Latitude 2018: We catch up with Latitude Festival favourites alt-J and Mogwai, back for 2018
PUBLISHED: 12:00 12 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:10 20 February 2018
Some Latitude Festival favourites are returning to Henham Park this year. We spoke to Gus Unger-Hamilton of alt-J and Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai.
It’s 4pm in India when I get hold of Gus. A few hours from now he and the rest of alt-J take the stage of VH1 Supersonic, at Laxmi Lawns, Pune. Right now, he’s pretty chilled.
“If you come up to our dressing room 10 minutes before we play we’re sitting there, reading, watching something on Netflix; there’s not a lot of chest beating and psyching up going on, we’re quite relaxed.”
The reason I’m calling is much closer to home - the indie rockers’ fourth appearance at Latitude Festival and their second time as headliners.
Gus says Latitude had been super important for their career. They started by playing an afternoon slot on the Lake Stage in 2012 before headlining the BBC Radio 6 Music Stage the next year and headlining the Obelisk Arena two years after that. Now they’re doing it again.
“You can trace our career as a band through our different slots. That says everything about how lucky we’ve been and how Latitude has nurtured us. We got that first slot before our first album (An Awesome Wave) came out. They totally took a chance on us and we really appreciate that. The bookers have very good taste don’t just book bands they are going to be dead certs in terms of selling tickets, that’s a really good thing.
“I’m a bit of a 6 Music, Guardian person so I like all the literature, arts and comedy stuff going on there too and pretty much all the bands are good so it’s my kind of place.
“The last time we played, the band came up from London a couple of hours before but I got a lift with my mate in the morning and spent the day watching a few bands. I like all the literature, arts and comedy stuff. I have a lot of friends and family in that part of the country so saw a lot of those people which was really nice.
“I love Latitude as a festival and being from East Anglia myself, it’s the big one we have there so I feel very proud of it,” says Gus, originally from Ely. After leaving there the band spend a year-and-a-half in Cambridge so they were closer to London. “It was a lovely time, we miss it a lot.”
This year marks their fourth visit to Latitude. He has particularly vivid memories of playing the BBC Radio 6 Music stage in 2013. They were coming towards the end of their campaign for the Mercury Prize winning An Awesome Wave and the height of festival season.
“It was our second round of festivals on that album and I remember playing Dissolve Me and the crowd being so rapturous and the tent being absolutely completely full. It was a total snapshot of what an amazing time we’d had with that first album and going to do festivals.
“We felt like returning heroes. We’d just spent a lot of time out in America, things were going really well out there too and it was just like we really felt ‘oh my God we need to do something amazing here and we’re so lucky’.”
Gus, Joe Newman and Thom Sonny Green have weathered the 2014 departure of guitarist Gwil Sainsbury well.
“It was sad but understandable. I think the touring was, and remains, pretty crazy in terms of how many gigs we do and how much we travel. It’s a lot and not everybody can deal with it, which is fair enough. The success of the band wasn’t enough of a trade-off for being away from home that much which we respect. Now we’re a three-piece and things are good, we’re happy with the way things are.
“I think we’ve settled into a rhythm of knowing what it actually is we’re doing with our lives. Those first few years of being a professional band is really quite weird, you can’t quite get your head round this being your job. Now we feel comfortable and confident, that’s a really nice feeling.”
Third album Relaxer dropped last year to mixed reviews, although it still earned them another Mercury nod. Perhaps the worst I recall was in Pitchfork, where writer Jayson Greene said the band has never had an identity. I wonder where Gus thinks alt-J sit in the constantly shifting music scene; are they part of the mainstream or still sat on the fringes? He doesn’t really know.
“I think we feel we’ve carved ourselves out a nice niche in the British musical landscape. Not many people really seem to be trying to do the same thing we’re doing, the kind of music we’re trying to blend and put together seems to be quite unique; so I feel almost like if you want a band like alt-J you still have to go to Alt J which is quite a good thing.
“It’s like the Christopher Walken theory, that he got a lot of actor gigs because quite simply if you wanted a Christopher Walken type actor you had to go to Christopher Walken - I think we’re that type of band, so we’re pretty happy, We are sort of our own, we’re not pally with that many other bands, we’re not the kind of band you’ll see getting wasted at some rock party and palling it up with Royal Blood or whoever it is; not that we don’t like those people but we just do our own thing and we’re quite happy that way.”
Stuart Braithwaite, of Scottish rockers Mogwai, is busy in a different way.
“A couple of interviews, then I’m going skateboarding and then someone’s delivering a piece of furniture. Oh such glamour,” he laughs.
Formed in Glasgow in 1995, the band were frequently championed by adopted son of Suffolk John Peel from the start, recording seven Peel Sessions. In return, he recorded a brief introduction for their Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996–2003 compilation.
“I don’t know if I don’t like it, it wouldn’t be my first choice,” says Stuart when I bring up their label as a post-rock outfit.
“We’ve played a lot of different styles of music so it’s hard to say we’re one particular kind. Quite a lot of the music we play is electronic as well so I don’t know. I just think we’re a rock band. I know it makes life hard for journalists,” he laughs.
Mogwai played the first Latitude Festival in 2006, returning to headline the BBC Radio 6 Music Stage in 2014.
“It was one of the first festivals we headlined. Since then we’ve managed to do that quite regularly and I think it (the Latitude gig) meant a lot; they showed a lot faith in us and that’s something we really appreciate.
“It was quite important to us it was a bit of a statement. It was (around the time of) Mr Beast; so that was a good time for us, that record’s stood the test of time. Antony and the Johnsons and Patti Smith played if I remember correctly, so there was a lot of good music definitely. Our last show there and the very first one were really great and I’m really looking forward to going back.”
I wonder whether we can expect some new tracks when Mogwai return to Suffolk.
“Last year we did a soundtrack and we’re just finishing that off. It’s a film called Kin, it’s got Zoe Kravitz and James Franco in it. It’s a sci-fi film so it’s a bit different for us, but we’re really happy with the music. I wouldn’t be too surprised if we were trying to play some new songs by Latitude but I don’t know is the honest answer,” he laughs. “We’ll see what happens.”