Raving babies, 80s punk incarnated, and a comedy tent to put Edinburgh fringe to the test, Latitude Festival is officially the mini Glastonbury minus the mud, cesspits and hipster hoards

There’s a certain masochism in festivaling, particularly the British kind – wadding around in thigh deep mud, trying not to spill the other half of your £5 pint, holding your nose and nether regions in the endless portaloo queue, wondering where else you might have spent what looks likely to hit £400 total spend…but the music, the atmosphere, the reckless abandon of the greasy-haired, glitter-plastered attendees – you simply can’t beat it.

Having reached a good 10 years since popping my festival cherry, I was wondering if such days may finally be over, after miserably failing to nab Glastonbury tickets and the once 30-strong group of fellow uni ravers seeming to have all but dissipated, tied up at weddings and on holiday with their parents.

And then there was Latitude – some friends were going and the lineup was solid. Granted, its ‘family friendly‘ reputation didn’t ring of a wild time. But such connotations were not borne out by reality.

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Latitude won Best Family Day Out (Prima Baby Awards) 2015

Rather than any dumbing down of the festival experience to accommodate the vast number of little ‘uns present, the diverse ages of festival-goers added a whole new dimension – finding myself head banging next to a couple around the 70 mark to The Slaves, passing smiling babies with florescent pink mini sound-excluders on the noisy lawns, and making way for kids on mum’s shoulders pushing with everyone else to get prime viewing at the front of the Obelisk stage for The Macabees.

The Maccabees seemed to be having an even better time on stage than the beaming crowds

You could find outfits of every kind mingled with the metallic lycra dresses and sequin leotards of the London-whence crowd. And a drum ‘n’ bass fix (if that’s your thing) was still very much available, as was the sight of loved up 14-year-olds sliding past sweaty chests in chain gangs to the mosh pit at the Sunrise Arena in the woods.

David Rodigan took the Sunrise Arena on a journey through reggae

There were a few awkward moments but only a few – a particularly sweary comedy compare’s gags fell flat on the ears of toddlers and their shellshocked parents. And following a sleeping 5-year-old being towed back to camp on a wooden trailer by two wasted women in black lace left me wondering if I’d seen a social services tent…

Latitude Festival
Latitude Festival – not a mud pit in sight

But overall – a perception perhaps biased by the un-British perpetual sunshine – it worked. The atmosphere was chilled but not boring, the toilet and bar lines were non-existent and everyone was enjoying their own corner of the eclectic culture-cum-music fest. Indeed, as with the all the best festivals, it wasn’t just the headline acts that stuck with you, it was the stuff ostensibly on the periphery – the comedy tent, the BBC Radio 6 stage and the dyed pink sheep that made it.

Pink Sheep
Pink Sheep – sadly not for sale

Madness’ Suggs doing a self-confessed “worst-DJ set to ever hit the Latitude stage” with his nephew, The Maccabees singing their hearts out on their biggest headline performance to date, and Reggie Watts with his piercing intelligence and bemusing irony were certainly highlights. But standouts had to be:

The Slaves

I find out after their sweaty punk marathon these guys are only 22 and 23. Shouting, jumping and making noise as only the punk bands of the 80s could, I couldn’t wrap my head round the fact of their youth. Stocky, tattooed and blue jeaned they blasted through an hour tour of their album finishing on lyrics that can do nothing but be seared on your memory: “Debbie – where’s your fucking car?” The evident following of 14-year-old to 60-year-old alike was testament to the fact these guys have both done to justice to the punk genre to please its original proponents, and channelled its brilliance in a way that appeals to a new generation.

The Slaves
The Slaves – wonderfully aggressive new age punkrock

Soulwax

The stage can only be described as the set of some musical experiment. Steel structures holding rows of electric control units with all manner of buttons, knobs and sliders surrounded by not one, not two, but three drum kits. So geeky it hurt but as with The Slaves once these Belgian-born musical inventors (in another incarnation known as 2manydjs) started they didn’t stop. A full hour of electronica, vocals and relentless, impeccably in time drumming. I couldn’t take my eyes off the slight blonde killing the drum beats even more furiously than the rest – it doesn’t get much cooler than this chick. After a dominance of the main stage with indie rock, this experimental troupe hit just the right note.

Soulwax
Soulwax – gig or musical experiment?

David O´Doherty

In plain ignorance, the first thing I think is – it’s a slightly older, stockier Chris O´Dowd of IT crowd fame. His big brother perhaps? Same side-splitting take on the world, delivered in the same beautifully comic-timed Irish accent (I later discover this was one of his beefs of 2011…oops). But it quickly became apparent this guy had his whole own thing going – a spontaneous-seeming stream of consciousness drifting between acerbic wit and strangely poignant mundane observations in speech and song accompanied by his mini-keyboard that had the crowd entirely enthralled, alternately held in silent anticipation for his punch lines and cracking up when cued.

“Life, what are you? Are you just the accumulation of mobile phone chargers and reusable shopping bags? … Life is like going out with Amelie – adorable for the first few months, then just really annoying.”

Too funny.

David O'Doherty
David O’Doherty casually nails his comic timing

After garnering views from other festivalers, I quickly had my chronic FOMO induced as it became apparent for every amazing act I had seen, there were three others I hadn’t: “Russell Howard was funny but even funnier was how much he cracked up my daughter”, and about six different people said “You didn’t see Christine and the Queens?!”

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Christine and the Queens killed it…apparently. Credit: Jen O’Neill

But then you can’t do everything can you? “Life isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon. Or a marathon you have to sprint.” David O’Doherty on Life. How true.

Latitude Festival took place in Henham Park, Suffolk, 14-17th July 2016. Check out their website for more info and get a taste of the action below:

But the British summer festival season isn’t yet over! Take a look at listings for the likes of Reading and Leeds, Bestival and a few other quirky ones in between.

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