The great British summer, eh? Always a let down. Rain, drizzle, continual downpours and an early exit at the tennis.
Still, Latitude never fails to surprise. The Suffolk festival's homely feel and eclectic bill engages year in and year out, with 2015 throwing up all manner of surprises.
Opening amid scorching heat, fans throng to Santigold who is typically radiant, matching a neat jumpsuit to an enormous over-sized bow in her hair. Sure, some of these tracks may be feeling their age a little, but few tracks can thrill on a summer's day like 'L.E.S. Artistes'.
Wild Beasts are no strangers to Latitude, having played at the event on several previous occasions. This lends the Kendal group's set an air of warm familiarity, a fond re-union between band and audience. That said, the band certainly know how to crank up the volume, with material from last year's 'Present Tense' full length given renewed muscularity. Django Django are true festival favourites, with their oddball dance speckled indie pop managing to cut through all ages and barriers. The 6Music tent erupts on their arrival, and it's a nigh-on perfect display – until singer Vincent Neff thanks Glastonbury, instead of Latitude. Back on the main stage Caribou are ably demonstrating why they're able to take bedroom production into Academy sized venues with an expansive, joyous set. Ending with an incredible, stretched out 'Sun' the near psychedelic glee in the propulsive production feels like a more than worthy paean to the yellow globe softly setting in the distance.
Latitude have quietly made a habit of supplying new groups with their first headline slot, and alt-J have been chosen to sit at the pinnacle of the opening day of 2015's instalment. Fresh from selling out iconic Stateside venue Madison Square Garden, it's a task the trio rip apart with ruthless abandon. Notes are crisper, thick percussion seems to shudder into your chest and the material seems to grow, expanding outwards to fit this enormous space. The sun-fried boogie of 'Left Hand Free' sits alongside the angular paranoia of 'Tesselate' – it's a rare, rare feast, a triumph from a band whose ambition seems to match their intelligence.
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Saturday remains crisp and dry, the feet of thousands of music fans causing red dust to float into the air. It lends the Suffolk site a curious haze, one matched by an endless blue sky which falls gently into the distance. The morning opens with the refreshingly soulful sounds of Izzy Bizu who showcases her burgeoning talents at the iArena. The soulful theme continues at the same venue as the day progresses, with stellar R&B star-in-waiting Leon Bridges completing a set as crisp as his retro slacks.
An enormous crowd descends upon the 6Music set for Wolf Alice, whose burgeoning success seems to spiralling into areas even the band themselves can scarcely comprehend. Rewarding the assembled throng with a performance of rare vigour and purpose, the material from 'My Love Is Cool' was born in sweaty toilet venues but seems destined to pack out arena venues. Repeatedly thanking the crowd, it's an emotional validation from a group who simply don't seem to have any limits.
Laura Marling's main stage is a curiously underwhelming affair, with the singer focussing largely on material from electrified new album 'Short Movie'. Bashful and coy throughout, her obvious musicality can't fail to thrill, however, and although never quite reaching expected heights it's still a set buoyed by a remarkable catalogue of material.
A band more than willing to wait things out, Portishead display impeccable timing when taking to the Obelisk Arena. Keenly aware of the pressure to perform, the band have left nothing to chance – even taking part in a lengthy soundcheck as the morning's sun began to rise. In the end, though, they had little to worry about. Blessed with a trio of nigh on perfect albums, Portishead open with a flurry of newer and less heralded material before unfurling the big guns. Beth Gibbons is a figure of poised intensity, searing out the lyrics to 'Glory Box' and 'Whispering Star', great sheets of pained emotion wrapping themselves around her shoulders.
Live, the material takes on renewed physicality, reminiscent of their Bristol origins and that city's labyrinthine lair of soundsystems. The brittle industrial tones of 'Machine Gun' sweep across the crowds' heads, and when the band return for an encore the damn of emotion breaks. Beth Gibbons plunges down to the pit, rejoicing with fans and crowd surfing across the front rows. Thom Yorke even makes a guest appearance, pushing 'The Rip' to even great emotional heights. A truly incredible performance from a band who place enormous creative demands upon themselves.
Thom Yorke then high-tails it from the Obelisk to the iArena – no mean feat, considering he has a river to jump across. The singer's 'secret show' was broken to fans with social media, with countless thousand eager participants swarming in amongst the woods. The trouble is, though, it's not exactly particularly riveting – introduced as an 'experiment' it's marred by technical difficulties. Frequently breaking down into lengthy jams between minimal techno soundscapes and Yorke's vocals, it finishes with a perfunctory rendition of 'Harrowdown Hill'. An undoubtedly fantastic idea, perhaps neutered by the difficulties of its execution.
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A little rain falls across the festival overnight, helping to wash a layer to dust and dirt away from the surrounding camp site. A relaxing stroll around the full extent of Latitude reveals all manner of hidden nooks and crannies – from a mobile book shop to wood whittling classes, an area designated for tweens and a full blown relaxation hub. At times, it can feel as though organisers have simply thought of everything.
Huw Stephens curates the Lake Stage across the weekend, a continual point for new musical discovery. Scotland's Neon Waltz are impeccable, while Pretty Vicious display plenty of venom during a fiery afternoon slot. Welsh singer Gwenno is perhaps the most unusual find of the weekend, however – her Welsh language sci-fi synth pop hymns are gloriously imaginative, inhabiting an incredibly intoxicating world of their own. Worth seeking out.
Savages are currently putting the finishing touches to their second album, and the band play a joyous set in the 6Music Arena. The new material seems to be more outward, and positive in its lyrical outlook while the music has a darker, even more abrasive quality. Jehnny Beth repeatedly surges towards the crowd, acting as a conduit for the swirling energies which pirouette out of her comrades; at times criticised for leaning too heavily on their influences, this set demonstrates that Savages are treading a path of their own. Kindness is a highly original spirit, with Adam Bainbridge leading the group through a set which feels to echo the failing limbs of the crowd. The loose knit energy makes it feel as though the beat is melting into the afternoon, while the vocals – pop-driven, R&B defined – have a shimmering texture, matching the rising heat outside.
Then Young Fathers arrive. Stood with their backs to the crowd amid wailing analogue synths which resemble Cold War sirens, the Edinburgh trio make it clear that this will be an uncompromising performance – but also an open one. Material from 'White Men Are Black Men Too' takes on a punk, at times almost metal, tone, with the three piece distorting their vocals and using tribal, neck-snapping percussion. At times, though, it also feels like a party – 'Get Up' is greeted with joyous abandon, while the group's stunning sense of poise and drama underlines why they're cited as simply one of the most intense visual experiences on any stage today.
Seasick Steve is on rambunctious form on the main stage, teasing the crowd with a number of ol' timey anecdotes before plumbing through the hits. Manic Street Preachers are well adept at delivering an enthralling festival performance by now, and don't disappoint – cherry picking from a catalogue which extends back over two decades, theirs is a set which displays years of experience while underlining their continued passion for what it is that makes them so unique.
Noel Gallagher had admitted in the run up to Latitude that he had never been to the Suffolk festival before, but his casual approach was rather undermined by an early morning soundcheck conducted by the Oasis man himself – not leaving anything to chance, despite his reservations. Fresh from a headline T In The Park slot it's a rather different crowd which greets the songwriter, but one still emboldened by his evident musicality. A good song, as ever, will always cut through.
And with that went the closing notes of Latitude 2015. Near perpetual sunshine, a cultural overdose and some seismic performances hand-picked from some of the finest artists around. The great British summer, eh? Never fails.
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Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Alice Rainis