Thursday, 2 August 2012

Latitude 2012 - Review

As about 96% of the comedians appearing over the weekend hastened to remind us, Latitude is very middle class. Probably one of the most middle class festivals ever. There is a Loch Fyne Oyster stall and a Costa. There are morning yoga workshops, talks about the Higgs-Boson and radio 4 recordings. In the comedy tent people use pages from The Independent to sit on. It is basically Adam Buxton’s festival song, in real life. At least this means that a lot of the toilets are nice and, (hallelujah!) there are showers.


At i arena, Cold Specks aka Canadian born Al Spx, is asking the crowd: ‘Wanna hear a dirty cannibal joke?’ from behind her dark sunglasses. Instead she opts for a warbled version of ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ theme tune, getting some of the words wrong. She manages to make it as ‘depressing’ (her word) as her own music. I can’t help but feel that her set would have benefited from a dirty cannibal joke.
More impressive, Swedish sister act First Aid Kit craft their famous harmonies dressed in swoon-worthy 70s style dresses on the Main stage. The early time doesn’t affect their beautiful performance, husky voices accompanied by clap-alongs and plenty of hair swishing. 

We head to the comedy tent to catch one of my new favourites, Doc Brown, a comedy rapper. Don’t let the phrase ‘comedy rapper’ put you off. As an ex-rapper, Doc Brown/Ben Smith knows his way around a rhyme. He is one of the highlights of the weekend, with his righteously angry rap about people who put the milk in first when it comes to making a cuppa. Next up is one of the biggest names in comedy, Tim Minchin, whose musical comedy has made him something of a rock star. His set includes old-time favourites such as ‘Prejudice’ and new favourite ‘Woody Allen Jesus’ (the song that was infamously deemed too controversial for The Jonathan Ross Show). Unfortunately, some parts of his set seem a tad too indulgent, with some songs dragging on too long and some gags coming across a bit too big-headed.

Another act which surprisingly disappoints is Alt-J, a band which normally impresses live with their intricate percussion and offbeat, catchy songs. The stage may not help; playing an enclosed tent may have aided the atmosphere of their set better. This seems a shame for a band who has just released a debut album.

The Antlers, luckily, don’t disappoint. Much rockier live than on record, they play a fantastic set in the Word Arena, including a beautiful rendition of ‘Two’ from third album, ‘Hospice’. Yeasayer follow, playing a set full of new songs, including the fantastic ‘Henrietta’. They also play some fantastic live versions of the ‘Odd Blood’ favourite, ‘O.N.E’, which catches everyone in the crowd by surprise. Neither the very drunk couple staggering into everyone, nor the annoying girls holding up a message on paper plates (and therefore blocking a lot of people’s view) can detract from a triumphant, highly enjoyable set.

Bon Iver is the headliner for the night, and plays on a beautiful stage decked out in fishing nets and lights. The set includes many songs from both albums, and it is a joy to see how well the ‘Bon Iver’ songs translate so well live, with Justin Vernon’s haunting vocals entwining with a myriad of different instruments.


It is early (11am) on the Saturday morning and already there is a considerably sized queue outside the comedy tent. Someone, half-serious, tries to start a chant: ‘What do we want? Science based comedy? When do we want it…?’ When at last the tent opens there is a huge rush to get to the front. People are running. What is all the fuss about? Brian Cox is in the vicinity, that’s what. The first event of the Saturday Morning is a recording of the last in the series of Radio 4’s ‘science based comedy’ show ‘The Infinite Monkey Cage’. The show is co-presented with comedian Robin Ince, who brings his brilliant, enthusiastic humour to the mix. At the end of a very interesting discussion about the importance of both science and art in life (unfortunately simplified, rather confusingly, to ‘Science Vs. Art’ at first), Brian Cox is surrounded by teenagers as if he were (still) a rock star. Well, he is on the telly. And he does have very lovely hair…

Over on the Word stage, Sharon Van Etten plays a beautiful set. Her voice is husky and powerful, and this works very well with her fantastic guitar playing. The highlight of her set is the last song, with a plodding drumbeat leading up to a majestic, Sigur Rós-style build up, layered with echoing Warpaint like vocals.

Back to the comedy tent, we catch Josie Long at her finest; her enthusiastic and passionate political comedy is really impressive. She is not afraid to let rip onstage and go a bit mad either, which makes her even cooler. She really is one of the best stand-ups in the country!

Django Django play the teeny-tiny i arena in the woods, and there are as many people outside the tent, craning in as there are packed like sardines inside. There is such a buzz about this band, and there is no wonder; their angular pop sounds just as good live as it does on record. They also have a fantastic, energetic stage presence (from what I could see through the low branches outside the tent).

Later on at the i arena, Nika Danilova, or Zola Jesus is prowling around the stage, dressed head to toe in white. (“Its days like this I wish I wasn’t so committed to wearing white!” she laughs, alluding to the sea of mud). She is every bit caged animal as she eschews the mic stand for the majority of the set and paces the stage. Her operatic voice really is something, especially live, and versions of ‘Sea Talk’ and the powerful, bittersweet ‘Night’ bring a tear to the eye.

Later that night, Robin Ince brings his Late Night Revolution, a pick and mix of sketches and singers, to the Literature tent. This boasted the amazing Grace Petrie, who is the female Billy Bragg, pedalling stories of love and politics with the help an acoustic guitar and fantastic voice. Another highlight of the ‘Revolution’ is Johnny and The Baptists, my new favourite comedy folk band. They sings songs about having sex in a library (NOT the children’s section) and unrequited love amongst many other things, aided with fantastic violin playing and melodramatic singing. One thing the ‘Late Night Revolution’ was missing was a bit more Robin Ince/Josie Long stand-up, but alas, time was tight. Still, a very nice excuse to stay up late.


Reginald D Hunter and Rich Hall bring their unique views of Britain from Americans point of view to the comedy tent. Reginald D Hunter exudes cool where Rich Hall is grumpy, but with a twinkle in his eye. He shouts at teenagers in the front row who are leaving for a loo break, before deciding he wanted youngsters to leave, yelling ‘JUSTIN BIEBER IS A C***!’ to try and achieve this.

St Vincent plays at that time of the day on the Sunday afternoon where the lack of sleep starts to catch up with some of the less hardy punters (me). However, ANNIE CLARKE?! impresses, with a fantastic stage presence- red lips and jet-black, curly hair teamed with the perfect shuffle dance. Her sexy vocals entwine with amazing guitar riffs, and I’m pretty sure everyone leaves a little bit in love with her.

Slow Club open their set in the packed out i arena with a cover of ‘Disco 2000’ by Pulp, and end it with a party; their friends dancing onstage with pom-poms and bassist Steve/Sweet Baboo taking his shirt off to play the last song. Their set is a bit short of songs from debut ‘Yeah, so’, however, wellie-stomping ‘Giving Up On Love’ being the only one which seems a little bit of a shame. Perfume Genius follows, and what a heart-rending-ly beautiful set he provides. You can tell just how much Mike Hadreas connects with what he creates, and how much it means to him emotionally. The prime example is during ‘Mr. Peterson’, he himself cries just as much as many of the people in the audience. You would have to be pretty tough not to cry too. The atmosphere in the tent is spell-bound, the fragility and raw emotion in Hadreas’ voice and the delicate piano notes watched in absolute silence before being applauded enthusiastically. Hadreas is also incredibly humble (a really refreshing and appealing attribute), looking genuinely surprised when he said, several times, ‘I hadn’t expected this, thank you so much’ about the reception his beautiful songs received. We leave the set slightly emotionally bruised and a little bit breathless, with watery eyes and a feeling that we have just seen something incredibly special.

It does seem a little bit of a shame that the highlights of Headliner Paul Weller’s set are mostly songs by The Jam. However, he is not, as one smart arse near us claims ‘shit’, and even if he was, they are perfectly welcome to go and watch something else. Smoking endless cigarettes on stage, The Modfather does look just a bit, well, old. Too old for all this maybe. However, some songs from his new album ‘Sonik Kicks’ do go down well, especially ‘Dangerous Age’ with its doo-wap style vocals. When he does play the Jam, it’s fantastic, especially ‘Town Called Malice’, which gets everyone dancing.

Latitude was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, a beautiful site packed with countless activities and stalls and of course, the coloured sheep. The atmosphere was also incredibly friendly and not once did I feel unsafe, even when alone. This was topped off with an impressive line-up of music, comedy and literature. A really wonderful festival.

Words and Photos: Holly Read Challen

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