Latitude 2018: Livewire's Review
“Does anybody have any saffron?” Rachel Parris, during Friday morning’s QI Live, asks the plentiful crowd. “Probably,” she quickly answers herself, “this is Latitude.” Certainly a good way to sum up Suffolk’s Latitude Festival in little words, but asserting that the event is middle class and nothing else is undoubtedly dismissive to the myriad of music, comedy, theatre, and politics abound over Henham Park. Latitude Festival really does have something special.
We arrive at the festival in the blistering heat of Thursday afternoon. Pitching a tent is difficult for some anyway, without the added pressure of thirty degree temperatures. By five pm, we have our camp set up and are ready to explore the festival. Whilst the music and entertainment doesn’t start until Friday morning, the food vendors and arena is open for a look around. We familiarise ourselves with the food options, and I (Erin) slyly mark out all the vegan options I definitely want to treat myself to over the course of the next three or so days. We make sure we know where every stage is, so when it comes to flitting between acts, we’ll know where we’re going. The clashes at Latitude 2018 are astounding, but it’s impossible to avoid, especially when there are so many fantastic artists on the lineup. In particular, the Huw Stephens-curated Lake Stage is where we anticipate we’ll find ourselves for the most of the weekend.
Our Thursday evening is moderately relaxed until we find ourself in the Speakeasy tent for comedian Marcus Brigstocke’s Prince tribute--the show is simply Brigstocke, dressed in a purple coat, miming Prince’s greatest hits, but we’re not really surprised, or shocked.
Friday makes itself known with a sweltering alarm clock. You think 25 degrees by 8am is hot? Try doing it in a tent. We complain about the heat for a good hour, maybe even two, before making our way into the arena. The forest bordering the arena in Henham Park is filled with hidden surprises, such as the BBC Introducing tent--showcasing some of the best acts from local BBC Introducing radio shows--and the Sunrise Arena, known as the home of underground indie artists. Amongst these tiny stages are flecks of decorative personality, such as the (piano-less) piano garden. Across the lake, the main stages are dotted in between rows upon rows of food vendors, clothes stalls, and everything in between.
I (Eleanor) brave the queue and heat for an oat milk cappuccino, before we make our way over to the cunningly titled ‘Comedy Tent’ for some giggles with the QI Live crowd. The line up consists of QI regular, Alan Davies, Rachel Parris, Marcus Brigstocke, Lou Sanders, hosted by Sandi Toksvig. whose timely wit made dirty port-a-loos, rice, rubber gloves and a donkey hysterical as well as educational.
After QI Live, we head to the BBC Music tent to catch Deap Vally (a firm favourite of Eleanor’s!) Blaring into life is the introduction to ‘Baby I Call Hell,’ that really gets the crowd going. Mixing the old with the new, Deap Vally blast out their two new singles ‘Bring It On’ and ‘Get Gone’ before concluding their final show with ‘Royal Jelly’.
In the afternoon, we catch Rothwell’s set as we had interviewed her earlier in the day. Rothwell has the voice of Adele, and the alt-pop of Years & Years. It as Rothwell closes her set off-stage that Erin splits to the Lake Stage to catch Sorry and Husky Loops, whilst I (Eleanor) stay in the Alcove to catch the folk trio Wildwood Kin.
Despite suffering a few technical sound setbacks Wildwood Kin’s performance is perfectly executed. Opening with ‘Warrior Daughter’ washed the tent with a calming yet powerful energy that we all took into the night. ‘Circumstance’ and ‘Run’ soon filled out the small tent, with the trio’s beautiful and delicate harmonies, despite it being the first festival they had played, Wildwood Kin are so chilled out I left the tent in a state of tranquility.
As the evening begins to descend, my (Erin) excitement for the night-time is building exponentially. A trio of three of my favourite new artists close the Lake Stage, beginning with London’s lo-fi experimental indie band Sorry (FKA Fish). I’ve seen Sorry live before, supporting Sunflower Bean in Norwich, and my expectations are through the roof. Their studio singles have something special; there’s always a surprise in their music, whether that’s an unexpected electronic section or a saxophone, it doesn’t matter, but they always impress. The band are in their late teens/early twenties, which only makes their wholly individual sound more enviable.
Immediately following Sorry are Husky Loops, a band I’ve supported for over a year and a half. I’ve watched them grow since before they released their first EP, and it fills me with almost a motherly sense of pride to see them perform to so many at such a high-profile festival. Their set takes us through all of their released material, beginning with their most popular single ‘Tempo’, off their debut EP. The entire set is played as a stream of consciousness; performed like a continuous tape, the trio launch into each song without a breath, the backing track between each track their only respite. It’s undoubtedly clear that Husky Loops’ love for hip hop is showing here, with samples and hip hop beats permeating the art-rock sound that defines Husky Loops themselves. Possibly the best I’ve ever seen them, Husky Loops truly make a name for themselves with this genre-bending set. Never before have I become so familiar with a band that not only knows how to create songs completely individual and unrivalled, but also to invent new subgenres before they even have a full-length record out. Mark my words, Husky Loops are going to be absolutely huge. Onstage charisma and bloomin’ banging tunes rarely go unnoticed, and I refuse to let it with Husky Loops.
People must have thought we were addicted to the Lake Stage as we had practically set up camp their while we waited for Confidence Man to appear. Now, I (Eleanor) have not really heard much of Confidence Man, but am ready to watch them with an open mind while Erin was chomping at the bit in excitement. It might be a bold statement considering its only Friday but Confidence Man are the highlight of the whole festival for the both of us.
In retrospect, no, not even a bold statement. Confidence Man are bloody fantastic. It is so much more than the music--whilst their music is beyond brilliant, their tongue-in-cheek style and portrayal of pop as a concept becomes a show within itself. With their heavy synth-electronic-dance-alt-pop and beyond entertaining stage show, Confidence Man light up the crowd and play a show we will never forget.
The buzz of Confidence Man means we are more than ready to witness Solange in all her glory at the Obelisk Arena. The sun is setting and made her perfectly white outfit gleam amongst the orange and pink background. The soulful sound of Solange oozed from the stage and got the crowd swaying and grooving to the likes of ‘Cranes in the Sky,’ ‘Mad’ and ‘Borderline (An Ode to Self Care)’. Solange shows the main headline acts don’t have to deliver a fist full of dance tracks as her honey slick voice and effortless aurora is intoxicating enough. During her set we are able to take a breather from our hectic day so far and enjoy some chilled ambience, taking in the beautiful country surroundings and embracing the cold (for once!)
Saturday arrives with another natural alarm clock and sweat puddle courtesy of the sun turning Tina the tent into a portable sauna. Needless to say it is a leisurely start to the day and running on autopilot from the night before we stumbled to the Oatly coffee car to pick up some much needed caffeine. Looking at our schedule it seemed that today was going to be a much welcomed quiet day after dancing well into the night.
Seeking refuge from the sun we began walking to the Comedy tent to have a sit down and a giggle at ‘Where’s the F in News’, a panel show/live podcast wherein wearing a giant raspberry as a hat and shoplifting tips were the topics of discussion. It strikes me (Erin) as alarming that ‘Where’s the F in News’ is called a political podcast, when the only thing political about it is that it is presented by women. There is nothing outwardly political about the show, other than the sex of the people participating in it. It is simply a--very funny--news panel show. Where’s the politics in that? Oh wait, the fact that women are funny. Haha.
We begin to grow very fond and thankful that Latitude is offering so many entertaining shady spots to rest up before heading back out. An artist I (Erin) never thought I’d see live, Juanita Stein, opens the Obelisk Arena on Saturday afternoon. The previous frontwoman of Howling Bells, one of the bands that defined my childhood music, Stein released an Americana full-length in 2017, and I’m interested to see the change from Howling Bells’ calming indie rock approach. Whilst nothing overly spectacular, Stein does deliver her solo songs with undeniable talent and control, and it is a pleasant opening to Saturday.
As the day progresses, the heat grows. By two pm, it’s almost unbearable, but the queue for lake swimming is over an hour and a half, so we head over to the BBC Music tent for some much-needed shade. Alvvays take the stage with their dreamy grace, playing a contenting mixture of oldies from 2014’s self titled debut, and last year’s second record In Undertow. There’s a definite vibe with Alvvays, in that they’re calming and hazy, and not trying to be anything more. It’s one that certainly works, and it’s a set that is Alvvays in its entirety.
There has been a constant buzz among the festival goes about who the secret set would be all day, and our suspicion that it is Liam Gallagher is correct. We are not blown away by the performance, and it’s not clear if it’s our unfortunate crowd position (amongst the ‘pushers’), or simply the music. I (Erin) have said it before and I’ll say it again: Oasis songs are actually really boring. Hot music take, right there. Seeing them performed live isn’t changing my mind, and we leave after a few songs, ready for a much-needed rest before the headline set.
With stomachs full of canned ravioli and spaghetti hoops (we are students and while the food vendors are mouth-watering, their prices are less so) we venture back into the arena to make sure we bag a decent spot in time for The Killers. The buzz in the crowd is incredible with people spreading back to outside of the Obelisk Arena. As the sun sets, Brandon Flowers and his astonishingly white teeth bound onto the stage to a wave of screaming and shouting. Without a hesitation, ‘The Man’ and ‘Somebody Told Me’ blast onto the main stage and their neighbouring fields; there is no escaping The Killers, they would reach you! Compared to the Solange’s set, The Killers’ music is far more energetic and we are dancing and singing at the top of our lungs. Much to our surprise Brandon invites Liam Gallagher to sing a song with him; Liam refuses and claims he does not know any of The Killers’ songs and promptly leaves, not that The Killers even need Liam’s assistance. Brandon proceeds to tease the crowd with the chords of ‘Smile Like You Mean It’--and we certainly did mean it. In an endless effort to completely finish us off, Brandon keeps teasing the beginning of songs like ‘Jenny Was A Friend of Mine’, ‘Human’, ‘When You Were Young’ and in return we are serenading The Killers with their infamous line ‘“I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” from their track ‘All These Things I’ve Done.’ The mix between old and new means that all fans can get on board with the excellence and energy of this set. There is only one way that The Killers could end their 90 mins set and that is on a brightside--‘Mr. Brightside’. I (Erin) often say I hate ‘Mr. Brightside’, but on this one tiny occasion, I admit that it is world-class. As the band leave the stage and the punters leave the arena, the band’s drummer Ronnie Vanncci Jr. comes to the front of the stage and announces proudly, “Thank you, if you enjoyed tonight then we are The Killers, if not, then we are Kings of Leon”. Top class banter.
Sunday morning comes around in the similar way of sun, sweat and an oven tent cooking Eleanor and Erin alive. We can’t believe that today is the last day as we have barely scratched the surface of what Latitude has to offer. The morning begins with us finding shade near the front of the main stage ready for Black Honey. It seems surreal that only a few hours ago we saw one of the biggest American rock bands and now we are about to see an English rock band as they are just beginning to flourish. I (Eleanor) have seen Black Honey quite a few times before so knew what I was in for. Izzy, Chris, Tommy, and Tom glide onto stage and kick off with their latest single ‘I Only Hurt The Ones I Love,’ which is a hazy and moody track that Izzy drawls while staring down the crowd in a sultry look. We all love it. The set is laced with older tracks as well. There is attitude, professionalism, confidence and a true developed style radiating from the four players. If Black Honey are commanding a stage with this size without even an album out then they will be unstoppable once it drops.
Not a surprise they are on the BBC Stage, as IDLES are famously Steve Lamacq’s (of 6Music) favourite new band, the Bristolian punks are certainly a force to be reckoned with. As left as they come, the five-piece play odes to the NHS and mental health supports. A band with a true ethos, IDLES have the concept of modern punk down to a T, and they are truly an iconic band already.
A band I’m (Erin) sure could headline Latitude already, Wolf Alice meet my expectations and more. Their second album receives its deserved live showing off, and frontwoman Ellie Rowsell’s ferocity is at its usual height. Wolf Alice are, in my words, Britain’s best new band, and their show at Latitude only proves that. They have a spark, an onstage personality that complements their music to no end. Even their oldest songs, namely ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’, sound like they need to be belted out to millions of people. Wolf Alice storm their set and catch the attention of the entire crowd--they’re only on the up.
Closing the festival’s main stage is Alt-J. Alt-J are the epitome of experimental pop, and their second time headlining Latitude is so Alt-J it almost hurts. Beginning with ‘Deadcrush’, the heavy bass infiltrates the crowd immediately. The songs come thick and fast, hardly allowing any chat with the crowd. Whilst this isn’t part of Alt-J’s mantra, it feels somewhat of a letdown--when headlining a major festival, the band need to interact with the crowd. There needs to be some kind of personality, some back and forth, and, yes Alt-J’s music is good enough to speak for itself, but sometimes it feels absent. Alt-J play all of their key tracks, including ‘Matilda’, ‘Bloodflood’, and ‘Every Other Freckle’, but it is only ‘Left Hand Free’ and ‘In Cold Blood’ wherein the band truly shine. Clearly, Alt-J are a trio with multitudes of talent, however, this evening, there was just that little spark missing.
After Alt-J’s headline set, Superorganism are due to play at the tiny Solas stage in the forest. Keen to see the 8-piece collective on the smallest stage of the festival, we choose to end Latitude 2018 with them. There are few bands that can pull off a performance like Superorganism can; it is the most intimate, bizarre, but brilliant performance of our whole time at Latitude and a perfect way to conclude it. The set is short, consisting of ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’ ‘Something for you M.I.N.D’ and ‘The Prawn Song.’ We stumble back to our tent as their encore cover of Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party In The USA’ blares.
Reflecting on the whole experience it is incredible what we have achieved in three days and proves our theory that time passes differently at festivals. We saw both some of our favourite bands of all time, and discovered some new ones. The eclectic nature of the music at Latitude has not been bad (but every year festivals need to work on racial and gender diversity but thats for a different time), and allowed for a variety of musical tastes to be quenched. In general, there was plenty to see, eat (recommend the vegan hoisin duck sushi wrap and vegan all day breakfast burger!), and dance to. Festivals are always exhausting, but the buzz of the crowds, the music, the entertainment Latitude boasts is unrivalled.
Our Latitude Big Mood? Only 363 days till the next one.