by / July 20th, 2017 /

Longitude Festival

It’s a festival bill, but not as we know it. Longitude has always attracted young people from all over the country but over the last couple of years it’s definitely become a festival for the less weary of bone – the first two days peppered with the grade-A of Grime Stormzy and Skepta and some of American hip-hop’s C-listers before Sunday’s line-up caters more towards an older crowd with Mumford and Sons, Leon Bridges and Villagers on the menu.

FRIDAY

The main stage area is crammed with revellers in various states of orange skinned undress and teary-eyed distress from early on. A scene of joyous, adolescent, hedonistic jubilance seemingly unfolding without too many hitches, although openers BARQ suffer from the delays in getting people onsite. Dave fairs a bit better but it’s Dua Lipa who’s the first real attraction, proving that she sits nicely between all out commerciality and credibility. The massive crowd goes crazy for G-Eazy as the evening really starts to kick into gear but it’s pretty noticeable how many people aren’t even facing the stage more content to just dance away with their mates. It feels a little more like a sprawling open-air nightclub than a festival.

Over in the Red Bull stage concealed within the woods Sligo House merchants Brame and Hamo breath neck nodding life into the open night air to a huge constantly evolving crowd. Every branch and platform bears the patter of dancing Air Max as the duo propel their beats off into the slowly dying daylight. Funky House of the highest quality.

It’s a complete change of tact for Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit at the Whelan’s stage. Their eclectic mix of folk-rock from all over the globe is a novelty in the context of the rest of the day. There’s very few people in the tent which makes you wonder why there’s a Whelan’s stage at festival predominantly attended by kids who’ve probably never been to the venue itself. If nothing else, at least it provides a bit of variety to an opening day bill packed with very similar acts and does provide a tiny connection with the UK’s Latitude, initially billed as a sister festival.

The Heineken Live area is the place to be for gaps in your carefully planned schedule with various DJs a massive bar, karaoke carriages and hundreds of people enjoying the sporadic sunshine and thumping beats. Over on the music stage we fear that Loyle Carner might be in the wrong place at the wrong time but there are enough people here who know him to help create a party atmosphere to back his thoughtful, elegant lyricism. In contrast, Young Thug is parading around like the lord of pimping while cajoling the willing crowd into every shimmy and slut drop. The two-step, the whip and the nae-nae all heavily employed throughout. On the main stage, Picture This are a bizarre anomaly musically on this bill but greeted with a heroes’ welcome that never lets up. They’re awful though.

As the evening draws to a close it seems like everyone is heading to see Stormzy at the main stage. Grime’s undisputed king acknowledges that it’s a novelty for him to have such a big crowd and works his bollocks off to give them their money’s worth. Not something that all the bigger acts seem concerned with, with many filling later time slots with no more than a DJ for company on stage and there’s definitely a sense that some could be giving a bit more. Nevertheless, Stormzy’s performance is as frantic and energetic as his records but over the course of the set his shtick does get a bit repetitive. It’s telling that the crowd is most transfixed by the chorus of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’.

SATURDAY

Day two dawns with a variety of media stories circulating as to issues at the entry gates and the bus drop-off area is strewn with the resting bodies of enthusiastic, if ultimately unsuccessful, fence jumpers swapping stories about police dogs, sinking quagmires, how successful companions prevailed and the scratches up and down their legs. Beyond the spikey fences and police hounds Ray BLK arrives on the main stage as one of the hottest new properties for the year but is a huge disappointment, offering watered down funk instead of the cutting edge of her recorded works. A cover of the Fugees covering ‘Killing Me Softly’ kind of says it all. Over on the Heineken Stage, Jessie Reyez is a far more interesting proposition.

After yesterday’s largely single musical identity, Saturday feels like the meeting point between the two extremes of Friday and Sunday. The last thing we expected to find was an old school rock band on the main stage but Kaleo have garnered a huge, enthusiastic crowd – despite throwing out a string of tired old clichés. Less popular are Sunflower Bean in the still sparsely populated Whelan’s tent – being treated as more or less a chill out area with an easier accessed bar – with a combination of power pop, boy girl vocals with a little bit of guitar shredding thrown in for good measure.

No such problems at the Heineken Stage, where there’s a steady and constant flow for All Tvvins, as their blend of dance rock with its percussive roots firmly grounded in house attracts ears from near and far. It’s possibly the biggest crowd aside from the main stage of the weekend so far, not to mention the most wildly enthusiastic. The band have been a kind of well-kept secret up until now, after the crowd they attracted today it’s fair to say that the secret’s out. Straight afterwards The Head and the Heart start up in the Whelan’s tent, six-piece Americana with fiddle and all. At first it seems like the stage is more crowded than the tent but gradually swaths of pleasantly surprised lost souls wander in seeking shelter from the day’s first rain drops, nursing yesterday’s headaches.

Ten minutes before Catfish and the Bottlemen are due on stage the Heineken tent is already heaving with chants of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole’. It’s immediately more recognisable as a festival too, eyes stageward, arms aloft, singing along with your shoulders draped in your best friend’s legs. ‘Twice’ is a particular highlight of their rousing set, there’s even a bit of fence climbing going on and finally Longitude is starting to feel like a festival.

SUNDAY

On the final day, the crowd is noticeably older, far more chilled out, several shades paler, sporting way more beards with hardly any glitter in them and we’re on more recognisable ground. HVOB are joined by Mumford and Sons’ Winston Marshall on a Second Stage which is just about swaying with third-day enthusiasm. Their set up of DJ and three-piece of drums, guitar and keyboards seems the ideal mix to ease people into or back into the evening. Marshall does some pretty dynamic stuff with more straight up rock guitar than he’s known for in his day job contrasting nicely with HVOB’s more house orientated beats.

Glass Animals have had a long and fruitful relationship with Ireland and their Main Stage status is well deserved, especially as they give a performance that throws into sharp focus some of the less committed efforts of the previous two days. Villagers attract another big crowd but open without any songs from their first two and arguably most popular records 2010’s Mercury nominated Becoming A Jackal and 2013’s {Awayland} defuses a lot of the early excitement. Choosing not to put any kind of festival slant to their set leaves any casual fans in the audience with very little to cling to as levels of attention and attendance started to dwindle. It’s a bit of a shame and it feels like an opportunity missed for both the band and the crowd, although ‘Nothing Arrived’ and ‘Becoming a Jackal’ still manage to provoke a communal sing-a-longs.

Sunday has brought with it the weekend’s best weather. It’s great to be able to enjoy a day at a festival in Ireland when using the toilet is akin to Paul Newman spending a night in the box in Cool Hand Luke. So, the short walk over to the main stage to see Leon Bridges is in almost blinding sunshine. Bridges’ brand of chilled out soul is lapped up by the crowd as his horn section punctuates the hot summer evening and revellers bask and bop in equal proportion. 

When our hosts Mumford and Sons take to the stage they immediately give the crowd what they want by playing ‘Little Lion Man’ second. They may not be to everyone’s taste but it looks like the they could provide the perfect communal end to a frantic disjointed weekend. Baaba Maal is introduced to the crowd along with a couple of his band members and yet again there’s a bit of a feeling of momentum lost. The set goes through various peaks and troughs until Hozier comes out to rapturous applause for a joyous rendition of ‘I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends’.

Over the course of the weekend there’s been some great moments but ultimately Longitude feels like a festival struggling to find its identity. By drastically changing the look of the line-up for Sunday it seems like the organisers are hedging their bets, trying to provide something for every possible demographic and arguably succeeding. Where that leaves the event moving forward remains to be seen.

Additional reporting: Phil Udell
Dua Lipa photographed for State by Kieran Frost