Live Review

The new guard rule at Latitude 2021

23rd - 25th July 2021

Latitude cements the bubbling undercurrent of great British music, a vital snapshot of the strength and resilience of the UK scene.

With its broad line-up and its modest capacity of 40,000, Latitude has long been the inaugural ground for future festival mainstays. Across its 15 years, it consistently celebrates the new as much as the established. This year, as Covid forces organisers to look closer to home to fill the sprawling festival site, the impressive array of names welcomed to each stage feels all the more celebratory. In its three main days and nights, Latitude cements the bubbling undercurrent of great British music, a vital snapshot of the strength and resilience of the UK scene.

The charge is led by Friday’s headliners Wolf Alice, appearing at Henham Park as their first major festival headline slot off the back of this year’s Mercury Prize shortlisted ‘Blue Weekend’. There’s something genuinely transformative about their sound, one that mirrors the seemingly endless twists and turns of Latitude’s forest paths. The tinge of psychedelia rings out with a powerful hedonism, brilliantly interrupted by the punk bravado of ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ and ‘Yuk Foo’. But it’s tracks such as ‘Lipstick On The Glass’, the otherworldly ‘Feeling Myself’, and the cataclysmic encore of ‘The Last Man On Earth’ that present Wolf Alice at their most unique. Set against the clear, starry sky, it’s as mystical as the festival itself, and a clear lesson to newcomers further down the line-up just what is possible.

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And the Latitude line-up isn’t short of exciting emerging talent. Away from the comedy and theatre that attract a huge portion of punters, much of the line-up is cut between guitar-led indie and the unstoppable new wave of pop. In the latter camp, the biggest buzz is reserved for recent BRIT Rising Star winner Griff, whose incredible voice and relaxed persona sees her take to the festival’s main stage, the Obelisk Arena. Only her second festival to date, both across one weekend, her familiarity with the stage is instant. Although the biggest reaction is launched by breakthrough ‘Black Hole’, a heartfelt moment where she offers her BRIT statue to a young person she used to look after stops the festival in its tracks. There’s something particularly moving about this display of generosity, given what the world has endured.

It’s this atmosphere that permeates across Latitude’s picturesque site, from the main arena flanked by the new Barclaycard Lookout viewing platform to the vast corners of the illuminated forest. There’s an unparalleled air of humility and respect. Even the heavy hitters are visibly ecstatic to be back on a stage, with the festival’s largest daytime crowds reserved for Supergrass and Rick Astley. There’s no shaming the novelty of hearing the former’s ‘Alright’ or the latter’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, and there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about the euphoric reaction to both. The Vaccines provide a likeminded feel with their eagerly anticipated return, as ‘If You Wanna’ reverberates out of the packed BBC Sounds stage to round off their surprise afternoon set. While Sea Girls easily live up to their main stage positioning with their massive choruses, inciting some seriously joyous singalongs.

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The palpable euphoria can be seen across all faces throughout the weekend, not least as The Chemical Brothers dominate with a mesmerising headline performance. Launching straight into ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ pays off, with the festival on its feet through to the ‘Block Rockin’ Beats’ finale. A giant robot backdrop really helps to set the mood. Yet euphoria comes in many shapes and sizes, as rising pop powerhouse GRACEY proves on the comparably demure Sunrise Arena. Her early Sunday evening set is filled with enough energy to rival any festival closer, demonstrating a stage presence that would make many more established acts green with envy.

By the end of the weekend, it’s this new guard that rule the roost. Holly Humberstone invites pin drop silence to the second stage for her intoxicating blend of emo-pop. London’s Lava La Rue welcomes the outcasts and misfits to the festival’s second stage with a series of unabashed songs delivered with perfection, for one of the best sets of the weekend. Phoebe ΔΧΔ glides effortlessly from the haunting power-pop of ‘Hurts A Little Less’ to a collection of electro-infused emotionally charged numbers. And much like Griff and GRACEY, all share the ability to bring together perfect pop hooks with powerful lyrics, for a brilliant delivery.

But perhaps the spirit of Latitude is best distilled into Wet Leg’s Friday evening show at The Alcove, a space that wouldn’t feel out of place at your boozy village fete. Packed full of excited onlookers on one single alone (that’s ‘Chaise Longue’ in case you didn’t know), it’s one of those immediate “I was there” moments that have been so heavily missed over the past 18 months. And for Latitude, it’s another clear example of how championing the underdog can lead to something truly special.

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