Latitude is the perfect British festival. Friendly, family-orientated and proudly laid-back, it provides a much-needed escape from the troubled ‘real world we’re living in.
Celebrating its eleventh birthday, the Suffolk-based excursion attracts crowds in the tens of thousands to the beautiful, picturesque surroundings of Henham Park, Suffolk.
Full of eccentric performances - music and otherwise - there's something to cater for all tastes and age ranges: an enchanted garden, big screen cinemas, live comedy, theatre shows, at least a dozen music stages, countless hidden tents and even a house party set in 1970s Russia.
Latitude covers virtually every form of entertainment…
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After a two hour journey from Cambridgeshire to Diss, it’s disheartening to find out that another 50-minute coach trip to the site awaits us; and, consequently, we’ve missed Christine and the Queens’ set. Not a great start.
But once we arrive – and after a kind (very drunk) Norfolk man helps us pitch our tent - we head straight into the site ready for Friday’s strange double header of Slaves followed by Grimes.
A wonderfully weird pairing in the BBC6Music tent; on one hand is Slaves, a punk duo who entice head-banging and moshing from children and parents alike. Their rock onslaught peaks when the raucous 'Sockets' sends youngsters flying overhead. Further into the set they welcome unsuspecting audience member Harvey onstage to show off his impressive body-popping shapes to the anger-fuelled soundtrack of 'Cheer up London'. Later, when 'The Hunter' erupts, there's barely a foot left on the ground. Slaves are future headliners, without doubt.
At the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum sits eccentric electronic-pop queen, Grimes. Attracting a completely different crowd, the bare torsos and sweaty foreheads make a swift exit; quickly replaced by a sea of glitter-covered faces and vibrant neon hair. Claire Elise Boucher bounces onstage, dressed in Moschino, and things get very weird, very quickly.
Seemingly imitating an exorcism, she frequently lets out demonic screams before dramatically collapsing on the floor; though that doesn't stop a besotted guy from raising his homemade sign which reads, “will you marry me?” on one side and “Peace. Love. Bitches” on the other. It is Latitude, after all.
Playing every track that the rammed tent has piled in to hear, the audience is 100 per cent up for it. 'Realiti' and 'Flesh Without Blood' explode with energy, whilst Bloodpop's apocalyptic trap beats on 'Go' fit nicely with her dancers' laser-beaming gloves. Older favourite 'Genesis' comes as a guy nearby waves an inflatable pink and white horse over the crowd. Grimes' impeccably choreographed dancers are equally as amazing, captivating the crowd before throwing flowers at them later on. 'Kill v Maim is a carefree rave-y closer, forming a euphoric ending from a performer who rarely tours the UK...
As the main festival stages go silent and close down for the night, we stumble across the meditative, hazy sounds of Seahawks in the slightly hidden Solas Stage. Set amongst trees and hanging mosaic tiles, with netted chill out circles to the right, people seem to have realised that it's the perfect resting place, with many napping peacefully.
Meanwhile at the Blixen area, tribal beats are erupting and Sugababes is blasting from the Disco Shed at the top of a hill. Soon after, we're ushered into 1970s Russia; a weird house party where, apparently, "Stalin's coming tomorrow"… it’s probably time for bed.
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Waking up to the sun beaming through the tent at 7.30pm, it's impossible to get back to sleep so we head for breakfast, stumbling across a guy with a glittery pink beard along the way. Another reminder that we’re definitely at Latitude.
In terms of discovering new music, Saturday’s line up is full of treasures. London five-piece Puma Rosa prove themselves as ones-to-watch in the Sunrise Arena. Led by hypnotic frontwoman Isabel Munoz-Newsome, 'Cecile's bewitching blend of guitars, drums, saxophones and haunting vocals create something totally refreshing: there's a sense that this is the birth of a potentially massive band.
Over to the consistently raucous BBC6Music tent and Ratboy is encouraging circle pits by the handful; of course the audience has no trouble rising to the occasion, literally. Rowdy teenagers fly overhead to Jordan's tongue-in-cheek tales of teenage life ('Fake I.D' and 'Move'). The big screens show a middle-aged man absolutely losing it, before quickly panning to a toddler bouncing right at the front: age is irrelevant at Latitude.
Comedy, as well, is a massive draw for Latitude-goers. In the afternoon, Joe Lycett, getting up close and personal with the large crowd, sums up a squirrel eating a croissant outside Waitrose as the ‘most Latitude joke’ he has; but only after a segment on how to solve the problem of ISIS. Milton Jones' oddball one-liners have the tent in stitches soon after.
Back to the music and mysterious London group Drones Club are due at the Sunrise Arena. They couple their odd techno-infused electronica with unexplained actions - boiler suited 'drones' grinding their way through the crowd handing out grapes, anyone? One of their dancers scales the scaffolding and dances atop it whilst 'Soul of a Spaceman' leads to the audience and band singing together a cappella. This time next year, Drones Club should be huge.
Saturday night is the big one, though. Danny L Harle, then CHVRCHES, then SOPHIE. PC Music favourite Danny blasts out hyper-pop bangers 'Broken Flowers' and 'In My Dreams' to an intimate but completely devoted crowd in the Alcove stage. Dressed in a 'Huge Danny' jumper, it's just him and the decks, no vibrant visuals or gimmicks this time: though when he launches two t-shirts into the crowd it's like a flock of seagulls clocking their eyes on chips.
CHVRCHES certify their main stage status, delivering a dependable hour of synth-pop fun at the Obelisk Arena. ‘Leave A Trace’ and ‘The Mother We Share’ peaking at the close.
SOPHIE's set, as the skies darken, is his first in the UK since January. A masterclass of boundary-pushing club-focused pop, if kicks off anthemically with ‘Just Like We Never Said Goodbye’. Building up and up, a circle pit soon emerges during the energetic trap beats of ‘MSMSMSM’ - and ‘Trophy’, which hears Charli XCX's vocal rattle from the speakers like a cheerleading chant. SOPHIE's new material sounds even more challenging, somehow. Fizzing synths bubble into underground anthem 'Lemonade', whilst ‘Vroom Vroom’ revs itself up massively, energising the crowd into a state of hysteria. A complete sonic assault on all the senses, SOPHIE’s set is a major highlight.
Swiftly following SOPHIE, Gold Panda's enchanting synth melodies and visuals of trees and flowers become a late Saturday treat. Dressed in all black, Derwin really gets into it; jolting his head back and forward, thrusting his body to the beats of ‘In My Car’ as a hairy tattoo-covered guy dressed as Dorothy bounces around in the crowd. It all feels very dreamlike and surreal…
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Keen to make the most of our last day, we head to see Fickle Friends at the Lake Stage. Their infectious summery synth-infused dance-pop sits well with a busy lunchtime crowd; closer 'Swim' gets the crowd bobbing along to the jangly riffs.
Sunday afternoon is full of soul. Michael Kiwanuka's relaxing blues-y vocal soothes an already laid back Obelisk Arena whilst Laura Mvula - and her eight-person band -veer between stripped-beck delights 'Sing to the Moon' and 'Let Me Fall'. Dressed in a vibrant turquoise dress and wielding a giant keytar around her neck, she proclaims “I had one of the best shows of my life the last time I was here. It's good to be back.”
Bodies lay sprawled out on the floor with towels over their head and parasols up to shade them from the burning heat, but that doesn’t stop the soul siren from showcasing her limitless vocal range.
Swedish pop star Aurora is the real star turn today, though. Her spellbinding concoction of haunting harmonies, endearing chat and theatrical melodrama throughout 'Conquerer', 'Running with the Wolves' and 'Warrior' leading to deafening cheers. “This is the best festival; they have the best lemonade... and lovely trees”, she says cutely. And who could argue with her.
Mura Masa, a few hours later, brings his electronic soundscapes to life with the help of Bonzai on live vocals. “I know it's hot but you gotta move a little bit more than that”, she teases. Moments after, several human tower forms are formed as the heavy bass of ‘Lovesick Fuck’ takes the set to a club-ready level. Alex Crossan’s rise has been nothing short of stratospheric; he's gone from a SoundCloud star to selling out UK and US tours. Every track sounds massive; especially new tracks ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Messy Love’ – during the latter he gets funky on the bass guitar as Bonzai runs along the front row. By the last track, ‘Fireflies’ the whole crowd is bouncing. Mura Masa’s album can’t come quick enough.
"Latitude is special. There's no doubt," enthuses stand-up comedian Mark Watson during his well-attended mid-Sunday slot - and he couldn't be more right. We can’t think of any other festival (in the UK, at least) where you can stumble across pink sheep, go swimming in a lake, enjoy a boat ride and not have to trudge through a muddy site.
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Words: Ben Jolley
Photography: Gemma Ross
Find other Festival Highlights in the Zalando Festival Guide