An eclectic lineup makes for a wild few days in Suffolk
When you’re watching a modernist dance performance featuring a gang of flamenco dancers attached to stage-wide elastic bands, while sunburnt drunk geezers stagger past yelling 9/11 conspiracy memes, you know you’ve reached peak Latitude. Latitude is not like other festivals. It’s a 10-year-old boutique shindig for the refined of taste and unburdened of exams, where parents scampering after their young children slam headlong into herds of post-GCSE teens racing around the woods.
Look past the spray-painted sheep and craftivist groups sewing for peace, though, and Latitude is where polite civilization comes to peer over the edge. Take Wolf Alice in the rammed 6Music tent on Saturday, their mask of cutesy-pie gossamer-grunge pop regularly slipping to reveal the deranged furies, metal riff hounds and feral-Elastica alter egos beneath. Ellie Rowsell screams, barks and cackles her way through ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ like Satan’s girlfriend laughing at his dancing, while the demented count-to-seven in ‘You’re A Germ’ is Haim peeling off their skin to reveal they’re really a monkey-slaughtering Pixies. The quartet are all about restraint and attack, and tonight they chew through the leash.
Or consider Pennsylvania’s The Districts, who have guitars so bloated with evil molten noise that singer Rob Grote has to bend over between tectonic psych-country songs, turn a valve somewhere and empty the extraneous noise overflow onto the stage. Or Savages, who destroy the 6Music tent on Saturday with a brutalist torrent of neo-goth art thrash that sees Jehnny Beth manically whispering “my husbands, my husbands!” like a prime case for exorcism and standing over the mosh pit during ‘Hit Me’ scowling “you must put me on my knees like a dirty dog” and other such sadomasochist fare, as if reciting the racier pages of Fifty Shades of Deepest Black. Come over to the Dark Side, Latitude.
Out in the woods, King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard open a wormhole to Woodstock with their harmonica hippy bar boogies. Gengahr are basically Wild Beasts inching closer to puberty and Ezra Furman steals Friday with his cross-dressed mash-up of Springsteen, The Heartbreakers, early Stones, druggy barbershop doo-wop and bits that are soBenny Hill you expect buxom girls in bikinis to be chased across the stage in double-speed by a tongue-lolling sexagenarian sex-pest disguised as a milkman. Latitude laps up his enlightenments like musical ayahuasca.
Somewhere onsite on Sunday afternoon, headliner Noel Gallagher must feel like he’s hearing some strange echo of his past when Sydney trio The DMA’s take the Alcove tent’s tiny stage, wondering if he’s going slightly mad and having a distant flashback to simpler times of acoustic ladrock and Boneheaded Britpop riffs. Jamie T must jolt upright with an eerie feeling of being watched when Rat Boy launches into his effervescent steel-drum rap-pop. And Bad Breeding, ricocheting around their own circle pit, are the crazed punk babbling that threatens Ed Sheeran in his sleep. Not that that stops Sheero from popping up to play tiny secret sets throughout the weekend – sometimes with members of Snow Patrol in tow – sending fans of his plastic pop stampeding wildly after him.
Back in the main arenas, only Santigold appears to have caught a dose of the woodland madness – she plays ‘Say Aha’, ‘L.E.S. Artistes’ and a sprinkling of limbo-tronic new material while dressed as a breakfast table in a large head-bow and being thrown around the stage by two yellow-clad minions. Otherwise, sanity prevails. Warpaint trudge out their math-goth like a depressive Fleetwood Mac. La Roux puts on an indoor tropical yacht party. Laura Marling builds lyrical storms, part Sheryl Crow, part Patti Smith. The Manic Street Preachers masterfully knock a hefty chunk of the best tunes – ‘You Love Us’, ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘Show Me The Wonder’, ‘A Design For Life’ – clean out of the park. The Vaccines’ new songs crib from ‘Comedown Machine’, ‘AM’, ‘Modern Vampires Of The City’ and (ahem) Bastille’s ‘Bad Blood’ to round out their storming hour of reanimated ‘50s rock, croon tunes and ABBA homages – ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ is, after all, essentially ‘The Winner Shags Them All’.
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Friday headliners Alt-J are the perfect booking, virtually aural almond milk, and they lull everyone into ablissful minimalist glitch haze with their gentle invocations of hip-hop fanfares lost at sea (‘Hunger Of The Pines’), mechanical Mississippi blues (‘Left Hand Free’) and two robots mating (‘Fitzpleasure’). Portishead turn a more soulful, deep-dub version of the same trick on Saturday, albeit with added Thom Yorke (guesting on ‘The Rip’) and overseen by the huge, hovering face of David Cameron with beaming devil eyes. Singing to the choir? Yes, but thankfully fed through Beth Gibbons’ tremulous glory (voice)box.
Noel Gallagher, though, really has Latitude’s number. “This is like a fucking Guardian reader’s rally” he snipes, dedicating ‘Champagne Supernova’ to “the Guardian writers at the back strung out on good rosé” and ‘Half A World Away’ to The Royle Family (the sitcom that used it as its theme tune), “not the Nazi-sympathising Windsors”. He bowls a blinder, merging Oasis tracks such as a rocked-up ‘Digsy’s Dinner’, a countrified ‘Fade Away’ and Beatledelic anthem ‘The Masterplan’ with back-on-his-game High Flying Birds bangers.
There is dramatic piano house rock (‘AKA… What A Life!’), swirling psych rock (‘Everybody’s On The Run’), rinky-dink Dixie brass rock (‘The Death Of You And Me’) and stomping glam rock (‘Dream On’) and they’re all varying shades of brilliant, topped with Noel’s withering witticisms. Over his 90 minutes he offers to kick an animal to death, mocks a “ginger Mexican”, tries to spark a passive-aggressive class war with the left wing press and promises to sing a duet of ‘Live Together’ with a bloke in the front row if they go and buy every piece of his merchandise on the spot. From the lager louts at the front to the rosé clinkers at the back, we toast him. Against his will, he’s the epitome of Latitude; politeness on the verge of a postal breakdown.