Festival Frolics: Friday, Latitude 2012.

As far as pseudo-bucolic, musically orientated estival get-togethers go, few operate on the same sorts of celestial longitudes to Suffolk's Latitude. Yes, its punctiliously seamed extra-curricular fringes may momentarily appear somewhat ersatz embellishments (faintly magical polychromatic fountains, dip-dyed farmyard critters and so on and so forth) yet they're in no way extraneous to the overall experience that Melvin Benn so laboriously strives to conjure and indeed with this, the festival's 7th edition, perfection again predominates.

It goes without saying that having the backing of Festival Republic aids irrevocably in Benn's managing – and most pertinently maintaining – of this, the barely recognisable and both geographically and thematically distant relative of the Reading and Leeds Festivals. Moreover sporadically the festival feels more aligned with this kinfolk than it may with many a more stylistically analogous adversary (say Camp Bestival, or Secret Garden Party) as slightly excessive security checks, £10 programmes, wristbands ornamented with the autocratic tag 'Property of Festival Republic' and the marauding of teenage kicks about Henham Park's once verdant campsites tinge what is otherwise a markedly sedate sanctum of idyllic escapism. Perhaps Latitude may one day cultivate a reputation for being the one where Reading veterans wind up to writhe and wheel about prams accrued either in the interim or indeed at the 'Festival itself. God knows we've done our time down Richfield Avenue at any rate...
Just about far enough away from conventional civilisation, settlement and normality (whatever that may entail subjectively) Latitude feels remote yet reachable; at times as though reverie yet palpably real. The stature of the malevolent headache continuing to outstay its welcome within my skull contemporarily attests to that. That it's worth all the pain; the suffering; the nostalgic longing; the rough, cerebrum-numbing return to reality and inability to smoothly do so however is but testament to what has now become a bona fide exemplar of British Summer Time, even if the heavens once again forgot to tick forward the hands of time. For festivals should surely strive to cultivate a temporary Utopia where ethanol flows in abundance, haute artists are in commensurate profusion and cares, worries, etc. evaporate instantaneously upon entrance. That is and this year was Latitude, and here's how the whole thing unravelled.
Not strictly taking place on Friday, nor in any way easing us into our first camping stint since last September is the irrefutably effectual and hauntingly impassioned The 8th. Staged (take the term wholly literally) in the Film & Music Arena, terrifyingly spiritual (courtesy of the possessed cries of The Wire's Reg E. Cathey) and terrifically scripted it sees Paul Heaton celebrate his 50th in what must be one of the most empowering manners imaginable. Back in March at the Latitude launch Benn typically enthusiastically mouthed delight from figurative froth having secured this one, despite already having the likes of tUnE-yArDs, Zola Jesus and Zun Zun Egui in on the line up and how emphatically was his approbation vindicated by Heaton's cast of tens.

Less empowering although no less potent are tyrannical Danish scamps iceage who, having only released their début New Brigade in the very first week of just last year and with a combined age of somewhere around that of Omara Portuondo, ought still be teething. Or at least cutting their teeth live. Instead, they pull at ours with a playfully visceral onslaught that proffers the rudest of awakenings. An incongruous raucous, broken strings and the weekend's first and foreseeably last circle pit ensue to the sound of unrestrained, unadulterated adolescence informed by and proverbially educated at Walter Schreifels' Rival SchoolsDishevelled and crutched, Destroyer's Dan Bejar then does little to alleviate our collective sense of struggle: the site increasingly boggy (everything underfoot swiftly begins to resemble erupted Suffolk sewer), he looks as we feel following an arduous trudge through the seemingly interminable sludge. Skittering between fidgety jazz, generic I Am Kloot-infused lethargy and the sound of Broken Social Scene were the Toronto collective not collectively broken by unending melancholia, it's a drab induction into a weekend which subtly posits an '80s overload. Downtown recalls Edward Sharpe were Bejar simultaneously attracted to Wham! and magnetised by Ornette Coleman – a low – thus whilst Kaputt brought about a sense of communal unity, live it's rendered but a series of instances of isolated apathy. 
Continuing to channel the voguish decade inferred by Destroyer's wrecking of reputation is George Lewis Jr. who, fresh from the insecure wing mirror confessionals of his latest Twin Shadow stab, interjects with some thoroughly coveted vivacity and vim. In this, the age of immediacy Five Seconds is as accurately timed an introduction as any: a pulsating surge of mushed naff and crassness, it's Lewis Jr. cannoning off his load swifter than Lee Van Cleef in any old Leone-scribed white-knuckle shootout and in its streamlined wake – one splattered with headlight smear and general disbelief at its dumbfounding instancy – the rudimentary R'n'B of Patient is but a variegated mess. Beg For The Night then, in comparably broad daylight, sits somewhere unsightly between the grotesque pastiche of Boy Kill Boy and the lavish bombast to the drop-dead dross of The Killers. "I personally would never go to a festival. You'd have to pay me millions of dollars", Lewis Jr. avows in one of several allusions to verdurous $ and although one may assume that his fee wasn't quite so exorbitant, that shamelessly histrionic opening alone was worth a few prettily glinting ¢.

With the diluvial downpours largely holding off, if The War On Drugs' squiffy noodling is a little too unearthly to fully enjoy then The Antlers' aqueous guitar shimmy and torrential harmonies enamour all over again. From the doleful languor of Putting The Dog To Sleep, to the updated Verve-indebted epics of Rolled Together or the Watson-via-Buckley suavity of I Don't Want Love, Burst Apart gets given a new lick of paint as it's again preened with a sheen of glistening charm. Drift Dive then only insinuates that acclaim ought to continue to reflect off the Brooklyn troupe for some time to come. With much of the crowd considerably leathered by this particular point in proceedings, there's never to be a more opportune moment to wheel out the gently weathered Kevin Rowland's Dexys: occupying the same sort of spot as Adam Ant this time 364 days previous, the reconvened 'Midnight Runners fortify to a degree Latitude's burgeoning reputation for rejuvenating the careers of the relatively senescent. "It's been many years since I did this song", Rowland candidly proclaims before embarking on an exhaustive Come On Eileen. Unwaveringly acceptably elongated and here established as a 10-minute wonder, it prompts an inevitable exodus once eventually over but during, by God is it good. On this retrospective commemoration of anything '80s, it stands out as the song of said decade, of the day today and does so "now I must say, more than ever."

Stumbling from this to that (namely Seye in garish pantaloons reeling off cartoon-primed pop) it'd be all too easy to disregard all contemporary pop entirely. For many, the first name to be discarded would arguably be Lizzy Grant. Or Lana Del Ray. Or Lana Del Rey. Or whatever may need to be done next – typographically or indeed surgically – to ensure the next record be shelved in supermarkets, substandard franchises, gas stations and whatnot, and not exclusively in major label depots. Whatever your impression of Ms. Grant, what cannot be denied is that her continual blurring of "the lines between the real and the fake" is utterly fascinating. Just as it took us an aeon (at least within the context of 2k12 celebrity in which every last scandalous photo sweeps the internet as though enraged cyclonic natural disaster) to work out what Gaga may actually look like, Del Rey is an enigma. A beautiful, totally manufactured thing of enigmatic beauty and every time our paths cross, or our eyes meet across a sea of smartphone screen and hysterically fluttering hands the infatuation we feel for she inflates quite incrementally.
Sure; she's but a puppet being strung along by a major conglomerate. OK; we're all in turn being strung along by this Hollywood Sadcore bullshit and bravado, the painstakingly scrupulous Lolita referencing, the more generic pop propaganda of it all and the similarly innately generic Topshop promo but fuck it. String us up by the ears, allow us to dangle in her synthetic presence, and do it now. We're not the only ones on tenterhooks either: vociferous yodels of "Laanaa!" precede her impending arrival; the piercing trill of pubescence punctuates it with one fully heart-stopping squeal. When did a popstar last have such universal appeal across generations? That is to pose: when were we last endued with a certain someone who parents could appreciate unashamed as their offspring shriek along in The Word Arena and recite ribald lyricisms of fucking "hard in the pouring rain" the whole journey home? Here's us succumbing to further hyperbole but we'll plump for dramatisation akin to that which rendered Born To Die quite so stupefying in the first place and go with a big ol' never.

Moreover forget anything you may have seen onscreen: this show is now suitably dramaturgical and is more so than anything staged in the nearby Theatre Arena. It's all killer and only slight filler (Summertime Sadness; Million Dollar Man; that new one Body Electric, aka that which you'd be least likely to "get down every Friday night" to) and here, despite being further removed – both physically and proverbially – from the Hollywood glitz and nonsensical glamour of her starry, stripy homeland than ever before, Del Rey appears to find peace. If with it pandemonium. For her set – although extracted from her microclimate forecast by screens and stardom – twinkles with ornate touches: her strut to the front of the stage as she croons: "Feet down fail me now" on Born To Die; the Oriental staccato strings to Without You that shadow her "China doll" allegory; that she bellows the latter from the photo pit, imbuing the track with a sense of pertinence hitherto hidden. "Tell me life is beautiful/ They think that I have it all/ I've nothing without you/ All my dreams and all the lights mean/ Nothing without you", she hollers and although the sentiment may be contorted by co-writing credits, a slight insincerity perhaps and a submission to the exemplum of money not being able to afford true love, this is Del Rey hacking out pieces of heart as she not so much vies as pleads for genuine affection. Thus startling as it may be, honesty seems to befit Grant – if not the brand that Lana Del Rey was always intended as. Of course this intangible persona allowing cigarettes to glamourously buzz about her beehive without ever being smoked is about as authentic as any outspoken Yank in any one of her lambasted Video Games, but Del Rey ought to be regarded (and in crazed cases revered) as a hunk of actor may be. Lord knows it's easy enough to fantasise sordid things given the ineradicable smut now forever incarnated in prohibitive LP format...

It's been real in at least one respect, and I certainly shan't forget this show in a hurry. Instead, I'll forever remember this particular Friday 13th as the day upon which Lana Del Rey transcended popstar status to ascend toward cultural phenomenon. All singles, miniskirts and smartphones, LDR embodies this age of immediacy; of uncertainty; of creative confusion maybe and whoever it is that may be directing her every choreographed move can comprehend this as she – and debatably we could never hope so to do. She is but a virtual reality; a piece in an elaborate 'Game of our manufacture, and she and they are playing us exquisitely. "I just wanted you to know/ That baby you're the best" goes her crackling voice one final time and once more to attach these rich, bad boy-inspired narratives to perceptible circumstance it's an attitude we'd reflect were even our thoughts not drowned out by feverish uproar.
Following LDR would be quite the unfeasible feat, had Benn not gone booked Brooklyn's bestest export – pale ales aside – in Yeasayer. Increasingly immersed in the fuggy undergrowth of cyber-world music, the set is infested with material from forthcoming third Fragrant World as the futuro-fluoro dub of Henrietta drifts into the colossal Blue Paper as though unsmoked smoke encircling Del Rey's blissful locks. Chris Keating later uptakes her fag and promises to plonk it up for sale somewhere, only to swiftly turn his every attention to the jelly-legged globular throb of Longevity, this evening perpetuated by a hefty womp presumably audible over in the nearby coastal retreat of Walberswick. Musically, the trio have never been more harmoniously attuned and with not a solitary slip in their vocal polyphony either, the only way is up.

And a joyous upward amble it is too: from the disjointed proto-disco schtick of Reagan's Skeleton to fluid reconstructions of O.N.E. and Madder Red, with lyrics effectively minimised they allow each track to build musically; monumentally to the extent of being cut off prior to airing the setlisted although today illusive Ambling Alp. The effect is a vivid one centred around emotivity and never is this condensed down more compellingly than on the future ethnics of 2080. "I can't sleep when I think about the times we're livin' in", Keating disparagingly concedes as our evening is irreversibly and infinitely enhanced by that robust bass line. You sense he shan't be clinging to that butt for posterity's sake, as he instead has plausibly the best pop songs of the weekend at his disposal: in blurring both avant-garde and '80s electro propensities, Yeasayer have effortlessly managed to retain both creativity and credibility, and although the reliance on that forthcoming release may be a case of too much of a good thing to a point, it's the likes of Longevity and beyond that'll incontrovertibly preserve just that. In this here field of 30,000, Yeasayer inhabit a metaphorical field of one where their idiosyncratic yet accessible stylings caper among vibrant pigments, miniature cymbals and paradisal perspectives.
Having awoken to Justin Vernon's Bon Iver testing out the likes of Perth, Holocene and Towers, these Bon Iver, Bon Iver lynchpins drifting out atop a light breeze the soundtrack to today concludes as it once began. And both beginning and end are somewhat dismal: Vernon's been putting on the diva moves, prohibiting photography à la Jeff Mangum, pitching up late and subsequently exhibiting only a negligible smidgen of charisma. Similarly, despite having had the privilege of a soundcheck, his hushed reediness is overblown by the balls-out stonk of White Lies, their grotesque rhythmic blare overpowering the dreary Wisconsin with an almighty ease. He's sat atop what looks a throne of illumined dewdrops and beneath what seem drapes of rotting backdrop, perched as we wait for what feels like weeks spent secluded deep in snow-capped wild for our first phonetic-along to a rendition of Creature Fear that's characterised above all by excessive pomp. The next is saved for Skinny Love which, despite featuring the ascertainable lyric of "I told you to be balanced", again favours orchestral superfluity with Vernon thus opting to neglect his own advices. For the man who we all knew and loved with the beloved weatherbeaten acoustic has now become the man with the straggly chinstrap and the overelaborate backing band, who go on to hammer out any intricacies with fiddle and sax solos. Overwrought extravagance it is, and it earmarks Vernon as anything but a headliner as of yet. The most excruciating is held back for the drabbest of grand finales as the vapid Auto-Tune Springsteen anthemia of Beth/Rest chimes about the Obelisk Arena. Elbow at least packed the pyrotechnics.

Josh Holliday.