Latitude Festival 2012 @ Southwold, Suffolk 12 - 15.07.12

Queen of the boutique festival scene, Latitude’s seventh edition is once again held on the Henham Park estate, not too far from Southwold in Suffolk. It is a beautiful setting in which to revel in good British weather, and indulge in exceptional musical talent from around the globe. Moreover, there’s a myriad of other arts/entertainment, starting early and running late into the night, that makes this festy the sort to suit most tastes.

Jul 12th, 2012 at Southwold, Suffolk / By Cloudrunner (with Danny Le Guilcher)
Latitude Festival 2012 @ Southwold, Suffolk 12 - 15.07.12 Good quality festival campsites cover the northern slopes of the site, and as you squelch your way down to the arena from these, you’ll pass through the first of the two wooded areas before you reach the lake. At the eastern edge of the woods lies the intimate I Arena tent, home to some of the most brilliant bands and audiences of the weekend, plus the least confusing bar system. A smaller stage up-woods hosted acts from the seemingly random all the way up to an indie disco by Dermott O’Leary himself on the Thursday night, which was as clichéd as it sounds. Among the more westerly of the trees were to be found some of the good but pretentious entries for the annual sculpture prize. “Why do they seek to preserve their representations of nature?” we mused.

The lake itself is manmade too, like the parkland, like the people. The lake is at its most beautiful when light shows paint the water vapour of the fountain at night, or when classical superstar Lang Lang brings out the Sunday sunshine with cascading Chopin melodies from the Waterfront stage. Mosquitoes are born here, and gondoliers swan around here whilst balloon acrobats tumble above; but it’s their lake not ours. We are foot passengers on our way to the stars, underneath the ever-changing clouds.

Once you are in the main arena field, getting from stage to stage is easy enough; take a left turn and you can walk up the hill past the small but punchy, shark-headed Lake Stage and on to the vast striped tent that is Word Arena. At the very top of the southern slopes lies the forest framed main, or Obelisk Stage. Things can get uncomfortably mainstream up here, especially when it comes to headliner time. One can only hope that Bon Iver wake up to find that the party is over, and the realisation hits that money means nothing, life and music was better in a cabin in the woods, and when the majority of your fans can’t pronounce your name, they are not proper fans. Elbow are boring, not anthemic, and live they sound just like they do on record, i.e. produced by a rhino in a paint shop. In 2012, “Paul Weller is just a bloke in a haircut.” They should’ve let Janelle Monae headline every night, but they wouldn’t, they just wouldn’t.

The west flank of the arena leads you past a good but expectedly over-priced selection of food and craft stalls, past the excellent Poetry, Literature and Cabaret tents (three man stand-up team Pappy’s were our headlining Friday night pick from these), or past the hit-and-miss Comedy stage, and the solid walled marquee that is the Film and Music Tent. We were part of a very lucky audience who helped-out the legendary Wanda Jackson with her vocals late on Saturday night. Keep going and you’ll find yourself passing the festival fringe areas. Imagine an outdoor performance of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, some teenagers permanently dancing in front of a shed, and a mirrored ‘thing’ that you enter on your back and disappear into, literally. Then your lead either into another wooded area, home to more sculpture, some weirdness, a wet Kevin Rowland, and the main Theatre tent (where we saw a fantastic play by Theatre 503, ‘Billy Chickens is a Psychopath Superstar’). Or, round the narrow end of the lake through the children’s area, past some activities stalls and back to the waterfront stage and the main bridge.

The main music stages opened up on a wet Friday, and we were more than delighted by Tim Ten Yen’s opening slot on the Lake Stage but disappointed that Cate Le Bon didn’t show up due to illness, We Have Band play next instead; the name says it all. The War On Drugs do what they do rather well in the Word Arena in the afternoon, but it’s Amadou and Mariam, followed by Janelle Monae, on the Obelisk that really kicks Friday into gear. The former proving their mettle, and status as the biggest thing in world music. They’ve earned those gold guitars the right way. The latter blowing most people away with her incredible band and ability to sing exactly like a young Michael Jackson. Back to the independents, and it’s the I Arena that provides the defining double-bill of the night; with Kurt Vile and band ripping it up slowly, insecurely, behind hair. The double denim wearing frontman ending the set beautifully with a couple of acoustic numbers. The crowd even shut up for ‘Peeping Tomboy’, but then the teens and Hunter wellied weekenders haven’t turned up yet. It’s a good set, but it’s rather overshadowed by tUnE-yArDs. Merrill Garbus is in the form of her life, especially at these smaller stage festival slots, and this packed crowd certainly agree, going wild for ‘Gangsta’, ‘Bizness’ and set closer ‘My Country’. Incredible. Just incredible. Maybe we should’ve hung around for The Field but it felt as if that was the pinnacle.
Band of the day: tUnE-yArDs
Musicians of the day: Merrill Garbus, Nate Brenner (tUnE-yArDs)

It’s a drier but muddier morning that greets us on our journey through the woods to the lakeside press tent, today we drink hot cups of tea and marvel at the media freaks at work. The festival, band/line-up opinions aside, is actually incredibly well organised and doesn’t even run out of toilet roll. Our epic band viewing commences with mega-crush Sharon Van Etten, playing songs from her latest LP, Tramp. The band are more than just a vehicle for the material, and make harder songs like ‘Serpents’ come alive with exquisite harmonies, and layered guitars and keys. Smoke Fairies present some lovely layers themselves and make the most of the lazy and slow building Word Arena crowd. Wooden Shjips grind and fuzz it out just fine in the woods, and we’re sorry to miss the beginning of their set, then we’re at the Lake Stage again for the duality of Tall Ships. Half brilliant riffs and loops, this three-piece almost ruin everything with banal lyrics, which include every clichéd love/ship metaphor in the book; if they stuck to what they are good at however, they could be really good. Back to the Word Arena and there’s a respectful buzz about the next band, for they are Low, the great pioneers of slowcore. It’s a faultless set, with a couple of golden oldies thrown in, but no-one could be fussy about set choices here, when the three-piece play and sing with such softness, purity, and precision, that you know they were born to do just that. Richard Hawley is drunk and injured on Obelisk, and he’s good, but only as good as you’d expect. The Word Arena is absolutely filled to the brim for SBTRKT mostly with teenagers who’ve had a little too much pop and fancy a bop and a snog, but who cares, this pop-heavy electronic fusion of underground and mainstream styles is infectious and obviously the most popular thing in the world right now, though we had no idea beforehand. Another thing we do know now is that our decision to go and see Walls right after, was perhaps the best we made all weekend. This digital meets analogue electronic duo are one of a few great Kompakt acts that are making big waves at the moment, and they put on one hell of a show, that turns the I Arena into a lucid, ambient pleasuredome. Watching these guys work their magic in a small clearing in the woods is as captivating and euphoric as it gets. Somehow, there’s still time to watch The Horrors – who are very slick and visual, but lack depth – and to attend that Wanda Jackson show. Saturday also saw us missing sets by Django Django – who filled the entire woods with the word-of-mouth must-see performance of the weekend. We were there but couldn’t see or hear enough to pass judgement. We also missed Josh T. Pearson – he apparently agrees with a learned friend of ours that his new record doesn’t translate well to live performance – and we’re informed that the band Toy are “amazing” and “incredible” (1500 times . . . by the same learned friend).
Bands of the day: Low, Walls
Musicians of the day: Low

Lang Lang gets the Sunday vibe going whilst we chill out in the press tent garden, in the actual sun, then Rufus Wainwright ruins it for all concerned by proceeding to play when no-one else is playing so you can hear every dull note, even from a mile away. First on the list for us is Bristol band Zun Zun Egui at the I Arena, and it’s one of the performances of the festival; eclectic, happy, skilful, cultured, good-natured, raucous, and both free and tight, tight, tight. St. Vincent at the Word Arena present their usual display of stylised performance meets punishingly good songwriting and musicianship. Annie Clark teeters and shuffles on heels like a maniacal ballerina, and though she does not give us any extra old or ultra new material, her voice is blossoming, and her guitar work on ‘Surgeon’ proves she’s one of the best in the business, and oh, what a band! Battles are the next band on, but there’s a massive tech issue, which takes half an hour to resolve. What would have surely been the greatest two band combo of the weekend is badly effected by the combination of too little time and too much equipment. Battles play four fantastic songs that eventually lift everyone’s spirits before it is all over too soon and the three members of the band end up in various degrees of anguish; drummer John Stanier is clearly angry, understandably, as he also breaks his snare drum halfway through the shortened set, and has to fetch his own replacement. The day for us never fully recaptures its magic after that. We are perhaps foolish to miss sets by Jonathan Wilson, Perfume Genius, M83 and Apparat, but you can’t win them all, and catching twenty minutes of Bat for Lashes, plus the occasionally brilliant – but on this performance better on record – Herman Dune, is the start of a good wind-down. We cap it all off with Latitude favourites Wild Beasts, who have done well to work their way up the bill over the years, and they impress with textural warmth, and prowess, but the songs lack impact, particularly the new material; we’re glad to have seen them however.
Bands of the day: Zun Zun Egui, St. Vincent
Musicians of the day: Kushal Gaya (Zun Zun Egui), Annie Clark, Matt Johnson (St. Vincent), TJ Allen (Bat for Lashes).

We will remember Latitude 2012 for all the great performances, the caffeine highs, and the mud that makes the pine cones look like little poos, but perhaps most for the moment one of Pappys pushed a girl down the stairs. We will try to forget our neighbours who travel to festivals all over the globe, never to watch the bands, but always for the ‘experience’. Thanks for leaving us your rubbish, and please stop hogging the tickets to these great events or we’ll be forced to return the favour one day.