Along with the Rolling Stones headlining Glastonbury, Kraftwerk’s 3D show at Latitude has been one of the most anticipated festival slots of 2013. The German band did a huge amount in the mid to late ’70s to influence electronically-based music. In their work you can hear the DNA strands of the club music that was to follow in the ‘80s (listen to New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ and most Chicago house and compare). Furthermore, their track ‘Trans-Europe Express’ was sampled by Afrika Bambaataa for his single ‘Planet Rock’, which was one of the first ever hip-hop singles. Indeed, almost every early hip-hop artist credited Kraftwerk’s mesmerising, proto-dance beats as an influence.
Their presence at this increasingly popular festival is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. And a 3D show as well! Wondering what this would be like, we set off into the arena under intermittent drizzle and cloud cover to see two ex-frontmen of former ’90s titans. Firstly, some solid Britpop-rock from Gaz Coombes (of Supergrass), followed by some rabble-rousing, idiosyncratic indie-funk from Steve Mason (of cult favourites The Beta Band). Mason finally seems free from his battles with depression, and the material on display – best of which is languid opener ‘Lost And Found’ – is both uncompromising and accessible. Hopefully this will see him reap some commercial dividends to add to the critical praise. Efterklang’s inscrutable ersatz indie is a mixed bag, whilst over at the 6 Music stage, Daughter attract a great deal of attention. Their debut LP If You Leave looks to be the slow-burning, word-of-mouth success of 2013, and the delicate studio material sounds haunting and heavy when replicated live. Everything Everything’s indie / dance / kitchen sink experimentalism goes down well as the drizzle gives way to a cool evening breeze.
Back at the main stage, Yeah Yeah Yeahs deliver a masterful set that picks only the strong points from their inconsistent recent album Mosquito and mixes them up with their well-known hits. ‘Date With The Night’ is probably the dustiest song of the weekend, as the huge moshpit generates a sizeable dirt cloud over most of the audience. Hardcore fans are treated to ‘Miles Away’ from their very first EP, and Karen O’s performance shows that she is still an excellent and versatile vocalist. Hot Chip then treat us to a hit-packed hour of flexible bass and nerdy synths that leave us weak at the knees. They may resemble science geeks, but their set is the greatest concentration of crowd-pleasers the weekend has to offer.
Now, with what seems like the entire festival jamming itself into the main arena to see what the fuss is all about, we’re all set for Kraftwerk 3D. On stage, the crowd must have looked like the massed followers of some strange cult, with white cardboard glasses stretching back endlessly. The 3D element is amusing but unnecessary, not really adding much to the performance, other than a bit during ‘Spacelab’ where a satellite seems to crash into the audience. At times, it feels like watching a film or an art installation. What’s most important by far is the music – metronomically precise beats, ribcage-shaking bass and gliding interlocking synth, dispatched with breathtaking, air-tight efficiency. One by one, the set lifts from their back catalogue of albums with the material faithfully and lovingly just replicated. For a passionate fan such as myself, this performance proved more enjoyable than I can even begin to explain. The four exited the stage one by one, each soaking up the applause, ending with the sole remaining original member Ralf Hütter.
Kraftwerk represent a major coup for Latitude’s organisers, and hopefully this will lead to a few more major names in the future. While the size of the campsite means there’s an upper limit to the size of bands that can play – you couldn’t get Muse or Coldplay to headline, for example – there are plenty of other growing acts who Latitude could take a gamble on for the opportunity of a full set. The other top billings this weekend are given to Bloc Party and Foals, both popular and full of potential but as yet unproven as headliners for the big festivals. In this way, Latitude can cement its important place on the festival circuit.