It was yet another successful weekend for Latitude Festival at Henham Park in Southwold, Suffolk, which has been the home of the biggest ‘small festival’ in Britain since 2006.
With their traditionally bold approach to their booking, including putting up-and-coming artists high up on the bill or in prominent and prestigious slots, Latitude has been something of a proving ground for bands to play headline sets before they get promoted to the really big festivals. The likes of Arcade Fire, Foals, Florence & The Machine and Alt-J have been given the chance to play a full headline set to a sizeable crowd, passed with flying colours and gone on to become huge.
But with its dedication to stand-up comedy, film, literature, cabaret and performing arts other tha music, Latitude really does have something for everyone. New alterations to the site included the Film & Literature Tent, previously separate venues but now rolled into one and open much later into the night. In place of one of those venues is now ‘The Danish Quarter’, a rather grandiose name for a Carlsberg-sponsored bar area decked out in minimalist pine furniture like many a craft beer hall, but the chilled and family-friendly vibe was very much the same as always – and a good thing that is too.
After spending what seemed like forever putting up our ludicrously outsized tent on a windy Friday morning, my festival buddy and I descended into the arena to catch the first of many artists. Having recently been to Glastonbury, we vowed never to complain about the comparatively tiny distances at Latitude and zipped around catching as many bands as physically possible. The best of these were Amber Bain, under the pseudonym of The Japanese House, with her ethereal and garishly melodic dream-pop, and much-hyped teen Sigrid, who was playing to a crowd far too big to fit into the tiny Sunrise Arena up in the woods.
At the end of a long day, many punters went to see The 1975 headlining the Obelisk Arena, but we found our way to the BBC Music Stage to catch Placebo. Though they’ve always been the subjects of gleeful mirth from many a snobby critic over the last two decades, Brian Molko and co. were promoting their current greatest-hits record to mark their 20th anniversary as a band. Unleashing a taut collection of their discography highlights and hit singles, including a mammoth ‘Pure Morning’ and a heart-racingly tense rendition of ‘The Bitter End’, it’s easy to forget how many great moments they’ve been responsible for in defiance of style and fashion over the years. Signing off with a deconstruction of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, Placebo get a warm reception commensurate to their status as hardened survivors. No room for ‘Every You Every Me’ though…
Saturday saw the much-vaunted ‘Gentlemen of the Road’ takeover of Latitude’s bill by Mumford & Sons, representing one of the most prestigious headlining slots in the festival’s history. One of the bands on the Obelisk Arena’s bill was Two Door Cinema Club, who of course had been set to headline Latitude back in 2014 but were forced to cancel with just a few days’ notice because of a medical emergency. Today represented a redemption of sorts – although they were only fourth-highest on the bill, the Northern Irish trio played a very accessible set of highlights evenly taken from their exceptional 2010 debut Tourist History and last year’s Gameshow, which was four years in the making. Perhaps they’ll never get the chance to headline this festival properly, as their wider popularity appears to have declined over the last five years, but it was a spirited performance that livened up an early evening crowd.
With Mumford & Sons virtually unchallenged on the bill – the BBC Music Stage had no headliner playing in the same time slot – it was absolutely packed down at the Obelisk Arena. The only other musical performer on stage at the same time anywhere at the festival was up-and-coming grime artist Dave, who despite his terrible moniker performed a short set up at the Sunrise Arena in the woods. Enjoying a meteoric rise over the last year, he didn’t quite have enough actual songs to fill out a 50-minute slot, resorting to playing tracks more than once by the end, but it was a breathtaking display of virtuosity that had the young crowd in raptures. A particular highlight was him picking out a 14-year-old kid from the front row to rap with him onstage – the teen was shy for about 20 seconds but was soon spitting out Dave’s lyrics even better than the rapper himself!
Tired and rather grimy after two nights in a poorly constructed tent, Sunday’s highlights included highly-rated newcomers Girl Ray, playing a short half-hour set in the late afternoon up in the Sunrise Arena that connects with the small audience beautifully. Returning indie-punk legends The Jesus & Mary Chain were one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend from a personal point of view, promoting their first new album in 19 years. Jim and William Reid were late on stage by 20 minutes, but when they eventually arrived they treated the crowd to a noisy greatest-hits set, including the rousing anti-pop of ‘Just Like Honey’ and the leather’n’shades cool of ‘Head On’.
Headliners Fleet Foxes constituted one of the emptiest headline sets in Latitude history – most punters found their way to the heaving BBC Music Stage for Fatboy Slim rather than listen to the Seattle-based indie-folkers – but those who withstood the drizzle were treated to a charming and beautiful-sounding set. Playing their first British show in six years, their recently released and rather dense and complex album Crack-Up maybe hasn’t quite had the commercial impact they might have liked, but the crowd got into the mood when tracks from their 2008 debut were unleashed. Singer Robin Pecknold also brought out a young couple who got engaged on stage followed by rare airing of ‘White Winter Hymnal’. A muted performance, slightly drowned out by the ridiculous bass of the tent next door, but highly enjoyable for those wanting to give it the time of day.
After which, it was time to say goodbye to Latitude again for another year. With Glastonbury set for a fallow year in 2018, it could well be a bumper sell-out at Henham Park with displaced crowds looking for the same kind of chilled vibe as Worthy Farm next year.