Latitude Festival, July 2013: a tale of Kraftwerk, Karen O and Kitson (and much more)

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It's Saturday afternoon and I'm dodging a large balloon bearing a company logo which is being bounced around the crowd at the BBC 6music stage at Latitude. Saturday's crowd reached the site capacity of 35,000 and a small shower has meant that a few extra are taking cover in this tent, thereby witnessing DAUGHTER play one of the most momentous gigs of their career so far. This trio may have been a small blip on my radar earlier this year, but today they hold me mesmerised, so much so that even some close encounters with that balloon cannot shake me out of this.

The beauty of Latitude is that so much is unexpected. Whether it is simply the surprise of seeing a band you thought run-of-the-mill do something this special, or of approaching a large set of illumnated teeth in the woods to find Phil Hartnoll of Orbital DJing inside, or of peeking into a performance tent late at night and chancing upon Kevin Eldon off the telly playing a set of comedy songs with his acoustic guitar, Latitude offers lots of variety across its 700 acts.

My visit concentrated mostly on the music, and began on Friday with a lovely, if brief, set by one of the performers of the year, JOHN GRANT. Backed by his mostly Icelandic band, he touches on his Queen of Denmark album with ''Marz', but the highlights are from the album which won me over to him, 'Pale Green Ghosts' itself and a poignant, closing 'Glacier', dedicated to people fighting the anti-gay legislation in Russia at the moment.

It is a genuine thrill to see YO LA TENGO on the main stage, and they pull off a neat balancing act between showcasing their great recent album Fade and playing some crowdpleasers from their three-decade long back catalogue. 'Stockholm Syndrome', 'Autumn Sweater', 'Ohm' and an always welcome 'Tom Courtenay' are just some of the highlights. Overall it's fairly gentle set, although they finish with Ira Kaplan wigging out on the epic 'Pass the Hatchet...'

I was hoping to discover some new music this weekend, but the first act that I hadn't seen before that really impressed me was the legendary English guitarist RICHARD THOMPSON and his electric trio. Quite how I never appreciated this guy's incredible guitar skills until now is a mystery to me. He also makes me miss a bit of CAT POWER, whom I saw many times in the late '90s and early '00s play edgy unpredictable sets laced with stage fright. She has now re-invented herself in the way someone like Bowie or Beck or Prince might, and her current act sees her strutting around the main stage like she owns it, backed with a slick band that at one point has two drummers and three guitarists.

VILLAGERS are another act that I'm seeing for the first time, and this performance takes the material from the impressive new album [Awayland] and adds more intensity to it. On 'The Waves' for example, they come across as a more experimental act than many give them credit for, with layers of noise adding an extra dimension to the song-writing.

A quick dash across the lake into the woods in the hope that I might shake some of the discomfort that dust and pollen was causing meant that I missed the always great Calexico, as I opted for relatively new arrivals DIIV. The smaller tent - confusingly labelled the I-Arena - gives their show an intimacy that had been lacking from most things I had seen today, and their fresh take on indie-rock goes down well and sets the scene for JAPANDROIDS to close the evening in fine style. They played a truncated 45 minute set, concentrating mostly on the Celebration Rock material, which Brian said "was their last UK show for a very long time", presumably so they can focus on some new material. Their cracking version of the Gun Club's 'For the Love of Ivy' was a fine way to finish off the live music for the day.

On Saturday the crowd seemed to double and the site was alive with anticipation for KRAFTWERK's headlining 3-D performance. Before that though, there was a wealth of entertainment on offer. I watched KING CREOSOTE play a lovely set in the woods with an understated backing band, his corny jokes unable to deflect from beautiful songs like 'John Taylor's Month Away'. The aforementioned DAUGHTER were a revelation for me and I was struck by the balance between their understated, almost minimal approach to the songs and the fantastic wall of sound that the guitarist created.
A quick wander over to the less crowded theatre area in search of a Melt Yourself Down jam session (I never found it!) ended up with a peek in at Praxis Makes Perfect, an ambitious collaboration between NEON NEON and the National Theatre of Wales, which gave a dramatic context to the current album, complete with crowd interaction. I wish I had seen it from the start because it looked very interesting.
Back to the main stage where Karen O from the YEAH YEAH YEAHS is making the place her own, opening with a raucous version of 'Zero' complete with Slint's David Pajo on synth. Their whole set is exactly what the main stage needs as they rattle through great versions of 'Gold Lion', 'Sacrilege' and 'Heads Will Roll', as well as reminding us what a great tune 'Maps' is, and teasing us with an extended 'Date With the Night' at the end.

A slight cooling off session with MARK LANEGAN and his band was called for, his powerful voice impressive as always, and it was interesting to hear the varied stylings of his 'Blues Funeral' album in a live setting. I wasn't going to watch HOT CHIP and only really opted to in order to get a good vantage point for Kraftwerk, but 'Boy From School' was the second song in the set and it reminded me what a very great song it is. The same goes for the much played 'Over and Over', which they stepped it up a gear for that one tonight. Not easy for them to be "filling in a Yeah Yeah Yeahs/ Kraftwerk sandwich" as they said, but they played a blinder.

On to the main event, KRAFTWERK in 3-D, which I can say was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. A perfectly sequenced 'best of' set, including tracks from all of their albums post-1974, they opened with a re-arranged version of 'The Robots' which drew the first gasp when the images of the robots changed perspective and waved their giant hands into the crowd. In fact, gasps of admiration was the general reaction throughout, as the audience remained in reverential mode and didn't really dance, despite the loud, crystal clear beats. The highlights for me were an excellent version of 'Autobahn' where the visuals and music worked so perfectly together and musical notes floated over our heads, and a spine-tingling 'Radioactivity' with updated lyrics replacing Hiroshima with Fukushima. They employed their familiar "stage-leaving" trick during 'Music Non Stop' when the four members become more human, by playing a little solo on their workstation and taking a spotlit bow.

Given the variety on offer at Latitude, five minutes after Kraftwerk have ended, I am sitting cross-legged in the poetry arena for DANIEL KITSON and GAVIN OSBOURNE, who perform 'Lucinda Ding and the Monstrous Thing', a forty minute poem with music which goes by in a flash and, like all of Kitson's work, has enough in it to stay with you and make you think about it long after it has gone.

On Sunday morning I watched Daniel Kitson again, for his sixth performance of the weekend, this time a work-in-progress ramble for two upcoming shows, one of which he admits is pretty much written. This is the second such show which I have seen him do this year, and it does strike me that this seemingly effortless, often thrown away material, is as good as most other stand-ups at their best. Unfortunately for me, after emerging into daylight after this set, I found that I was struggling hard to see properly, even after my second anti-histamine of the day, so I had no option but to leave it all behind me, thereby missing Hookworms, James Yorkston, James Blake and Grizzly Bear to name but a few, and no doubt lots of surprises along the way. Despite my allergies - and I hasten to point out that this was something that has only ever happened once before in my whole life - I had a hugely positive experience at Latitude. I found the whole festival very well organised, and the variety and quality of the acts across the bill was very hard to beat.

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