It’s Friday afternoon, the sun is blazing, and Oxford band Stornaway use their Indie Folk to captivate a typically tranquil audience, who’re laying on the grass. A small boy lets off a stream of bubbles, and is greeted with cheers of childish delight as a wave of arms reach up to grab the glistening spheres glinting in the day’s bright shine.
This is Latitude Festival in all its laid-back glory, and it’s back for its 8th year in the serene surroundings of Henham Park in Southwold. The line-up is possibly the most eclectic to date, which brings with it a slightly younger than usual, but still varied and relaxed as ever, crowd.
We grab a cold one, and join the sun-kissed revellers whilst Manchester based I Am Kloot take to the stage and serenade the crowd with their Indie sonnets. Afterwards, we stroll around the various camp-sites to catch some communal time with friends, before heading back to the main stage to see Friday night headliners Bloc Party.
I’m not a particularly big fan. If the rest of our group hadn’t wanted to see them and the other option wasn’t Texas, or another band I hadn’t heard of, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. However, despite what the neigh-sayers spout, they put on a really uplifting show with a dazzling laser display, and as I walked back from the bar, everyone was up on their feet dancing – some more than others – as they demonstrated their allegiance to the band.
Saturday was all about the Funk, starting with Clean Bandit, who finished with a cover of Dario G’s Sunchyme. This perhaps would have been more apt for the previous day, as thankfully the sun had now taken some time out from the sky, much to the delight of the many party-heads who were nursing a two day hangover.
Next up were Icelandic Disco revival troop, Retro Stefson. I’d never heard of them before, but on the basis of the write-ups they’ve received, we were confident they would help us on our mission to catch an unadulterated groove. The lead singer, dressed in Jaws t-shirt and complementary tight 70s-style shorts, together with his hype-man adorned with a flower-pot raver hat, kept things bouncing along with their Latin inspired Dance beats, until their set was abruptly cut short by technical hitches.
More Funk was soon on its way, this time with an Indie stroke Electro twist from Australians Jagwar Ma, who we’d been looking forward to seeing after catching their Glastonbury performance. They kept the energy flowing, setting things up for the Geek-Techno of Hot Chip who I’ve managed to miss repeatedly over the years, and thus was excited to be finally seeing them live. Disappointingly their sound was more like meek Techno, and they failed to get people moving.
Then it was time to finally don our 3D-glasses as our Saturday main-stage headline premier, Kraftwerk, took to the stage with their multi-dimensional extravaganza. They packed out the arena to begin with, but they didn’t start with their most accessible tracks, making it difficult for some of the audience to get into the show, and people soon started to drift off. I guess it’s the same as most things – the more cutting edge music is at its inception, the more quickly it becomes a bit naff and dated. Hence with the rate at which Electronica develops, it’s not surprising that some of this cult German band’s tunes have started to sound a bit passé. Eventually we made off to the late-night I-Arena in the woods, pursuing more recent and, dare we say it, more entertaining sounds.
We felt serene, peaceful, restful, and tranquil in this grove of trees – and it’s well known that trees are said to stimulate the spirit and imagination. Add some high-energy psychedelic sounds, and you’ve got a recipe for a banging night. Here we found what we’d been looking for, and managed to lose ourselves, as well as each other a few times, as we danced the rest of the night away to the House and Techno selections from Werkha, Romare and The Busy Twist.
Sunday was Soul-Day, and along with virtually everyone else, we managed to drag ourselves to see the legendary Bobby Womack play that now entrenched Latitude institution – the Sunday lunch-time slot. Dressed head to toe in red leather threads complete with matching shades, Bobby and his band caressed the dishevelled-looking crowd back into consciousness with his feel good Soul and Funk of 110th Street, The Bravest Man In The Universe, and the perfectly apt Harry The Hippie. A defining Latitude moment that set the tone for the rest of the day.
Everywhere you walked that afternoon, the music continued in the same vein. Soulful and soothing tunes worked up the crowd driving them to the destination of the evening’s last dance. Disclosure collaborator Sam Smith sang his acoustic version of Latch, while we tucked into our Sunday pie, mash and peas, and then slept it off whilst The Tallest Man On Earth, along with James Blake, crooned sweet nothings etched onto the lightest smooth summer breeze. Local Natives then managed to sweetly keep the tender lyrics lingering in the air, until eventually the finale came drifting down upon us.
Things had livened up by now, and Rudimental were on in the Radio 6 tent. We had caught them earlier in the year, and whilst we enjoyed their show, it was unfortunately all drums and no bass, which is not particularly appropriate to the genre in which they’re said to specialise. Thankfully, the big top marquee, which is now curated by BBC Radio 6, is renowned for having superb sonic capabilities across the entire frequency spectrum. On this occasion we got the full benefit of their top tracks including Waiting All Night, Not Giving In and Feel The Love, which we fully empathised with as the hair of the dog wagged its magic tail.
Next up were House duo Disclosure, who had recently been reported for miming to one of their sets. To their credit, they had unplugged all of their gear at the offending gig, so it was obvious what was going on. Scrutinising the video screens to check this performance was the real deal, I was relieved to see them hit a couple of beats out of time, confirming this was a truthfully live show. They kept their safer radio edits to a minimum, exposing their underground roots for all to see – redeemed and highly recommended.
Latitude regulars the Foals closed the main stage Sunday night, and they were clearly elated by the fact they were the last act to entertain the tired eardrums of the festival audience. They stormed through a series of fan favourites, however after the high energy sounds of Rudimental and Disclosure, they didn’t quite pack the punch required to keep our momentum going. Eschewing their sound, we took our party to the I-Arena to finish our festival off with one last dose of hedonism, as we mustered up the last bit of Dance left in us to London Afro Dubsters Benin City, and Brighton bass music maestros Anushka. Our plan was to finish off a near perfect audio weekend with Chicago House music legend, Roy Davis Jnr, who I have been gagging to see for some time now.
Unfortunately the beginning of Roy’s set was blighted with technical issues, but after a few verses from the crowd of “turn it up, turn it up, baby turn it u-up” eventually the sound-man resolved the situation, and we were treated to one last blast of high grade House, capping off our weekend on just the right vibe.
Let’s get rid of the worst, first – my real only gripe was the distinct lack of volume on some of the late night stages. In particular the lack of bass at the Lake Stage on Saturday night was really disappointing, leaving poor Gareth Potter the arduous task of trying to play a set of Hip Hop, Funk, and Soul with no bottom end to a crowd of late night revellers.
The beer cup kerfuffle from last year had been resolved. I was still a little taken back when I was refused a refund on two of my liquor containers, until my partner pointed out there were actually leftovers from last year I’d found in the trailer. Still…
The crowd this year seemed – let me come out and say it – more of a real festival tribe, and while there were still plenty of families, Eton blazers and straw-boaters the average reveller certainly seemed younger, more party-centric and more alive. This may be down to the addition of proper dance acts to the main bill, and the fact that the administration had limited the number of main-stage headlining crusties to just one.
It was the first year I’d been up in time for the Sunday lunch time session, and seeing The Coolest Cat In The Universe, Bobby Womack, was an honour and a privilege and possibly one of my favourite Latitude moments of all time. I can’t wait to see who they book to fill that slot next year, as I will definitely be there. This is one of the top Summer events with a rightly growing reputation for a quality, eclectic line up that, like a fine wine, grows in elegance and vintage year after year.
For more information, see our Latitude Guide.
Image credits: Rudimental, Block Party and Kraftwerk by Danny North, Sheep by Jenna Foxton, Bobby Womack by Jessica Gilbert