Latitude Festival 2012 - Review

Home and somewhat recovered from the exhaustion of moving office, home and attending a music festival all in the same week, time reasons dictate a slight change to how I'll review Latitude festival, rather than three parts focusing on each day of the festival I'll pick the best parts, the good parts and the bad parts of the weekend (in my opinion).

Out of the organisers hands of course was the weather, it was actually better than I expected. Two overnight downpours and another on Saturday afternoon mean the ground was wet and the campsite especially muddy but the organisers coped well I think and the main arena area didn't mud over, the car park situation could have been potentially disastrous but a dry and partly sunny Sunday saved much of that and despite some mud that a car wash soon sorted I returned home pretty much unscathed. And the festival itself...

The Great.

Zola Jesus: It's unusual for an act who I've seen four times prior to be my star of the festival but that's definitely the case this time around, Zola Jesus' show was sublime. Having reduced her synth count from my previous live encounters and instead with the addition of a violinist, Nika has also lost some of the 'stage stalking' which often caused her to spend most of her time pacing left and right, now rather concentrating on making the most of her dominating voice and incredible wealth of material her slot towards the end of the i Arena's Saturday line-up might have struggled to draw in the same sort of crowd as Django Django prior to her but it still received great applause from those watching and is definitely worthy of my gold medal placing.

Glaring out to the crowd with her dark, glitchy synths and commanding drums Nika's chilly, icy bellows made for a mesmerizing show. If you get the chance, go see her.

The Staves: Saturday was easily the best day for music (again in my opinion), earlier in the evening The Staves had enchanted my heart with a pretty short (just over half an hour) set of gorgeous folk led tunes with bewitching harmonies backed by subtle guitar and beats. Though really what makes this group special is the sister's voices, overwhelmingly gorgeous and listened to in almost silence by the appreciative crowd, it might have been my first viewing of The Staves but it definitely won't be the last.

St Vincent: A Sunday afternoon slot on the Word Arena is probably about the best Annie Clark can ask for billing wise in the UK, it's our fault, her incredible talents deserve so much more, for 40 minutes she treats us to her usual onslaught of extraordinary guitar craft and show-stopping vocals backed by her three piece band on drums and keys, her cover of The Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" still reduces me to "wow" after four viewings. 

I've said this before and I'm going to say it again, I want album four to be a full on rock beast. Please Annie?!

I Break Horses: Another Saturday i Arena act that blew me away. I've seen both of IBH's London shows so far and being honest the last one at Scala was only average, filling out a headlining slot in the large room by elongating tracks from the wonderful album Hearts beyond comprehension. There was none of that this time around, instead just the heavenly fizz of synths and shoegaze guitar textures played out over Maria's ethereal whispers. Beautiful

The Good.

Josh T Pearson: The reason Josh is in 'the good' rather than 'the great' is probably based on nothing more than my preconceptions, after being blown away by Josh on the two previous occasions I was anticipating similar sorts of goosebumps this time around, it didn't quite happen that way on a late lunchtime Saturday show in a massive tent, nevertheless Josh's 40 minute set was faultless, playing 5 tracks from last year's incredible 'Last of the Country Gentlemen' alongside his usual joke telling (I do still chuckle at the Willie Nelson one) he had most of the crowd in the palm of his hand (especially three guys who took fandom to the next level).

Josh isn't really your average festival material but he handled it like the consummate professional he is, hopefully my next encounter will be somewhere a little more intimate and fitting.

Soko: Over the course of just over half an hour Soko managed to play about six instruments (a similar number was also played by her equally multi-talented violinist) and endear herself to the hearts of the audience with a set that crossed as many genres too.

Though I prefer her 'depressing' (her words) stuff which was kept to a minimum this time around, presumably Stephanie (probably rightly) assumes a festival set should be more upbeat, it was still a wonderful way to spend your early Saturday evening and besides a track where Soko played alone on drums that did nothing for me at all her set was another highlight of an extraordinary good days music.

Lana Del Rey: Yes indeed. I've stayed completely out of the Lana Del Rey hyperbole of the last nine months, I quite enjoyed "Video Games" when it was first released but a few months down the line I'd had enough of it, thankfully all the fuss has long since died down and I was able to go and watch Ms Grant with an open mind and form my own opinion.

Well when I say the fuss has died down I mean Internet 'self critics', Latitude's second stage, the Word Arena was packed, absolutely packed with eager fans and curious sceptics. I was in the middle but I soon found myself impressed. I thought it was good. Whilst not quite having the material to fill out much more than half an hour what she performed was impressive, her voice stands up to live scrutiny and her delivery was first rate. I can't say I thought too much to her spending a whole song 'meet & greeting' screaming fans in the front row - it was a bit boy band for me - but I walked away with the opinion that LDR not only has the style, she has the substance.

First Aid Kit: The first act of the weekend for me after I arrived a little late (Friday lunchtime), the Swedish sisters take to the festivals main stage well and play a set from mostly their most recent album The Lion's Roar alongside their wonderful take of Fever Ray's "When I Grow Up", it was overcast when they played but the beauty of their music can only serve to brighten up the mood of the crowd with "Emmylou" providing the first sing-along of the weekend.

Slightly different to my last festival encounter with the pair (in front of about 60 people at Glastonbury's Greenpeace stage) the sit was a fitting reward for the sister's development since.

Sharon Van Etten: This set should have been somewhere else some other time (I'm told the early billing is because Sharon needed to travel elsewhere during the day) but the lunchtime risers are treated to a heavenly set by Sharon Van Etten, perhaps better suited to more intimate surroundings it's the louder "Serpents" that hits home the most but besides an over long final track, Sharon shows exactly why the UK has taken to her music so well. Come back soon.

The Atmosphere: Sure Latitude is a middle class festival but the atmosphere was generally pretty good, well not electric by any stretch of the imagination, bands were appreciated respectfully and it was a pretty relaxed throughout. 

I personally didn't hear of any robberies (I'm sure there were some) or loutish behaviour by people which can often mar music festivals and in my opinion you can't ask for more than that. 

Also ranking amongst the good but would cause this review to go on far too long were Twin Shadow, Smoke Fairies, Slow Club, Bat For Lashes and Tune-Yards.

The Bad.

Reginald D. Hunter: Now don't get me wrong, I love Reg (this is a music blog not a comedy one so I'll keep this brief) but his show was about 25 minutes shorter than billed and used as a work in progress show for his forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe appearance, unfortunately on the whole it just wasn't very good. Hmm.

Food and Drink: Sponsorship, the cause of most evils in the world for sure and unfortunately Latitude isn't free from corporate 'partnerships'. The worst of such is by far with drinks, I'm an alcohol snob but a choice of Tuborg (surely Danish for Cat's piss), Magners (surely just sugar in a can) and Hektor's Pride (an ale, but a weak one - and one that ran out by Sunday) is not enough for a music festival that attracts 35,000 people.

I hope the organisers provide more range in the future, even just a 'Brothers Bar' like at Glastonbury or a separate 'ale bar' because the alcohol choice (especially when taking your own into the arena was forbidden) was to put it politely, rubbish.

The glass deposit scheme caused a few murmurs of complaint on Friday (you had to pay a £3 returnable 'deposit' for a plastic cup for your alcohol but after teething problems which meant you had to queue up twice to get a drink (which was scrapped on Saturday) it worked well and the lack of thousands of paper cups around the site was appreciated by me - now to do that for food as well.

Food was the usual festival standard and at the usual inflated price. £7 for chicken noodles, £3 for chips, £4.50 for a burger being a standard cross-section. I'm not sure if there is a set price that stalls have to charge or price collusion but what a breathe of fresh air it would be to have a seller charge their normal price.


Timings: Don't get me wrong, there was something I could have been doing between 11am and 3am the next morning every day, however, one of the things I found most unusual was that two of the stages (i arena and Lake Stage) stopped playing music at 9pm. Perhaps to give the headliners more audience but it led to the problems I had on Sunday, not wanting to catch Paul Weller or Wild Beasts and thus being without a musical act to see (it did lead to an early getaway though).

Lack of 'Introducing' stage: BBC Introducing is associated with a lot of major UK festivals now and something similar here would certainly improve things, be it a little stage in the woods or over by the outdoor theatre area I definitely think there is room and scope for a stage where smaller bands could get the potential to play to a festival crowd and perhaps get some intimate and acoustic performances from bands playing on others stages throughout the weekend. If Latitude wants to grow and progress further this is definietly an angle I'd like to see the organisers take (though I would say that being a new music fanatic).

Well that wasn't short was it?! If you are still here well done!. The summary, Latitude was a very good weekend that with minimal improvements and a repeat of this years stellar line-up could become an essential part of the UK's festival season.

Did you go? What did you think?