After soaring to Number 1 in September with their extraordinary second album ‘This Is All Yours’, alt-J kicked off 2015 with their biggest headline show to date at London’s O2 Arena in January. Now a trio following the departure of bassist Gwil Sainsbury last year, the group who met at Leeds University went from virtual unknowns to become the hottest new band in Britain in 2012 when they sold a million copies of their debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ and picked up the Barclaycard Mercury Prize.
Widely dubbed ‘folk-step’, their unique alt-pop, crushing synths, smart hip hop syncopations and tight vocal harmonies have since seen their debut streamed more than 200 million times on Spotify. They arrive at Latitude after months spent touring the US, Australia and South America and now truly deserve a homecoming they will never forget.
I never imagined that one of my favourite bands of the decade would essentially comprise of plinky-plonky electronica with looped guitars and fabulously weird, nasally falsetto vocals intoning lyrics I can barely understand.
They simply don’t give a shit about anything as tiresomely prosaic as making sense, happy to let their lyrically bare, tenuous metaphors speak for them.
That sounds like I’d really hate it. But I really don’t.
Their set starts with Hunger of the Pine. This is a sensible choice. And it sounds close enough to the record enough for anyone to be happy. But I worry how much of that is being played live, and how much is on MP3 or DAT file? I’d hope none, but you can never know.
The whole experience is very rehearsed, very controlled. Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy to be here, but I don’t want to just listen to the album played louder. I want more.
I notice they’ve picked up a bassist/guitarist. Good news.
I watch some more. I still like this band, and this music, but I’m distracted by the little things. I’m waiting for something to sound different to the album. Thom Green does a fantastic job on drums. The job of a drummer has become much harder since electronic music gained popularity.
And then… Bloodflood, and its sequel. A truly wondrous song, and the first time I can hear some real flair. Both guitars come out to play, and suddenly I’m sold.
There must be something right with a band who make you want to hold your hands up at every song.
And of course it’s not the singer who addresses the crowd. Gus looks so happy doing it. Joe, the singer: he just plays guitar and sings. Why would that make him the obvious choice to talk to us? I think this is representative of Alt-J. They’re not quite a musical revolution, but they do everything their way, with their own little ways and eccentricities, and it works.
Hearing Nara and Leaving Nara together during the encore, I begin to see how, even though it might not be obvious, Alt-J clearly have something to say, and they want to say it in their own way, however unique or opaque that might be.
And I realise that I’d really like this band to be playing for me for much, much longer. It’s wonderful seeing how far they’ve come, that they can comfortably fill this time and this venue with true hits. But now I want more!
Breezeblocks is a clear closer, and such a perfect festival song. The blend of Maurice-Sendak-inspired lyrics that speak of the end of a relationship – a pain that nearly everyone in the crowd can identify with – combined with that beautifully aggressive, uplifting drumbeat, is such a clever cocktail of emotion.
There’s a nasty part of me that wants to find something to attack in the insanely popular, indie-darling, Mercury-winning outsider-rockers Alt-J, but just saying that the set is too close to the (fantastic) albums feels like watery criticism.
Alt-J seem entirely at home at Latitude, and with a set list as accomplished as this, played this skilfully, they fully deserve their place as headliners.