Ten years ago, Latitude Festival was born to “rewrite the festival rulebook”; to combine music with culture, inviting guests to discover a curious wonderment of poetry, music, literature and comedy, escaping reality and exploring bewilderment. A decade on, and Latitude continues to master this art. Enticing over 20,000 families, energetic teenagers and middle-aged pear cider consumers alike, Latitude is certainly a festival that stands true to its ethos; to be a multi-arts boutique event set to challenge the festival status quo. And on its tenth birthday, Latitude certainly pulled out all the stops to make this celebration one to remember.
The festival kicked off in style on Friday, with a plethora of home-grown talent and hard-hitting headliners ready to entertain the crowds of thousands. As tents were barely even unzipped, funnyman Alan Davies took to the stage of the Comedy Arena for a 45 minute masterclass in worthy stand-up at its finest. The QI team captain created a sea of giggles throughout his set, albeit in a routine that seemed slightly reined in for the younger crowd gazing at him with wide-eyes and confused faces.
After playing a touch of table tennis at the ping-pong thunderdrome at Pandora’s Playground, we saw the incredible Santigold perform hits such as Disparate Youth and Big Mouth at the Obelisk Arena, bringing the enthusiastic crowd up on stage to dance alongside her. However, it was four-piece Kendal indie rock band Wild Beasts who were definitely ones to watch – now in their sixth year playing at Latitude, the band performed intensely and luminously, with tracks such as Wanderlust epitomizing why this band are brought back to the festival year after year.
Now, some of the lucky 1,000 Latitude goers were overwhelmingly excited to witness the secret set of Ed Sheeran in the enigmatic, cosy setting of the iArena stage at 11pm. The pin-up ginger apparently wowed fans with an array of acoustic covers; from Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine to Blackstreet’s No Diggity – I say apparently, as I was one of the unlucky ditherers who missed it, instead smiling giddily at the prospect of just seeing the euphoric set that Alt-J had just performed.
Returning to Latitude for the third time, Alt-J are a band with that touch of originality that has mesmerised many. As the sun set on Henham park, the Leeds three-piece allowed their distinctive sound to drizzle onto the stage with a hauntingly charged performance of Hunger of the Pine, soon detonating the crowd into a frenzy with the epic classic Fitzpleasure. Sullen blue light and thick haze pervaded across the stage throughout the set, with classics such as Left Hand Free and Matilda allowing the mixed audience to transpire into a palpable live adventure fit for the masses. With whispers emerging that Ed Sheeran was in fact dwelling in the woods, the teenage heavy crowd tangibly began to disperse for the forests – but it didn’t take away the shine of Alt-J’s performance, and the rest of us gazed on to witness why this band were fully deserving of their headline spot.
We headed off to the comedy tent at the crack of dawn (11am) for a bit of light-hearted laughs to begin the day – in the form of Funz and Gamez, a show with an all singing host, an elf and a dog playing the piano. Sure, it has all the ingredients for a tacky kids act, but this was anything but – it was inappropriate, weird and absolutely hilarious. The songs were awful, the jokes were purely for adults and the kids had absolutely no idea – “Life lesson number six! Don’t get too close to your Grandma.” An unexpectedly hilarious show, an occurrence that happened repeatedly at Latitude.
The picturesque Waterfront Stage, set amidst the beautiful Latitude Lake – where revellers could in fact swim and enjoy a free gondola ride – played host to some fantastic acts over the weekend. Saturday bought Chilly Gonzales and the Kaiser Quartett, a classical music act who impressed the crowd so much they received a standing ovation – which, with a crowd of mainly over 65’s, should not be taken lightly. Sadler’s Wells presented an opulent display of dance acts on the stage; from Roja and Rodriguez’ Titanium to the BBC Young Dancer of the Year finalists, there was an eclectic blend of raw ballet, to hip-hop performances, through to contemporary dance. The routines were breath-taking, awe-inspiring and simply beautiful to watch – whether you understood the concept of dance or did not. It was astounding, and a true celebration of the wonderful cultural diversity that Latitude embraces.
Badly Drawn Boy’s performance at the Obelisk Arena was interesting, yet not memorable; but what we’ll all certainly remember was his sour, arrogant demeanour at his “5k” festival fee. “I’m one of the best artists of the last 20 years.” he told the bewildered crowd. “I deserve more.”
Both José González and Laura Marling charmed their audience with stunning performances at the Obelisk arena, while Manchester indie band The Charlatans brought their wistfully glorious Britpop sound to the BBC Radio 6 Stage. But what so many had been whispering their excitement for was James Blake. Injecting electronic beats with his melodic, soulful voice, he certainly pulled off an impressive and widely diverse set, gaining many a fan in the process.
The night, however, belonged to Portishead. As the majority of the younger audience shot off to see The Vaccines over at the BBC Radio 6 Stage, the rest of us were able to encounter the atmospheric and hypnotic sounds in peace, enhanced with the melancholy, haunting visuals of unnerving surroundings. The set was a cacophony of cinematic splendour, Beth Gibbon’s ghostly and poetic voice hauntingly travelling through songs such as Machine Gun and Glory Box to a crowd lost in a trance-like state. Noone really expected Beth to crowdsurf, but she hurtled into the crowd anyway. Noone really expected Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to join Portishead on stage for the encore, but he did it anyway. Noone really expected Portishead to be so euphoric, sensational and explosive, but they were. And damn it, they were by far the best act at the entire festival.
With revellers aiding their hangovers with a £8 breakfast roll, Sunday began with the absolutely hilarious Last Leg Live in the comedy tent. Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker brought the Channel 4 hit to the stage, and before long every crowd member was vibrating with laughter, even more so after racing both Alex and Adams’ prosthetic legs through the crowd.
Sir Bob Geldof and co caused a hurricane of festival-goers to race to the front of the main stage, as Irish punk act the Boomtown Rats performed hits such as Someones looking at You and I don’t like Monday’s to a crowd of thousands. It wasn’t a favourite for the children, as the majority seemed to be doing cartwheels and handstands. But the parents, lager in hand, seemed to be absolutely lapping up every second of it.
The beauty of Latitude is the pure fortuitous run-ins with a diverse assortment of weird and wonderful happenings in each corner of the festival; from a live mime performance, to book signings, to a herd of pink sheep, to an early morning yoga session, there’s so much for you to witness and discover – at one point, we walked through the forest to see snow white in a coffin, who then stood up – fully naked – for us all to draw her. Only at Latitude.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds brought the festival to a blissful close on Sunday. With an impressive band behind him, Gallagher delivered crowd-pleasers and unknown songs alike, not least prompting mass sing-a-longs with Oasis classics like Don’t Look Back in Anger. And who can blame him? Although not one to live up to the phenomenal performance by Portishead last night, it was a well-received by the ‘crowd of Guardian readers’ he assumes goes to Latitude, and a perfect way to end the festival.
The past decade has proved Latitude as an unconventional, yet magical adventure for all those who attend. Though clearly designed as a family-friendly festival, its sublime diverse culture allows anyone – of any age – to experience something different, something new, and something that can spark inspiration. To read about it is one thing – to experience it is another. Latitude is one of the most magnificent festivals I have had the pleasure of attending, and one I will surely wish to return to in future.