Latitude 2013 – music

Latitude is a music, comedy and arts festival held over three days in parkland in rural Suffolk, England. There are a number of stages located very much in earshot of one another generating a cacophony of sound. The main stage is called The Obelisk Arena. The stage is flanked by two large screens; a further one sits behind the production platform. On Saturday night, the Obelisk Arena was stunned by Kraftwerk. Tracy Thorn, formally of Everything but the Girl, appearing in the Literature tent, described Kraftwerk to author and DJ Stuart Maconie as “four old blokes with laptops”. In a literal sense she is correct. But she misses the point. IMG-20130720-00261The pioneers of electronic music pioneer on; whist the music is unchanged – partly because of its timelessness – its presentation is awe inspiring. The Robots – a fabulous track in its own right – is accompanied by four pixelated erstwhile ‘Man Machine’ Kraftwerkers rotating in front of the current incarnation (only Ralph Hütter of the original line-up remains). By contrast, ‘The Model’ and ‘Tour de France’ played to archive footage of models and racing cyclists respectively. Trans-Europe Express featured a geometric train. And then Autobahn played to imagery of an idealised Autobahn hosting iconic German vehicles, VW Beetles, campers and classic Mercedes from an unspecifiable period in the past. For the time being, this is unmatchable music presentation.

Many of the bands performing this year owe much to Kraftwerk. So much so, in the case of Hot ChipIMG-20130720-00255 who preceded Kraftwerk in the Obelisk Arena, that singer Alex Taylor adorned his Kraftwerk Autobahn t-shirt for their performance. And what a belter it was. Largely featuring tracks from the most recent album, In Our Heads, the band flitted from one instrument to another as if playing musical chairs. Their website features their effortless performance of ‘Are you ready for the floor’ (at the time of writing the visuals are not working well). http://www.hotchip.co.uk/2013/07/test/ IMG-20130721-00270 The other band that we saw with a Kraftwerk debt are Austra (left). Appearing on the BBC 6 Music Stage, they performed tracks from their new album, Olympia. This album is disappointing relative to their debut, ‘Feel it Break’. But played live, one can jettison the bemusing melancholy of the lyrics that weigh down the album, and enjoy the extraordinariness of lead singer, Kate Selmanis’ voice.

Also on the BBC 6 Music stage was the Laura Mvula with her band featuring a cello, violin, double bass, harp, drums and IMG-20130721-00269keyboards. Their set was irritatingly short as many are in the middle of the day at festivals. She told us that her husband doesn’t really like her songs, but he approves of ‘She’, so we got to hear that. ‘Sing to the Moon’, the title track from the album renders one mortal and also the upbeat ‘Is there anyone out there’ played, partly on her own admission, because recent gigs had been a bit quiet. A large appreciative audience at Latitude certainly made her feel wanted.

Our first musical encounter on Friday afternoon was the enigmatic I am Kloot. I am not sure what to make of them. Their own profile has it that they are “an oddball pop trio based in Manchester, England, that consists of vocalist/guitarist John Bramwell, drummer Andy Hargreaves, and guitarist/bassist Pete Jobson.” The music is rocky, melodious melancholy. A bit grizzled. Songs about too much alcohol; reflection and mortality.

Friday was also an opportunity to hear Texas – never a fan – but the rocky show had a feel-good sense to it with lead singer, Sharleen Spiteri, seemingly overwhelmed by the reception. Bizarre shirt, though. They were the only band allowed an encore.

We also saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O’s shrill voice didn’t quite penetrate the guitars. She seemed to get more and more angry as the set went on. And thoroughly unhappy with being ‘managed’ off the stage. Or so it seemed.

We dipped into Grizzly Bear, but actually found them a bit uninspiring. We stumbled across The D.O.T. ignominiously in the cinema tent. A duo, Mike Skinner (formally The Streets) and Rob Harvey (formerly The Music), with some great little urban songs. A version of ‘how we all Lie’ that we heard live can be found on Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqrliWEYIko.

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