Let’s Get Cynical About Latitude Festival 2012, pt III: Saturday

Saturday at Latitude 2012 looks to be the most action packed to me – though to be honest, I could have probably seen even more bands if I hadn’t slept in. Regardless it’s off to the arena, where I plan to spend as much of the day in the music tents as possible to avoid the still-present threat of rain…

As well as being heartily endorsed by The National, Sharon Van Etten has been receiving a lot of positive press for her second album Tramp. Turns out she’s also a captiviting live performer, and her early set in the Word Arena goes down a treat – the biggest highlight is the swirling rush of ‘Serpents’, but her soft, accented vocals also lend a great deal of emotional resonance to the loping expansiveness of ‘Warsaw’ and the stark, moody ‘Give Out’. Saturday’s already off to a good start.

My plan for today basically involves hanging out at the i Arena in the woods for the vast majority of the day, so I figure I may as well start as I mean to go on and head straight over. I catch Sunless ’97 performing their last couple of dreamy electro numbers, the band’s three members crowded around a table full of synths and laptops while simultaneously singing or toting guitars. Up next are Deap Vally, a female blues-rock duo who are essentially a trashier White Stripes . If that sounds like an insult, it’s not all that bad – their rough-and-tumble rock provides a dose of throwaway fun, so my ‘Derp Vally’ joke will have to go sadly unused.

Norwegian six-piece Team Me have become one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend – I’ve very much fallen in love with their debut full-length To The Treetops!, and their live performance doesn’t disappoint. Kicking straight off with ‘Patrick Wolf & Daniel Johns’, the set starts in a high-energy manner and never lets up from that point on. The band are adorably twee, but their songs also pack a surprising punchiness – suitably demonstrated by the thunderous drumming and heart-stopping gang vocals on ‘Weathervanes And Chemicals’, as well as ‘Show Me’s powerful chorus. Even their banter is heart-warming – at one point they comment that taking a boat ride to get their gear to the stage reminded them of their home town of Elverum. The galloping, hopeful ‘With My Hands Covering Both My Eyes I Am Too Scared To Have A Look At You Now’ closes out their set, and features the wide-eyed lyric “I hope we mean something for you my love.” Judging by the incredibly warm reception they’re given here, they definitely do mean something to a lot of people – and certainly to me.

Of Monsters And Men subsequently up the stakes by bringing seven members and even more instruments on to the stage – seriously, whoever thought a 15-minute changeover was going to work here was clearly deluded. Still, during the break there’s another brilliantly middle-class moment as a young chap turns round, spies his friend and shouts “BENEDICT! IT’S FUCKING BENEDICT!” I then get chatting to the group of excitable teens  in question, who are clearly stoked about seeing this band – and they’re not the only ones. From the opening strains of ‘Dirty Paws’, the Icelandic group have the audience in the palm of their hand. It’s one of those instances where the totally overused Arcade Fire comparison actually holds a lot of weight – from the stirring, dense instrumentation to the occasional well-placed “HEY!” Set-closer ‘Six Weeks’ does occasionally threaten to stumble into Mumford & Sons territory, but instead morphs into a glorious epic that wraps up a spellbinding performance.

After the emotional highs of the last two bands, the psychedelic drone of Wooden Shjips seems a fine way to wind down a little. They’re an oddly incongruous-looking bunch of fellows, but that doesn’t stop them effortlessly creating a wall of mesmerising fuzz. It could be argued that they’re too repetitive, but I think that would be missing the point – there music is supposed to be repetitive, the sort of grooves that should get embedded in your brain and induce an almost trance-like state of enjoyment.

I then leave the woods for the first time in hours and head over to the Lake Stage to catch Tall Ships – who shouldn’t be confused with the previous group, as they’re a math-rock band from Brighton. But this isn’t humourless, emotionless math rock, it’s math-rock with a heart – looped guitar riffs, incessant basslines and towering drums are accompanied by stirring vocals, as ably demonstrated by lead track “T=0”. Typically, the rain chooses to make its appearance at one of the few times I’m not in a tent, but it feels oddly appropriate in some ways – particularly during set-closer ‘Vessels’, with its chanted lyrics about sunken ships.

Back in the woods, the shimmering shoegaze-pop of I Break Horses is pleasing enough to the ears, but doesn’t make a particularly lasting impression on me. I don’t wish to be unkind to them though – it’s entirely possible that I might have really fallen for them on a different day, but when the quality of the lineup is so consistently good, it’s inevitable that some bands will get lost in the mix along the way.

Soko wins the dubious honour of being the most talked-over artist I’ve seen so far this weekend – during one particularly quiet, fragile number she becomes barely audible over the constant nattering in the tent. Attempting to engage the crowd, she invites audience members up on the stage to “dance like aliens” during ‘I Thought I Was An Alien’ – and gets more than she bargained for when one particularly amorous woman runs up and gives her a big hug and a kiss. Certainly one the weekend’s odder moments, but there are moments of melancholy beauty here too, particularly the painful honesty of ‘First Love Never Die’.

Back in the Word Arena, I’m intrigued to check out Belgian art-rockers dEUS – a band who are a pretty big deal in Europe but only really have a cult following in the UK. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with their records, but that doesn’t stop me being impressed by their performance. They’re clearly confident enough in their own songcraft that they’ll happily sing a song in French to an English-speaking audience, and the overall impression that I get is of a band who don’t particularly need any fancy gimmicks to win a crowd over – in that way, they’re perhaps comparable to The National, Elbow, maybe even Radiohead. It’s an effortlessly skilful show, and for their UK fans it’s a rare chance to catch their heroes on these shores – for myself, and everyone else, it’s an eye-opening introduction to a very good band who we’ve been completely missing out on.

“It’s so good to be back in England! I just wish I wasn’t so committed to wearing white,” quips Zola Jesus mid way through her headline slot in the woods. Her barefoot, all-white ensemble probably takes the prize for the least sensible outfit I’ll see all weekend, but that doesn’t stop her from leaping down into the muddy pit in front of the barrier at one point. She then returns to the stage brandishing a stray wooden stake that’s about as tall as she is – holding it above her head while continuing to sing, before finally tossing it back into the pit. God knows what the security guards thought. Any antics aside, it’s her voice that steals the show, as you might expect really. As a huge Zola Jesus fanboy, I’m pretty much enraptured throughout – though the throbbing pulse of ‘Hikikomori’, the intimacy of ‘Trust Me’ and the industrial whirr of set-closer ‘Vessel’ are particular highlights. She’s also a highly theatrical performer who holds the audience’s attention with complete ease – which makes it all the more endearing when a flicker of laughter crosses her face as she briefly forgets the words during ‘Night’. Overall, she completely justifies the fact that I’ve been anticipating her performance from the day I bought my festival ticket.

The only downside of watching Zola Jesus is that she clashes with Los Campesinos! – who are another favourite act of mine, as long time readers may well know. Fortunately, I manage to catch the last three songs of their set, and it proves to be one of the most entertaining 15 minutes I’ll see all weekend. I arrive just in time to hear them give ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ a fake intro of the riff from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, while Gareth references the song’s recent use in an advert by changing a lyric to “every single one of us Budweiser ’til we die.” They follow up with a typically stirring rendition of ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’, before Gareth says they’ve got one more song to play and thanks the stage manager for their understanding – prematurely, it turns out, as the PA is promptly switched off. Never ones to give up, someone runs on stage to turn their amps up and the band proceed to play ‘Baby I’ve Got The Death Rattle’ in full anyway. Absolutely one of the festival’s most grin-inducing moments.

Tonight feels like a big moment for The Horrors (“We weren’t expecting this to be such a big tent,” admits Faris), and they not only sound amazing, but they look amazing too, bathed in smoke and silhouetted against a wash of colour. Sure, the setlist may contain pretty much the usual mix of songs from Skying and Primary Colours, but from the brooding intensity of ‘Mirror’s Image’ to the extended run through of the already colossal ‘Moving Further Away’, it’s absolutely faultless. ‘Still Life’ predictably gets the most triumphant response from the crowd, but it feels like The Horrors have become one of the UK’s consistently great live bands, and it’s a fine way to round off the evening.

But wait, there’s more! Scroobius Pip is doing a spoken word slot in the poetry tent, and by the time I get there it’s already completely rammed. It’s worth sticking around for as well – his darkly comic and insightful words are utterly compelling. If today has been one giant, delicious musical cake, then that was the cherry on top. I doubt I’m going to pack so many good bands into a single day for quite some time.

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