It’s a good thing that the atmosphere at Latitude is so relaxed. Other festival crowds might have taken the withdrawal of a headlining act as a reason for sulking, for complaint. But here, it’s different, and although Two Door Cinema Club have bowed out, nobody’s making a fuss. Perhaps it’s the multi-coloured sheep around the place. They have us giggling, at least.
With Fyfe Dangerfield on bass and a bottle of prosecco already on the go, Slow Club confidently open the Obelisk Arena on the Friday. Debuting songs from their new album ‘Complete Surrender’, Rebecca and Charles seem genuinely humbled by the audience’s reaction to their newfound soulful sound. Framed by a sunny haze, ‘Tears Of Joy’ proves a charming highlight alongside the strong falsetto and instrument swapping of ‘Everything Is New’.
Over at the BBC Radio 6 Music Stage, we catch the end of Jimi Goodwin’s set as he finishes with a couple of Doves tracks and watches as the crowd moves in for Hozier’s hotly tipped set. With two acclaimed EPs and brilliantly crafted songs like ‘Take Me To Church’ and ‘Angel Of Small Death & The Codeine Scene’ under his belt, we are excited for Wicklow’s young trailblazer to take the stage.
While there is certainly intense passion in his voice, and lyrically the songs resonate well, the performance is somewhat reserved. The cool, aloof persona works, but what’s missing is the caterwauling, losing-your-shit element of performance, which makes contemporaries like Damien Rice and Dry The River so mesmerizing in a live setting.
We then marvel at John Wizards’ Afro-pop and South African house tunes, which pack out the iArena, and then move onto the more quaint settings of The Alcove to catch Neneh Cherry’s daughter, Tyson McVey and producer Shaun Savage perform some intensely moving R&B as Panes. Then, after a lengthy sound check, Denmark’s serene Broken Twin lulls the audience into a state of bliss, with a stark, emotive set of songs.
Sweden’s Goat are next and collectively they set to making sure that even their sound check is a chaotic sight to behold. They’ve personally described their live performances as “a harvesting of souls”, and as they open with the shattering, psychedelic warble of ‘Goatman’, I think everybody begins to understand why.
Editors’ and Mogwai’s sets perfectly displayed how relevant and popular with punters they still are and proved they’ll not be changing anytime soon. Editors frontman Tom Smith wins over the audience with a set of favoured hits like ‘Blood’ and ‘Smoker Outside The Hospital Doors’, while Mogwai’s organs-puncturing set leaves us extremely eager to see what the rest of the weekend has in store.
The number of festival-goers doubles by midday on Saturday, presumably because the archduke of Britpop, Damon Albarn, is soon to be gracing the Obelisk Arena stage.
Fans fill the iArena to listen to the tight-knit harmonies of Agnes Obel, who services the ideal sounds to wake up to. She’s followed by Damien Jurado, who looks up from his borrowed guitar to say, “I’ve been up since 6 am… my time, so this is all very surreal.” By the end of his performance, each song has seemed like eavesdropping on a most intimate and vulnerable moment. A hard personal performance to top, but not one Conor Oberst can’t contend with.
Backed by the fantastic Dawes, who had performed earlier in the day, Oberst puts on a thrilling performance, nailing tracks from ‘Upside Down Mountain’ and playing a couple of Bright Eyes favourites, ‘Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)’ being particularly overwhelming. The vehement delivery of ‘Desert Island Questionnaire’ is so convincing it becomes unsettling.
Sweden’s First Aid Kit return for their third performance at Latitude, modest as ever, and perform a beautiful set of alt-country tracks from their highly praised third album ‘Stay Gold’. They also perform a stripped-back cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ and Dylan’s ‘One More Cup Of Coffee’, finishing with their usual sing-along of ‘Emmylou’.
We catch the beginning of Röyksopp & Robyn’s flashy set but soon move on to catch Damon Albarn’s (pictured, main) headline appearance. Opening with ‘Lonely Press Play’, we watch as the Blur man’s cockney swagger perfectly complements his band’s confident sway.
It fill us with confidence that Albarn’s solo stuff might really be able to stand on its own and hold the attention of an audience possibly unacquainted with his debut album proper, ‘Everyday Robots’. And it does, to some extent. Only a few numbers drag, but this is salvaged by superb band interaction, Gorillaz tracks and the multi-instrumentalism of Albarn (nice melodica work, there). As Albarn tinkles away playing ‘End Of A Century’, quite befittingly the skies open, lightning lights up the night’s sky, and everybody joins together to sing ‘Tender’ in the rain.
By Sunday morning we’re relatively dry again, and ready for the final day. We somewhat unwisely choose to watch a rather lacklustre set by Phosphorescent instead of catching neo-minimalist Nils Frahm. Although ‘Muchacho’ still remains a glorious album, with a member down today, the band just seems to jam through the hits while lacking the expansive sound of the record.
THE WAR ON DRUGS
We then struggle to get into the BBC 6 Music Stage due to the sheer size of the crowd, who gather to see George Ezra sing about his Club 18-30 holiday to Bucharest or something. Indie-rock New Yorkers Parquet Courts are intent on whipping the crowd into a frenzy, storming through ‘Master Of My Craft’ and clicking straight into fan favourite ‘Borrowed Time’.
As The War On Drugs take to the stage we wonder how well ‘Lost In The Dream’ will work in a live setting and as they open with ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ we have our answer. They’re brilliant. When the band locks in, the sheer euphoria of each song paired with Adam Granduciel’s incredible guitar work is phenomenal, as proved by the gentle sobbing coming from the bearded chap next to us.
Sweden’s Lykke Li delivers a magnificent performance to round off an exceptional weekend of music, theatre and comedy. Latitude continues to grow, year on year. At this rate, even the granddaddy of them all, Glastonbury, had better start watching its back.
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Words: David Weir
Photos: Siobhan McGuckian