Review of Latitude Festival live at Henham Park in Suffolk on 13th-15th July 2012

Since its birth in 2006 Latitude has felt like a bubble continuing to expand. Each year it has grown in size and stature, with stronger line-ups and more and more treats crammed into every nook and cranny of the site's beautiful and intimate location of Henham Park in Suffolk. Each year it feels like it must be close to reaching bursting point; to losing the identity and atmosphere that made it so enticing. Fortunately, 2012 saw another year pass without such incident.

Latitude Festival

With such a dizzying range of entertainment and activities at hand it can become difficult to even visit the score of stages scattered across the site, and utterly impossible to summarise it in a way that fully does it justice. manages only to see one act away from the music stages, missing countless comedy acts, artworks, film screenings and numerous other activities from Yoga workshops to scrabble meets and hoe-downs. Many people around the site comment that it is, this year, the closest thing there is to Glastonbury.

Which is a fair comparison, not counting its relative scale. Just like Glastonbury it's possible to stumble on something in the middle of nowhere. On the 'In The Woods' tent, hidden somewhere between the guest area and a block of toilets, The Grubby Mitts offer up a rustic take on the many-legged glitchy post-jazz of Jaga Jazzist and Now We've Got Members, whilst Principle Six capture the heart with naked falsettos and searing strings, much in the same way as The Irrepressibles did four years ago on The Waterfront Stage.

On the quartet of main stages, most of the fun is to be had on the Word Arena, second in size only to the massive outdoor area of the Obelisk Arena. Early Friday afternoon Lloyd Cole plays a gentle set of Americana-tinged indie, without The Commotions but with his son Will. His set reaches back to his time with The Commotions right through his last full-length, 2010's Broken Record, and is a pleasant introduction to the weekends' menu. On the same stage Destroyer picks things up with a hedonistic smorgasboard of horns and sighed vocals, like Ariel Pink scribbling suggestive comments over The Flaming Lips stage-plan.

Later, The Antlers and Lana Del Rey may seems worlds apart, but they tug the heartstrings in a similar fashion and both are experts in building suspense and filling every note with emotion in a way that manages not to be earnest or over-bearing. Both, too, offer new material that suggests their future forays will be interesting progressions; Lana with the Portishead-aping 'Body Electric' and The Antlers with the tropical haze of 'Drift Drive'. Closing the Obelisk Arena Bon Iver, another heartstring tugging maestro, is on stunning form, with the falsettos of 'Skinny Love' and 'Blood Bank' stretching out for miles as his (extended) live band give a triumphant base.

On Saturday there is barely a minutes respite from the rain which slowly turns the already sodden grounds of Henham Park into an absolute mudbath. Again the saviour is the covered Word Arena, one of the driest parts of the site and one with a seemingly endless stream of festival highlights. Josh T Pearson is certainly one of them, peppering long drawn-out country mournings with dick jokes and an endearing self-depreciating humour that would see him make a switch to the nearby Comedy Tent quite easily. 'Woman When I've Raised Hell' and 'Sweetheart I Ain't Your Saviour' are greeted by rapturous applause by an audience that genuinely seems to take Josh aback, applauding families and 'lads' in arms alike.

At the midpoint of the days' events Low are somewhat of a quandary. On their last three albums they have seemed ever more willing to clothe the naked beauty that saw them write some of the most striking music of the last quarter of a century, with The Great Destroyer's embrace of rock, 'Drums And Guns' use of questionable recording techniques and their latest full-length's haphazard feel, and live they seem to be taking the same approach, conjuring a shroud of drones and Neil Young like one-note solos. Opener 'Pissing' is given a five minute guitar workout it certainly doesn't need, and whilst 'Especially Me' and 'Sunflower' are as majestic as ever it is hard not to be disappointed by a 'very good' set from a band who can effortlessly achieve perfection.

On rare ventures out there is plenty more fun to be had. Sunless 97's joyous mix of trance, shoegaze and straight-up electro is a treat despite a ridiculously early start time. It is music for when night turns into morning that finds itself struggling against mid-day hangovers and repeating breakfasts. Still, it is a rare negative on a schedule which is miraculous in its overall avoidance of clashes.

On the Lake Stage, the festivals' worst band are followed by its strangest, as The Establishment give way to Dingus Khan, but time outside is limited to the brief moments when the sky remains clear. With the exception, of course, of Elbow, who are a must see whatever the weather. From the transcendent 'Tower Crane Driver' right through to the (inevitable) closer of 'One Day Like This', finished with an impressive fireworks display, the band are, as always, on top form. Questions were raised prior festival that Elbow, like Bon Iver, were a rather underwhelming choice for a headliner. No one who saw them would raise such an opinion; they are the perfect closer for any event, even if Shy FX, the original nutter himself, several hours later was a phenomenon in his right. Call it another day.

Showing the festival's true diversity, roughly eight hours after Shy FX closed the doors for the night Lang Lang, one of the world's foremost classical performers at the tender age of 29, gave truly striking renditions of Chopin classics against the backdrop of the Park's serene lake, arriving by boat to treat several thousand early risers to a beautiful solo performance. It helped accentuate a chilled tone that began in earnest with Catherine AD's wilting, world-weary take on Kate Bush's grandiose musical landscapes, but was soon over-ridden by the frantic math-rock of Battles and euphoric electronica of M83, who have gone from being studious soundscape creators to full-blown party starters with tracks such as 'Midnight City' and a thunderous reworking of 'Teen Angst'.

Particularly after two and a half days of mud-trundling and substance abusing it was tempting to leave things at this, after what seemed like the perfect crescendo to a near-perfect weekend of music. Fortunately mind over-ruled body, as two of the best sets where still yet to come; Perfume Genius' red-raw folk is so intimate that appointing a drummer and guitarist/pianist to accompany him on stage seems a pointless foray, but they add another level to his organ-driven soliloquies. He manages to fit over a dozen tracks into a forty minute set, but each one of them is simply wondrous, from early track 'Mr Peterson' through to recent single 'Hood'. The crowd, from start to finish, barely utter a word.

Wild Beasts contain within a similar beauty, but the reaction that greets them is far different. Mosh pits, crowd surfing and sing-alongs appear at first to be at odds to the brooding shivers of dream-pop the band conjure up, but every lung in the room pushes out every word from 'All The Kings Men' to the closing howls of 'End Comes To Soon', as apt a finale for a festival as you could care to find (even if it is followed by a set from Britain's Punk Poet Laureate John Cooper Clarke').

Which says nothing of a fantastically if typically pricey choice of food that ranges from Carribbean Jerk Pork and Tapas Platters through to an English breakfast baguette, nor an atmosphere that was pleasant throughout with just the right mix of musos, families, casuals and wasters, nor even a helpful, even polite security team, one of which was spotted wiping a tear away during the aforementioned Perfume Genius. Simply, to put into 10 words what 1300+ couldn't; it's simply England's best festival of 2012.

Jordan Dowling

Official Site -