Latitude Festival at Henham Park, Suffolk, 18th - 20th July 2008.
Alright, so the festivities themselves actually commenced the day before (Thursday 17th) but Contact being the sleepy heads we are didn't actually make it on-site until the following morning. Unlike most other festivals, Latitude is almost tranquil in comparison, from its idyllic fenland setting to its almost exclusive boast of being "more than just a music festival". The clientele is more family-orientated than any other of its ilk while jester hats, flags, football shirts and moronic midnight chants of "Bollocks!" are thankfully absent or at the very least, minimal bar the obvious day-trippers here to see the more radio-friendly bill toppers on this year's line-up.
That's not to say there aren't any criticisms either. The food and drink prices are a little hefty - (Â£5.40 for a pint lager?!? I don't care if Â£2 goes towards the cup, its still a rip off) to say the least, while the size of the comedy tent in relation to the status of some of its performers is a cause of chagrin all weekend, particularly on Saturday as queues start forming literally as soon as the festival site opens at 10am for the arrival of Bill Bailey some five-and-a-half hours later!
Minor gripes aside though, this was a weekend not to be forgotten and even the rain couldn't detract from what was a hugely enjoyable festival filled with some sterling performances, a selection of whom the Contact team have penned some wonderful words about, starting with.
Gravenhurst open proceedings with a short spell of solo acoustic majesty. He looks lonely, almost scared, on stage, but this only adds to the uneasy atmosphere of his music. Somewhere between Low and Art Of Fighting lies Gravenhurst; a lost soul, but willingly so.
Leeds four-piece Grammatics inject new life and irresistible pop sensibilities into the faux math-rock structures the likes of Foals have made so incessantly irritating. To an audience two powers to the ten of their usual crowd they burst forward with youthful exuberance and quiet confidence, and their genuine joy onstage produces a set that is both heart-warming and heart racing.
Murder By Death
Not many musicians live to perform. Obviously the majority like it, and a slightly smaller number love it, but it's very rare that you get the feeling a musician is employed in their only possible choice of occupation. Murder By Death frontman Adam Turla is a strong exception to this rule. In front of what becomes to an extent a backing band he hollers like Johnny Cash on a moonshine n' rocket fuel bender, launching the bands impressive nuggets of raw Americana into full blown stadium-sized anthems.
A band who've been around for ages yet never had the commercial impact their critical acclaim or fellow artist endorsements seem to have warranted. Contact is only here because of the technical difficulties with Julian Cope in the Uncut Arena, but we're glad we made the effort as 'Walking With Thee' and 'The Return Of Evil Bill' set the woodland scene to eerie perfection.
Love them or hate them, and as recording artists it's more likely you'll favour the latter, Crystal Castles show here why they are THE perfect, end-of-the-night festival act. Their lo-fi techno may be starting to wear a bit thin with some, but there is no more sublime close to Friday night than gameboy effects of Ethan Kath coupled with Alice Glass' junkie posturing and piercing screams.
Having been away for so long, and with album number three muted to be done and dusted as we speak, their appearance here is a bit of a surprise given Latitude's tendency to steer clear of daytime radio pop acts. However, maybe influenced by the setting, Franz Ferdinand play anything but a crowd-pleasing set that flits mainly between first album staples such as 'Michael' and 'Jacqueline' interspersed with newer, as-yet unreleased material such as 'Bite Hard', which strangely sounds like The Scissor Sisters after a Glaswegian makeover. 90 minutes later the jury is still out, and with the muted response they receive from the audience, one suspects they won't find it so easy this time reclaiming their ascendant spot as the UK's most chart-friendly indie band.
All dressed in black and with songs that mention "blood on your hands" and "DANGER!", in bold capital letters, comparisons with Interpol and Editors are bound to be inevitable. However, the aforementioned 'Unfinished Business' proves to be one of the most engrossing moments of the whole day, and suggests their underachieving days as Fear Of Flying are well and truly behind them.
One of Latitude's main selling points is that with so many hidden stages and activities it's easy to merely stumble upon personal festival highlights. Of course this never normally happens, but in between the reeds and crystalline waters of a small stage by the lake for a crowd of around a hundred it does, as in the middle of a set full of hook-laden baroque pop The Irrepressibles play what could quite possibly be the most beautiful piece of music written this decade/century/millennium. It goes by the name of 'In This Shirt', and burns in a similar fashion to Anthony & The Johnsons 'Hope There's Someone', but a Myspace search is no replacement for such a perfect delivery in such beautiful surroundings. For once you REALLY did have to be there.
The House Of Love
Long before the days of Oasis Creation Records had a knack of introducing at least one original brand new artist a week. The House Of Love emanate from that era and so its no surprise that they pepper one of their first UK festival appearances in a decade or more with material from those halcyon days. Despite a few tuning blips early on, 'Road' and 'Destroy The Heart' resonate with an intensity that delights fans both old and new. Welcome back Chadders and Bickers.
Having never been a fan of Guy Garvey and co. on record, Contact Music has a slight confession to make; we, like so many others around us, are only here to ensure we attain a good spot for Saturday's headliners. Saying that, it seems Elbow are also fully aware of this, yet even though they are playing to a largely uninitiated audience, they somehow give the performance of their lives that converts even the most previously dismissive of their maudlin Mancrock.
To say this is the moment most of those present at this year's Latitude have been waiting for would be something of an understatement. So much so, in fact, that one even harbours a slight degree of sympathy for Metronomy, The Mars Volta and Cheeky Cheeky & The Nosebleeds who are faced with the unenviable task of trying to compete for punters on the other stages with the Icelandic legends. The set itself is drawn in equal measures from 'Agaetis Byrjun', 'Takk' and recent long player 'Med Sud I Eyram Vid Spilum Endalaust', with numerous highlights ranging from Amiina's tubthumping during 'Gobbledigook' and a marching brass band on 'Festival'. Long gone are the days when Sigur Ros could be tagged as merely being just another post-rock band; their performance is simply colossal, other-worldly in places and most definitely a cut above from pretty much any other artist on the planet. If Latitude 2008 were to cease at this moment in time I swear it wouldn't matter a jot to those present for the entire duration of this set.
Although not strictly billed as being one of the artists on this year's line-up, we're no less intrigued when we venture into the Music And Film Arena for Mark Lamarr presents God's Jukebox. to find his choice to close the show was an unprecedented hurtle through one of the most prolific back catalogues of the punk era. Original members Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley may be going grey and thinner on top but that doesn't halt their ferocious assault on the likes of 'Love You More', 'Orgasm Addict' and 'Promises'. If God owns a jukebox, you can bet he'll be listening to 'Singles: Going Steady' on repeat play after this.
The Twilight Sad
Late additions to this year's festival in place of M.I.A. they may be, but that doesn't seem to have dampened The Twilight Sad's spirits. Nor does the fact they only seem to be playing to a few hundred punters at best, as James Graham puts his heart and soul into the next 25 minutes as though his life depends on it. 'Mapped By What Surrounded Them' and 'And She Would Darken The Memory' sound expansive as if they were made for stadiums. Stranger things have happened, believe me.
Those Dancing Days
Swedish pop needn't necessarily just mean Abba, and these five teenage girls put on a show that suggests they're light years ahead of most of their contemporaries. If the bittersweet abstract rhythms of 'Hitten' aren't incendiary enough, then a closing, extended romp through the band's signature tune 'Those Dancing Days' proves to be the straw that broke several hundred revelling camels backs. Most endearing.
Mock The Week mainstay Frankie Boyle is the highlight of the comedy tent's festivities with his blend of acerbic, yet alarmingly deadpan, wit and jet black subject matter. He isn't needlessly offensive however, never relying merely on shock value as a comedic vehicle as so many of his brethren do.
Not many do anthemic pop as well as US four-piece Nada Surf. They hit the Obelisk Arena with all the hits that have made then a mainstay, yet still a sore thumb to some extent, on the American college rock circuit for over a decade, with the slow-burning 'Inside Of Love' and the driving 'Hi-Speed Soul', both lifted from the excellent Let Go album, being paricularly worthy of a mention.
Currently en route to being the biggest band in the country, its somewhat ironic that Glasvegas' early evening set on the Uncut Stage will be followed in an hour or so by Blondie, a band who they're undoubtedly indebted to. As with many of their recent shows, the only complaint is their late arrival and early departure, as what comes in-between feels like a mini-selection of future number 1 singles in-waiting. 'Flowers And Football Tops' combines poignancy with a feel good factor, while 'Daddy's Gone' and as-yet unreleased anthem 'Lonesome Swan' are simply immense.
Okkervil River are strong contenders for a hypothetical 'worst luck of the festival' award, having to contend not only with major sound problems but a tent two-thirds full of eager Blondie fans camping prematurely in expectation of their idol. As such their set falls mostly of deaf ears and the band struggle to make an impression in the face of such general ignorance, to an extent that even the epic 'Our lives are not a movie...' feel flat.
Competing with Interpol in the last slot of the weekend Nottingham's sadcore godfathers Tindersticks play to a surprisingly large, and varied, crowd. The majority of their set, unfortunately cut short due to time constraints, is composed of tracks featured on their latest opus The Hungry Saw, their strongest full-length sixteen years after the bands birth. As the first flickers of night break through the tent that hosts the Uncut Stage the band unveil the pairing of 'Come Feel The Sun' and 'The Other Side Of The Sun' and thousands of hearts slowly break. After a life of over a decade and a half Tindersticks have never sounded this vital.
Having seen the New York four-piece in action little over a week ago, the only surprise left in store would be whether they could transcend their obvious love of the smaller stage to the more salubrious venture of festival headliners and closers. Despite the out of sync time change during 'No I In Threesome', Interpol give an astounding performance that even the miserable weather can't ruin, and just when things don't seem like they can get any better, they actually do during the impeachable whammy of an encore that ties in 'NYC', 'The Heinrich Manoeuvre' and 'Stella Was A Diver And She Was Always Down'. Hallelujah!
So that's it for another year. Of course there were many more highlights throughout the weekend such as The Exploits Of Elaine's haunting live soundtrack to Sarah Wood's short film 'The Book Of Love' on Saturday morning, or The School's jaunty Sunday lunchtime set that recalled the days when having a bowl haircut and writing the name of Amelia Fletcher all over school textbooks was the order of the day.
Here's to Latitude 2009!
Words: Dom Gourlay & Jordan Dowling
Photo by Linds Wilson