Latitude festival review – anthems for these paranoid times

Henham Park, Suffolk
Perfume Genius and Chvrches triumph at event that offers lakeside yoga and invigorating talks from Louis Theroux

“What time is the wine tasting?” comes a voice from an adjacent tent. Now in its 11th year, Latitude owns its lane as the UK’s most unashamedly middle-class festival. You can pay a “charity concierge” £5 to queue for drinks while you do yoga by the lake, catch invigorating talks on women and power, or queue to see Adam Buxton and Louis Theroux in a tent as packed as for any of the weekend’s marquee acts.

On Friday, that’s France’s Christine and the Queens, whose Héloïse Letissier continues her one-woman campaign to show Britain everything it’s missing after voting to leave the EU. Her slippery dance routines and affirmations about self-acceptance are well practised by now but the magnitude of the crowd sends her off-script. Tilted is met with a minute-long ovation, and the routine where she compares a bunch of flowers to major pop stars goes rogue when she takes a bite out of “Rihanna” that she immediately spits out, saying: “This was a terrible idea to eat a flower on stage.”

Little girls perched on their parents’ shoulders grin wide: the potential effect of seeing a performer like Letissier at a young age is thrilling. And Latitude gets a world first when she brings out the preceding act, Perfume Genius’s Mike Hadreas, for an immensely moving rendition of their duet, Jonathan.

Pink sheep relax beneath the Latitude sign.
Pink sheep relax beneath the Latitude sign. Photograph: James Gourley/Rex/Shutterstock

Hadreas’s own set is a similar triumph. “I want you to gaze upon me,” he instructs, unleashing an evil grin during Grid, and yelping furiously on his cover of obscure Canadian singer Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Body In Trouble. His and Letissier’s avant garde spirit defines Friday: Hana brings her experimental bubblegum to a stage that resembles the jam-judging pavilion at a local fete, and reappears in Grimes’s band later on during a set that feels like a greatest hits performance. Realiti and Flesh Without Blood are so feral that Claire Boucher asks the pogoing crowd to look after themselves, but they ignore her advice, losing it at the first sign of Oblivion’s rubbery beat and Kill V Maim’s cyber rave.

Saturday is less adventurous but just as dependable. Meilyr Jones subverts balladeering with his Dexys-inspired dandying, and Chvrches are typically pneumatic, having long got over their awkward phase. Frontwoman Lauren Mayberry pops up in the National’s headlining set, duetting on I Need My Girl with Matt Berninger, whose performance style has also grown notably less tortured over the past few years.

Adam Buxton in conversation with Louis Theroux.
Adam Buxton in conversation with Louis Theroux at Latitude, Southwold. Photograph: Ben Matthews/Rex/Shutterstock

The only band to headline Latitude twice, the National are in between records, and using the summer’s festivals to test-run material from their prospective seventh album. The Cincinnati five-piece play five new songs: The Day I Die has a kicky riff and medicated vocals, while Find A Way recalls early highlight, About Today.

Berninger calls an unnamed new one “our prom song”. “Kind of depressing,” he deadpans. “It’s super sexy though.” He spits beer on to the stage during Afraid Of Everyone, which increasingly feels like an anthem for these paranoid times, and they close in time-honoured fashion, leading the crowd in an acoustic rendition of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks. For all the extracurricular activities on offer at Latitude, nothing beats moments like these.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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