On Monday 26th August 2019, 105,000 people packed up their bags, strapped muddy tents haphazardly to their backs and trudged home covered in dust, dodgy tan lines and beer stains. It wasn’t an uncommon scene – Monday morning blues and sore heads after a weekend of festival-fuelled revelry was something we were all accustomed to – the revellers, however, were blissfully unaware that this would be the last time we would see such scenes for the best part of 18 months.
Reading Festival 2019 – held over the bank holiday weekend of August – was the last major festival held in the UK before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country and, as the pandemic hit, thoughts of live music in any format seemed like a far distant memory. The no-holds barred, hedonistic and unnecessarily grimey setting of a UK music festival was an unachievable feat, something most of us had grown to accept we wouldn’t experience again, for a few years at least.
Stumbling around a grotty field, trodding on toes as you fought for a good spot at the main stage and squatting in the world’s most unhygienic portaloos became so far detached from our current reality that we weren’t even sure it had once been allowed ourselves. The music festival fable, then, became reserved solely for those “come on Grandma, let’s get you to bed” memes, and our tents, air beds and sleeping bags were thrust to the back of our wardrobes or airing cupboards, presumed never to see the light of day again.
But, this weekend, the festival gods pulled off the impossible. As Latitude Festival opened its gates last Thursday, 40,000 people descended upon Suffolk’s Henham Park for the first major full capacity weekend camping festival to happen – anywhere in the world, according to organiser Melvin Benn – in 695 days.
And, it was a good one. From middle class families with their oat milk lattes and children placed carefully on picnic blankets, to rowdy teenagers celebrating the end of exams, and perhaps the entirety of South London’s music scene traipsing through the woods looking like a merry crew of art school rejects, Latitude 2021 injected us with a healthy dose of the live music and merriment we had all been missing.
Kicking off Friday’s proceedings with an energy we could only dream of possessing that soon after lunchtime, Lynks brought their notoriously eclectic live show to an excitable main stage audience. Parading about in a flashy denim two piece – complete with matching balaclava – Lynks tore through fan favourites ‘Everyone’s Hot (And I’m Not) and ‘Desperate and Lovely, in Desperate Need of Love’ whilst inciting swathes of stroppy teenagers, middle aged mums and small children to get to their feet.
Offering up a sneak preview of new, and very ingeniously named, track ‘Big Bad Bitch’ Lynks resembled a slightly more successful, high-fashion version of house festival name Mr Motivator. And, just when watching groups of testosterone-filled teenage lads pummel each other in a moshpit to shouts of “Hot straight boys / Who like / Hot straight girls” couldn’t get any more ironic, Shame frontman and post-punk chieftain Charlie Steen was wheeled out for a cameo performance of collaboration ‘This Is The Hit.’ While it might have seemed a little early on for full-blown theatrics, Lynks’ cult live show served as a suitable introduction to a weekend of surrealism.
After fighting through the crowds that had gathered to catch Lynks main stage revelry, we caught Edinburgh indie-pop four-piece swim school play their first ever English festival set to a packed out tent over at The Alcove. With a queue out the door and mosh pits erupting to each and every song, the band marked themselves out clearly as ones to watch as they launched an early entry for set of the weekend. Basking in the energy thrown back at them from the crowd, the set was a jubilant celebration of new music that felt both intimate and exciting.
By mid-afternoon it was clear the allure and energy created by the first few sets was here to stay, and as Dream Wife took to the BBC Sounds stage, the iconic yellow and blue tent was packed out. Storming through their notorious live show – and touching on feminism, body image and sexual assault in the process – Dream Wife’s rambunctious alloy of screeching guitars and biting lyricism was complemented by a sea of rowdy young people thrashing about in one of the weekend’s more empowering moments.
Despite a handful of sound issues tainting their much-awaited return to live music, Swim Deep’s early evening dalliance in The Ballroom – a Friday-only, marquee style tent that had hosted a showing of Wolf Alice’s new Blue Weekend film earlier in the evening – provided a nice blast of mid 2010s nostalgia. Blending newer tracks from 2019’s Harry Styles-approved Emerald Classics with the band’s early cult material, the set provided a nice trip down memory lane.
Topping off the evening – and proving themselves more than worthy of such a prestigious slot – indie rock sweethearts Wolf Alice’s headline set was as intimate as it was assured. Verifying the long-held belief that the band have matured well beyond their years, the London four-piece held their own as they powered through an emotional amalgam of softer ballads and scrappy rock tracks alike.
Whilst some of the crowd were clearly unfamiliar with the band’s newer material – Blue Weekend was only released just shy of two months ago – karaoke-style sing-a-long visuals for the likes of ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ and sped-up high energy riffs in ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ kept the audience on their feet, and older classics like ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Bros’ were neatly slotted throughout the set to uphold momentum.
Stepping up at the last moment to take the place of teenage singer-songwriter Alfie Templeman – one of many of the weekend’s COVID-casualties – middle class marauders Sports Team kicked off the Saturday afternoon proceedings with their ever-so-slightly insufferable brand of post-punk privilege. While the six-piece might have been a tad worse for wear after a bit of festival-fuelled revelry the night before – a fact lead singer Alex Rice seemed to take great pride in, as he bragged about his “one hour of sleep” like a broody 17-year old after a night in Pryzm with a fake I.D – the band were undeterred as they gyrated their way through their twelve-track-strong set.
Serving as a suitable introduction to the hectic Saturday night schedule to come, sullen North Londoners Sorry dished out a very intense forty-five minutes of sardonic sounds. Right off the back of their stellar 2020 debut 925, the band brought a subtle blend of nonchalance and angst to their Sunset Arena slot. Glaring out at the audience with her token brooding indifference, ringwoman Asha Lorenz jittered her way through crowd favourites ‘Snakes’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,’ before offering a glimpse toward album two future with a skeletal rendition of unreleased track ‘There’s So Many People That Want To Be Loved.’
Sticking with the theme, we hung around to catch shape-shifting West Yorkshire upstarts Working Men’s Club’s genre-bending brand of electronic-infused post-punk. The first of many gigs of the weekend in which a skulky lead singer managed to rapidly shed most of his clothing in a way only socially acceptable for a young and trendy white man, teenage chieftain Sydney Minsky-Sargeant deftly forced derisive persona on a more-than-willing audience. Theatricals aside, Minsky-Sargeant’s brainchild of stomping rave-tinged beats and bellowing, at times claustrophobic, vocals set us up for the night ahead.
Bailing on The Chemical Brothers after three songs “for the cause of new music,” on Saturday evening we trudged away from the electronic beats of the main stage and settled amongst an intimate and attentive crowd at the Trailer Park. Amidst the stage’s whimsical backdrop of washing lines, garish ‘70s wallpaper and glitter streamers – and just as the first hint of rain started to fall – newbies Lime Garden offered up a promising glimmer into their world of psych-funk allure. One of the more magical moments of the weekend, the Brighton four-piece served up an intoxicating cocktail of earworm melodies, lo-fi murmurs and nonchalant, wry lyricism, ideal for a late night out in the rain.
Perhaps it was dodgy scheduling, the thought of returning to the real, COVID-infested world or just the three nights of hedonism that had come before, but by Sunday the mood seemed to have dropped across the festival site. On the search for a much needed pick-me-up, we headed to the main stage to catch singer, songwriter and internet meme sensation Rick Astley. Full of optimism and ready for a little mid-afternoon dance, we were greeted by Rick proclaiming to his couple-of-thousand-strong audience how “stinking rich” he is, before growling down his mic and bursting into a rendition of a song that can only be described as something other than ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’
Undeterred, but definitely disheartened, we retreated to the safety of the scenic Sunset Arena where sulky Dundalk five-piece Just Mustard were making a start on what would become one of the sets of the weekend. Whilst the Irish shoegazers might have been better suited to one of the earlier days of the weekend, their meticulous brand of fragmented drums and boisterous reverb cut through any early-evening blues.
Promoted to an almost-headline slot on the BBC Sounds stage, rowdy South London lads Shame delivered an effortlessly theatrical mesh of old fan favourites and ground-breaking second album material. Despite emerging to a markedly smaller crowd than the band might have expected – the big top less than a third full, we’re blaming that Bombay Bicycle Club clash – the five-piece took it in their stride with lead singer Charlie Steen undeterred from offering one of the weekend’s most outlandish and intense performances.
“This is a new one,” Steen agitated before launching into ‘One Rizla,’ the band’s most listened to track on Spotify, proving the front man’s usual snark and wit was unfettered by the weekend of revelry the band admitted to indulging in. Settling into their supporting roles – and fuelled by dark humour and discordant riffs – guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith and bassist Josh Finerty pirouetted about the stage with suitable vigour and, as ringleader Steen pounded his bare chest and flung his arms about to the likes of ‘Concrete’ and ‘Station Wagon,’ it became apparent it wouldn’t have mattered had there been 15 or 15,000 people in the tent.
View the full gallery of photos from the weekend here.