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Latitude 2013

Latitude 2013

25 July 2013, 16:01

Batman’s strutting about with a lightsaber. Alan Moore’s holding the fort in the Film Tent. Germaine Greer’s pontificating about the evils of our patriarchal society, and in the woods, a female practitioner of burlesque is propelling objects in a manner unsuitable to reference in a family-friendly publication. Welcome once again to Latitude, the “more than a” musical festival that over the last seven years has established itself as one of the highlights of the UK arts calendar.

Whilst most of its competitors relegate non-aural cultural pleasures to sideshows if, indeed, they are featured at all, Latitude proudly showcases comedic, theatrical, poetic, cabaret and literary line-ups every bit as enticing as its musical roster. Even I, a man whose love of live music verges on a clinical obsession, felt occasionally compelled to check out things that didn’t involve guitars or synths at all, including the tremendously geeky “Festival Of The Spoken Nerd” (highly recommended!). Having said that, most of my time was devoted to checking out the multitude of bands on offer- and in that respect, Latitude 2013 truly delivered.

In contrast to 2012′s Glasto-esque mudfest, the first day of this year’s festival felt a lot more like Coachella, with an unseasonable abundance of sunshine (yay!) and humidity (boo!). This state of affairs, which I understand is referred to as “summer”, was a boon to The Leisure Society, whose earnest brand of indie-folk I’d normally give short shrift. Their uplifting and well orchestrated balladry, with its jolly trumpets and violin work from Hope of the States’ Mike Siddell, wasn’t earth-shatteringly brilliant, but it was a perfect fit for a warm, languorous Friday lunchtime.

Rubberbandits’ crudely hilarious musical vignettes about the hard-knock life of Limerick City generally hit the mark – ‘Up The RA’ and ‘Black Man’ had politically incorrect tears streaming down my face – but I suspect it may not have been to everyone’s taste.

The ever-eclectic Akron/Family (“not from Akron, or a family”) provided the first truly great set of the weekend, shifting away from the funk leanings of their last tour to re-adopt a propulsive, psychedelic rock sound.

Unfortunately, John Grant’s mix of confessional lyrics, sharp wit and elegant synth-pop fared less well- he was clearly frustrated by technical hitches, and the rather soulless environs of the 6Music Tent wasn’t conducive to the poignancy of his music.

Over in the woods, flavour-of-the-moment electropop-ers CHVRCHES drew an audience far greater than the capacity of the tent; a common occurrence when an up-and-coming band is booked before the hype truly kicks in. It certainly sounded accomplished, and apparently there was even a circle pit, but it was hard to connect to a band many of us couldn’t see.

The opposite perhaps was true for Cat Power; we witnessed her and her demons very clearly, even when she probably didn’t want us to. After all these years, she remains an exceptionally nervy performer; biting her nails, pacing up and down the stage, forcing her guitarist to jam for minutes on end so she could smoke a cigarette to calm herself. But when she overcomes her shyness, there are few that can match her for heart-wrenching beauty. Launching into the most stunningly bleak version of ‘The Greatest’, a hundred miles from the gospel-tinged warmness of the original, she struck the most profound shivers down our collective spines. As her voice began to crack, and the sparse guitar line accelerated and was overlaid with increasingly chaotic waves of distortion, it almost overwhelmed with emotional power, a dark and breathtakingly intense reflection of Chan Marshall’s own mental state. This may have annoyed purists expecting gentle folk balladry, but I for one was blown away, and though the rest of the set didn’t quite match the emotional impact of its opener, it was still one of the most compelling sets of the weekend.

After that emotional slugfest, the always dependable Calexico were on hand to raise spirits with their mariachi-infused Americana. As veteran live performers, they know how to work a festival audience, and the likes of ‘Guero Canelo’ certainly inspired a great degree of well-intentioned, if ill-advised attempts to dance with Latin fervour.

Japandroids’ “last UK show in a long, long time” was initially hindered by a chronic lack of volume, but their brutally enthusiastic garage-rock assaults eventually, and inevitably devolved the entire iArena into one big, happy moshpit.

But even Vancouver’s greatest paled in comparison to the saxed-up madness of Melt Yourself Down, one of the most exciting live bands to come out of this country in years. Kushal Gaya’s other project Zun Zun Egui tore the iArena a new one in 2012, and once again, this unstoppable force of nature screamed, hollered, whooped, clambered, pogoed and generally blew the socks off everyone in attendance in conjunction with a glorious jazz/funk/punk/noise barrage somewhere between Ponytail and Sun Ra. You can keep your Mumford and Sons and Alt-J’s – this is what the British music scene should really be about.

Saturday’s proceedings were inaugurated by Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, a band that, impressively, really do live up to their name. Having spent a period living on the street before supplementing menial day jobs with a side-career as a James Brown impersonator, Mr Bradley was discovered by the boss of Daptone Records, who encouraged him to forge a solo career. This proved to be mutually beneficial for him and music lovers everywhere, as his passionate, old-school soul, evocative of early-70′s Stax or Marvin Gaye, is as good as anything that was actually released in that era. He’s also a wonderful performer, busting more impressive moves in his mid-sixties than I have busted in my entire life to date, and his band are stunningly tight – which is more than can be said for Flamingods.

Their energetic, tribal performances have been great in the past, but with equipment failing everywhere, and a faint sense they spent more time preparing their GOAT-lite costumes than soundchecking, their set is brief and underwhelming.

Bo Ningen, on the other hand, absolutely destroy everything in their path with yet another jaw-dropping, face-melting display of no-holds-barred psychedelic rock, deservedly acquiring the biggest audience the Lake Stage received all weekend.

On the main stage, Efterklang’s peerless Danish indie-pop was augmented by the addition of the operatic talents of Katinka Fogh Vindelev, whose crystalline harmonies somehow conspired to make ‘Modern Drift’ even more transcendental than usual. Casper Clausen, despite his punishing touring schedule, remains the happiest man in music, and his dispersal of gifts into the crowd (including a bunch of hats swiped from Latvia and his own watch) helped to bridge the gap between performer and audience in a charming and characteristically quirky way.

And while we’re on the subject of insanely upbeat Nordic bands, Retro Stefson on the Lake stage proved an unexpected hit – their cheesy take on 90′s dance may be difficult to handle on record, but their infectious enthusiasm makes them a superbly enjoyable festival band.

All that said, the day ultimately belonged to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Kraftwerk. The former were on truly imperious form, with a greatest hits setlist that perfectly encapsulated their career to date and Karen O at the height of her powers. From ‘Maps’ to ‘Heads Will Roll’ to ‘Sacrilege’, the energy levels on stage and in the crowd rarely dipped below “mental,” and thanks to the directness of their songs, it was easy for those unfamiliar with their work to get caught up in the atmosphere.

In fact, they may have been, blasphemous as it sounds, even better than the Krautrock legends, whose 3D set, whilst stunning, was not entirely suited to outdoor venues. Trying to space out to motorik beats and eye-popping visuals whilst a group of boozed-up lads stand in front of you shouting, somewhat optimistically, about their prospects of obtaining imminent sexual congress is not an ideal state of affairs. Nonetheless, having the opportunity to see “Spacelab” performed by Ralf Hutter himself whilst a computer-generated Mir directly crashed into my face was an experience I’m unlikely to ever forget.

On paper, Sunday always looked to be the weak link in this year’s line-up, but the lack of bands I actively wanted to check out meant I had more time to discover new and exciting things. For example, though MONEY were ominously described in the programme as a “Mancunian Manics”, their haunting, unusual indie rock actually bore more comparison to Wild Beasts and WU LYF. Combined with their refusal to play the normal music industry games (they purposely choose to have little-to-no online presence), one suspects they may be a band to keep an eye on.

Moon Duo, a primitive and powerful garage-rock from a husband and wife couple, impressed with their vitality, although the vocals were a little too wispy for my liking. Sinkane, the side project of Of Montreal’s former drummer, was another revelation – think Yeasayer on an all-out funk binge, and Tamikrest, who could be best described as “Tinariwen: The New Generation” melded traditional Tuareg rhythms and classic rock influences into irresistible grooves.

But that’s not to say there weren’t any more familiar pleasures in the final day’s roster. Bobby Womack utterly owned the Obelisk stage during an unimpeachably superb hour-long set that incorporated everything from blaxploitation classic ‘Across 110th Street’ to a cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Going To Come.’

CocoRosie’s eccentric mix of angelic vocals, husky raps and beat boxing was a surprise hit in the Radio 6 Arena, and Grizzly Bear, although not an obvious choice to warm a crowd up for Foals, enchanted with a sunset rendition of ‘Two Weeks’, complete with Victoria Legrand on backing vocals. Admittedly, Foals and Beach House fell a bit flat as final night headliners, neither band having the widespread appeal or variety of tunes to sustain a top-billed set (Arcade Fire and Elbow were far more effective in previous years), but this minor stumble at the last hurdle didn’t nothing to shake Latitude 2013′s status as the most impressive instalment yet.

After a few shaky years, the last two weekenders have truly established the festival as one of the most interesting, eclectic cultural events this country has to offer, and one can only hope it will continue to go from strength to strength.

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