Words and photos by Sofie Jenkinson
Racing out of the rain dappled city through the high rises and the Olympic Park gleaming up at the clouds, through the golden fields of grain, past the boats cocked to the side at low tide and arriving straight into the heart of Sulfolk. It is luscious in these wilds and the perfect little hideaway for a weekend of adventure in the woods, tangled up in words and lyrics. Latitude 2012 came and went in a flurry of wonderful chaos.
Early on Amandou and Mariam fill the world with sunshine, just for a moment. They plant a seed, as they beam out at the crowd and it blooms in front of the main stage. Across at the Word stage Yeasayer’s honed, visceral sound plumps up the tent, pushing out the canvas with its palms. Their coarse earthy rhythms bouncing off the soft mud below. The ebbing, sizable crowd a worthy companion for such a clutch of intricate, beautiful and taut songs.
As the pale summer sun dips in the sky and the deep blues of the night wash the skies, Bon Iver strides onto the stage, settling himself, taking a breath and looking out in the crowd. Inverse mountains drip from the back of the stage, transformed in colour and morphing into bare branches and oceans as sweet sets of lyrics wrap themselves around the trees. Lamps pick out the band on stage as crescendos take flight, like fireflies amidst the gentle evening rain.
The first night’s festivities were brought to a close in the presence of some rather impressive Cuban salsa at the Havana Rumba! The band tucked away at the back, the dancers trimming the stage out front and lessons being given out freely. In wellies and raincoats the masses moved as one to the sway of the music engrained in the faces of the men dressed in crumpled white day-suits and matching hats.
A new day and a new chance to explore the nooks and adventures hiding in the woods: the sculptures and the Radio 3 lounge full of battered sofas, the sheep of many colours and the elaborate sandcastles. Before heading to the Literature arena to expand minds early doors. Professor Brian Cox and Professor John Butterworth were, with the help of Robin Ince, discussing the small issue of the Higgs Boson particle. The conversation took turns through the process behind finding the Higgs to the set up at CERN and wider issues surrounding funding and policies. Cox said: “A lot of what we do requires permission and consent from voters. Fundamental questions, like is there life on Mars – one of the biggest questions tat we can ask and we have a chance of answering – that project has halted because of funding issues and it comes from tax payers. So these things need support. The scientific literacy of voters is a concern. There is a democratic deficit [….] It’s not just another belief system because there aren’t any beliefs in it. It’s not infallible but it’s the best most self-correcting way we’ve got.”
After some downtime to take all that in, an opportune moment to stumble into the Comedy tent presents itself. Time for a bit of Josie Long. She started by detailing her love of adventure sports (you and us both, Josie!) , explaining: “I loved climbing up a mountain so much. I fucking adored it. I was sort of freaked out by how much I loved climbing the mountain…but I didn’t like the going back down at all.”
And then when on to detail her feelings on pretty much everything else, from the awesome to the not so awesome. “I really love the idea of social justice. I really love it. If I think about it for too long I start to cry. I love social justice so much.” Talking of how things are at the moment, she went on: “It’s like they said ‘Hey! Why don’t we set up a 1980s tribute government?’” And with the image of saxophone solos and sideways ponytails still bobbing around in our minds she sketched out her some key lessons for life: “You have to see the humanity in every person. Be kind! Be careful of each other! Be kind while there’s still time! Be a prick for good. You have to allow yourself to believe that society could be run differently. Find out what needs to be built and make it, joyfully. Look after your community. Fight for what needs fighting for.” And man oh man, did we feel empowered to go around just being unashamedly us for the next 24/7 (and beyond), making a list of all the things we needed to fight for on a rain spattered, dog-eared programme. Towards the end she read us of a quote, a great bit of pocket-sized philosophy: “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” And, well, we think that’s just about one of the best sentiments around. Thanks, Josie.
In yet another nook to discover at this festival – the Film and Music arena – Adam Buxton was up to his usual tricks. His Bug show deals with YouTube videos and the subsequent comments left under them. His usual rapier wit and silly sausage behaviour go hand-in-hand with this kind of larking around and oh, it was a blast! “Take that to the bank you muffinfactory!” read one comment, chain-whispered endlessly throughout the crowd, laced with laughter as it stood peering out from the screen. And that we did. That we did.
Richard Hawley’s surl and snarl whipped itself around the main stage as the evening drew in. The weight and timelessness of his timbre rustling through the air. And then the cream to Hawley’s crunch padded onto the stage, as Laura Marling, drenched in leather, head cocked to the side began to play. The pithy, feathery words rolling from her tongue, dancing with the gentle picking of the guitar as it blends into the afternoon breeze. Her clutch of work, so wise beyond its years, singing back at her from the glitter encrusted faces all around.
All squared away and set up for the finale on the main stage, Elbow saunter out for the headline slot, all pomp, sparkle and northern dour. A measured blend of old and new, big anthems and quiet moments, from Weather To Fly to Scattered Black and Whites. For the old crowd and the new crowd both, this set was a touch paper straight to the beating heart. A band that has grown into their skin and alongside so many, throwing the lyrics in handfuls like confetti.
Festivals often present unique, crystallising moments in the world, the likes of which you would not get anywhere else. But rarely do you stumble on something as much as a privilege as one of the world’s greatest pianists atop a lake, rattling a grand piano with the kind of delicacy, grace and fervour reserved for so few. Lang Lang, who pierced the near silent warm air of Sunday morning on the lake, sat before a gleaming grand piano and daubed shades of Chopin, Shubert and Liszt across the sky. His gracious glowing face soaking up every moment, dedicating songs to the wide-eyed cross-legged crowd lining the water’s edge, and carefully selecting songs like the sweet On A Calm Lake, a Chinese song, to add the cherry to an already frosted Sunday morning. The most perfect way to start the day, amidst the weight of the water and the silence, cut through with the tinkling of keys.
In an altogether more raucous affair, St. Vincent, pads out onto the stage of the Word arena, guitar slung by her hips commanding the space with the grit in her words and fierce swingeing guitar. Shortly followed by Battles, after some wrestling with the sound system, packing in a neat little set of tense, tempered math rock, tugging at sleeves.
Next up on the main stage Bat For Lashes seems a little more considered these days. The very soul, as always, glimmering in every note of Natasha Khan’s voice and in every flash of her eyes. Still as ethereal as ever and as intoxicating but with a little more heft in every note. Just quietly reminding you that she never went away and how glorious she never stopped being. M83, on the rather more electronic end of the scale, packed a lot of punch in the Word arena, blistering through a set wall-to-wall with power, leaving no one untouched and the sound blasted through every hair on every head in the room.
Sunday was a day peppered with special moments. The incredible Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, that ragtag bunch of musical greats, turned the Word arena into their own Cuban flavoured frisson, saturated with great, glorious overtures . Not only putting the zazz into pazazz but lacing the afternoon with a sense of great majesty and dripping with history.
The final treat of the day came in the shape of Wild Beasts featuring Katie Harkin of Sky Larkin, putting each note careful atop another and forming those glistening, liquid sounds. A beautiful and gentle way to melt away into the last night in this woodland paradise.
As we made it back through the woods on our way home the lake was alight with projections in mist clouds, from James Dean to swirling colours. An acrobat was suspending from a giant balloon just above, changing colours with the moods as a chorus of exclamations bellowed from below. Each little light and coloured spray picking out another enchanted face. Every set of eyes, including ours, full of the adventures they seen, nooks they’d explored and great giants of music, science, literature, comedy…of the pleasures of this world, all packed into that one little weekend.