An unnecessarily lengthy non-Longitude anecdote to begin: it was at an Isle of Wight Festival a few years back when Devendra Banhart was playing in a tent and, knowing I was a fan, my mum and aunt decided to go watch him (assuming I would be there). They accidentally set up deck chairs in the VIP area and noticed people around them were taking photos of their co-VIP friends, so they decided to do the same, clueless about who they were. When they showed me the photos, it transpired they’d been sitting with two members of The Strokes. While my family members were essentially living my dream, I was sitting in a campsite trying to coerce my fellow teenage friends to leave so we could actually see some music. They eventually agreed, and I was afforded the opportunity to watch N-Dubz (no, really).
I eventually realised that I was better off abandoning my peers if I actually wanted to see the acts I was interested in, but the point is that, for a lot of young people, festivals aren’t so much about music. Which is fine at a camping festival – strange lands of tents, hidden raves, glitter, ponchos, pints, endless dancing and a mixture of chippers and pan-Asian food stands. The artists performing are part and parcel of the experience, of course, but a camping festival goes beyond just being a gig – sound at outdoor stages is often pretty terrible anyway, so instead it’s the atmosphere at the gigs which makes it special. But at festivals like Longitude – three non-camping days that ended around 10.45pm – there’s not quite the same otherworldly vibe, and the number of people not there to actually see acts perform was somewhat surprising. This, in turn, impacted said festival “atmosphere” for some of the acts, particularly on the Friday.
It’s not like it really matters, just it was a bit distracting during the likes of Ibeyi. The twins’ performance was fantastic, with their sublime, incredibly synchronised yoruba harmonies, and yet there are some people in the crowd chatting away, disinterested, which ultimately detracts from the sweet intimacy of their music. With that said, the duo don’t seem too perturbed, and warm into a rousing singalong for ‘River’.
Having wanted to see Metronomy for years, their actual set is glorious but the people right at the front who clearly do not care about the performance; the dude behind me who, in a very self-congratulatory fashion, yells “Play Wonderwall!” – why are you here!? No one is forcing you to watch these acts if you don’t want to, but you’re being disrespectful and killing the vibe for a lot of people (…me).
So essentially, the conclusion I actually drew from Longitude is probably that I am becoming a minus craic grumpy old woman.
Anyway, none of this is to say that it wasn’t a very fun weekend, and some of the performances I caught were happy reminders of what’s so great about being at a festival and seeing live music and all those good things. Todd Terje and SBTRKT both (perhaps unsurprisingly) provided some pretty phenomenal dance tunes. The likes of Alt-J ended up a bit dull and mellow in their performance (disappointing, given their slot as Saturday night headliners), and this was particularly emphasised because we’d caught Girl Band just before. The Dublin group put on a startlingly energetic show with a frantic, enraptured crowd moshing and screaming along with the words – there was an atmosphere, and it all felt kind of special. Another favourite Dublin act Princess had their last ever show earlier that day too, but rather than being melancholy it ends up being a really delightful show, and they all seem endearingly content as they play a superb set, finishing on a markedly euphoric cover of ‘Roadrunner’.
Glass Animals and Caribou both get the crowds going too, the former noticeably pleased to be making their first appearance on a main stage and imbuing a definite sense of the tropical to proceedings. The latter meanwhile doesn’t quite translate properly to an outdoor stage, I would argue, until ‘Can’t Do Without You’ becomes one of those spectacular moments where everyone in the world seems to be singing along, raising their hands and dancing.
It’s the final two acts we see who are really outstanding though. James Blake gives a stunning performance and I’m pretty sure he must be an angel given those smooth, soothing vocal loops and how sweetly abashed he seems throughout. It’s subdued and yet entrancing, and from the front at least it’s all suitably absorbing for the main stage crowd. There’s some new material too – “that song will make sense in a few months”, he says with a small smile, before apologising for unexpectedly having to cut the set short after seemingly overrunning his time slot – “It must be because I’m such a chatty guy”, he says wryly, before ending on a strikingly beautiful rendition of ‘Retrograde’.
It seems a shame that Blake didn’t get to play everything he had planned, but it soon makes sense that he didn’t get as much time as anticipated because the amount of work that must have gone into setting up the visuals for Chemical Brothers must have been intricate to say the least. The set is incredible – from the opening bars of first track ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ people are quite literally running to the main stage and everyone is going nuts. The reckless dancing, the seamless tunes, the lasers, bizarre visuals and the robots (!?); this is a party. And suddenly any doubts, any complaints, any neg vibes I had about Longitude are completely non-existent, because that show was unreal.
I will just about resist the urge to end on a gross pun about them galvanising the crowd.