Review of Latitude Festival 2010

Having a built a reputation over the past four years as the UK's most family friendly music festival, it was something of a shock to be greeted on arrival by the news that a teenage girl had been raped the previous evening. Surely not? After all, this is Latitude, home of purple sheep, surprisingly edible cuisine, crèches and generally the most polite live audience you could ever wish to be among, no matter who's onstage.

Latitude Festival

Sadly, that incident wasn't the last of its kind among several other misdemeanours over the course of the weekend, and while it should never be understated that this kind of behaviour isn't warranted anywhere, that old adage "the show must go on" means that over three hundred artists of varying descriptions perform across four days of (barring one hour over Saturday lunchtime) blistering sunshine in the heart of Suffolk's arid countryside.

Contactmusic's arrival on the Friday means we miss Tom Jones "special guest" performance the night before, and our first musical experience, local three-piece These Ghosts is forgettable to say the least. Danish quintet The Kissaway Trail offer a more sanguine approach despite their ridiculous dress sense, their mini-Mew soundscapes influencing at least one extra purchase of sophomore album 'Sleep Mountain' in the process.

Brooklyn's Here We Go Magic by contrast look lost like rabbits in headlights on the main stage, although the experimental, musical-chairs-with-instruments gotherama of Esben & The Witch is a welcome diversion, which sets the scene for Wild Beasts now familiar but consistently excellent set straight after. Mixing the best bits of 'Limbo Panto' with those from last year's 'Two Dancers', the fervent reception they enjoy from a packed out Word Arena tells its own story, and if there's any justice come September they'll have a Mercury Music Prize on the mantelpiece to show for it.

They would have been the highlight of the day were it not for Matt Berninger and The National. With Florence warbling away on the main stage in the background, the Word Arena understandably found itself bursting at the seams, Berninger and co. delivered on every count. Mixing crowd favourites like 'Squalor Victoria' and 'Apartment Story' from 2007's much revered 'Boxer' with the more recent 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' and 'England', not to mention a rare run out for 2003's 'Available', this was a triumphant end to the first full day that at least managed to rekindle a few dampened spirits.

Ethereal trio School Of Seven Bells are something of an anomaly best enjoyed after dark, and although their early afternoon set couldn't be faulted for technical proficiency, the likes of 'Windstorm' and 'My Cabal', for all their intimate glory failed to ignite much in the way of a response from a healthily busy crowd. By way of a marked contrast, Frightened Rabbit totally owned the Word Arena from beginning to end. 'The Modern Leper' and 'Swim Until You Can't See Land' are both bellowed back by a two thousand strong throng word-for-word, while the bittersweet 'Keep Yourself Warm' finds itself elevated to the unlikely status as festival anthem of the weekend in the process. Headliners in waiting, for sure.

Unlike The Maccabees, whose competent but largely uninspiring run through of mainly 'Wall Of Arms' based material doesn't transcend itself that well on an expectant, if erratically impatient audience. Retreating back indoors, The Horrors now familiar exclusively 'Primary Colours' material set is bolstered by the addition of a new as-yet untitled song that further enhances their reputation as krautrock fetishists, debut album 'Strange House' now something of a faded memory from their distant past.

On the main stage, Belle And Sebastian's first live appearance in what seems like an age draws in one of the largest gatherings of the entire weekend. Opening with a new song ('I Didn't See It Coming') that sounds more like the bookish B&S of old than the poppier version we've come to expect in recent years, they trawl through their most critically acclaimed works 'If You're Feeling Sinister' and 'The Boy With The Arab Strap' with consummate ease. 'The State I Am In' and 'Fox In The Snow' sound like old friends reminiscing about the past, while 'Judy And The Dream Of Horses' is immaculate in its execution. That they choose to throw in an impromptu cover of The Rolling Stones 'Jumping Jack Flash' midset perhaps wouldn't normally raise many eyebrows were it not for the fact they opted to play barely any of their "hits" as it were, but with a back catalogue as impeccable as theirs, forgiveness is easy.

With the midnight hour approaching, a nineteen-strong procession of face painted girls carrying a banner spouting "This Is Merely A Distraction From The Inevitable" makes its way onto the Lake Stage. Yes folks, its Gaggle, already one of this summer's most talked about groups that unsurprisingly, have drawn a large contingent of (mostly male) admirers here. Beki, a competition winner from London is glued to the front of the stage inanimately as she tells us it's the second time she's seen them in three days. "They're the best band I've heard in years" she remarks to an attentive Contactmusic, and to an extent we kind of agree. Half an hour later, the ode to infidelity 'Liar' and seismic 'Bang On The Drum' ringing in our ears, Mr Hackett and his friends at the front seem to have missed the point; they're singing about you, not to you.

Another day, and despite the promise of all the hits and more, Tom Jones second set of the weekend feels like nothing more than a promotional exercise for his new record. The Antlers however are a different proposition entirely. Mixing the prog dynamics of Rush with the intensity of The Twilight Sad and knob twiddling eccentricity of The Postal Service, their twenty-five minute set is an unexpected highlight of the weekend, 'Two' in particular proving pretty cataclysmic.

Leeds doowopgazers Spectrals are another welcome addition, their intelligent, Spector-esque guitar pop growing in stature with every subsequent performance. 'Leave Me Be' and '7th Date' have a wistful quirkiness about them, while newie 'I Ran With Love But I Couldn't Keep Up' could well be the soundtrack to the summer of 2011. For The Big Pink however, today is nothing short of a disaster. Dogged by sound problems throughout, as with their recent Great Escape show the set is cut short, and the look on the face of a suitably unimpressed Robbie Furze tells its own story.

The return of Kristin Hersch to UK shores probably coincided with the oldest crowd of the weekend, her one-woman-and-a-guitar repertoire drawing comparisons with Patti Smith as she tore through stripped down versions of both her own solo material and Throwing Muses classics like 'Bea'. Wilder's claim to being the emperor's new Foals and Morning Parade's wimpy Snow Patrolisms both give Contactmusic valid excuses to head for the bar. These New Puritans head mangling assault in the Sunrise Arena is both euphoric and brutal in equal measures. The Eastern tinged 'We Want War' and 'Attack Music' give away to an adrenaline fuelled take on early single 'Elvisss' that literally brings the house down while a refined moshpit battles away courteously at the front of the stage.

A similar compliment could be levelled at The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart but for different reasons. Embraced by the twee hairslides and anoraks contingent they may be, but in newer songs like Heaven's Gonna Happen Now' and 'Heart In Your Heartbreak', there's an edgier imbalance to their pristine pop that should see the hugely-anticipated follow-up to last year's debut album exceed all expectations. 'Everything With You' and 'Come Saturday' are joyously received, while the sombre 'Stay Alive' feels oddly apt for a weekend overshadowed by several unsavoury incidents.

We struggle to get into the Word Arena for Jonsi, absolutely gutted at missing what we're told by numerous punters was "the best they'd ever seen". Instead, Contact wraps its weekend up with several hops and skips between Vampire Weekend's passable but not quite there yet headline set on the main stage and Grizzly Bear's incredible harmonies but little in the way of actual songs in the cathedral-like arena.

Tired and weary, we retreat to our beds one last time to be awakened by the sound of a tent prowler being chased by security guards through the guest camping area, an albeit minor inference but yet another unnecessary event to round off the weekend. On the whole, Latitude is still out there in front of a redundantly chasing pack, but this year's escapades proved there are lessons to be learned. Let's hope its back to business as usual for 2011.

Dom Gourlay

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