Highlights from this year’s Latitude as the festival returns in force to a sunny Henham Park
Phoebe Bridgers crowdsurfs, Self Esteem wears a Boots Advantage Card and Lewis Capaldi announces that he’s pregnant.
“Are you ready to slay?!” screams Rina Sawayama on the Obelisk Stage, barely 10 minutes before Paul Smith of Maximo Park asks his crowd, slightly sarcastically, if they’re “ready to art rock” in the opposite BBC Sounds Stage. Day 1 of Latitude sees big pop meet big rock, with the festival’s broad line-up offering everything from screechy brass punk and acoustic singer-songwriters to waterfront ballet and a gourmet pop-up restaurant.
The sun was shining on Henham Park as Mdou Moctar brought the Sahara to the Obelisk – building walls of West African rhythm alongside big riff guitars for the kind of main stage afternoon set that’s impossible to walk past.
Passing off a bit of dodgy feedback as experimental squall, Paul Smith coursed through a vintage Maximo Park set with a massive grin on his face. Opening with ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ as a nod to women’s autonomy, before dedicating ‘The National Health’ to the Tories, Smith mostly bounced off the speakers like it was 2005 – before closer ‘Apply Some Pressure’ took everyone else there too.
Another band taking everyone back was Modest Mouse – bringing 90s stoner-folk post-rock to The Obelisk with a perfect set that drew far too few people. “Do you love yourself? Do you love the person next to you? Sorry, I’m really no good at amping up the crowd…” laughs Isaac Brook, not really trying again but letting the likes of ‘Bury Me With It’, ‘Bukowski’ and ‘Float On’ (anything from Good News For People Who Love Bad News) do the talking for him.
If you were standing anywhere on the right side of the river during Saturday afternoon you would have heard Opus Kink. Filling The Alcove tent in more ways than one, the buzz coming off the new Brighton band was enough to set everyone’s ears ringing – mixing raucous Western punk with screaming brass that almost blew the speakers out. Coming out of somewhere between The Birthday Party and Madness, frontman Angus Rogers took the tent like a trench – breaking out a full-punk tarantella dangerously close to the festival’s pink sheep.
Over as the BBC Sounds stage, Self Esteem had one of the biggest crowds of the day. Wearing a dress made almost entirely out of Boots Advantage cards, Rebecca Lucy Taylor powered through anthems of self-acceptance and female solidarity off Prioritise Pleasure as her backing singers provided all the strength of a Public Enemy gig (a long way from her earlier surprise acoustic set). Later on the same stage, Phoebe Bridgers headlined to a audience that was up on shoulders from before she even came out – starting out with ‘Motion Sickness’ and ending with a crowdsurf on ‘I Know The End’ that looked like she was barely ever going to make it back to the stage.
At the Obelisk, however, Lewis Capaldi had big news. “The baby’s due in March,” he jokes, showing off his “lockdown belly” to a crowd that had been holding up signs (and life-sized cut-outs) asking him to take his top off. Keeping the audience in the palm of his hand without looking like he was even trying, Capaldi got the biggest cheer by announcing that he was only “going to play the old sh*t” because he’d spent the last few years being “too lazy” to write any songs or finish his long rumoured new album.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” he grins, “because it’s all we’ve got.”
Aisling Bea does an impression of a jacket potato, Frankie Boyle cancels cancel culture and Foals get emotional.
Anyone waking up late on Saturday would have heard the strains of early Britpop classics ‘Disco Down’ and ‘Chasing Rainbows’ drifting over the festival as Shed Seven opened the Obelisk stage to a huge crowd. Across the field, Bessie Turner was warming the BBC Sounds tent with soft sung soul. “My old teachers are here!” She gasped, endearingly awkward. “I’ve been coming to Latitude since I was old enough to save my pocket money. All of you kids who play music and come here on your summer holidays, I was you, and I still feel like that… this is a lot.”
By mid-afternoon, anyone who wasn’t watching Los Bitchos bring underground Colombian dance to the main stage were crowded in, around and way beyond the comedy area for one of the weekend’s biggest draws. “If you got offended by that one you’re in the wrong f*cking tent”, laughs Frankie Boyle, opening with a joke about Richard Branson that rearranged the phrases “aggressive form of cancer”, “shotgun” and “big blond baboon face”.
Moving on to classism (what eating an oyster feels like…) and modern politics (Priti Patel getting turned on watching footage of sinking refugee boats…), Boyle expertly twisted his set into a comment on the power of comedy versus actual power, deriding cancel culture as a misdirected act of rebellion.
The upcoming conservative election was fuel to the fire of most acts at the comedy stage, but headliner Aisling Bea purposefully went the other way – starting with a line about watching murder documentaries on Netflix to feel better after watching the news. Rattling through a perfect set about the magic of ADHD, Bea was making Dairylee Lunchables out of confession crackers, singing ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’ to Ronan Keating on The One Show, and doing impressions of different types of potato. Extra applause went to Bea’s on-stage sign language interpreter, who pretty much spent the whole time teaching her the signs for different sex acts.
Back in the main arena, Example was ending his massive afternoon set on a spontaneous sing-along of ‘One Love’, bedroom pop pioneer Cavetown was wooing the cool kids with new track ‘Frog’ and The New English Ballet Theatre were dancing to Genesis at The Lake Stage.
The energy, though, was all at Little Simz. Opening with the slow build drama of ‘Introvert’ and closing with the machinegun pulse of ‘Venom’, Simz recharged the whole festival with her sub slot on the Obelisk. Pulling from Grey Area and Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, Simz’ set spanned styles and influences – bringing politically vital hip hop, soul and afrobeat to the setting Suffolk sunshine.
Last up, Foals got almost as emotional as Bessie Turner as they returned to the Obelisk for the first time since 2013. Not just the first festival the band headlined, Latitude was also the first festival Foals ever played (stuck in a smaller tent back in 2008), with all the import of that history written over Yannis Phiilippakis’ face. Opening huge with ‘Wake Me Up’, Foals owned the field for over two hours – soaking it red for ‘2am’, white for ‘My Number’ and blue for ‘Spanish Sahara’. Mixing late 00s indie rock with their newer dance-pop sound, Foals brought power and precision to Latitude – the perfect way to close day two.
The Manics bring the rain, Mark Owen brings the ‘Shine’ and Fontaines bring a load of giant inflatable eyeballs
Sunday was hot. With everyone fighting for the same shady spots there was no better place to be than the woody Sunrise Arena – with Been Stellar turning up to play the smallest tent anyone is ever likely to see them in again. The Brooklyn post punks owned the morning with a mix of scuzz and melody that gave heavy Sonic Youth vibes, skipping straight from Truck festival to tear through ‘My Honesty’, ‘Manhattan Youth’ and ‘Kids 1995’. Far more experimental than they are on the record, it was sprawling closer ‘Ohm’ that proved just how huge the band are about to become.
For anyone looking to celebrate the sunshine instead of shun it, the Obelisk had a perfect double-bill in Rumer and Mark Owen. Bringing beach-warm Carly Simon pop back to the main stage, Rumer sounded like everyone’s favourite Sunday afternoon, covering Hall & Oates and Bonnie Bishop and ending on the woozy charm of ‘Deep Summer In The Deep South’. And if that wasn’t enough sunshine for everyone, Owen came on (dressed in a very Harry Styles white suit) and sang ‘Shine’ – getting every hand in Latitude reaching for the sky.
As the shadows finally started lengthening, Latitude’s last night got serious. At the BBC Sounds stage, Kae Tempest was turning ‘Salt Coast’ into electricity and losing themself in the energy of ‘More Pressure’. However incredible Tempest is at home, the live show lifts their words into something much more than poetry – sounding like each verse is being written anew in realtime.
Back at the Obelisk, The Manic Street Preachers exploded onto the mainstage with an opening run of ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’. Playing ‘Suicide Is Painless’ for the first time in four years, the Manics were on vintage form as James Dean Bradfield kicked beachballs into the crowd and ‘Design For Life’ somehow summoned the weekend’s only rain cloud. Ending even bigger on ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, Nicky Wire started smashing up his guitar, (just before remembering which festival he was at and giving it away to someone in the front row instead).
At the same time, The Afghan Whigs were turning 90s grunge into hard rock at The BBC Sounds Stage – powering through a perfect set that sharpened the corners of ‘Matamoros’ and ‘Teenage Wristband’. Is there anyone with more innate rockstar quality than Greg Dulli? Maybe just Grian Chatten from Fontaines D.C.…
Headlining the second stage while Snow Patrol took the arena (with a little help from local lad Ed Sheeran…), Latitude split its audience with the final acts of the weekend – parents and camping chairs to one side, and kids and bucket hats to the other. Walking out solemnly tossing flowers to the crowd, Chatten brought Ian Curtis energy to the packed tent, pacing around his microphone like a caged tiger and burning through the band’s back catalogue like it was too hot to touch.
Massive inflatable eyeballs were kicked into the audience for ‘Sha Sha Sha’, someone dressed as a carboard viking lit a flare for ‘A Hero’s Death’ and Fontaines closed big on ‘Boys In The Better Land’ and ‘I Love You’, leaving everyone reeling as crowd drifted back off into the forest to find lost tents and forest raves and weird art installations. What better way to close Latitude 2022?