17th, 18th and 19th July 2009
It wasn't that long ago that spending three days in a farmer's field with no proper drainage, unusable Portakabins blocked by mid-morning on the first day masquerading as toilets and predictable line-ups constituted the typical outdoor English music festival. Due to the ever increasing number of festivals springing up these past few years, the bar has been raised significantly in terms of standards, Latitude proving itself the unparalleled figurehead. What this means is that the average punter gets an eclectic mix of artists not only from the world of music but also comedy, literature, theatre and dance. The surroundings meanwhile couldn't be any more idyllic than here, even down to the finely irrigated land that soaks up the most torrential of downpours before you can even spell the word "mudbath". Even the refreshments on offer are of a different quality to almost any other festival you care to mention; chilled pear cider and Tuborg on draft replace the lukewarm and watered down Carling we've almost come to expect, while falafels, hummus salads and lamb koftas replace gristly burgers and greasy chips. Which brings me onto the "general punters" themselves. The phrase middle class is often much-maligned to the point of parody, yet if there was ever a more polite, refined, family orientated rock focused event anywhere else on the planet I've yet to see or hear about it, the lack of any working members of Her Majesty's Constabulary telling its own story.
This year's headliners certainly raised a few eyebrows, more because of them being unconventional choices than anything else, and despite many fellow revellers climbing the irony league by forcing themselves to enjoy the likes of Grace Jones and the Pet Shop Boys, Contact stuck to its guns; never a fan before, definitely won't be pretending we are now. What this meant was that the crowds were more evenly spread out around the stages, and unlike some of last year's uncompromising crushes, an even more relaxed vibe engulfed the site, people occasionally apologising for standing slightly in other folks lines of view. Reading, Leeds or V this most definitely isn't.
With so many musical highlights to choose from, it would be difficult to choose any one moment in particular that characterised the festival but Doves performance on the Obelisk stage on Saturday was one of those real "coming of age" moments - not bad for a band who've been making music for almost two decades now - while Editors dispelled any notion that they're just another band ready to settle for the easy life, safe in the knowledge their instantly recognisable sound could be milked until the cows come home and retire. Instead, the half dozen new songs they play hinted at a more electronic, robotic direction that at times recalled Eno at his most perversely inventive, Kraftwerk in their constructive phase or for the latecomers Primal Scream's 'Xtrmntr'. What is for sure is that their forthcoming third album 'In This Light And On This Evening' promises to be a fascinatingly diverse affair.
Moving around the stages, Of Montreal's impressive cast of a thousand visual props brightened up a Friday that was largely beset by sound problems, while Wild Beasts skewered pop briefly halted Sunday's horrendous early afternoon downpour. Prior to that, Thom Yorke's breathtaking midday performance drew the biggest turn-out of the weekend, mixing tracks from his 'The Eraser' record interspersed with songs both old and new, his version of 'Everything In Its Right Place' going down particularly well. Elsewhere, Pulled Apart By Horses played a set just as memorable for "the spitting incident" as it were music, while Spiritualized proved that if at first you don't succeed, ask the engineers to turn the sound up, their set in the Uncut Arena on Saturday evening quite possibly the loudest Henham Park has ever heard.
All in all, Latitude once again proved to be the most pleasantly enjoyable outdoor festival of its size we've ever witnessed on these shores, and judging by the ever-growing contingent of smiling faces partying in the woods til daylight long after the final acts had left all of its many stages, so did the dazzling array of punters ensuring this is a guaranteed sell-out well before July. Long may it continue!
CONTACT MUSIC'S TOP 5 FESTIVAL ANTHEMS OF THE WEEKEND.
1. Doves - There Goes The Fear
OK, so we could have chosen pretty much any part of their hour-long set here. 'Black And White Town''s northern soul stomp sounded incredible, 'Snowden' beautifully atmospheric, and rarely played first single 'The Cedar Room''s appearance here literally caused spontaneous combustion among their diehard following, but we're going for this set closer of epic proportions which for five minutes, turned the hallowed turf in front of the main stage into a green oversized replica of Manchester Boardwalk's spring-loaded dancefloor.
2. The Airborne Toxic Event - Sometime Around Midnight
While the jury is still out on this quintet in some quarters, there can be no doubt that this string-laced epic of gargantuan proportions created possibly the loudest sing-song of the entire weekend, even if a lot of the audience did disappear after bellowing out arguably TATE's finest moment.
3. Wild Beasts - We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues
Playing a set consisting almost entirely of unreleased material on the main stage during Sunday's early afternoon slot might have been viewed as career suicide by many, but those who've heard the forthcoming 'Two Dancers' helped create one of the biggest buzzes around any band this whole weekend. This guaranteed hit single in the making left even the most unassuming of doubters in no certain terms that they were witnessing something very, very special indeed.
4. iLiKETRAiNS - Sea Of Regrets
For many acts, losing a band member and being dropped by their record label would be considered nothing short of catastrophic, yet for this Leeds (now) foursome it appears to have given them the incentive to write their most incisive material to date. Set closer and future 45 'Sea Of Regrets' sums up their new approach perfectly. As singer Dave Martin comments, "Everything we've written up to this point focuses on the past; this is our statement of the future". And some.
5. Thom Yorke - The Eraser
Finally, it would be impossible not to select something from the Radiohead frontman's impeccable set, and this, the title track from his highly acclaimed 2006 solo debut long player set the scene perfectly early on for what was about to follow. Never before have I seen so many grown men standing around me reduced to tears. Truly remarkable in every sense of the word.