Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Coated in a constant film of scourge and sweat, our weekend at Latitude was a sunburnt, beer-filled event to remember. Set in Suffolk's exceedingly lovely Henham Park minus the mud, the event, which has a reputation for being a more low-key festival experience appropriate for families and older folks, featured a well-curated and surprisingly cutting-edge showcase of talented musicians, poets, academics, chefs and more for three gorgeous, (mostly) rainless days.
We started off our festival experience on Friday by mostly slumming around the tiny, tree-hemmed i Arena, which was packed with an impressive line-up of talented new musicians who ranged in style from the moody electronica of London-based Deptford Goth to the mosh-pit antics of crazy Canadian duo Japandroids.
First off were the achingly gorgeous compositions of Deptford Goth. Accompanied by a single keyboard and lone backing cellist, Daniel Woolhouse’s pensive, soul-filled voice cast a spell over us. The flawless performance was runed only by a particularly buzzy crowd, who practically turned Woolhouse's quiet performance into the background muzak of a city cocktail hour, their Somersby-fuelled schmoozing unfortunately drowning out the melancholic quietude of his devastatingly gorgeous music, especially since the sound was slightly turned down to match the mood.
Slightly better were the cinematic sounds of sad-eyed electronic composer SOHN, whose lush, all-enveloping soundscapes were turned up to punishingly loud levels under the tiny tent’s low roof. Once the initial technical glitches (like the keyboard not playing) were worked out, the performance became an epic, impressive show, filled with oscillating rhythms and soaring vocals. Accompanied throughout by an arsenal of intricately layered sounds, including a colelction of church-y synths, all the cinematic dramatics ended up working beautifully, thankfully avoiding the cheese factor that so often accompanies the likes of pre-programmed reverb noise and insomnia-fuelled lyricism.
As soon as SOHN left, a huge influx of people flooded the tiny arena for band of the moment CHVRCHES. Though packed to the gills with a buzzing atmohsphere, the band’s live performance was incredibly disappointing. Playing over what sounded like a standard, pre-packaged bass line and a simplistic drum track, Lauren Mayberry’s vocals were unbearably grating and created an irritating sense of imbalance with their over-emphasisation. Needless to say, we left after a few songs in search of food to fuel ourselves in preparation for Japandroids’s evening set.
And it’s a good thing we did, as the Canadian rock duo definitely drew out a crowd eager to finish their first day of live music right with some proper fuzz-drenched, chaos-driven punk. Dripping with sweat thanks to a combination of black sweaters, a 20 degree evening and a "no prisoners taken" performance attitude, Brian King and David Prowse thoroughly tore up the child-sized tent with their lightning blitz brand of fast-paced, nosebleed noise unleashing a flurry of knee-jerk dance moves and energetic sing-alongs. Aggressive, brash and slightly juvenile (in the best way possible, of course), it was undoubtedly enjoyable despite a particularly punishing pit experience that left the already dirt-caked crowd a little more worse for wear.
Hot Chip – Ready For Floor (live at Latitude 2013)
After a fitful night of rest, we made the seemingly Herculean effort and slugged ourselves over to the small Lake Stage to catch London-based Clean Bandit for an hour of their inoffensive brand of genre-bending classical electronic music, though while they had an impressive amount of energy and an entire repetoire of Girls Aloud-esque moves, the undeniable over-emphasis on the pop vocals meant that there was a noticeable lack of attention given to the classical string instrumentation.
Much better were the refreshing Icelandic boogie funk-loving sextet Retro Stefson, who played their first English festival set to an intimate yet incredibly enthusiastic crowd made up of yummy mummies, who were drawn from their mid-afternoon lattes to the group’s groovy Giorgio Moroder-inspired earworms. With a DIY Microkorg keytar, sporadic rap verses and giggle-inducing on-stage banter (“We had three babies born in Italy after we played this song!”), Retro Stefson brought a little Saturday Night Fever to the Suffolk countryside and served as an insanely good warm up for the rest of the evening’s electro-heavy line-up.
Next up were British indie electro power group Hot Chip, who played an incredible live set that had the excitable, cider-drenched crowd kicking up a virtual dust storm in the main stage Obelisk Arena, fist-pumping along with what was a shamelessly fun experience. The absolute highlight of our night, however, was Kraftwerk, who played an awe-inspiring, well-curated set that acted as a sort of ‘Greatest Hits’ sampler of Kling Klang-produced classics. The obvious choice in a massive set clash between the Dusseldorf legends, ethereal electro-duo Purity Ring and 2012 Mercury winners Alt-J, the time conflict still had many of our fellow audience members swearing as they sweated the jog between the Obelisk and i arenas. Well worth the sacrifice though, their set featured seminal songs from every one of their albums, ranging from The Model to Tour de France, as well as an amazing set of thematic 3D visuals that oscillated hypnotically behind Ralf and friends, Kraftwerk’s hour-and-a-half long set flew by in what felt like a matter of minutes to a dedicated portion of the crowd who murmured along to the blips, bloops and robo-voices echoing throughout the mammoth Obelisk Arena.
Starting off a sleepy Saturday afternoon off right were the smooth, savvy sounds of ‘The Bravest Man in the Universe,’ Bobby Womack, who appeared in an all-red, embellished pleather ensemble, complete with matching hat and sunglasses. Accompanied by a backing band of fierce horns, grooving background singers and a dearth of impressive swagger, Womack definitely proved that he still has it nearing 70, getting an entire arena’s worth of people running on four hours of sleep to jive along to his greatest hits.
Kraftwerk – The Model (live at Latitude 2013)
James Blake’s mid-afternoon headlining performance in the Obelisk Arena did not disappoint. The producer and vocalist's live set managed to translate an acute sense of intensity and intimacy, despite it being played to a crowd of hundreds. Still not quite on the level of his incredible Primavera performances, which took up a late evening headline slot, it was still an impressive effort, his subtractive dubstep somehow making a sunburn-worthy summer afternoon at least twenty times warmer.
With intense trepidation, we hurried away mid-set to the closing bars of Limit To Your Love in order to catch another favourite, the soul-ridden pop of London-based act Amateur Best. A stellar performance unfortunately marred by the terrible sound quality of the Lake Stage, the ever charismatic Joe Flory still managed to put on very smooth performance. Backed by an ensemble clad in all black and baking in the afternoon heat, he lent a nice melancholy feel that many enjoyed from up on the grassy knoll.
Closing out our Latitude experience was the fantastic Scottish rap trio Young Fathers, who pulled off an incredible energetic performance that probably ranked up with Kraftwerk as one of the best acts we saw. The group not only makes interesting, challenging music that pushes the boundaries of conventional hip hop, but they’re also a mind-boggling, awe-inspiring set of performers. Filling the tiny tent with rumbling synths, tribal drumbeats and coordinated vocal overlays, the trio twerked, vogued and moonwalked all over the miniscule, wooded Alcove Stage, drawing in a crowd of passersby who, by the time the rap group walked off the stage, filled the entire tent and called for more.
An absolutely killer way to wrap up our weekend of dancing, drinks and good music, we couldn't help but be thoroughly impressed by not just the legend-filled line-up, but the all-inclusivity of the entire festival. Latitude is an event that turly earns its billing as "more than a music festival" – as proven by our campfire-smoked clothes, overstuffed duffel bags filled with thrifted goodies and shoulders pinker than one of those spray-painted strawberry sheep.