Latitude 2013 round-up: Kraftwerk, Bobby Womack, Yo La Tengo and more!
Published on July 23rd, 2013 | Edwin Gilson
Rocksucker scribe Edwin Gilson went to Latitude 2013 and saw an absolute fun-ton of acts…
Those who write Latitude festival off as lightweight and solely middle-class probably haven’t actually attended the Suffolk bash.
While the hourly yoga sessions and poetry readings held on site don’t exactly scream raucous festival fun, the sheer amount of eclectic culture on display across numerous tents means that the line-up here is actually as full, if not fuller, than that of other events.
The appearance of legendary German techno group Kraftwerk (for their only English gig of the summer, 3D visuals and all) proves that Latitude can very much mix it with the big boys when it comes to attracting the grandest names in alternative music.
Although Ralf Hutter, now 67, is the only remaining original member of the four-piece, Kraftwerk’s Saturday night headline slot is still a wonder to behold. There is a palpable scepticism surrounding the show, though; it seems as though half of the punters aren’t altogether aware of their music, which would go some way towards explaining Alt-J’s enormous crowd at the same time.
For the few present fanatics of the electro pioneers there’s concern that, in an outside arena, they won’t be able to replicate the pitch-perfect gigs they delivered at the Tate Modern in February.
Thankfully, such worries are quickly dispelled by the predictable yet no less thrilling inclusion of “Robots” as the set opener. 1978 record “The Man Machine” is then rattled through, with album tracks like “Spacelab” and “Neon Lights’=” more than holding their own against obvious crowd-pleaser “The Model”.
It’s clear that some onlookers are bemused by the slow-moving visual display but as Hutter, tapping his foot steadily, leads his group through the triple whammy of “Autobahn”, “Tour de France” and “Trans Europe Express”, you can’t help but be absorbed into Kraftwerk’s computer world. In fact, the songs are most effective if you shut your eyes.
While increasing amounts of bands ramp up the pace and volume at festivals in a desperate bid to get the party started, Kraftwerk know they’re better off sticking to what they have always done best; minimalism and glorious repetition.
On Friday morning the Poetry Tent is packed full of ultra-serious bearded men awaiting the arrival of another forefather of musical innovation: Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, who is scheduled to read out some of his impressionistic musings.
Due to his tardiness his slot is pushed back three hours, and when he does eventually slouch on stage, not bothering to offer even the slightest apology, his clunky poems are met with the lukewarm reaction they deserve.
Likeable folk man Willy Mason is far better at geeing up the audience, his grizzly croon working to full effect on the sprightly “I Got Gold” and old fan favourite “Oxygen”, which sees the first sing-along of the festival.
Wolf Alice’s mid-afternoon set seems to exclusively attract 15 year-old girls, presumably due to the aspirational appeal of Ellie Rowsell, who is barely out of her teens herself. Her band’s scuzzy guitars often drown out her tender voice but the adoring fangirls display their hyper appreciation by pogoing and screaming in the sun.
It’s Rowsell’s birthday, so cake is bought out and the band members wave to their young siblings in the audience. By this stage it’s all getting a little bit too nice.
No such problem with Yo La Tengo‘s performance later at the Obelisk Arena, as it takes the New Jersey indie trio half an hour to even look at their sparse audience.
When they do, it’s to crack the first of many Kraftwerk-related jokes of the weekend: “We’re also going to be performing in 3D,” says frontman Ira Kaplan in a rare moment of joviality.
Acoustic songs from new album Fade meander unconvincingly but you really have to marvel at Kaplan’s electrifying axemanship on colossal, feedback-drenched closer “Pass the Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”.
BBC 6 Music have taken over a stage at this year’s festival and are evidently keen to promote their favoured bands; cut to Villagers‘ impish lynchpin Conor O’Brien hopping around the stage in front of thousands of twee-folk enthusiasts.
Despite a more elaborate setup to accommodate songs from latest album Awayland, it still takes early singles “Becoming a Jackal” and “Ship of Promises” to rouse the tent.
Brooklyn hipsters DIIV are a pleasant surprise performing in the woods later on. The hotly-tipped four-piece elongate their dreamy tunes, adding Krautrock elements via driving, probing basslines.
It’s perfect music for detached teenagers, and final song “Doused” reaffirms its position as one of the finest angst-ridden indie numbers of recent years.
A talking point throughout Friday is Bloc Party’s dubious right to headline a festival: “They’ve only made four albums,” moans one wag at the bar. “And the last two were shit.”
There’s also the issue of a missing drummer; usual sticksman Matt Tong is nowhere to be seen, so Hot Chip’s more-than-capable Sarah Jones steps in before returning to the stage with her regular group the following evening.
Amidst this uncertainty, can singer Kele Okereke and co. pull it off? Well, kind of. They’re certainly very loud and bombastic, and angular stompers like “Helicopter” fit surprisingly nicely alongside the band’s more dance-orientated recent work, like single “One More Chance”.
This idiosyncratic blend means the set is never dull but the harsh reality is that Bloc Party don’t have enough out-and-out hits to be a headliner. However, Okereke’s natural cockiness partly makes up for that damaging fact; he’s an assured frontman.
Festival Republic, the company behind Latitude, seem to make an effort to cram as much as into Saturday as possible; sometimes to the detriment of Sunday, which can feel sleepy by comparison. Supporting Kraftwerk this year are Hot Chip and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and these three bands combine to form the obvious peak of the event.
Karen O of the latter group is clad in a typically garish outfit this evening (which the middle-aged couple behind me take strong objection to), while her bandmates wear black.
They kick off with what should be a storming trio: “Zero”, “Gold Lion” and “Sacrilege”. Unfortunately, Karen’s vocals are too low in the mix, which is particularly infuriating as the singer’s exuberance is such a big part of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ dirty appeal.
On the other hand, Nick Zinner’s brilliantly chaotic guitar work is a joy to behold, and by the time the band roll round to material from their art-punk debut Fever to Tell the crowd is in a frenzy.
“Date with the Night” sounds as urgent and debauched as it did ten years ago and gets the whole field jumping up and down. Karen tries to swallow the microphone a few times, then repeatedly smashes it against the floor and finally makes way for Hot Chip, whose diminutive singer Alexis Taylor is sporting a Kraftwerk t-shirt.
The British electro-pop outfit are clearly ecstatic about playing before one of their biggest influences and this shows during their set. “And I Was a Boy from School” is pulsating, while “Over and Over” predictably has young first-time festival goers and veteran musos alike attempting to dance.
Unexpectedly, the highlight of Hot Chip’s performance is “I Feel Better”, a steel drum-based tune that somehow manages to be thoroughly melancholic and a bona fide banger at the same time.
Elsewhere on Saturday, White Denim’s frenetic show treads the fine line between prog-funk genius and fretboard wankery; indeed it appears at times as if the band are enjoying it more than the audience.
Peak District brothers Drenge are a lot of fun, with thumpers like “I Wanna Break You in Half” and “Bloodsports” proving, as The White Stripes did a decade ago, that you can make a hell of a racket with just one guitar and a drumkit.
It’ll be interesting to see how Drenge navigate a longer gig though, as even at thirty minutes their set feels a little stretched.
Lank-haired Japanese noise-rock quartet Bo Ningen bewilder and delight a sizeable afternoon crowd with their pounding guitars and driving grooves. When these guys ‘lock in’, you sure know about it. In tone they couldn’t be further away from Kraftwerk, but they may well have taken some tips from the German masters in the field of repetition.
British NME favourites Temples and Swim Deep both perform hugely underwhelming, wafer-thin sets on Sunday, which just goes to illustrate the fact that Bo Ningen deserve far more attention than they currently receive from the music press.
After the musical highs of Saturday, many more punters retreat to the literature, comedy and theatre tents on Sunday, but there are still draws aplenty on the big stages.
Bobby Womack plays the midday slot to a large crowd. His tendency to play a downbeat song directly after an uplifting one leaves people unsure whether to boogie or look contemplative, although most are just grateful for the chance to see this living legend up close. Somewhat oddly he finishes with Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”.
Upcoming Leeds band Hookworms are up next in the woods and they’re an interesting proposition. Frontman MJ (the members all go by their initials) has clearly grown up listening to Dinosaur Jr., Spacemen 3 and Sisters of Mercy, as well as trying to recreate their layered textures in his own bedroom.
When he’s not screaming into a distorted microphone he’s furiously twiddling banks of knobs and dials, producing sheets of scorching feedback. Befitting their name, they also know their way around a good pop hook; latest single “Radio Tokyo” is an instantly accessible bundle of boisterous energy with a gleeful chorus.
Local Natives and Grizzly Bear supply inoffensive background music for people lounging on Marks & Spencer rugs in the evening sun. Beach House’s Victoria Legrand joins the latter band on stage to perform “Two Weeks”, their standout song by an absolute country mile.
The question before Foals‘ headline slot is: do the Oxford band try and carry on this relaxed vibe or do they crank it up to eleven and hammer the crowd into submission?
With their varied back catalogue, they really could choose either option. The result is a bit of both. Proving that they won’t compromise themselves just because they’re topping the bill, Foals omit many of their most popular songs, old and new.
Those hoping for debut album favourites “Cassius” and “The French Open” are left disappointed, while more recent singles “Miami”, “This Orient” and “Inhaler” also remain untouched.
Instead Yannis Philippakis’s crew employ extended funk wig-outs mixed with softer, slow-building fare like the haunting “Spanish Sahara”. Philippakis puts aside his usual dry sarcasm to exclaim: “We wouldn’t share this amazing moment with anyone other than you, Latitude.” Later he dives into the crowd, still clutching his guitar.
It’s to the festival’s credit that they’ve been bold enough to place young British bands in such lofty positions, and Foals do themselves proud. As their madcap version of “Two Steps, Twice” hails the end of their set, it’s apparent they really couldn’t have given anymore.
There are good reasons why many musicians relish this festival so much and are eager to come back year after year; the huge array of culture, the warm, vibrant atmosphere and the brilliant music, for example.
At a time when many so-called ‘smaller’ festivals are being forced into cancellation, the future of Latitude looks exciting. As long as the festival keeps experimenting, mixing old with new, it will continue to flourish.