Latitude 2021 review: An atmosphere of disbelief and elation surrounds the UK’s first full-capacity festival

Wolf Alice headline the Obelisk Arena (Jacob King / PA)
Wolf Alice headline the Obelisk Arena (Jacob King / PA)

“We don’t have the words,” declares Ellie Rowsell, the lead singer of Wolf Alice, as she catches her breath following a ferocious performance of “Smile”. She’s talking about the 40,000 revellers moshing in the field in front of her. Illuminated by the stage’s green neon lights, the crowd looks like a horde of sweaty, grinning aliens. Indeed, after 18 months of learning how to keep our distance, all of us strangers thrashing against one another feels otherworldly.

Latitude is the first full-capacity festival to go ahead since the pandemic. At this point, we’d be happy dancing around a paddock to someone’s Spotify playlist – but Latitude is most definitely not that. The festival is out in full force. A single excursion onto the site is enough to confirm that. People queue for a chance to cool off in the lake. The comedy tent spills out into the surrounding area, with laughs rippling through from Katherine Ryan’s mic to the very back of the audience. Even poetry readings bring in a full house. Meanwhile, the Barclaycard Lookout hovers over the main Obelisk stage for those looking for a reprieve from the crowd below, where groups of people snake in and around one another, either drunk or just delirious from the sheer excitement of it all.

Like Roswell says, it’s tough to find the words. Not that other artists don’t try. Over the next 72 hours, the same sentiment of sheer disbelief and elation is shared ad nauseum. Maisie Peters says she hasn’t left her bedroom in two years. Meanwhile, The Vaccines – a late surprise addition to Sunday’s line-up – close out their set with a pithily accurate: “This is really f*****g amazing”. The typically soul-baring Holly Humberstone appeals to that niggling part in the backs of our minds when she pleads: “I’m around people for the first time in ages, so please bear with.” Few acts venture down the political route. It’s only Rudimental who proclaim that “they [read: government] are trying to restrict our freedom”...

There are signs of the pandemic, for sure. All attendees had to provide proof of either full vaccination or a negative lateral flow test prior to entry (Fontaines DC and Arlo Parks were forced to pull out last-minute following positive results). The event is entirely cashless, meaning that my bank statement becomes a permanent and shameful record of how many £7 bacon baps I give into. This year, the usually enclosed circus big top of the BBC Sounds Stage has dropped its walls to increase ventilation. Plus, the grand total of six face masks that I spot are cursory reminders of the world outside Henham Park, Suffolk. There’s also the fact that Latitude is proceeding under the government’s Events Research Programme. Not that anyone notices. Everyone is here to have a good time, human guinea pigs or not.

Smaller acts thrive in the heightened atmosphere, which dictates that any and all performances are met with a perhaps disproportionately ecstatic welcome. Four-piece indie group Khartoum channel Queen when they play to a raucous audience at the festival’s after-hours Trailer Park stage, encircled by neon-lit woodland. The frontman giddily leaps between amps and crowd surfs among an audience who are likely oblivious to who he or his band are. Similarly, Griff – hot off her Brit Rising Star win earlier this year – successfully rouses unfamiliar listeners that stand beyond the 15-year-old girls belting out her lyrics at her feet.

It’s the Chemical Brothers who sum up Latitude best, though. The Saturday night headliners manage to distil the weekend’s euphoric energy into one prolonged set that reminds everyone what it’s like to feel a bassline rippling through your body. And when it begins showering for the first and only time all weekend, it’s a welcome cool-down from all the sweaty dancing, which darts back and forth between big, rowdy mosh pits and the all-time classic of just jumping up and down.

Moshing is practically a given at any of the headliners. Sometimes it fits the tone of the performance, other times it just feels like people need the release. Despite the care-free, let-loose spirit of it all, festival-goers are uncharacteristically courteous. Sure, endless trains of people joined by hands will barge past you, but they’ll apologise while doing it. And every time I get stuck behind a tall person, they turn around to apologise for their physical stature and scoot across a little to allow for my significantly lower eye-line to peer through.

It seems everything is going right for Latitude this year. Not least, the weather. All signs – and by that, I mean the little cloud emojis on BBC weather – had pointed to rain and storms all weekend. Instead, we’re met with the perfect medium of partly cloudy. It even gives way to frequent spells of intense sunshine, leaving British, summer-adverse shoulders red and freckled. When it stormed in London on Sunday, Latitude had its sunniest day yet. If that’s not fortuitous, I don’t know what is.

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