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Review: Latitude Festival’s Triumphant Return Reminds Us of What We’ve All Been Missing

“Inked across the sky, cut from soft velour, the sexy leather jacket shagger crew.” – Euan Pennycook, VLURE.

To master an unforgettable festival lineup takes creative intuition, tears and confidence. In a year where international touring is a novelty trapped in limbo, and those of us here in the country are too, caught within the uncertainties, it takes a special kind of someone (or someone’s) to push through and emerge the other side scathed, but with an unshakeably courageous desire to keep on going. 

Against all pandemic related odds, Latitude Festival, a 40,000-cap long-weekender set in the heart of Suffolk, was given the all clear to go ahead after a year out of the game. Serving as the UK’s first full-capacity festival post COVID-19, Latitude was regarded as a “trial” for future large scale events to come, as proof of a negative test result was mandatory for all attendees (punters, guests and artists alike), and those camping were required to register a follow up result, 72 hours upon entrance to the site.

Folly Group by April Arabella

Whilst all was seemingly going to plan, that’s not to say that dropping the mask and donning some wellies was enough to shield us from our present reality. Flexibility was essential, and as festival darling’s Fontaines D.C, Arlo Parks and PVA were all forced to pull out last minute due to positive COVID testings, three very different, but nonetheless class stand-in’s were called to arms in the form of Sleaford Mods, the rhythmic collective Folly Group, and Glaswegian New-Romantic’s Walt Disco; the latter of whom joined the bookers ranks of Scottish “one’s to watch” (VLURE, Lucia & The Best Boys) in painting Latitude’s dulcet Henham Park backdrop, in synth-driven swashes of aesthetically idiosyncratic splendour.

Watching the post-punk genre benders VLURE, is a gluttonously visceral experience paralleled to nothing else. For a band at the start of their careers, being one of the first acts on is no easy feat, however a healthy number of eager spectators (most of whom were dressed in leather and donned a mullet to some degree) emerged out of the woods. As the crowds began to gather, the anticipatory hubbub was interrupted abruptly by a spoken word poem “inspired by the drunken ramblings of the most soulful man I know”, written and performed by honorary band member Euan Pennycook. 

A fully communal experience, VLURE were the perfect remedy to a year and a half of socially-distanced existence. Lead out-cryer Hamish Hutcheson and guitarist Conor Goldie (donning a pink shaven head with spider web imprint) dared to do what no-man has done for a long while; get in amongst the crowd and feel something. Staring straight into the souls of anyone who dared to join them in letting go, VLURE were a beautifully stark reminder of music’s ability to bring people together- creating a half an hour moment of shared-sanctity, amongst the trauma of routine isolation.

Vlure by Katie Willoughby

Without a shadow of a doubt, the apple of most people’s eye on Friday evening was the Isle of White based and Domino signed newcomers, Wet Leg. With a queue to their 7:30pm set extending further than the line to the post-office throughout the last year and a half, it would take sheer strength and uncharacteristic festival-goer nonchalance, to not want to find out what the fuck was taking place inside the intimately compact Alcove stage.

Those in the know may have caught the dynamic pairing of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, running around the fields late at night with an unplugged foam microphone in hand- “it’s for a podcast”, declares Teasdale as she dances to the sweet, sweet jangle of Falmouth’s Holiday Ghosts. No further questions were asked.

With just one single to their name, a track of which chants along the lines of: “On the chaise longue, on the chaise longue, on the chaise longue, all day long, on the chaise longue”, Wet Leg are your new favourite alt-indie-daydream; masterfully combining a uniquely addictive plethora of anthemic deadpan, clean-cut chords, and sparklingly nonsensical wisdom. If this performance was anything to go by (as they often are), Wet Leg will guaranteed be the root cause of many more winding queues to come.

Wet Leg by Katie Willoughby

“I’m very fucking emotional right now” declares Theo Ellis of Wolf Alice, mid-way through their Friday night headline. The sky’s turned from peach to a fittingly captivating cobalt, and the crowd and band alike are all doing their best not to cry. Having released their third studio album, ‘Blue Weekend’ a mere month prior, Wolf Alice are rightfully elated, and their desire to wear their hearts on their sleeves despite totally dominating the main stage, was a refreshingly human attitude towards the the entire affair- giving a sense of approachability to the “rock n roll” name. 

With a set that drifted fearlessly between ‘Giant Peach’s shimmering adolescence, the siren-esque allure of ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, and the disgustingly cool furiosity of ‘Smile’, Wolf Alice one again owned their three-time bestowed title of ‘reigning champions of the alternative’, with dazzling effect.

Wolf Alice by Katie Willoughby

As far as quote-on-quote “smaller-scale” acts go, it would appear as though no festival in the last three years is fully complete without an appearance from Bristol’s Squid, and post-punk provocavators Shame. In fact, so in demand are both bands, they were booked as COVID stand-in’s for another festival in between their Latitude duties. 

Straight off of the back of their debut album ‘Bright Green Field’, Squid are on peak form, charming the crowd with undulations of contemporary Krautrock whilst Shame’s bassist Josh Finnerty, is a raucous joy to watch; tearing up and down the BBC Sounds stage in a chaotically charming haze of liberation, and un-choreographed anarchy. This was live music at its most instinctive, and boy did it feel good.

Despite the predicted forecast of rain, followed by showers, followed by a near biblical retreat into total wetness, Latitude was a blissfully sunny occasion; a British summertime miracle a bit like Wimbledon being given the all-clear to go ahead, whilst across the country music venues remained shut, ignored, and unsupported.

Shame by April Arabella

Grievances aside, as faux-brothers Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands took to the main stage, no soul could have foreshadowed the storm to come. First there was a whisper of rain- though it was hard to tell whether the sky had actually begun to open, or if the crowd were just sweaty as fuck. As tiny little beads of natural goodness danced down during the aptly titled ‘Free Yourself’, the larger, more substantial droplets saved their appearance ‘til midway through the set- washing away any lingering apprehensions until there was nothing left for the crowd to do, but throw their arms up in the air in unison as they galvanized hand-in-hand, cheek-to-cheek, and heart-to-heart.

Two days into the festival and the feeling of being “back”, was relatively unanimous. That being said, there’s no denying that it took a thousand odd folk dancing manically in a field to the Chemical Brothers, for us to return.

Todmorden’s Working Men’s Club are an act with live-notoriety, and a reputable determination to match. Totally owning their 8:30pm dusk-fall slot, standout number ‘Teeth’, taken off of their self-titled debut, was a hedonistic crowd-pleaser which screamed to be performed in a bell tent, to the nth degree of rave necessity. Frontman ​​Syd Minsky-Sargeant may be young, but his showmanship is a long-lasting legacy blossoming before our very eyes.

Working Men’s Club by April Arabella

The full extent of Latitude Festival 2021’s success remains to be seen. Whilst the reality of the outside world remains, few can disagree that three days spent cut-off from the daily mundanity with your nearest and dearest, and a back-to-back indulgence of impeccable music was one that’ll be spoken about and cherished for a long time to come.

Photos by April Arabella and Katie Willoughby

Header by April Arabella

Issue Thirty-Two of So Young is out now Ft. Chubby and the Gang, Wolf Alice, The Goa Express, English Teacher and more. You can grab your copy in print from the shop or read the digital edition below.