Hailed as the ‘nicest’ event on the festival calendar – put blandly – Suffolk’s Latitude Festival takes the opportunity of its twelfth edition to further verify its liberal, family-friendly superiority in woodland surroundings which continue to regenerate and enchant. Despite a reputation as being terrifically middle class Latitude proves itself a popular choice for a range of cultural tastes with up-and-coming punk acts neighbouring gondola-floating opera singers. With a seemingly widening festival circuit Latitude ticks boxes for you, your mum and possibly your grandad. I saw your nan enjoying a double voddy at the Disco Shed, actually.
It’s early Friday afternoon and festival fans descend down on Henham Park for what devoted attendees acclaim the best weekend of the year. The tent of the BBC Music Stage is declared open and the keenest among us fill the marquee for Sydney singer Julia Jacklin, who opens her set with a polite “hello”, because that’s just rock’n’roll. Her voice is flawlessly toned, opening the festival’s stage with her unique blend of indie-pop and alternative-country.
Incoming Formation, a London five-piece storming a high-octane show merging the likes of disco and punk via social wisdom. They’re equal parts grooves to volume and despite their early set time the BBC Music tent transforms into an unanticipated celebration. For those there for the more established acts, though, The Coral are over on the main stage. Their performance at the Obelisk Arena prompts mosh pits, crowd-surfing and your dad’s daddiest dancing, yet most of its front row revellers are younger than the band’s time on the scene.
Queue recent Dirty Hit signees King Nun in the Alcove Stage, drawing a diverse crowd yet playing some of the most youthfully raucous music around. The fresh-faced foursome are excellently brash, frontman Theo offering a frantic vocal and a sense of unpredictableness al la label mate and the day’s headliner, Matt Healy (The 1975).
For those with remaining energy it’s a pint and a wonder over to The Lake Stage for the eclectic excellence that is HMLTD. The outfit have endured a cult following which today comes together in a large passionately pulsating crowd. The set vaunts glorious glam rock with broadly influenced post-punk which climaxes in latest sonically stimulating releases ‘To The Door’ and ‘Music!’. Net-garbed frontman Henry Spychalski sports ‘Safe Gigs 4 Women’ on his chest, but the politics is far from over as everybody’s favourite pop preacher Matt Healy is soon to take to the Obelisk Arena for a politically-packed, colloquially-slurring display alternating between everybody’s favourite indie pleasures.
Not only is this The 1975’s first major UK festival headline slot, but it marks the band’s conclusive show for the extensive tour which took place on the back or their 2016 sophomore album I Love It When You Sleep…. “If the world was like this, everything would be fine. There might be a few too many drugs, but that never hurt anybody,” Healy says, persistently puffing on a cigarette. Mums and Dads may not favour his infamous charisma, but they do know the chorus to ‘The Sound’, and equally ‘Chocolate’.
Big up Saturday! As hazy heads dose up on fresh coffee we’re en route to the Sunrise Arena for sassy Scotswomen, Honeyblood. Past winding woodland and a snug G&T bar – there’s literally waiters in bow ties here because… it’s Latitude – the arena is a truly charming venue which offers both vast space an intimacy for the duo who again draw an assorted bag of fans. Despite just the two of them Honeyblood’s sound is as big as their personalities, with drummer Cat Myers dedicating a song about tequila to the crowd’s oblivious proportion of children. A brisk walk to the other side of the lake and teen dream Declan McKenna is making waves on the BBC Music Stage. The tent nears full capacity as McKenna embraces his ever-evolving popularity, crowd surfing between screaming teen girls and so clearly loving every minute.
It’s time to grab a late lunch from Latitude’s ridiculous range of food stalls – Vegan? Your good to go. Cheesy chips? Obviously, your sorted. Quality conscious? There’s a fucking Waitrose café. The Obelisk Arena hosts German electronic-folk duo Milky Chance who provide the perfect soundtrack to the warm-yet-overcast Saturday and my wonderfully hench portion of cheesy chips. But enough of that – it’s time to skip on over to the Lake Stage for IDLES who smash a performance of political post-punk provoking some of the best moshing I’ve seen so far this festival season, notably by dads and young daughters. “This is a song about growing up in a shithole, it’s called Exeter”, deadpans beer-spitting frontman Joe Talbot before storming into the track from the band’s debut record Brutalism.
Not to worry though, dad, it’s all the good boys from here on out as the Obelisk Arena hosts the likes of Glass Animals, Two Door Cinema Club and Mumford & Sons, phew! Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley clearly wasn’t at IDLES as he exclaims “That’s some of the best mosh-pitting I’ve ever seen!”. It’s not ferocious, of course, but the quartet do provide some woozy pop beats which I can confirm pair extremely well with red wine.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a festival where Bangor boys Two Door Cinema Club aren’t boasting a main stage set time, despite the questionability of their relevance today. They’re your typical polished pop with clean riffs and spirited vocal samples, giving them automatic festival finesse. It’s probably unfortunate for them, though, that it’s their debut, Tourist History, which brings by far their biggest reaction, despite three records under their belt. This is somewhat the same for headliners Mumford & Sons, who despite flawlessly switching from banjos to electric guitars gain their biggest sing-alongs – and uncontrollable foot stomping – from the likes of debut hits ‘Little Lion Man’, ‘The Cave’ and ‘Awake My Soul’, which includes the gorgeously complementing harmonies of Marcus Mumford and guest Maggie Rogers. The crowd do enjoy a euphoric rendition of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” alongside the likes of Leon Bridges, Lucy Rose, Baaba Maal and Jorja Smith – to name a few – which ends the set and the band’s could-not-be-more-Latitude ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ takeover. For those who perhaps were not appreciative of such, grime MC AJ Tracey drops into the Music & Film Arena, where there’s a one-in-one-out policy really proving grime’s expansion as a genre, because… it’s Latitude.
It’s the last day of the festival and it quickly becomes evident that people are flagging. Wesley Gonzalez – former frontman of DIY trio Let’s Wrestle – is playing The Lake Stage which seems, this afternoon, to be the ideal Kettle Chips-and-chill spot under ambivalent skies. “You should buy my new record it’s fucking amazing” exclaims a wannabe Gallagher standing in front of a maximum of thirty lingerers and a lounging hill of unconcerned rosé sippers. It’s titled Excellent Musician (of course), if you were wondering, and it’s out now… For something a little humbler, we head over to the Alcove Stage for Norfolk soul-pop newcomer Mullally. He’s an informal, excitable character, and it’s interesting yet refreshing to witness an artist performing vocally impressive neo-soul cultivate the witty charisma of a grime MC.
Post-festival blues may be kicking in but back in the Alcove tent it’s only going up as a little while later Childhood begin a lengthy sound check. Those who pop their heads in immediately appreciate what is a sound far bigger than its containing tent, not a soul parting the venue without a luminous grin following a set of breezy, psychedelic indie. A bit of a sprint over to the Lake Stage and fans can catch Brighton boys The Magic Gang delivering some jangly indie to the ears of Latitude’s youth. The crowd is big, full of fans who know word-for-word of hit ‘Jasmine’ and recent favourite ‘Your Love’, the band championing a record-replicating performance.
If you’re partial to a bit of baroque pop, psychedelic rock and big beat, your weary legs are screwed for catching all of Latitude’s final acts. Temples are everything you’d want for a Sunday in the Sunrise Arena – atmospheric yet sonically climactic – whilst Fatboy Slim ends the party for both those who were raving in the 90s and those who were born in it. But it’s Seattle folk quintet Fleet Foxes, with their first UK show in six years, that take the primary headline slot. Best known for their layered harmonies and delicate melodic flair it’s no surprise that the field is half-empty; it’s a nice Sunday night thought, but Fatboy Slim’s neighbouring dance beats bleeding into the set kind of makes you want to down your pint and take a subtle beeline. Nevertheless, it is a long-awaited show for fans, and despite both social and musical changes since the band were last properly a thing, it’s all rather familiar.
Whichever way you want to end your Latitude, you can, which is exactly what makes the festival such a booming success year after year. That, and the strong Instagram aesthetic of the site’s pink sheep, if we’re to be real for a second. Until next year, Lat.
Photos by Sarah Koury, Matt Eachus & Lauren Maccabee.