Music / Review

Review: There’s nothing quite like Latitude Festival

Here's what we got up to on the first and second day of the stunningly vibrant festival.

Friday

Nestled inside Suffolk’s Henham Park, Latitude Festival once again has opened its gates to a sea of revellers, ready to absorb themselves in a vibrant combination of music, dance, theatre, comedy, spoken word and workshops. It’s an experience like no other, taking the eclectic nature of the like of Glastonbury and distilling it into a pure essence.

Surrounded by a sea of trees, in which both stages and unusual art exhibitions are hidden (a virtual reality experience emulating deafness, anyone?), today’s stages welcome an artistic collective from across the globe. There’s nothing quite like getting pleasantly lost in a bed of florescent lights and colourful projections whilst making your way to the otherwise typical (or as “typical” as Latitude allows) music stages.

The line-up reflects this diversity. The Japanese House take to the BBC Music Stage to serenade the mid-afternoon crowd with their simultaneously lofty and dense sound. Her vocals ebb and flow across the large tent, and offer a fitting accompaniment for the festival’s notably laid-back vibes. It’s at odds with the raucous punk-infused energy emerging from the open air Lake Stage, on which SuperGlu find themselves packing one hell of a punch. Just a stone’s throw from each other, it’s representative of everything Latitude has to offer.

Rising superstar Sigrid appears on the Sunrise Arena, welcomed by a packed out tent. Fans are scrambling up leafy ledges to catch a glimpse of the impressive vocalist, who has forged an early career on the back of two massive bangers. It’s clear to see she’s going places, and nothing quite like catching her early to Latitude Festival’s unique backdrop. She’s followed by the equally accomplished Marika Hackman, who showcases an alternative side to the singer-songwriter caatagory with a more ethereal style.

The stage is surrounded by carved wooden benches, an Artisan Bar serving up a pick and mix of gin and tonic, and more atypical artwork for revellers to get lost in. Adjacent is the famous lake, in which punters can enjoy a cooling down and a mid-afternoon swim. It’s encouraged, of course.

Literally on top of the lake, the Dance On The Waterfront stage welcomes BalletBoyz: Live, who offer a contemporary experience for punters perched on the side of the water. It’s a world away from the music on offer, yet only one of the alternative entertainments to choose from.

As the afternoon melts into the evening, veteran pop-meets-disco songstress Goldfrapp delights on the Obelisk Arena, which for those new to Latitude might surprise with its tiered seating surrounding the festival’s main stage. The sound is massive, forceful yet beautiful. A figure of red in the dusk, she glides around the stage with a clear appreciation of her art. “Finally the sun is going down,” she exclaims, before launching into her biggest numbers to the crowd’s delight.

Over on the BBC Music Stage, Placebo launch into Pure Morning, the start of a hit-filled set celebrating their twenty-year career. With The 1975 simultaneously taking to the festival’s main stage, revellers are fantastically spoilt for choice. Bouncing between the two is a musical master-class, from one heavily established powerhouse to the emerging headliners of the future. Being presented with their first major festival top spot, this certainly won’t be the last time The 1975 celebrate this billing.

There’s a moment on vocalist Matt Heafy’s face when asking the crowd to jump to set closer, The Sound, that sums up the day. It’s one of pure joy, and unparalleled excitement. It’s the spirit of Latitude.

Once it’s all over on the music stages, the festival fully comes to life. DJ sets dominate the woods, as the sparkle and shine of Latitude increases. The Guilty Pleasures party, complete with drag queens, whips revellers into frenzy with some brilliantly choice tracks. The Killers’ Mr Brightside pumps out of the beautiful SOLAS area, back-dropped by a picturesque water feature. A fountain emerges from the lake; the word Latitude projected in bright colours. Vibrant doesn’t even begin the describe it. After day one, we’re already in a totally different world.


Saturday

As with other festivals of its type, there’s far more on offer at Latitude Festival than just music. Fittingly at the fringes of the site lies the Faraway Forest, a hub of art installations and performance pieces, as well as the Theatre Stage; a pop-up auditorium complete with tiered seating and a near-pitch black ambiance.

Today it plays host to Gary McNair’s Locker Room Talk, a poignant exploration of embedded and overt sexism. Four woman stand on stage retelling the often shocking responses by men to questions about female empowerment, gender divides, and the behaviours of Donald Trump. It slots perfectly into the theme of this year’s festival, challenging societies’ destructive norms.

At quarter past one in the afternoon it’s heavy hitting, indicative of the festival’s reluctance to shy away. It also represents the second side of this event’s coin. Those looking for a typical festival experience can easily find it here, yet those looking for something a little more provocative are just as easily served.

On the other side of the field, 18-year-old Declan McKenna takes to the BBC Music Stage to rapturous applause. His performance is notably unpolished, in the completely right way. There are indie-punk credentials, deliberate or accidental, that give this young upstart a gritty edge.

It’s a style matched by Exeter punks IDLES, who present something altogether more punchy on the Lake Stage. Their anti-establishment rhetoric is delivered with sheer force. As they announce they’ll be repeating the performance over on the BBC Introducing Stage, deep inside the forest, the revellers quite literally run over the bridge crossing the lake to see it all over again.

The Obelisk Arena plays host to German chart smashers Milky Chance, who welcome guest vocalist Izzy Bizu onto the stage. The London songstress’ sultry tones are stunning, and further enhance the folk band’s afternoon performance. It is Two Door Cinema Club who then bring the party to the main stage. What You Know rings out across the Saturday crowd, and gets everyone on their feet.

“I need you all to be Drake,” Jorja Smith announces on the Lake Stage, launching into the brilliant Get Together. The crowd instantly respond. It’s part of a phenomenal set that showcases the singer’s limitless potential. From upbeat to sultry, and everything in-between, there’s genuinely exciting promise here that, if played right, could propel Smith into the leagues of Winehouse. Never miss the opportunity to catch this early.

It’s down to Mumford & Sons to close the day on the main stage, joined by Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal. His voice is simply phenomenal, and far from a simple indulgence for Mumford & Sons, who have largely earned the right to take over the festival for a day. Following that, the band deliver a hit filled set, with the likes of I Will Wait, Believe and The Wolf sounding massive.

Once again, the spirit of the festival emerges further once the stages close their gates. Hot Dub Time Machine take over the Comedy tent, and it’s a time-travelling sensation. Running through from the early 80s until the present day, the hours pass under a heady, retrospective and downright euphoric glaze. As Rozalla said many years ago, and is reaffirmed tonight, everybody is indeed free to feel good.


Sunday

It’s the final day of this year’s Latitude Festival, and the crowds are out in force with picnic blankets and camping chairs to match. A huge gathering congregates around the Waterfront Stage, waiting for a lunch time appearance by opera legend Katherine Jenkins who, fitting for the surroundings, arrives on a gondola singing a haunting cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It’s definitely one of the most memorable sights of this year’s festival, before Jenkins takes to the stage to continue her mesmerising set.

Bedford singer-songwriter Tom Grennan is battling through his self-admitted hangover over on the BBC Music Stage, and it appears to be working. He’s also certainly not alone. The tent is split evenly down the middle, those with energy up front, and those struggling finding comfortable seating at the back. Grennan acknowledges both, and it’s difficult not to be swept up with his onstage banter and catchy melodies, regardless of your physical state.

Ward Thomas, the first ever home-grown country act to score a No.1 in the UK, are immensely personable in the Obelisk Arena. In-between their casual on-stage chat, they deliver a masterclass in contemporary country, including their own take on Years & Years’ Shine. They’re followed by RnB legend Mavis Staples, who has been making political and social active music for the best part of 60 years. “It’s the Latitude attitude,” she proclaims with her James Brown-esque gospel style, and we can’t help but agree.

The modern sounds of Africa are alive and well in the BBC Music Stage this afternoon, as Ibibio Sound Machine lead one electric carnival atmosphere. It’s the perfect way to shake off any mid-afternoon cobwebs, and get those dancing feet moving. It’s both an audible and visual spectacular, and easily one of the highlights of the weekend. It’s also further demonstration of just what Latitude Festival has to offer, and the packed tent is 100% in.

Away from the music, the comedy stage welcomes Katherine Ryan, who tells tales of her seemingly precocious daughter, and her feelings towards her ex. The tent has been packed all weekend, and today is no different. Many fans have pitched up here for the entirety of the weekend, for a stellar line-up of international greats. Those looking for a more casual experience can park themselves outside of the arena, and witness the hilarious action on the screens.

Latitude certainly isn’t all calm and twee. The Alcove Stage, nestled between the arena and the campsite, invites fans to witness some serious punk energy, not least from politically charged four-piece Life. The vocals are spitting and punchy, and the performance matches that with ease. Their potential is massive, and deserving of much bigger stages in the near future.

Fronted by Napoleon (“I left my suit at home,” vocalist Neil Hannon quips), The Divine Comedy bring their iconic quirks to the festival’s main stage. With a huge repertoire of music, there’s a whole heap of serious gems throughout their set, not least an exciting rendition of their massive hit, and ode to coach travel, National Express.

South London rapper Loyle Carner has graduated from the Lake Stage last year to the comparably huge BBC Music Stage. His genuine nice-guy persona is occasionally interrupted by a bubbling excitement that he simply can’t contain. Joined on stage by his collaborator Rebel Kleff, Carner has a huge future easily in his sights. It’s polished and mature, and a far cry from commercial hip-hop. It carries all the vital ingredients, but offers much more.

It’s down to Fleet Foxes to close this year’s festival, and they do it in absolute style. Their music does the majority of the talking, and it’s the perfect accompaniment to the final moments of a spectacular weekend. For one couple more than others, it’s a momentous occasion as proceedings are paused for a very public (and very sweet) proposal. It’s straight back to business for the critically acclaimed folk heroes, whose sounds envelop the night.

But as is typical Latitude style, it’s not over yet. We head into the woods for one final party, and it’s glorious.

Discover more from the world of festivals in our Festival Guide.

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