A glorious return to the festival season...

As the first festival back after the “it-that-must-not-be-named” saga of the past year or so, there were no real expectations for Latitude, merely questions. What would a festival with 40,000 fans feel like? How would health based entry for each ticket holder work? Most importantly, would Latitude’s infamous pink sheep be making an appearance?

Once through the festival gates though, those questions evaporated. Instead, the sense of abandonment in the air, and the willingness of fans, artists and staff alike, to forget about the traumas of recent times was palpable. With festival goers charging excitedly into the arena, to others having bottles confiscated by discerning security on entry, to stalls selling strange hemp hats that no one ever seems to buy: Latitude’s success came from its normality.

Around the festival site, it was clear artists were just as relieved to be back as the fans. “This feels like an absolute dream” bellowed Wolf Alice’s Theo Ellis. “Thank you so much for being here with us. We love you and this is fucking mega. Let’s ‘av it!” And have it they did. Wolf Alice were a highlight of the weekend – sending their unique style of grunge out into the Suffolk evening to adoring fans of all ages. As their set drew to a close with Ellie Rowsell’s masterful rendition of 'Last Man On Earth', fans swayed, embraced, and sang along. All the classic festival images were there, but this time more poignant.

The atmosphere of the crowd was reassuring with its familial wholesomeness, given Latitude was the government’s torchbearing experiment for large scale gatherings. Latitude has been dubbed the Waitrose of festivals, and it’s a nickname that remains relevant in 2021. Standing in the Barclaycard Lookout Area, which loomed large over the main stage, the view was similar to coming down the wine and cheese aisle in Suffolk’s poshest supermarket. A sea of trilbied heads bobbed along contendedly, beers in hand, while wives in Crew jumpers towed children (and wine) along in trailers.

The view from the tower was panoramic, and gave a good line of sight into the teens moshing to Declan McKenna on the Friday. Surrounding the moshers came the parents, inching forwards with deckchairs – the bravest and most brazen sitting yards from the stage.

At the risk of Latitude becoming too sedate an affair, the organisers nodded to punters’ thirst to dance with some late night disco slots. The likes of Abba After Midnight and Buttoned Down Disco continued the revelry into the early hours of the weekend. Sure, balloons falling from the tent roof at festivals isn’t incredibly original, but that wasn’t what this was about. The laser shows, the tight pressed dance tents and the confetti were antidotes to 2021 malaise.

Latitude’s one misstep perhaps was some schedule clashing – with Hot Chip on the BBC Sounds Stage rivalling Wolf Alice on the main stage, it begged the question why we weren’t seeing some bigger dance titans on later in the evening. But too much choice in this day and age was a small price to pay.

However, a true sadness of the weekend did befall Arlo Parks, Fontaines DC and Alfie Templeman, all of whom were forced to pull out due to self-isolation. Covid has brought many stings in the tail – but cancelling slots at such short notice would have hit both fans and artists painfully.

Still, it was evident escapism was the order of the day. With several talks going on over the weekend, we happened to walk into a tent while a lecturer from Liverpool University was speaking on Covid’s impact on the live events sector. Perhaps an interesting set for daytime dozers, but the majority of fans seemed repelled on entry by an instinctiveness to ignore everything pandemic related for the weekend.

As the festival drew to a close with Bombay Bicycle Club’s headline set, it was difficult to trudge back out to the campsite in the knowledge that it was all over. However, attending Latitude for this special occasion made memories sure to last long in the minds of artists and fans alike.

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Words: Sophie Church
Photography: Ben McQuaide

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