Review: Latitude 2015.

Comparisons between Barcelona’s Sónar and the altogether more bucolic Latitude, set in Suffolk’s Henham Park, may be few and far between, but if only for a fleeting moment or two, bear with me…

Because in much the same way that the former represents the very epitome of partying por excelencia (‘it’s the class and crystalline professionalism with which Sónar approaches the art of partying that well and truly sets it apart’, as we remarked last month), Latitude perfectly encapsulates the current status quo when it comes to your average aestival festival get-together. However, Latitude is in no way average: its demographic may be overwhelmingly white and woefully middle class – as has now been remarked upon ad nauseam – but ultimately, you’d have a right task on your hands were you to even so much as attempt to name any other that doesn’t comply with this particular cliché. Festivals have, for better or worse (or worse still) become the preserve of those with ample disposable, when not expendable income – inclusive of tickets, substance, transport and sustenance, they’re incredibly costly pastimes. So you’d best get as much bang for your proverbial buck as is feasibly possible therefore, right? Right. And nowhere – but nowhere – crams as much inter-, if not omni-disciplined delight into the one weekend as Latitude.

Latitude 2015

From Joe Lycett’s droll observations on life as a bisexual comedian-cum-social curioso to operettas set across enormous chessboards, there is as lavish a spread of arts as Pieminister’s menu has become in more recent months and years. From Years & Years to Catfish and the Bottlemen and The Vaccines, the BBC Radio 6 Music Stage keeps teens bopping all weekend long; such illustrious curmudgeons as Sun Kil Moon and Badly Drawn Boy (who, in a pretty unprecedented diatribe, brands all Festival Republic-ans “tight-fisted cunts”) entertain the elders come a gloriously languid Saturday afternoon; otically bruised in-betweeners are busied darting between the iArena and The Lake Stage, the former benefitting from everything from Ezra Furman’s of Montreal-aises escapades, to the vital escapism provided by Zola Jesus’ satanic gyrations and tragic ‘gothtronica’. And it’s this venue that, on the 10th anniversary of this incontrovertibly superlative event, becomes the somewhat improbable epicentre of everything…

Kiasmos, Latitude 2015

In a rare moment’s crossover between Latitude and the aforesaid Sónar, Icelandic duo Kiasmos mesmerise on Saturday evening, the many diaphanous layers of Looped and the gloried dolour of Held holding the attentions of all in attendance; on a slightly more indecorous, if no less decorated note, Canadian excentriques Timber Timbre beguile with their idiosyncratic take on the stilled cinematic movements of one Ennio Morricone, Taylor Kirk’s ongoing longing to “dance with a black woman” waltzing around your hippocampal formation long after they’ve gone. Beginning a gilded journey more toward the hearts, if less so the minds of Radio 2 savants nationwide is Leon Bridges who, much like fellow newcomer Izzy Bizu, boasts a prerequisite kind of presence and panache, yet lacks the tracks to really, truly compel; the respective successes of both Ibeyi and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard continue to bewilder; wildly outstripping anticipations – or those previously lacerated at The Great Escape – however are London trio HÆLOS, who understatedly showcase that irresistibly languorous allure which this year lured Matador Records into drawing up a quick contract or two with the celerity of an incensed bull charging toward a red muleta.

Although the 2015 edition of Latitude will likely be forever remembered for the stampedes seen rampaging toward the iArena each and every night, as the likes of Ed Sheeran and Thom Yorke staged intimate late-night shows. Dust was kicked up, the sylvan banks of the lake fast becoming grubbier than any release in the Conflict franchise; barriers were unceremoniously breached; fences kicked down and well and truly “fucked up.” But ultimately, but for Harrowdown Hill, Yorke’s set is overshadowed by technological recalcitrance, incessant talking and an over-reliance on those more minimal of musical experimentations, such as an overabundance of nothingness unpacked from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes of yesteryear, and Atoms For Peace’s Amok of the one before that.

Max Cooper, Latitude 2015

But if Yorke’s rummaging around Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, foraging for electronic genius proves strangely fruitless, then other Sónar-worthy acts fare rather better throughout the course of the weekend: Max Cooper provides an improbable high point of Friday night, taking to a sparsely populated Film and Music Arena with absolute poise and complete aplomb likewise. Indeed, his set results in a quite incredible collision of auricular and ocular components; one that completely eclipses Jon Hopkins’ headlining the BBC Radio 6 Music Stage no more than a mere few moments later. For Cooper requires not the luminous hula hoops nor the gimmicky MIDI controllers that make Hopkins out to be considerably more proactive than he may otherwise appear, instead relying on a compositional understanding and dexterity of touch – to which a truly breathtaking Origins attests – that suggests he could have quite effortlessly held down an infinitely more estimable billing.

Caribou, Latitude 2015

It’s this which, as per always, festival lynchpin(s) Caribou are of course afforded once more; nevertheless, with Dan Snaith & Co. continuing to ride high on the skyscraping apices of the ‘tragiphoric’ Our Love, the likes of Back Home (which, incidentally, sounds in no way dissimilar to onetime Latitude headliner Damien Rice’s Cannonball) and an increasingly, seemingly indispensable Can’t Do Without You occulting Odessa, Sun and so on.

But there are certainly lesser moments of more electronically orientated musics also: the brainiacal Chaz Bundick’s Toro Y Moi toys with an aural brightness, but lacks a certain onstage nous, if not intelligence; the boorish bumps and predictable drops of SBTRKT are more likely to make your head ache than your heart throb, Aaron Jerome continuing on a somewhat disconcerting slide into mediocrity and, presumably, later obscurity. Playing the all-new Other Voices stage – a franchise of the Dingle shindig, that’s housed in a corrugated iron chapel – Dublin’s Jape alas, disappoint with a set that, if in no way mediocre, still goes some way toward substantiating Richie Egan’s relative obscurity, irrespective of the fact that he’s now released no fewer than five studio full-lengths.

Of those with rather more distended discographies still, Nitin Sawhney rather struggles with some wayward levels rarely, if ever permitting three unbelievably brilliant vocalists to shine through; Sunday night headliner Noel Gallagher seems more bothered about blathering on about high-flying Guardian journos – despite this one being slathered with The Independent paraphernalia – than he does putting on a show. Sure, Champagne Supernova remains a masterpiece; the sort to look back thereon with glee rather than anger, but otherwise, plenty is left to be desired.

Manic Street Preachers, Latitude 2015

Indeed, on the subject of unfulfilled desires, not only do the Manic Street Preachers neglect to play The Holy Bible in full, but they neglect the Gospel According to Richey altogether, with a quintessentially visceral rendition of Jackie Collins Existential Question Time a one and only nod to the band’s inimitably bold, and intimately beloved erstwhile lyricist. Instead, it’s more or less a(nother) Forever Delayed set to which we’re treated, retrospective renditions of ’90s smash hits (A Design for Life, Everything Must Go, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next, Motorcycle Emptiness, The Masses Against the Classes, You Stole the Sun from My Heart, and so on) meeting with some of the more regressive singles released since (Show Me the Wonder, Your Love Alone Is Not Enough, and so forth). Aside from Jackie Collins Existential Question Time, Sex, Power, Love and Money and Walk Me to the Bridge, both lifted from last year’s Futurology release, give light to an exigency that, say, You Stole the Sun from My Heart seemed to suggest had been long since extinguished. Although the blasphemy that is their forsaking The Holy Bible – albeit at the family affair that is Latitude – leaves a residual taste that’s as sour as said record itself…

Portishead, Latitude 2015

Which takes us to the weekend’s two sweetest moments: one musical; the other rather less so. First of all, Portishead. Now, while I’m completely incapable of composing an impartial review of what is, to my mind, one of the classiest, sleekest shows going, there really is no other ensemble quite like them. Which perhaps goes some way toward explaining why this is more or less the exact same one they wheeled out at Glastonbury 2013, as well as at their I’ll Be Your Mirror curation of another two summers prior thereto, but if it ain’t broke – and it most definitely ain’t – then why dare to even so much as gingerly tinker with the thing? Beth Gibbons et al. evidently daren’t, although Over – taken from the trio’s gravely underrated, eponymous sophomore full-length – as well as a pared-down rendition of Wandering Star that shimmers through the air like the waters meandering downhill from the Obelisk Arena, have retained all of their refinement while conclusively timeless other Dummy takes such as Glory Box, Roads and Sour Times present an elegance to outdo anything seen on the resplendent Waterfront Stage.

Although from start to finish, or from Silence to We Carry On, it’s Third – their irrefutable best to date – that takes centre stage; never more so than when Yorke emerges as an all-too-short encore begins with The Rip. It’s his finest moment tonight; that Portishead repeatedly go several better vividly demonstrates just how vital a band they’ve become – and that in spite of their enervating inertia when it comes to recording, and subsequently releasing any new material whatsoever…

The other moment, though, takes place well away from those more conventionally musical of stages; those arguably most commonly associated with festivals of this sort. For amid this placid, casual gathering, a stilly darkness stirs within the Theatre tent: Fake it ’til you Make it tells the verisimilar, if probably not quite verbatim tale of London-based performance artist Bryony Kimmings and real-life fiancé Tim Grayburn’s lasting battle with the latter’s chronic, clinical depression, the piece centring itself on the impact this particular, and particularly problematic affliction can have on those on both sides of this sort of contemporary “love story.” Both thematically and intentionally, it’s pretty simple; open and honest stuff. But mentally, it’s difficult; terrifically weighty, and fucking terrifying in truth. Thus that Grayburn has confronted not only his own personal issue, but one that so many men conceal behind all kinds of fronts, and done so in front of a thronging audience that hang from their every word – whether spoken, sung, or scrawled across various cardboard placards – makes this all the more triumphant a performance still. It may be that he first agreed – tentatively, too – to the show on the precondition that he wouldn’t have to show his face, although this does nothing to diminish the bravery his participation so indubitably displays.

He details his persevering difficulties in coming off citalopram – a potent, and potentially torturous SSRI that he’d hid from Kimmings for quite some while – with a jovial, although vital attention to even the most slight of minutiae; no mean feat for a piece that, at only an hour, packs more punch than a leaden roast on many another, if not any other given Sunday lunchtime. Scenes depicting pleasing ups, truly perturbing breakdowns and in-between times, as well as so-called “duvet day[s]”, have a lightness, yet never do they ever make light of this tremendously dark subject matter; they make a song and dance about man’s general negation of the debilitation, but do so with utmost respect for those they both see as members of the same “tribe.” By the time the clamour of a completely merited standing ovation dissipates therefore, there’s not one dry eye in the theatre, with both Kimmings and Grayburn visibly moved by the deferential reaction to a recital delivered with exactly that. A beautiful, and at times brutal insight into what is a truly harrowing predicament, with this piece, the pair have provided immeasurable hope and a perceptible sense of solidarity to an ailment that is so often born of desperate feelings of solitude. They’ve given a voice to the previously voiceless, and for that, they deserve to be heard further and wider than the 300-odd miles that separate Southwold from Edinburgh, where the Fringe begins next month. But much like mental distress among young British men, and Latitude itself first was way back in 2006, this unquestionably essential occasion has come in from the fringes to become a platform for all art forms, and is therefore of paramount importance today…