Sigur Ros put Latitude on the map

The idyllic setting to Latitude

The idyllic setting at Latitude

Only in its third year and Latitude is already capturing the imagination of the English public.  Due to its popularity it has already grown from an over-sized village fete – 12,000 in its first year – to a mid size boutique festival.  One might suspect that the word boutique doesn’t mix too kindly with the word festival, conjuring up images of middle class people pretending to rough it in the countryside.  This is essentially what Latitude is, although the breadth and imagination of the performances coupled with the beautiful location contrives to form a unique and at times thrilling event.

Henham Park with its undulating Suffolk countryside forms the backdrop, a splendid setting that at times evokes a medieval fair, with its lakeside tents and forestry pursuits.  Once past the meandering lake entrance the arena spreads out across the fields with the main stage perched at the highest point.  At 25,000 Latitude is large enough to offer variety without the mass crowds of the big festivals.  It is fairly easy to navigate around the site quickly without missing too many acts.  Another noticeable benefit was the lack of commercial advertising, which is becoming all-too-familiar at other festivals, even Glastonbury has conceded lately – ever since its Festival Republic rebirth.  Clearly Festival RepublicLatitude organisers as well as Reading & Leeds – view the Suffolk bash as a very different proposition.  Food was still expensive but good quality and campsites were spacious and staffed. 

It terms of stand-out performances there was only one real winner, although Elbow and Joanne Newsome certainly won over many fans.  Sigur Ros were the exclusive headliners for Saturday night.   In what will be there only festival appearance in England this year they were given an unusual but merited chance to reveal there full talents as the main festival band, playing in the most important slot of the weekend.  It is unusual these days not to have any expectation of a band , with Internet and digital access it’s possible to see most major stage act before you see them in the flesh.  Not so with Sigur Ros.  Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend and most probably in Latitude’s history they performed with a majestic brilliance that left most of the crowd breathless.  Throughout set opener ‘Svefn-G-Englar’ singer Jon Birgisson sang through his guitar, played his guitar with a cello bow and held a note for what felt like minutes.  It was a captivating beginning that they managed to sustain throughout the whole set, never once losing the crowds attention or losing momentum.  During ‘Glosoli’ the four string section Amiina joined the band while two songs later during ‘Saeglopur’ a five piece brass ensemble walked onstage in matching white suits and bowler hats.  Every song became a moment, individually defined and eccentric.  The sound was quite astonishing, with a full range of instruments including Glockenspiels, Xylophones and Harmoniums, which augmented a sonic clarity and roundness that is difficult to match with loops and samples.

The set grew with intensity with each song ratcheting up the decibels.  The stage was minimally lit with giant globe shades dominating the panorama, only on set closer ‘Gobbledigook’ did the main stage lights click into action sending multicoloured hues across the audience.  As with many of Sigur Ros songs the key element to the show was the exquisite timing and space afforded to each composition.  New song and aptly titled ‘Festival’ exemplified this approach with a slow and wisful beginning leading to a bass driven build up and ending with a crescendo of guitar, strings and brass.  The sheer execution of each dramatic build up and the ultimate finale of jubilation was spellbinding.  The mystique of the performance was accentuated by lead singer, Jon Birgisson; wearing dread-lock extensions, feathers, glitter and a long military jacket, at times he resembled an Elfin King.  His falsetto was a marvel, intensifying the plaintive atmosphere effortlessly.

Like all mythical creations this performance will be immortalised within the depths of time.  Ending with a apocalyptical version of ‘Popplagio’ – all swirling strobes and canon blasts of confetti, Birgisson violently attacking guitar with his bow, it brought the show to a stunning finale.   As the band embraced the applause everyone was left gasping at the sheer magical verve of this enchanting band.

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