It may go against the title of this blog to write a post so full of praise as this one undoubtedly will be, but fuck it – there was a hell of a lot of good stuff on offer at Latitude this year and I made a lot of new personal discoveries. Without further ado then, the 8* best things I saw at Latitude ’09.
(*Yes, it would’ve been 10 but there’s already about 1500 words here, and there were too many bands vying for the 9 and 10 slots. I’ll cover everything else I saw soon, promise.)
8. Wildbirds & Peacedrums
Imagine, if you will, the voices of Feist and Beth Ditto compacted into one sleek, Swedish package. That’s Mariam Wallentin, who with husband Andreas Werliin comprises Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. The duo make music that’s almost entirely percussive, with drums, timpani and other percussion instruments forming an intense background for Mariam’s spectacular voice. The duo play and sing with an energy that makes it difficult not to be drawn in – indeed, their final song sees Mariam whacking her drums so hard that she manages to make one of her drumsticks fly off to the side of the stage. Their set was intriguing throughout, but ‘There Is No Light’ stood out for me with it’s soulful vocal delivery and incessant drumbeat. If you’re looking for something a little different from your average guitar band, then Wildbirds & Peacedrums will definitely sate your appetite.
7. The Temper Trap
Namedropped by the BBC as ones to watch at the start of the year, The Temper Trap showed that they’re not just another hype band with their impressive performance on Friday. The band have a dense, epic sound that gives the impression that they’re made for big stages already, from the swooning, blissful tones and sweetly sung vocal of ‘Sweet Disposition’ to the racy, infectious paranoia of ‘Science Of Fear’. And, true to the spirit of Latitude as a festival for everyone, a cheerful-looking grey-haired chap who must have been at least in his 50s or so bounces past me with his wife and declares to a similarly-aged couple, “This band are fucking amazing!” Broad appeal and massive tunes too? Sounds like the Temper Trap could be on to a winner.
6. Grace Jones
Having got a tad bored of Spiritualized and increasingly irritated by the collection of jeb-ends that I was stood near in the tent, I made my way to the main stage to catch the last half an hour or so of Grace Jones. And you know what? I wish I’d seen the whole damn thing, because the spectacle she put on was fantastic. Within a few minutes of me turning up, she was strutting her way through ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, intent on getting up close and personal with the crowd. “I need a big man,” she intoned, approaching the edge of the stage and pointing to a no-doubt terrified member of stage security, before parading around the barriers on the shoulders of said ‘big man’, reaching out and touching the worked up crowd. Further show(wo)manship was came in the form of outrageous hats (including a crystal-encrusted number that reflected coloured lights across the stage) and enough flaunting of that impossibly-toned body to allure even the biggest prude. Seriously, she turned 61 in May and still has the body of a 20-something – absolutely insane. She wrapped things up by producing a hula hoop and then casually (casually!) gyrating her way through her final number while effortlessly singing and introducing the members of her band.
As she thanks us and leaves the stage, the clamour for more is deafening, even as the lights go up. But just as it looks like the crowd’s appreciation is going to go unrecognised, Grace storms back out onto the stage. “There’s a fucking curfew!” she booms, frustrated that she can’t continue to play. The plug on the PA is quickly pulled before she can say her parting words of thanks, but the fact that the icon has reciprocated the crowd’s appreciation by simply returning to the stage is enough. I can now honestly say that I’d pay good money to see a Grace Jones show – and that’s something I’d never even considered coming into the festival.
I’m sure many people rolled their eyes when they heard that Editors were ‘going electro’ for their forthcoming third album In This Light And On This Evening, but within the space of an hour (or, more accurately, four new songs), the doubters may well have had to reconsider. Starting bravely with a new song that features both smooth synths and somewhat jarring staccato samples that sound like tyres skidding, the transformation is complete when classic set-closer ‘Fingers In The Factories’ segues effortlessly into the last of their new songs – and with moody, Depeche Mode synths, thumping beats and God-bothering lyrics (“If there really was a god here/he’d have raised a hand by now”), it’s absolutely amazing. And yet, it’s still unmistakably the same Editors we know and love – they’re still making upliftingly gloomy music, it’s just that they’re using different tools for the job.
4. Thom Yorke
Some of the people I was with at the festival were disappointed by Thom Yorke’s solo slot on Sunday, but to be honest I can’t understand why. It had classic Radiohead tracks (‘Everything In It’s Right Place’, ‘There There’), brilliant solo songs (‘The Eraser’, ‘Harrowdown Hill’), intriguing new songs (‘Follow Me Around’, The Present Tense’ – floating around on Youtube as we speak, a fact that was wryly acknowledged by Yorke during his set), ‘True Love Waits’ got a rare live airing, and he played an absolutely gorgeous solo version of ‘Videotape’, (my personal favourite track from In Rainbows) – what more could you want? I mean, you weren’t expecting him to play ‘Creep’ or something were you?
3. Bat For Lashes
Anybody who thought that Bat For Lashes don’t quite cut it live was surely forced to eat their words, regurgitate them, and eat them again after Natasha Khan’s utterly spellbinding performance on Friday night. There was certainly a lot of interest in her – the tent was so rammed that I could barely see anything. But what I heard confirmed my love for Khan’s work – big, echoy drums and chiming, swirling, epic instrumentation serve as a wonderful backdrop for her beautiful voice and almost fairytale lyrics. Spine-tingling highlights for me were enchanting opener ‘Glass’, ‘Siren Song’, ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ and the bombastic, mystical brilliance of ‘Two Planets’. Although it seems that most people were sticking around to hear ‘Daniel’ – saved as a set closer of course, it was undoubtedly the song that got the biggest response. For me, Bat For Lashes stands head and shoulders above the crop of female solo artists that have cropped up this year, and performances like this just serve to confirm that.
2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Having only listened to a small amount of his material, I didn’t feel like I knew that much about Nick Cave going into the Festival. But if there’s one thing I definitely know afterwards, it’s this: He’s bloody awesome live. The man has a spectacular way with words and a voice to match, and together with his Bad Seeds he rattled through a cross-section of tracks from their back catalogue. From the chugging, distorted riffs of ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ to the death row theatrics of ‘The Mercy Seat’, every moment is compelling – and never more so than during set-closer ‘Stagger Lee’, with Cave delivering its menacing wild-west story with a swagger in his step and fire in his eyes. To be fair though, violinist/guitarist Warren Ellis (a “big, bearded fucker” as Cave calls him at one point) does his best to steal the show – particularly during ‘We Call Upon The Author’, which sees him sprawled on the floor, inducing an effects-pedal based freakout whilst also shouting out backing vocals. Together with Cave’s imposing presence, it makes for a performance that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.
1. Fever Ray
Mesmerising. Bewildering. Brilliant.
Those are some of the words I would try to use use to sum up the genius of Fever Ray, (aka Karin Dreijer Anderson from The Knife), but nothing can quite convey just how amazing it was. Karin and her band were wearing striking, elaborate costumes (and there were huge cheers when she finally removed her cape/mask combination), but that only served to accentuate the bizarre brilliance of the music. Whirring electronic noise, minimal beats, ominous synths, infectious guitar loops, tribal drumming – these are just some of the things that make up the band’s wondrous soundscapes. However, it’s Karin’s voice that’s the star of the show – at times sounding very much reminiscent of her vocals for The Knife, but at others warped to an almost demonic growl. Add into the mix her dark, often cryptic lyrics and you’ve got a package that you can’t tear your ears away from. Stirring stuff, and despite the stiff competition, the best thing I saw all festival.