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Latitude Festival 2013: It is an eye-opening weekend, but Kraftwerk’s 3D show falls a bit flat


Oxford’s inexplicably popular math-rockers Foals closed Latitude’s main stage last night with something close to thrash-rave, and a laser light-show reaching towards the full moon. Clearly exhilarated by their headline slot, they still struggled to excite.

It was veteran soul singer Bobby Womack who offered the festival's most beautiful music earlier in the afternoon, taking practiced aim at the hearts of the crowd. 'Deep River' was a timeless gospel prayer for freedom, dipping into the holy waters of common humanity where the greatest black American music starts. Bobby Womack plus soul equals genius.

On the floating Waterfront stage, Alison Balsom, playing Henry Purcell on Baroque trumpet with the English Concert, also moved the crowd lining the river banks and bridge. At the same moment, Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins were introducing their short films set in a nightmare cabaret club, scored by a queasy string quartet.

The presence of English counter-culture great Moore showed a new challenging quality at this year's Latitude. A band who are once again of the moment, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, meanwhile, played a Manhattan art-rock version of raw rock'n'roll. Earlier, British Sea Power's live score accompanied the evocative English archive film From the Sea to the Land Beyond with democratic majesty. On the main stage, Steve Mason excoriated the ruling 'gangsters and criminals' now assaulting that England, and, in 'Fire', bluntly suggested burning their houses down. In the i Arena, gentler folk visions of the country were given by both the harpist Serafina Steer, James Yorkston and the soulful Mancunian singer Josephine.

By Sunday evening, though, as Friday's sapping heat returns, Grizzly Bear's forcefully played, jazzy harmonies can't avert a feeling that the festival is fainting towards the finish line.

Kraftwerk's Saturday night 3D concert was the most eagerly awaited set of the weekend, after the frenzy for tickets at Tate Modern earlier in the summer. But this prescient and melancholy music is in many ways underwhelming, neutrally delivered by a quartet standing mutely at keyboard lecterns, like austere judges, or Countdown contestants.

With their eyes screened by 3D glasses, the thousands watching resembled audiences at old atom bomb tests. Kraftwerk's pristine intentions were defeated in the open air, though, the sight-lines interrupted by kids on shoulders.

Last original member Ralf Hutter has given their music a glistening upgrade, but only the addition of Fukushima to the gravely pretty 'Radioactivity''s nuclear disaster list updates the content. As 'Computer Love' describes our data being controlled by government spies, it's clear they said it all, long ago.

The four-note motif of 'Autobahn' was dryly funny, automated surf music, which Microsoft should have used as their system's booting-up sound. The seven notes of a monolithic 'Trans-Europe Express' climbed with cathedral grandeur, scaling a sense of human possibility. Hütter was alone at the end, a German composer at the keyboard. Kraftwerk are now an impressive, finished achievement, like Bach, or the Rolling Stones. They couldn't be the future forever.

A recently rediscovered soul man only a little younger than the 69-year-old Womack, Charles Bradley, saw Saturday's driving rain replaced by sun to the sound of his roaring, healing voice.

During Efterklang's unexpectedly crowd-pleasing set of Lynchian Nordic funk, the band requested a pause to drink in the moment. There were more reasons than usual to do so at this year's Latitude.