Pulp, Young Fathers and more prove Latitude 2023 is brimming with icons past, present and future

Words: Alex Cabré. Photos: Ami Ford, Em Marcovecchio, Sam McMahon, Sarah Louise Bennett.

Punks, poets, and pink sheep assemble: Latitude is here, and the East of England’s jolliest knees-up is brimming with icons of British pop history, as well as countless new gems waiting to be discovered. As weekends go, it’s a soggy one, but with a vast array of music and culture to get stuck into, there’s to be no raining on Dork’s parade. Well, maybe a little.

Friday’s choc-full programme is a chance to get the step count up, bouncing from stage to stage to catch a bit of everything. Where better to start than with Do Nothing? Hot from releasing their debut album Snake Sideways earlier this month, the Nottingham bunch are on top form as they rattle the cobwebs off of the BBC Music tent. “I might cry!” frontman Chris half jokes as they triumphantly wrap up the weekend’s first great moment. New Zealanders The Beths bound along soon after, staking their claim as a perfect festival band with their zesty pop-rock cuts and charming humour – leader Liz Stokes notes that “It is quite a Latitude of people today… it’s a very wide stage” – before a hop over to the Obelisk Arena finds Aussie party-starters Confidence Man pumping up the jams like their lives depend on it. Metronomy usher in the sunset with a hit-packed performance, Joe Mount hinting that “this is our last UK festival… maybe for a while”, making it all the sweeter when the iconic opening synths of ‘The Look’ ring out over Henham Park.

And then… Pulp. Pulp! It’s the moment the packed-in-like-sardines crowd have been waiting for, so when a silhouetted Jarvis emerges in front of that enormous full moon, the energy hits electrostatic heights. The 90s heroes are on top form as they churn out hit after hit, servicing their iconic songs gloriously with a string section in tow. When they killed it in Finsbury Park t’other day, it was a moment for the die-hards. Tonight, in front of a largely family crowd, they seize the chance to perpetuate their legacy, inspiring kids who weren’t born when they were around the first time – some even when they last reformed in 2011. When ‘Common People’ reaches its ebullient climax, there’s no question that this is a performance for the Latitude hall of fame. 

Where do you go after that? Well, into the woods of course, where Peace serve up dessert with an equally iconic midnight slot in the Sunrise Arena. Classics like ‘Lovesick’ and ‘1998’ incite the best kind of chaos as the rammed tent melts into a mess of flailing bodies. Bubbles and vodka (no, that’s not a joke) fly through the hot air. Nostalgia wins the day.

For the Certified Music Nerd, the smaller stages at Latitude are places to uncover gold, so when the heavens open over the rest of the weekend, they are the place to take shelter and do just that. New Yorker Miss Grit is one such discovery, their intricate sci-fi guitar tracks reminiscent of St. Vincent and Mitski. Norwegian-American Okay Kaya showcases her brilliantly charming songs, including 2020’s cult bop ‘Mother Nature’s Bitch’. On Sunday, London’s bar italia prove that heroin chic is still going strong, the cryptic up-and-comers rattling off cuts from this year’s ‘Tracey Denim’ with enthralling mystique; they don’t address the audience once, letting their riveting alt-rock speak for itself. Up on the BBC Introducing stage, Heartworms delivers a definite ‘I was there’ moment, her bombastic goth-rock taking on an almost nu-rave energy in the live setting. And for good measure, a surprise late-night appearance by ray of sunshine personified Rachel Chinouriri is enough to dispel the rain, if only for a half hour.

The performances that really set the campsite talking, though, are Saturday and Sunday’s BBC Music tent headliners. Firmly in their imperial phase thanks to their fourth LP ‘Heavy Heavy’, Young Fathers enter with the ferocity of pack animals to a stage decked out like a theatre set, lit from beneath so the seven members’ enormous shadows flicker over white drapes behind them. They rattle through genres with exhilarating passion – rock, electronica, R&B, rap, everything in between – hardly stopping for breath in a manner that riles the bursting tent to join in. ‘In My View’ is anthemic, ‘Toy’ a taser burst that has even the casual listeners busting a move.

And just as Pulp were a tick off the bucket list for countless fans who never thought they’d hear ‘Disco 2000’ straight from the horse’s mouth, the high priestess of goth, Siouxsie (of pale-faced 80s upstarts The Banshees), is a don’t-believe-until-you-see-it close to the weekend. Creeping from the wings in a silver space-age cloak and hood, there’s no knowing what to expect until she launches into ‘Night Shift’, from 1981’s best-seller ‘Juju’. From there, the show – one of her first in 15 years – is as enigmatic as they come. Accompanied by a razor sharp backing band, she revisits Banshees hits to the delight of a crowd mostly comprised of fans from the first time around, but also plenty of black-hair, powder-faced young folks, in awe of the subcultural deity in front of them. Siouxsie is surprisingly funny, too. When a laptop starts producing a horrible static, she begs like a bored child to smash it up, demanding with hilarious petulance her band “just fucking play it! Now!” It’s a good thing they do, because ‘Spellbound’ is up next and just like that ‘Disco 2000’ moment, there’s a sense of disbelief that this is actually happening. “What’s that horrible noise?” she sneers when the bass from poor George Ezra, up on the main stage, bleeds through, before ‘Hong Kong Garden’ follows, and the roar of appreciation is deafening. Her techy 2007 solo track ‘Into A Swan’ is a final chance to dance in the dark. Then, as nonchalantly as she appeared, the heavyweight hero of British rock skulks back to the shadows she presumably lives in.