Sometimes derided for allegedly being "too middle class", Latitude is something of a rare breed among UK music festivals. Not only does the idyllic setting have more in common with several of its European brethren such as Roskilde, Oya or Hove, it can also boast being arguably the cleanliest and most respectful event of its kind. Attracting a clientele ranging from toddlers to 60 years of age and beyond, its family friendly ethos means there's very little of the boorish behaviour which sadly lets larger peers Leeds, Reading, V and T In The Park down. With numerous portaloos and urinals strategically scattered between most of the site's stages, it's to organisers Festival Republic's credit that we don't witness a single fence or blade of grass being used as a toilet. Most of the food here also provides a welcome respite from standard festival fare of burgers and chips. Oysters do battle with haggis pie in one corner of the field, while everything from Mexican cuisine to pizzas and tapas sits appetisingly around the arena. None of which are overpriced.
Which isn't to say there aren't any minor gripes either. The £2 refund hike up on pints of lager or cider making the first purchase £6.50 apiece is annoying, and while a common occurrence at most festivals now, with Tuborg being one of Latitude's main sponsors their product is the only alcoholic beverage available on draught all weekend. While getting into the Comedy Tent still ranks as an achievement in itself - three hour queues having been reported at one point - despite complaints on an almost annual basis that the stage and its canvas arena are far too small.
Nevertheless, when compared with other festivals on home shores this summer Latitude could boast having arguably the most mouthwatering line-up. Choosing to give opportunities for Brits-done-good Foals and Bloc Party to step up to the mark as headliners alongside German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk was a brave yet inspired move, if only to show the rest of the festival world nostalgia acts aren't always necessary to sell tickets. Although not quite a complete sell-out, the scorching sunshine that accompanied most of the festival's four days helped make the eighth edition of Latitude possibly the most enjoyable one yet.
Arriving at Henham Park just after midday on the Friday, we catch the last two songs of Tim Burgess' low-key country-tinged set. It's Leamington Spa's Coves though that really catch the eye over on the Lake Stage. Fronted by diminutive femme fatale Beck Wood, their lo-fi shoefolk reminds us of a more interesting Beach House. What's more, they've an arsenal of luscious tunes to go with it, and in the cutesy 'Fall Out Of Love' almost out-Valentine Kevin Shields's mob at their own game. Throw in an ethereal cover of Chris Isaak's 'Wicked Game' for good measure and you've already found one of Latitude 2013's understated highlights within an hour of landing on site.
Elsewhere, I Am Kloot's Johnny Bramwell calls the crowd "yokels and bumpkins" eliciting precisely zero response from the clearly unimpressed onlookers, while John Grant mixes gutsy folk with techno beats of a heavily intense variety to a slightly more receptive audience. Having been lauded by numerous publications and industry bigwigs over the previous twelve months, London-based four-piece Wolf Alice aren't so much disappointing as just fairly predictable in an indie-by-numbers kind of way. Things perk up a little towards the end when Lake Stage compare for the day Huw Stephens walks on with a birthday cake for singer Ellie Rowsell, celebrating her twenty-first year today.
Thank heavens for Chvrches then, whose gothic immersed electronica fully justifies all of the hope bestowed upon them. Playing to a ridiculously busy I Arena, singer Lauren Mayberry a buoyant presence and far cry from those apprehensively nervous early shows. That they throw debut single 'Lies' in from the start tells its own story. For many bands their showstopper, that it now sits among the weaker moments in Chvrches set proving testament to the band's rapid development both as songwriters and performers. 'Science And Vision' has "hit single in waiting" written all over it while 'The Mother We Share' stands aloft as the first bonafide festival anthem of the weekend. Main stages await in 2014...
Three years ago Irish singer/songwriter Conor O'Brien may have been touted as the next Conor Oberst but here on the back of excellent second album Awayland Villagers are a more taut force to be reckoned with. Coming on like a mini-Springsteen, songs like 'Nothing Arrived' and 'The Waves' sound impassioned and grandiose in this setting while early single 'Becoming A Jackal' finds itself recited word-for-word back at O'Brien by the enthusiastic throng in the BBC 6 tent. As a result, Diiv play to a much smaller crowd than their exquisitely crafted chillgaze deserves. Not that Cole Smith and co. seem too concerned, preferring instead to play in a no holds barred, heads down and feet to the floor manner. And that's just 'Doused'.
With talk of all not being well in the Bloc Party camp for some time and Matt Tong having already been conspicuous by his unexplained absence from numerous shows this summer, it was still a shock to see him missing from the stage once more. Particularly as this was Bloc Party's first ever headline set on a UK outdoor stage. However, credit where credit's due to his replacement, Sarah Jones of New Young Pony Club (she'll also perform the following evening with Hot Chip), whose versatility shone through as the highlight of what was generally a fairly lacklustre performance. While choosing to open with 'So Here We Are' was always going to get the audience onside, many had drifted off by the mid-point of the set. Bereft of any chemistry or even communication between the other three members, if this were to be Bloc Party's last ever show - and post-gig talk of an indefinite hiatus suggests it may well could have been - it would be a travesty to remember them like this rather than the pulsating, angular riffing machine that exploded onto the scene nearly a decade ago.
The following afternoon, all of the talk is about Joanna Gruesome's fiery set on the Lake Stage. And rightly so, their shy yet visceral noise pop warning off the impending rain clouds hovering over Henham Park for thirty minutes at least. Bo Ningen also deliver their usual mix of metallic psychedelia via a stage show that screams "LOOK AT US!", which we wish we had done for their entire set rather than the two songs we eventually catch having been persuaded to watch a fashion show in the adjacent field beforehand. Some bands work better live than on record, and bluesy garage rockers White Denim instantly fall into that category. While having never released a bad record par se, their largely improvised live show is a joy to behold, particularly when they play a couple of new unreleased songs, which sound like an amalgam of Hawkwind and Cream.
Great mysteries of our time #43. Why on earth weren't Yeah Yeah Yeahs among this weekend's main stage headliners? Particularly after witnessing the previous night's bill toppers. Pushed to third on the bill this evening, their hour long set undoubtedly reigned supreme as the musical highlight of Latitude 2013. Karen O, resplendent in a matching bright yellow bomber jacket and shorts combination laying serious claim to the undisputed title of best female front person of the 21st Century. Playing an impeccably perfect setlist for the time allotted - 'Zero', 'Mosquito', 'Gold Lion', 'Cheated Hearts', 'Maps', 'Pin', 'Miles Away', 'Sacrilege' 'Heads Will Roll', 'Date With The Night' - they're all there, Ms O is a hyperactive all-singing, all-dancing livewire who when not delivering the hits can be found participating in any number of activities from swallowing her microphone to cavorting in the photopit with the front rows. Simply incredible!
Hot Chip too are a revelation, warming up for their heroes and possibly biggest influences (Alexis Taylor is even sporting an 'Autobahn' t-shirt in homage). 'One Life Stand', 'Over And Over' and 'Ready For The Floor' causing the entire Obelisk Arena to create their own rave out front, it's the closing 'I Feel Better' that summons a euphoric adrenaline rush that doesn't precipitate until long after the next band's departure. Having already seen Kraftwerk perform their 3D show two weeks earlier at Denmark's Roskilde Festival, there was to be no element of surprise this time around. However, true innovators like Kraftwerk hardly need to rely on gimmicks to pull off a spectacular set, and in the ninety minutes they grace the stage, Latitude is treated to a musical history lesson like no other. Dressed like extras from 'Tron' and permanently stationed behind their machines, they play a career - or should that be genre? - defining set encompassing the best bits from Autobahn, The Man-Machine, Radio-Activity, Trans Europe Express, Computer World and Electric Cafe while robotic arms leap out of the screen as a never ending motorway leads us to one destination only: Fun. Timeless.
Sunday morning brings with it the inevitable hangover, although Manchester five-piece Money do their utmost to remedy the twitching serotonin. Comparisons with Wu Lyf being inevitable; indeed their expansive sound could be described as the late, enigmatic foursome covering the first three Verve EPs; it's singer/guitarist/shaman Jamie Lee who holds our attention throughout their set. Dishing out beers to the crowd at one point, then moving his mic stand into the front row for the finale, they're ones to watch over the coming months with debut long player The Shadow Of Heaven set to drop in a few weeks.
While soul legend Bobby Womack tries his damnedest to regale both body and mind into a vaguely coordinated form, it's left to Hookworms to reach the parts other artists can't quite manage today. Having engaged in a debate earlier over the greatest opening track on an album. 'I Wanna Be Adored', 'Only Shallow', 'Disorder', 'Yes', 'Untitled' all meriting a mention, it would be fair to say 'Away Towards' off album of the year contender Pearl Mystic also fits within the same category. What's more, as an introduction to this afternoon's live show, it reaches stratospheric heights. Dangerously intense yet soothingly hypnotic, it sets the scene for the thirty minutes that follow. Afterwards, a guy in his late fifties tells me their set reminds him of the first time he saw both Motorhead and Pink Floyd. Which pretty much confirms Hookworms to be the new Hawkwind, and for half an hour at least, masters of the universe.
Fellow new psychedelia upstarts Temples appear to have drawn the short straw when it comes to technical faults. A rushed change over forces them into an elongated instrumental break during 'Sun Structures' which acts as a soundcheck. Then singer James Bagshaw's mic stand breaks which hinders proceedings even further. Fortunately, they carry an array of big tunes in their locker and by the time forthcoming single 'Keep In The Dark' and 'Shelter Song' close the set, parity has been restored. Meanwhile, Swim Deep have quietly gone about their business over the summer, playing just about every festival known to man. What that means as a result is a tighter, more polished unit and when frontman Austin Williams confidently wins over the predominantly female audience by asking them if they've had a better time than their male counterparts this weekend, it's plain sailing from hereon in, especially when the closing double whammy of 'She Changes The Weather' and 'King City' takes shape.
And so onto the finale. For Foals tonight represents a major landmark in an upward career trajectory that shows no sign of abating any time soon. Whereas Friday night's headliners resembled a terminally injured race horse about to be put out of its misery, Foals precision fuelled gallop continues to gather momentum at every opportunity. With tonight's thirteen song set split almost evenly between the band's three records, it serves as a timely reminder as to why they're one of this nation's most treasured acts at this present moment in time. 'My Number' brings huge pop choruses, 'Total Life Forever' asymmetric time signatures, 'Spanish Sahara' a monumental presence while 'Providence' could just about be THE festival anthem of the summer. With the band themselves clearly savouring every minute, tonight feels like a triumphant after party for a major sporting event, with the underdogs coming out on top. In short, a truly magnificent way to close a delightful weekend of festivities.
More of the same next year Latitude if you please...
Photographs by Andrew Benge