Longitude Festival! It’s the god-knows-how-many-weeks-late review! To give a brief overview, it’s Ireland’s absolute best festival lineup, but let’s get into that later. It got lucky this year with some absolutely stunning acts and the light of a rare Irish summer. But the planning of the festival itself wasn’t exactly ideal, and I missed a lot of great acts that definitely deserved our time and attention.
The crowd skewed very young. Like I felt old and out of place at Electric Picnic last year and that was my first ever festival. But Longitude took those fears and cranked them up a notch. I don’t think that’s a problem; after all, finsihing the Leaving and going to Oxegen was a proud tradition in days gone by. The Longitude lineup seems to swing a bit like Oxegen used to back in the day, with maybe slightly more of an indie/alternative shift at times — true, we’re still getting The National instead of Coldplay, but Major Lazer are still on the main stage.
Longitude’s atmosphere and location were lovely on the Friday and Sunday, but on Saturday (Longitude’s only sold-out day featuring Major Lazer and The Coronas) the tone did shift a little messier than before. However, that’s the word of a man who went to Longitude by himself that day; obviously I had more fun with friends coming along. This is the part where friends of mine who said they’d buy tickets and didn’t should feel ashamed.
That said, the space was used excellently; the park itself was stunning, the layout was easy to navigate, kept stages distant enough that there wasn’t any noise bleeding between stages and if you so wanted to, you could pull up to a food stall and see Kendrick Lamar at once. Not that I did, well, I sorta did.
I actually rank Brian Deady as the perfect opening moment. He was well on stage by the time we walked through the gates, but his soulful vibes proved to be the best way to pull in, take a seat in the grass, and chill out for the opening moments of a day that up to that point was represented by security queues filled with football chants and a racist taxi driver spouting shite. Brian Deady was the antithesis to all of that. Performing some songs wearing a voice-changing wolf mask, that gig was… a lot to process. I dig it though. Brian Deady is a Corkman, plays local gigs fairly regularly, and had a bit of a hit with Clap Both My Hands from his recent album Non-Fiction. He also has a really groovy No Diggity cover from that time when everyone was covering No Diggity and by all means you should get into this guy’s groove.
Declan McKenna played the Whelans stage, a tiny little stage in a tent that had much better lighting and a much louder system that I had bargained for. He’s a young English singer-songwriter with some odd synths thrown in. It all sounds nice but way too clever for a seventeen year old kid, and the subject matter of his weird brand of pop (such as FIFA corruption, misrepresentation of transgender teenagers in the media) comes across as charming and unique. His stage presence and band is so well-formed and destined for big things that catching him on a small stage was pretty delightful. It felt filled with confidence, and kind of fit the perfect middle ground between the fans who were up and dancing and me sitting on the floor at the back. Until the dead leg kicked in and I literally had to hop out of the tent.
I’m seeing a lot of the same things said about Declan McKenna that were said about Jake Bugg at this point in his career; “next Bob Dylan” and other such hyperbole, but it really feels like this man has something big to give. I’m hoping that the unique elements of his style won’t be compromised along the way — it’s looking possible, but right now he’s almost a prodigy for the festival stage; overperforming both his own age and that of his act.
Poor sound mixing muddied out Daughter’s set; and their brand of sadness met a confused crowd that still tried to find a way to dance to it. Helium-filled condom balloons floated around the stage. Youth rose the crowd to one of its biggest sing-along moments, headliners included. I liked Daughter but they fell out of place, and my unfamiliarity with a lot of the new material made it a little harder to follow. I think a small-venue gig with better sound would see them shine, but ~summer vibes~ they ain’t.
CHVRCHES were better the last time I saw them; at Electric Picnic just before the release of Every Open Eye, where their new-album picks were limited to the very best and their brilliant debut album was left to shine with that bit of extra polish. It’s not to say that Every Open Eye isn’t a fine album, I’m just pissed my favourite CHVRCHES song, Tether, didn’t make the setlist.
Lauren Mayberry — and briefly Martin Doherty — front the band masterfully; injecting an ocean’s worth of energy into what could otherwise be a bunch of people awkwardly standing at synths. CHVRCHES stand at a beautiful point in their career where they can really get a crowd to back them up. Their infectious enthusiasm is mixed with what sincerity and it’s hard to not feel joyful in the presence of it. It perfectly matches the overwhelming synth-pop they push onto the stage.
My plan to get something to eat and get a good spot for Kendrick Lamar meant that I had to stand through this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I went with a friend, so I had the chance to take the piss at least. And they weren’t awful, just a weird choice to put on before Kendrick Lamar while Tyler, The Creator delivered what I heard was a jaw-dropping set over in the tent.
So what’s the story with The Lumineers, and how did they get their spot?
The gig, filled with… perfectly fine radio-folk didn’t exactly leave much to memory, but credit where due to the frontman for performing for an hour after having a pint of Heineken dumped on him in an ill-informed attempt to pull a Matt Berninger and get in the crowd.
I don’t really have much to say. They’re huge in a way I wasn’t expecting with a crowd that happily floated along their choruses. That said, after playing their one big hit “Ho Hey” curiously early in their set, their big closing encore track also featured a “ho! hey!” chant. I guess they know what they’re doing? IDK. I’m trying to get my word count up before I get to the good stuff.
I briefly mentioned trying to get a good spot for Kendrick above. I guess I should’ve mentioned most people at the Lumineers gig were trying the same, and the front rows had quickly become a tightly-packed mess. I’d been separated from a friend of mine before the gig even started. He had to struggle out of the crowd before the panic attack would make him faint. He wasn’t the only one of my friends to quote that reasoning.
Like many major rap headline spots, the energy at a Kendrick Lamar gig is frightening. Let’s pause for a minute to remember this wasn’t always the case. Kendrick was often cited as a disappointing live rapper, and problems with breathing control, ommitting verses, and failing to engage a crowd were given as supporting statements. So how did this all change?
The answer might be written on the stage: Kendrick Lamar’s show is light on visuals and other trickery; the screen he performs in front of carries a simple message bold and in all caps: LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE YOU CROSS MY MIND. — George Clinton
Clinton is a funk legend, the architect of the Parliment-Funkadelic collective. Lamar’s live show reimagines his own LPs through the lens of funk with explosive live instrumentation, including brass, intense drums and distorted electric guitars. The restructing and reimagining of his songs is often total — m.A.A.d city, for instance, appears twice. The second half appears early in the set, but a few songs later the first half shows up in a whole new format. The first two segments “if pyros & crips…” and “man down, where you from…” loop and reappear repeatedly throughout the song, as Kendrick demands the chants become louder, demanding total committment to the experience, even offering rewards. “I might call someone up on stage tonight” (he didn’t)
Revisit the audio from Kendrick’s legendary Grammy performance from earlier this year, and the shape of his festival tour is clearly there — reinvention at all costs to create something organic, and something that could absolutely set the crowd on fire.
Opening the show with untitled 07 (levitate), the crowd immediately responded with that surge forward. Constantly growing in intensity, each turn it came around, it landed with the same sound — levitatelevitatelevitatelevitate. And the crowd’s fury would not be stopped; immediately following came Backstreet Freestyle. The setlist split in half between To Pimp A Butterfly and Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, yet the wildly different albums blended perfectly in the set, picking up the common ground.
Kendrick’s explosive stage presence came with a deliberate enthusiasm. At no point did it seem like this was a phoned-in Dublin performance; in his hands it felt as essential as any other tour date.
A legendary set from the new reigning king.
I didn’t arrive early enough to catch any more than two of these guys’ songs but I can’t understate how much their beach pop/rock vibes transfer so powerfully to the stage; with an outstanding presence that I’ve never thought to have seen from the first act of the day, and an atmosphere that their studio recordings just haven’t yet captured. I’m definitely giving their next headline show I can get to a look.
Plus, there was a rumour that Father John Misty was in the crowd so take from that what you will.
Between Pleasure Beach and Saint Sister I decided the waiting wasn’t worth it so I went out to main stage to catch a few clips of this. I didn’t hear any of the hits, but I still fell a little bit in love regardless; there’s a true sense of something carefree carried through her brand of pop, something of the summer itself. I imagine her set filling the same kind of niche that Brian Deady did when I got in early on Friday. The sunlight certainly helped.
Back in the tiny Whelans tent, Saint Sister were brewing up their unique sound; featuring a smattering of influence from the world of trad, with beautiful harmonies between the two female leads mixed with gorgeous looped harp instrumentation. In this iteration of the live show, Saint Sister have added a drummer and a guitarist, but their effect on the performance is negligible if not detrimental. The reverberating organic percussion of the original take on the band whom I saw last year — with the beat coming from knocking on harps and loop pedals — was missed in this take. However, the band’s sharp, unique songwriting and unique charm is intact, and their craft continues to be honed. I’d recommend seeing Saint Sister at all costs; at the very least check out their single Blood Moon.
The Heineken tent is packed to the absolute nines, and I decide to push myself into somewhere near the middle for Diplo, the DJ/Producer hybrid who’s seen himself pop up everywhere, in the lines between every genre, lately pushing more and more towards this outright maximalism that we’ve seen with him joining forces with Skrillex. Only in his hands do we see the actual saddest Grizzly Bear song become the basis for SoundCloud EDM Trap remixes. What’s scary is how good it can be, taking that Grizzly Bear song as an example.
But in the tent, this playful chaos lands like armageddon. Honestly, it was hard to hear anything in the crowd, but a Jack U anthem mashed up with 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” exaporates to the sound of TNGHT’s monstrous signature “Higher Ground” — the sound of anthematics at 160bpm, lasting twenty seconds at once, drops followed by drops, blistering 808s. The transitions were sudden and plain weird — Busta Rhymes’ infamous Look At Me Now verse starts playing over a beat. The beat gets lost, and suddenly, the verse gets trapped in a single-syllable loop dededededededededededededededededededede. A new beat towers over it. I have no idea what’s real anymore.
It was fucking mental, it was sweaty, and I decided I’d better be going, so I went over to the Paris stage to grab a donut and back to main to catch the end of Stormzy’s set. I’m going to spare you the partial review of Stormzy as I know nothing about grime, but it was absolutely the better choice to make.
Some time lost
A few things went in different directions in the time following. For one, the exit back to the Heineken stage was closed after overcrowding at the Diplo gig, leaving me roaming the main arena and queueing for rum when all I wanted to do was see A$AP Ferg.
Bumping into a friend, I decided to chill with him at the comedy caravan. The average age in the area was probably five years up. Alsion Spittle is hilarious. The general atmosphere was a lot more chill. Kind of an anti-Diplo. I dig it.
Run The Jewels
RTJ were of course the only reason I didn’t attempt to sell my weekend ticket and get two single-days instead; not having seen them live thus far had been one of my biggest regrets. Killer Mike & El-P’s rap project has gained a lot of status in recent years owing to two top-notch albums and a relentless touring ethic. The synergy is unmatched: El-P’s fierce production fits Killer Mike’s agressive delivery perfectly; his own voice stands as an opposite but equal reaction. With the input of DJ Trackstar (“The White Jesus”), the production is flipped with live scratching and the beats are reconstructed as the set demands.
Crowd-wise, this was the most deeply cool moment of the festival. RTJ die-hards, casual fans, total newcomers, and anyone waiting for Major Lazer, dived into the moment with ferocity, giving plenty of opportunity for moshing to your heart’s content. Killer Mike even gave a cute little speech about the importance of staying safe before launching into Blockbuster Night Part 1 and flooring us all.
An unexpected set standout was recent DJ Shadow track Nobody Speak, standing toe to toe with the band’s best material live.
Killer Mike and El-P are two rappers with an utmost flair for stage presence, energy, and crowd engagement; coming for the encore for an Irish flag in hand, there’s a sense that nobody in the crowd could’ve enjoyed the set as much as them.
Yet cut away the niceness to a root of the group’s anger: Killer Mike’s determined activism in a period of political turmoil in the heart of the USA, and you’ll see things differently. The group’s RTJ2 cut “Lie, Cheat, Steal” was preceeded by an impassioned speech by Killer Mike on resistance and activism in an age of dishonest politics. And Lie, Cheat, Steal became a chant for the weekend where Repeal Project jumpers were sold as official festival merchandise; RTJ striking a chord with the youth.
Early 16 Bus
This was one of my better and worse ideas at once.
Take note; if you’re going to Longitude 2017, there will be enough 16 buses for everyone when the night ends. The first night, I made the stupid mistake of turning the wrong direction leaving the park and walking about half an hour to get a 14, and the second night I went to leave early being unenthused about the big-stage options of more Diplo, or The Coronas. (Had I known I could easily get a bus later on, I would’ve went to see Daithí).
But there’s something to be said for the early 16 bus; a weird world occupied by groups of music fans with Pokemon Go open trying to catch a Pikachu at a bus stop, chanting the Pokemon theme with pride on succeeding. I watched actual friendships form on that bus as groups of strangers agreed to head out in town together. At any rate, the atmosphere put a huge smile on my face.
That’s to be contrast to the following night, where sitting on the bottom floor of a bus as the top deck bellowed football chants and stomped loudly enough that sure enough, the defence wasn’t the only thing terrified.
Arriving on Day 3 was like landing into the aftermath of nuclear war. The place was shockingly empty, there wasn’t any queue for security, and I was wandering around food stalls without any fuss. When I made it to the tent for Rusangano Family, there were 8 others there. Though a small crowd gathered as the set progressed, it was actually reasonably small and evaporated as soon as they were done.
Let The Dead Bury The Dead is an amazing Irish rap album that raised the bar yet again for the rapidly emerging scene; MuRli and God Knows emerging as exceptionally talented MCs and mynameisjOhn offering a unique brand of production with floating soul samples and a strong sense of summer. Opening track Kierkegaard delivers bright guitars and builds up to a rapid flow in a Jamacian dancehall-infused bursts, while Wisdom Teeth gives rapid-fire drums in almost military patterns.
But live, this sound evolves. mynameisjOhn mixes the gig as a seamless DJ set, and the results are intense; moving at a pace that no other rap gig I’d ever been to could achieve. Nevermind the God Knows crowd invasions, running to the back of the tent and without a single line dropped. Or the sheer boundless energy both MCs tapped into that’s impossible to describe but basically saw them teleport across stage. Some parts were even organised almost theatrically between both rappers, calling to mind the set pieces of the Watch The Throne tour.
Listening to Let The Dead Bury The Dead I intitially put it down as Irish hip-hop, but Rusangano Family are unmistakenably Irish grime; and while they take their share of both influences, there’s something unmistakenably Limerick about it all too. Go on Spotify and check out the Run / Serious live track and imagine an hour-long barrage in that sense. This scene is alive.
(no lads, I’m not keeping spelling your name like that)
I went to get free beer and missed a bit more of the Ham Sandwich set than I’d planned to. This was a regret. Take note: free beer at a Heineken-sponsored festival will always be bad beer. Don’t get it.
Ham Sandwich are the Irish festival band that we need but not the ones we deserve. Catching their closing two songs Illuminate and The Naturist, I caught just the total barrage of joy the band brings in its purest form, their bright major-key rock coming with a sea of giant balloons passed around the crowd. Smiles all-round right?
The band’s excellently fronted. And if I had arrived early, I wouldn’t have needed the free beer — the frontman passing the band’s signature bottle of Buckfast to the Scots security guard, who distributed cups of it to the front row in what can only be described as the essence of what Ham Sandwich are.
They’re engaging, they’re bright and they’re fun. Give up your free pint for them.
It took a while for Courtney’s album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit to click for me on its first listen, together with its aesthetic of Australian woman essentially talks over catchy, heavy rock music. But that all immediately changed with Kim’s Caravan, a seven minute slow-burner that captures a mood perfectly — her disaffected voice capturing an unreal bleakness, little blues influences pop out of her sound in greater clarity. This song not only turned me towards the album in greater detail, it remains an unreal standout song from 2015. And Kim’s Caravan is a highlight of Courtney Barnett’s live set too; as the song builds to its crescendo, she comes further and further out of her shell. Until she is absolutely drowned out by shredding guitar and drum uprorar, but she’s building her the song’s mantra louder and louder “so take what you want from me”. When she’s taken over by the wall of sound, she delivers an extended, rambling guitar solo, the song’s bassline pushing out of view.
“holy shit”, an onlooker whispers at the end of that song.
Anyway, we’re not here to see the tower that is Kim’s Caravan. Her live show is solid, and an awful lot of fun. Singalong moments like Elevator Operator’s chorus are such good points. The overwhelming bleakness that’s captured in her lyrics is brought with a sense of humour, a wry smile, and the living spirit of rock music.
Father John Misty
It’s a damn shame I didn’t get to writing a Father John Misty review before the incident that mandated that all Father John Misty reviews become shitty thinkpieces happened, but I’ll try and keep that out of mind. But still: discussing Father John Misty is difficult; if he can’t stand entertainment itself, if he can’t keep up with the act and his character, does that change how we talk about it?
Father John Misty seems to share common themes and spaces with Coutney Barnett; looking out on existential bleakness and trying to find some sense of meaning in the modern world. It strikes a chord, and the audience responds in kind; they fill in the ironic laugh track in Bored In The USA, chant back the list of listless aspects of life in Holy Shit. His character on stage is this outrageous over-exaggerated version of himself, gyrating with every word, knelling and singing his heart out, giving some a vulnerable self to the crowd.
In this odd character, Misty creates an unparallelled live show; as though an exaggerated version of Matt Berninger’s stage antics, he’s a whole other force. His songs are perfectly suited to the world’s most depressing sing-along, and they’re made for performance, Holy Shit’s cacophanous breakdown and resurrection reimagined as minutes-long.
Father John Misty’s theatrical character succeeds in its aims. Perhaps he hates himself for that.
Jamie xx’s set was a curiosity; a sunny main-stage set second from headline for what would’ve felt perfectly at home late at night or in a tent. His set was beautiful and techincally perfect, but suffered a crisis of direction. In the middle of deciding to tread familiar ground or introduce the crowd to beautiful new oddities, Jamie chose both. As such, what could’ve been highlights of the set fell woefully flat; Skepta’s remix of Good Times, for instance, remains the worst version, and a curiously odd version of Loud Places opened the set on a dull note.
Perhaps in a tent, opening for or coming after Roisin Murphy, the set would’ve felt more thematically in place.
Headlining act The National continue to capitalise on their large Irish fan base and marked their fourth visit to Ireland since the release of Trouble Will Find Me at Longitude. The setlist was unconventional; debuting three new songs, and excluding many few fan favourites. About Today remained a suspicious absence, but only one song before Boxer made the cut, the infamous Mr. November.
And although the performance was energetic and beautifully constructed, full of surprises (Lisa Hannigan’s brief appearance for Fake Empire felt absolutely perfect yet far too short), there was the occasional feeling that frontman Matt Berninger wasn’t completely up for it — disappearing backstage in the lengthly Squalor Victoria intro, and lacking at times a certain familiar ferocity.
And yet, there could be an argument made for this as The National’s strongest or at least most confident Irish appearance of the TWFM dates. The band was completely alive; each member popping from the background with their own personality and flair. Aaron Dessner in particular seemed beyond thankful to appear in Ireland and introduce Lisa. The set design was magnificent, a feat that animated and augmented the performance in real time. And though long-terms fans may have discredited the lack of older material, the fact that the band came loaded with familiar hits and some incredibly promising new material is something to be beyond thankful for.
Closing with a brief note; rumours of the National “going electronic” are greatly exaggerated, but the new material sure is groovy.
Bonus review: Thundercat
I didn’t see Thundercat at Longitude, I saw him many weeks later at the Sugar Club, and this review of Longitude over a month late so it’s just kind of shoehorned in at the end. I went to see Thundercat with little familiarity of his material outside of his recent mini-album The Beyond / Where The Giants Roam. I left a converted disciple. Thundercat was by far the best live act I’ve seen recently with a mind-blowing drummer at his side, stunning virtuosity on the bass, and a genuine sense of disbelief at just how into it the crowd was. Them Changes shook the room into a serious groove; Oh Sheit it’s X an entry into the canoncical list of great moments in live music history. Many tracks evolved into extended jams for bass and keys, pushing the limits of the songwriting; sometimes these jams even went on to encompass multiple songs, like a jam on a Flying Lotus track that ended up encompassing Kendrick Lamar’s Complexion. Thundercat was amazing, and I can’t get the words out to describe it. Go see him, I reckon he’ll be back.
He also at the same gig announced a forthcoming album featuring Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, so you could be excited for that.