Latitude Festival 2012 review

'Bigger than ever in 2012'

Photographer:Tim Cheesman

Rebecca Laurence - 16 July 2012

Rain. Everybody's talking about it. Inclement weather has been an unfortunate dampener on the spirits of several UK festivals so far this year, and as wet weeks lead up to Latitude, all eyes are fixed nervously on the forecasts.

Luckily, the story turns out to be, if not balmy, hardly disastrous. The heavy downpours which turn some parts of the site into sludge, thankfully hold off through Friday, as Latitude gets properly underway.

It’s early evening when Janelle Monae (10/10) ignites the Obelisk stage with a pristine set, the whole set-up – stage, backing singers and band decked in monochrome. Capes, backwards dancing, and a finale of ‘I Want You Back’ followed by ‘Tightrope’ – Monae sets the bar high.

Over on the tiny Lake stage, Alt-J (7.5/10) play a short, sharp set slightly curtailed by a late start time, but the sizeable crowd who’ve turned up knowing all the words to ‘Breezeblocks’ show just how the triangle-loving ones have exploded.

In the Word arena, Yeasayer (9/10) are moody, percussive, surprising and genre-bending, including several songs from their forthcoming ‘Fragrant World’ LP in their set.

Headliner Bon Iver (9/10) creates a dramatic show of two contrasting halves, the first dominated by more recent, richly orchestrated tracks, later slipping into the wintry, sparse sounds from 'For Emma, Forever Ago’.

The rain politely holds off until Justin Vernon and co. have left the stage, but when it starts coming down around midnight, it does so in buckets. So it’s in front of a pretty muddy, but eager crowd, that Sharon Van Etten (9/10) opens the Word stage to on Saturday morning – and they’re not disappointed.

Resplendent in a shiny green puffball dress, breakout star Lianne la Havas (9/10) radiates pleasure as she grins through a series of odes to her ex-boyfriend, who by all concerns seems like a bit of a rotter, but fortunately for Lianne, has inspired a heap of material.

Ever the wry joker, Josh T Pearson (8/10) confesses his songs aren’t best suited to festivals, which he says are about “drinking, dancing and making love” whereas his tunes are about the morning after. With ten minute-long songs like ‘Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ’ and ‘Woman When I've Raised Hell’, with its line, “won't you let me quietly drink myself to sleep”, perhaps he has a point.

Stockholm’s I Break Horses (7/10) are beset with issues and therefore play a very delayed, shortened set to a packed out, and dripping wet i arena while the sun breaks out over at the main stage for Richard Hawley (8/10). He may be wheelchair bound, but that doesn’t stop the old rogue from getting as he puts it, “off his head” and blasting through his latest, heavier record, including the awesome, ‘Leave Your Body Behind You’.

It’s time for a dance, and SBTRKT (10/10) are the first band who really provide the honours over on the Word stage. As usual there’s nothing to see, video screens fixed away from the camera-shy duo on stage, but ‘Never Never’, ‘Pharoahs’ and ‘Wildfire’ sparkle, and are greeted like old friends.

Speaking of old friends, Elbow (10/10) lead us in toast after toast, to friends loved and lost, in a celebratory and joyful end to the day – they even put on a few pyrotechnics.

After a dry night and sunny morning, most of the Latitude ground is blissfully mud free again for Sunday, and, as is customary, there’s an element of theatricality in early proceedings, with a scarlet-wearing Rufus Wainwright (7/10) taking the special lunchtime main stage slot, while superstar pianist, Lang Lang (9/10) arrives by punt for his stunning recital on the lake.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ (6/10) shambolic kookiness, including a seemingly improvised set list, is offset by the singer’s affected evangelism, exhorting the crowd into singalong harmonies – one for the converted only.

On the same stage, Simple Minds (6/10) play the bland card, one which nevertheless has the sunhat-wearing dads bobbing their heads, while by contrast, St. Vincent (8/10) tears up the Word arena with screeching feedback-dripping odes to punk.

A little corner of Cuba comes to Latitude in the form of Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club (9/10) proving the oldies can still make those tired, welly-wearing legs attempt a salsa, and Omara Portuondo has the crowd in the palm of her hand. When she shimmies down to the floor at one point, she brings the house down.

Sunday night headliners Wild Beasts and Paul Weller (8/10) split the crowd down the middle by age, with a far thinner showing at the Modfather than the previous headliners. It’s a blistering gallop through Jam hits and ‘Sonik Kicks’ by way of ‘Stanley Road’ but feels more efficient than affecting.

Latitude has made its name through the variety of cultural pursuits on offer, and particular highlights elsewhere were to be found in the poetry tent, especially headliners Scroobius Pip (8/10) and John Cooper Clarke (9/10) and the legendary Tony Harrison (8/10). 

Moving theatre came via Mark Thomas and Theatre Delicatessan’s Henry V, while unfortunately, popular shows like Adam Buxton’s BUG and Theatre Complicite drew queues too long to allow everyone to see them.

While in the past there have been too few late-night pursuits at Latitude, this aspect is slowly being addressed. On Saturday night, on one side of the festival people were hoedowing to a Johnny Cash tribute band, while on the other, Shy FX (8/10) put on a rave in the woods. More late night events would definitely be gladly received.

A few mud-related car park issues and travel-related organisational gripes aside, the festival was efficiently organised this year. As crowds seemed bigger than ever in 2012, but at 35,000 still keeps an intimate feel, we hope that Latitude’s organisers can hold off the temptation to increase the capacity and preserve the multi-faceted and friendly spirit of the festival.

Click here for our full Latitude coverage.

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