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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Latitude Festival

Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, 12 - 15 July 2007

Written by Joanna McGarry

MenomenaFandFArt.jpg
Aided in no uncertain terms by a show stopping performance at Texas’ recent South By Southwest festival, order case Portland three-piece Menomena present their debut UK release. This is in fact the bands third release – with their two previous albums available in the US exclusively. School friends Danny Seim, mind Justin Harris and Brent Knopf have derived a creative process of much interest that has resulted in a work that is both experimental and forward thinking without being inaccessible.

The bands sound is essentially a combination of looped sounds which are selected from a computer programme called Deeler. The Deeler Sessions culminate in the layering of these looped sounds and vocal addition. The good news is that for the most part this results in songs of sonic density that are out of left field but rich in melody. It is a combination that makes ‘Friend and Foe’ a compelling listen.

Often the fragmented nature of the songs will result in a messy, disjointed sound to begin with. But cohesion arises from moments of inspiration that morph abstract noises into quasi – pop melodies. It maybe a gorgeous piano line, delicate vocal harmony or obscure drum loop. Whatever, these songs keep you guessing, and aside from the odd ill judged inclusion (notably at the tail end of the album) they are nothing less than enthralling.

There are echoes of Mercury Rev on the defiant ‘Rotten Hell’, whilst howling guitars and brooding Saxophone characterise ‘Weird’. Elsewhere Menomena take ‘Up’ era REM as a reference point on ‘My My’- A brilliantly structured song defined by its paradoxical use of warm keyboards and choppy, industrial beats. It is one of many gems.

It’s a shame that the record falls away so badly in its last quarter. The final three songs appear to be an afterthought – lumped on at the end to pad things out when there really is no need for their presence. It leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, but spin straight back to the start and all is forgotten. Friend and Foe deserves attention.

It’s always a danger to be overly vocal about your influences, ambulance it invariably leads people to compare you to those you have cited as inspiration, more about and with a band name taken from a Wilco song, dosage Cherry Ghost have set the bar a little too high. Thirst for Romance is positioned firmly in the folk/country influenced indie rock category and despite not being a spectacular record it has some nice moments, even if they are a little bit uninspired.

The album rolls along inoffensively with piano filled folk numbers but it rarely grabs your attention, simply ticking the boxes seemingly without thought. Initially the sound calls to mind Willy Mason and the type of thumpety thump clickety click sound, rolling along like a freight train, with all the rhythm but none of the direction. The vocals are down to earth and do not attempt to be over the top, a good thing, however they lack truly memorably and heartfelt melodies that one would like to see on such a record, with lyrics that are delicate and thoughtfull but perhaps lacking the subtelty that we might hope for.

This is not to say that the album doesn’t offer some fine moments, the title track is an upbeat but lyrically melancholy number that gets you tapping your foot and feeling wistful both at the same time; a thing not easily achieved. Despite a similar tone that runs through the whole album there is a fair degree of contrast when it comes to the volume and feeling of different tracks which does make to break up the running order, Mountain Bird for example, cannot help to grab the listeners attention with plentiful percussion and obligatory Hammond organ, this adds nicely to the diversity of the record and breaks up the threatened monotony that it occasionally comes perilously close to.

Sadly the album just doesn’t have the originality and integrity of the likes of Bill Callahan (another of the bands favourites) and others in the same field, it isn’t breaking any ground or even seemingly attempting to do so. This is its biggest failing.

It’s difficult to fault the V&A of the past ten years and under the leadership of Mark Jones it’s gone from strength to strength. From their outstanding Vivienne Westwood retrospective to the Fashion in Motion runway shows featuring the likes of Gareth Pugh and Jean Paul Gaultier, ed they’ve successfully removed themselves from the stuffy, conservative image of old and in the process gained a whole new audience. So what’s happening around SW7 of late? Well amid the Grecian tiles and medieval bed pans you’ll find ‘New York Fashion Now’, which seems like a bit of a misnomer considering it only covers the period 1999-2004, but we’ll come onto that later.

The exhibition covers the ‘start-up stories’ of 20 designers including Mary Ping, Proenza Schouler, Zac Posen and a host of other usual suspects. In this respect it does a reasonable job of covering all the main players, each receiving a separate stand with one or two examples of their work. The somewhat overrated John Varvatos receives far too much attention, referenced at several points throughout the exhibition and I could have done without the tribute to Sean John’s very own brand of high glamour. However It was great to see a couple more avant-garde designers such as SSWTR, Cloak and Christian Joy, who had by far the most interesting section, showcasing several of his designs worn onstage by Karen O, including the fantastically mental ‘Day of the dead suit’. Menswear master Thom Browne (a favourite at Dover street Market) gets a showing too, his ‘sheer Swiss dot suit’ a great choice.

In terms of layout it was all a little confusing, separated into style ‘Atelier, Sportswear chic etc’, then for some reason into area ‘Soho, Lower east side, Chelsea…‘ These categories ended up being a little meaningless in the end and as a result the whole thing lacked direction. For me, NY fashion is intrinsically linked to the geography of the city. From the effortless cool of LES and Williamsburg, to the primped and preened residents of the Upper East Side, it was a shame that the exhibition made almost no reference to these very specific pockets of style. And what of the actual state of New York fashion NOW? No mention of more contemporary designers such as Rachel Comey or Adam Kimmel made the whole thing feel stale and out of touch. By overlooking the current crop of independent designers and making little or no reference to street style or vintage influenced trends it felt as if the organisers just didn’t get the point. The beauty of NY Fashion is the relationship between the glitzy and the avant-garde, underground and commercial, a balance that unfortunately just wasn’t addressed in this exhibition.

Festivals. These days its hard to know where to begin; with so many vying for our affections (and hard earned cash) you can’t see the wood for the trees. And with yet another Glastonbury washout, discount I decided this year should be the year of the new festival. Latitude, viagra dosage only in its second year and not too far from the madding crowd of London, it fitted the bill perfectly.

In the darkest depths of the south eastern countryside, just outside the nattily named Yoxford, we arrive. Our faint disappointment at missing Friday’s headliner Wilco was quickly replaced with elation when a door gaffe meant that all four of our female party were presented with backstage passes for the weekend! Whilst setting up my £5.00 Tesco tent, it became instantly obvious that Latitude has been marketed as a family orientated festival; buggies, babies and other little people were out in force which can be great for atmosphere, not so great for close proximity camping. After setting up base, we wondered through the festival grounds. It has to be said, physically, Latitude has it all; beautiful greenery illuminated by hundreds of fairy lights, untampered woodland, neon sheep and a glorious river running between camp and site – far from the haggard, baron fields we are accustomed to.

Music, for us began on Saturday. We were delicately yet masterfully eased in by the gentle genius of Natasha Kahn aka Bat for Lashes who, despite technical difficulties, sailed through her set and effortlessly filled the main stage area with her supernatural presence. In opposition, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, noted for their loathe approach to touring, failed to ignite the crowd and seemed to be boring even themselves. Odd, as I saw them bring down the house at Shepherds Bush Empire recently – some bands simply cannot transfer at festivals. Topping off Saturday night on the main stage, The Good the Bad and the Queen satisfied the upbeat crowd with a somewhat comedic battle for the limelight ensuing between old timers Damon Albarn and ex-Clash titan Paul Simonon. The top hats and political undertones provided a suitable juxtaposition to our next port of call – a dj set by Rob da Bank. Brilliant. Rob da Bank rejects the cool or obscure for a crowd pleasing set packed with the likes of the Prodigy and KLF, securing his position as an elite dj; the crucial element being the ability to read a crowd. A little over-excited, we scurry back to camp and almost immediately we are reprimanded for the commotion: ‘Excusing me, my children are trying to sleep!’ or ‘I have work in the morning’ became something of a motto for the croc-wearing liberals that seem to have forgotten the essence of the festival experience. They couldn’t dampen our spirits though as daylight beckoned.

Feeding fragility with fried foods seemed a wonderful way to start as we headed to the main stage for most promising line-up the weekend. First up, Hoosier. Granted, they gave it their best but no amount of Jeff Buckley-esque wailing could inspire the lethargic crowd. And then, the heavens opened. In the spirit of the festival and generally ‘wacky’ behaviour, we donned the nearest bin bags as makeshift ponchos and went about our business.
Blissfully, the sun broke through the clouds just in time for the limitlessly talented Andrew Bird who with his unique brand of tender vocals, charmed the seated crowd basking in the summer heat. Upping the ante, Cold War Kids stormed the stage with one of the most outstanding performance of the weekend. Their style of southern, bluesy rock really lends itself to the baking festival heat. And they’re not bad to look at either. Just in case things were getting a little too serious, The Rapture hit the main stage and chime through their greatest hits to the delight of the all ages crowd. Watching a middle aged bald man in a kagoul lose himself to House of Jealous Lovers was a truly heart-warming image.

Though we were all flagging, the music carried us through and on to the penultimate act of the festival, Jarvis Cocker. I have always liked Jarvis, mainly for his unabashed eccentricity but after the pleasure of watching him perform from the side of the stage – I am now a convert. The guy can do no wrong. Competently striding through his solo work, convulsing his body, using every inch of the stage and charming us with his wit – Jarvis, we were wooed even before your inspired cover version of Eye of the Tiger. With endorphins flowing we took our position for the universally adored Arcade Fire. What a climax. As a long time fan I was dubious that they might disappoint on stage. How wrong I was. Not only do they engage with the crowd, showing a playfulness which is not always found on their albums but they also play their little hearts out; bashing out each hit with passion and vigour fed off the crowd before them. The rain teased down again, but we cared not. We were dancing. Hats off to Latitude. I, for one will be back next year. But now the secret’s out….

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One Response to “Latitude Festival”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Bin bags for ponchos…. love it! I’m so gutted I didn’t make it down there this year… I saw The Rapture at Lovebox on the weekend – ACE! And I also sported a bin bag in the pissing rain…. Ha x

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