagram that looks something like this...
...which just about settles it.
Then there is a dreadfully nutty performance of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé's ‘Barcelona' - which is my cue to leave, not least because I want to see The Phantom Band. But something weird has happened, because The Phantom Band (like TOO MANY Bands Of Now, and far TOO MANY BANDS at Latitude) have gone all Simple Minds. They appear to have turned into a Serious Rock Band and even the lead singer dude is dressed like Theo out of Hurts (but not as good) - all mock serious doom and pomp. This is not what I was expecting, but it is all explained when Rick Anthony says ‘Hi, we're Chapel Club' because he is actually not Rick Anthony at all. He is Lewis Bowman. ‘Oh fack, I've come to see Chapel Club by mistake,' I think, promptly sack myself, and run off to the woods.
There I discover the real Phantom Band, and find that marvellous single ‘Everybody Knows It's True' is quite marvellously unrepresentative - for they are much, much more Moog wonky than said song hints at. It is like Stereolab fronted by Aiden Moffat, but you cannot damn them with the oft-attributed-to-Scots epithet ‘dour'. Because they spell out their name in stacatto, computer voices, have glinting guitar lines, wicked-urgent tom-toms and jolly, massed doo-doo-doo vocals. Mr. Rick Anthony comes over all Preach; slapping the bit of his chest where his heart is, and then throwing one arm out in a anguished challenge: Come with us. It is all incredibly rousing.
I retire to the main arena for a rest with a friend and discover Mark Lanegan now resembles an incredibly craggy Will Ferrell. But there are no jokes, and his unmistakeable rumble cannot disguise the fact that his collaborations with Isobel Campbell are rather dull. This makes me sad, and I long for the two enormous dudes from Screaming Trees to come out, break the stage and do ‘Shadow of the Season'. But it's not 1992 and it isn't going to happen, so I go to see Deerhunter. Who are entirely wonderful, opting to string out and loosen the seams of all the songs on Halcyon Digest. It's not quite the echo chamber in my head that happens when I listen at home; it's less focused and neat. But it's good, it's good.
Caribou, next, are not good. They are not good at all. Caribou - you utter, ackfing bastards - are absolutely incredible. And something happens, something that feels like Narnia is exploding in my ribcage, so that I am forced to use both hands and cling onto the only thing I think has constancy, which is to say, the bassline. ‘Hang onto the bass, everything will be alright,' I think, before writing some drivelish twaddle about a ‘religious experience' and how Caribou are ‘the MOST [underlined] TRANSPORTIVE' as well as ‘THE ONLY REAL BAND THAT EXISTS'. See, Caribou wield all the zenith noises of house music, they know (inside out and back to front) all the button-pushing tricks that less careful and nuanced bands would slather over their songs like free sauce. The point about Caribou, though, is that despite all that raging and their wonderful clatter, they have restraint. I don't know how they do it, but I love how they play pointed into each other in a circle to ensure cohesion, and I love that it is noisy and graceful, allatonce. I love them. I love them. I love them.
After such flagrant superlatives, Jonny have the unfortunate task of putting all the pieces of my woman-mind back together. They do this by provoking me to shout ‘I love you Norman!' like a teen, and by playing exactly as you would expect them to; grinning, jaunty, amiable, impossible to dislike. There are quite a lot old dudes watching them and I am sure we are all remembering buying Bandwagoneque or having it taped for us like a shower of berks. But it's okay, because Norman's still got it and so has Euros.
By the time I have witnessed the second worst cover of the weekend, when Paloma Faith butchers Nick Cave's ‘In Your Arms' (adjacent accomplice: ‘Oh No. Oh NOOOOOOOOO'), and despite admiring her delightful Native American headdress, I am starting to pall. But I go to see The National because it is nice to go and see a band you are not sure about, especially if you are with someone who thinks they make the music to end all notes. And despite a vague thought pootle about whether The National might be better suited to the cosier, containing environs of the Word tent; and despite not really knowing any National songs, they are stirring. Joined by Annie Clark for a song we are instructed we must ‘...Read between the lines. It's about eating each other. But in a nice way,' they are a band who have mastered cadence, a band about mood, a band with a heaven-sent brass section, whose doom I can't really believe in. But tonight, I am happy to pretend to.
On Saturday morning I am working in the InBetweeners Teen Area, giving a workshop for Culture Works, to nine delightful young women. They want to know about music journalism and how a prize idiothole like me gets to write about BANDS for almost no pence. We compose divvy questions with which to pester civilians, vox pop the unwashed with a cameraman, and then four of us troop off to see wor homeboy Ed Sheeran. I have a mega-brolly because it is now wazzing it down, they have clipboards and are brilliant; noticing everything. Then we all trudge back in the endless rain to write Ed up, good and proper. A lot of young girls (and it should be said, what seems like half the festival) appreciate Sheeran's incredibly earnest, loop-pedalled, musical scaffolding - and the arena is filled entirely, despite the emptying skies. So although I am neither young nor in agreement, and although I have to miss Adam Ant, I survive, and go away feeling one-part Mum, to one part Yoda.
A short tour of the Modern Toss Activity Centre results in my putting their living cartoon into my facehole (as posed by Laura Snapes, above), and their periodic table of swearing into my ears. They have an old fashioned photo booth where it is possible to get a portrait done by a Real Modern Tosser - a swindle on waitress paper I feel sure they find funnier than those who pay £5 for one. They have marvellous posters, and I am glad This Sort of Thing is here, incongruously transgressive and corruptive as it is.
Then, I see The Walkmen. Already a convert, I feel a Ready Brek glow around the whole of my person immediately upon entering the Word tent. I also get an urge to shut my eyes (EMBARRASSING) but do it anyway [WHO CARES]. There are few bands capable of capturing a crowd like this, I think. And you can see it in the way people look at each other, the unconverted raising their eyebrows as if to say ‘Good, eh?' while we sly faithful are too busy blissing to return; ‘OF COURSE THEY ARE'. At one point the pale-grey-suited fox that is Hamilton Leithauser is bent back SO far, and singing SO hard, I worry he will burst a vein and cover the front rows in red. And then they do The Rat, they do The Rat, they do The Rat. And In The New Year. And I sigh - hard - because it is resplendent - and because they always play as if the songs had just occurred to them; always furious and rich as Christmas.
We will gloss past Cerebral Ballzy - because though admirably perky, their idea of rebellion seems to be something to do with skateboarding where THE MAN tells them NOT TO (which is not exactly chartering-a-ferry-to-play-snot-addled-chords-on-the-Thames-during-the-Silver-Jubilee levels of naughty). Granted, the young men of Latitude are loving them - but I find more to favour in Y Niwl, who manage to whisk us far, far away from Suffolk; to somewhere beachier, where all chords are legally required to do some sort of waltzy, staccato jangle. And where all the men have neatly-pressed shorts and sports jackets and side partings, and everyone looks like Mike Love circa 1957. Admirable, admirable band.
Before Seasick Steve comes on, he is, of course, backstage. I know this because a man who works backstage tells me a story all about it on Sunday. He also tells me about some sheets of ply (‘Not cheap. Eighty quid a sheet, right') which his fellow stage-maker stacked up against a shed for safekeeping. But with the dirt tracks reduced to sludge, everyone starts snaffling this ply, and it makes the man ANGRY. Finally snapping, he confronts the driver of a van who has just put a sheet of his eighty quid ply in front of his vehicle, for to drive on it. He asks ‘What do you think you're doing?' (though I suspect he uses a bit more Anglo Saxon) - whereupon he is told the wood is free, you can can help yourself. Our stage-making man protests, points out that it belongs to him, and then he discovers he is hactually arguing with Seasick Steve's driver. Shortly after which, Seasick Steve himself appears. There is more arge and more barge, the whole sorry episode being called to a halt when the septuagenarian blues mentalist rips off his t-shirt and chases Our Man out of the backstage area, brandishing his fists. It was eight quid a sheet, right, and it's all true, a man tole me. Which may explain why, when Seasick Steve comes on, he is racing his way through a bottle of well bad booze. I mean, just look at the mad old dog:
I want to be that captivating (but less aggy) when I am seventy.
Meanwhile, my own top still firmly on, I go off to see DELS. Ah, Dels, pride of Suffolk, man after my own heart and master of hip-hop that is at once amiably straight-forward and glitchily strange. He has Elan Tamara on keyboards, and two megadudes whose names I miss on propulsive, Spartan drums and an extra set of keys. He is a calm and stately sort of rapper. I go to see him with someone who is not yet familiar and they are at once won over. There are supporters here from Ipswich, it is heartening.
We stick around for a bit of Cocknbullkid, who has half a bag of multi-coloured pom-poms on her head and person, as well as a bushel of neatly effective pop songs in her heart. Then I go to the woods to see Steve Mason, who does exactly what I want him to do, positing vaguely paranoid theorem about NOTW between songs, looking like the everybloke in a gold chain you forget he is. This is when it finally dawns on me and - drunk enough to bore for Britayne - I bang on and on and ruddy on about how the Beta Band were a scally band, a baggy band, I don't know how I missed this before, you know, they're a SCALLY BAND, YEAH? Essentially everything starts to make sense (at least to me), and so, quite dreadful on rum, we go out in search of things to dance to. And although there is a certain dreadness when sound bleed means you can still hear Paolo Nutini despite being on the other side of the festival, doing your darnedest not make a tit of yourself while Tinie Tempah's 'Pass Out' is on, it is o-kay. After that there will be a disco shed, where you forget how you now have not one but two rudimentary socks made out of M&S plastic bags on your feet. It is hardly worth mentioning; we are dancing, iss sblurry brills, and I have already forgotten I have a house.
As ‘Urinelle' ranks alongside ‘Moon Cup' for sheer mind-wanging, vocabularic heinousness; and though I object strongly to the suffix ‘elle' or the prefix ‘she' being added to anything regarding ladies' effluent, by Sunday it is clear: if you wish to lift your spirits, you need only join the queue for the girls wee troughs. Armed with what looks like a small chip cone, I find myself in a cubicle, desperately trying to remember where I last saw my dignity. Then a girl of about sixteen sticks her head round the side of the adjacent stall.
‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!,' she squeals, thinking me her friend.
‘Oh my God. I am SOOOOOO. SORRRRRY.' She says, trying to make amends.
‘Go away?' I posit, nicely as I can.
‘Pinky handshake?' she ends, proferring her smallest finger.
Now, it is deeply troubling to find that the sense of humour you developed aged twelve is the one you are stuck with for the rest of your life, but one must accept these things. And a girl trying to do a pinky shake with you over the sound of other girls giggling because they have just done a wee on theyselves, is funny.
That morning, and in the distance, I hear Scala & Kolancy Brothers' choir of younglings sounding magnificent, and doing a rousing, angelic take on Peter Gabriel's ‘Solsbury Hill'. My wellies (now in a parlous condition) no longer trouble me. Besides, I am mid-way through securing some interview time with Everything Everything, who have kindly agreed to let me put a teenager in front of them. She will have a biscuit tin of questions along the lines of ‘What colour, is the inside of your mind?'.
Dog bless Everything Everything, whose day Sunday will be.
All this means I have to miss The Leisure Society, which pains me dreadfully, so I don't really want to know how good they were. I also miss Anna Calvi, but that is on purpose because only one of her singles has worked on me. Still, as the sound she is making drifts to where my tent is, it is fair to say she is just right for Latitude; big on ambition and pleasing enough for some of its hipsterish Olds.
After taking my whippersnapper (brave, brilliant Millie) backstage to pester Alex and Michael out of Everything Everything (about which, might I say, they are very game), I go to see Gwilym Gold. Who plays an ancient, crumbling Rhodes organ and who has the sort of hair I feel all men should have nowadays; a halo of a quiff he spends a lot of time messing about with. At first I think his music is too slight, and with his eyes closed I wonder how easily he can see what bits of it are moving his audience - but towards the end of his set he ramps things up a notch; songs like ‘Everything Is Beautiful' are rumblier and there is more static and it suits his crackly, electronic mood.
We catch short bursts of Clock Opera who feel a little too much like they are chart-chasing, sometime when you listen to them it feels as if they are trying to be all bands to all people. Which is not something you could say for Everything Everything.
Oh, Everything Everything, who I fully expect to be a(n entirely brilliant, scattergun) mess. They are playing in the Word tent and it is properly, definitely rammed. And everyone knows the words, even though EE songs are notoriously hard to remember - ‘Chest pumped elegantly elephantine, southern hemisphere by Calvin Klein' being a good example. And it feels as if the momentum they have always deserved is finally being poured onto their heads, and they have only their stagewear boilersuits to protect them. Jeremy says we are the biggest festival crowd ‘they have ever played to, truly, truly' and they basically - and I hate this expression - nail it, all that complexity finally, fully and beautifully realised. There is a lot of jumping. And they do a new, as yet unnamed, song that sounds like Aha and is wonderful; instant, excessive and unrepentantly joyful, angular pop music. Everything Everything look very happy, and well they might. I emerge glowing.
I see not nearly enough of Ghostpoet - though I do hear The Single, ‘Survive It', which sounds - if it were possible - more muscular, soporific and doomy, live. Then it starts to absolutely tip it down and our musical choices are informed less by personal taste, and more by practicality. So we sit on the floor of the Word tent and wait for OMD.
They begin by explaining how their set will not be dirgey new material, but ‘FIFTEEN SINGLES', which I admire for its old school pop ambition. And shortly after, there is a lot of Rock Leg in the crowd, and a lot of grinning, unmistakeable synth lines making the soggiest of souls go disco. But I am determined to see just how ridiculous Glasvegas can be, and the rain lets off a bit, so we trudge to the main arena. There is almost nobody there...
...but it will get better, because James Allan is saying he is about to bring on ‘one of the greatest artists of all time.' And just as I am wondering who, out of David Bowie, Dylan or Patti Smith they are going to bring on, I hear some other words, which sound a lot like ‘Carl Barat' and ‘Carl Barat's wife' who apparently (bad Glasvegas, very bad) is not worth actually naming. Which is when they proceed to slur their way through ‘Be My Baby', all indulgence, and I write down LEAVE IT ALONE. Awful, absolutely shocking, it is. Strangely, I still admire Glasvegas for their bottomless, unembarrassable chutzpah.
Hurts are next, and though I have seen them before and rather enjoyed it, I will admit I am not expecting them to change my life. At first, nothing stirs, but as soon as they start doing 'Evelyn' - with its amusing ‘STAY with me, EVELYN! Don't LEAVE ME with the MEDICIIIINE' refrain - I find myself shouting ‘DRAAAAAAMAAAAA!' and thoroughly enjoying myself. There are white roses on Adam's piano and Theo out of Hurts pretends to get all aggy and smashes his microphone stand against the stage - although his rage would be a bit more convincing if he swung it at the (very expensive- looking) light banks onto which Hurts are projecting ladies' legs, and if he did not have to spend a wee while afterwards untangling himself from his microphone lead. At various turns they sound exactly like Keane and Muse, and that is alright, by me.
By now it is night time and there is a fair amount of racing around to be done. So I see Lykke Li and have some of my worries sadly confirmed; I'm not sure I believe her, there is an artifice to all the doom I honestly feel I could do without. While Lykke shares with Bouncy the ability to command a stage in a leotard, Ms. Knowles covers hers in sequins and is brazen about same. But Lykke feels the need to quite literally cloak hers and I find this slightly apologetic, synthetic even. But it is fair to say the crowd do not agree, as the tent is full and from what I can gather, largely adoring.
Then it is Suede. And though I am not squiffy enough to have forgotten the year, it might as well be 1994 because they are doing my favourite ever b-side, ‘Killing Of A Flash Boy' and Brett looks as made out of marble as he ever did. Even a personal aversion to seeing reformed bands - and its concomitant pub table theory - are trampled under welly, because Anderson is so good at this; pickled in aspic, all his then-confusing, now-thrilling sexiness fully preserved and - if anything - more relevant today. It feels nothing like a re-formed band; some feat.
Shortly after they finish, my friend and I are issued with an entirely metaphoric Community Chest Card. It reads; ‘A barmaid's mathematical error means you only pay two hundred pounds for a double bourbon, rather than four' - so we drink quite a bit of brown booze, drift past Eels (glorious, strange, richly serious, despite the pop), and rabbit at each other on picnic benches until James Blake comes on. And though I have no notes to record just how he was magnificent , I know he was - just as I know I will go back to Latitude, because I never have anything less than a marvellous time there. I spend the last hours so happy I become the sort of idiot that demands we stop walking so I can hug my friend and tell her how ace she is. ('No REALLY, I mean it.')
What a civilised place, for uncivilised sounds.