Shortly after releasing his sophomore album ‘Farm to Table’, Bartees Strange has the crowd rapt at the woodland hideout that is the Sunrise Arena. His set has attracted quite the audience: many are clinging to the bars closest to the stage like adoring teen fans, though there’s a variety of ages. Even in the quieter moments, Strange commanded the stage, with his band showing an energy and movement to the rock tunes that was commendable in the strong heat.
Strange was both able to harmonise with his bass guitar in the lower, sultry notes, as well as hit high notes that a choir would be jealous of. His voice is as smooth as butter, and those that stumbled upon him ended up staying for “just one more song”. With a drum and a bass powerful enough to move right through you, Strange could have been on for several more hours and you wouldn’t tire of his energy and stage presence.
Just as though he’d planned it, indie-pop youngster Alfie Templeman bounded onto the Obelisk Arena stage just as the first glimmer of sun began poking through the clouds. With his scintillating pop melodies and contagious personality drawing in a large and devoted crowd, it’s hard to believe the singer-songwriter is only nineteen.
Keeping complete command of the stage and blasting through his set with an ecstatic energy that spreads through the crowd, Templeman has screaming singalongs, clapping, jumping and fist pumps aplenty. With no momentum lost even as he stops for a moment to take it all in, the artist is greeted by thousands of glitter-clad faces grinning back at him.
With his sun-drenched songs telling the tales of love, loss and coming of age as a modern teenager, Templeman’s songwriting evidently resonates with fans both old and new. Barrelling through a jangling blend of summer-ready anthems, there’s impressive guitar solos on ‘Candyfloss’ and glistening romantic flourishes on ‘Film Scene Daydream’.
Blending groove-tinged basslines with catchy retro guitars on ‘Obvious Guy’ before finishing things off with a high-energy rendition of fan-favourite ‘Happiness In Liquid Form’, it’s clear this is the start of something very special for Alfie Templeman.
Cybertease are a socialist collective of sex workers attempting to change the narrative, stigma and law around all sex work. They started off by creating a virtual strip club during the pandemic for sex workers who could no longer work in person, and it’s their first time creating a panel event.
Considering we’re at The Listening Post just after lunch, the crowd is not at all lethargic. The atmosphere is hugely supportive as the group share both the good and the bad of the industry – it’s almost as if we’re a group of friends sharing a secret. Everyone is leaning in, absorbing all the information they can get.
That secret is out and it’s this: supporting sex work is feminist. The best way we can do that, you ask? We learn that that’s just treating sex workers like any other worker, making sure they’re safe, treated well, and comfortable. We learn about the different legal models around the world, why we need full decriminalisation, and we laugh together at the friendly nature of the group.
Mdou Moctar has the ability to convert even the most straight-faced members of the audience into dancing revellers, stamping feet and pumping fists. With his modern take on classic rock-meets-traditional Tuareg, Moctar’s set lands somewhere between a rowdy guitar gig and a hushed poetry recital.
Jazz-flecked and soulful at times, yet spirited and shredding at others, Mdou Moctar and his band had the early afternoon audience transfixed as they blended psychedelic percussion with barrelling guitars and groove-laden beats. Showcasing stellar musicianship yet refusing to compromise on fun, each track picked up the pace as the band spiralled like a runaway train.
With many in the crowd arriving with very little knowledge of Mdou Moctar, but leaving as fully-fledged fans, the set was a reminder of what Latitude does best: encouraging discovery and teeming with hidden gems of talent.
The Theatre Arena is packed full as the stage lights showcase the six members of the Casus: Collision show. They combine the performers of Casus Circus and Mad Dance House in an eclectic array of skills. From an archery finale using everything but the traditional arms, to breakdance, and even some mime, this show brings a magical energy that only comes by seeing performers who really love what they do, and do it well.
This energy exchange with the audience earns them a standing ovation, and plenty of shocked gasps. Each segment allows one or two of the performers to really be in the spotlight, and we see a stunning mix of hula, tumbling, contortion, aerial rope, and even some B-Boy Dancing. It’s hard to keep track of every skill we see, but thankfully brief moments of comedy gives our jaws a break from dropping as we laugh instead.
A group of enthused children are seen trying to pop and lock it on the way out. Casus has clearly inspired a new generation of dancers…and maybe a few contortionists.
One of the hottest UK pop stars of the moment is about to take to the Obelisk Arena stage. ‘Dynasty’, the hypnotic opening track from Rina Sawayama‘s smash hit debut album, is met with a roar of cheers from the crowd as the singer emerges.
For those unfamiliar, Sawayama effortlessly blends dance, R&B, and rock sensibilities into irresistible pop gems. ‘STFU!’ has the crowd passionately chanting its refrain, whilst the retro vibe of ‘Comme Des Garçons’ incites a mass dance party. Sawayama, her band and her impressive back up dancers have the audience in the palm of their manicured hands.
The infectious ‘XS’ is an acidic satire of capitalism, and an undeniable standout of the set, as is country-tinged new track ‘This Hell’. This is pop music like you’ve never heard it before. Rina Sawayama has the guts, smarts, and hooks to take her all the way.
Transforming the BBC Sounds Stage into her own personal stadium, Saturday evening saw Sheffield superstar Self Esteem offer up tongue-in-cheek playfulness and radical empowerment.
With meticulous vocal harmonies, sharp choreography and popstar precision, the artist and her trio of backing singers delivered a masterclass in sleek pop perfection. Cutting angelic figures clad all in white, Rebecca Lucy Taylor and her troupe were out in force, swinging from apocalyptic to inspiring in a beat.
From the fast-paced pop on ‘Moody’ to the slower, slightly more touching ‘Favourite Problem’, the foursome were rarely seen out of formation — instinctively coming together as though they’d been plucked straight from an album cover, or out from the pages of a glossy magazine.
Sparking an assured singalong during ‘I Do This All The Time’, before careering through the cataclysmic percussion and skittish flashing lights of ‘How Can I Help You’, Taylor blended unfaltering vocals with tight showmanship.
With more than a handful of young girls standing in awe, up on parents’ shoulders or jumping along to the beat, Self Esteem stood to empower all of the women in the audience — and put two fingers up at any man standing in their way.
As soon as Caroline Polachek‘s set begins, there’s no doubt – yes, she absolutely can hit those notes live. Opening with the dreamy ‘Pang’, Caroline’s presence can only be described as ethereal. Those mesmerising high notes coupled with her graceful, balletic movements: it’s like something not of this world.
The twinkling stars in the backdrop give way to storm clouds as the equally stormy ‘Hit Me Where It Hurts’ starts. The way the effects mirror the music only adds to the overall theatricality of the performance: later, ‘Smoke’ fittingly sees a volcano erupting behind the band.
‘It’s all girls in the front row!’ Polachek grins, resulting in emphatic cheers. ‘This one’s for you!’ she announces, before launching into ‘Hey Big Eyes’. It’s true that Polachek seems to have amassed a small army of fans at the front who know every word: ‘Door’ sees one of the biggest singalong moments, as does a euphoric cover of The Corrs’ ‘Breathless’. But it’s closing track, ‘So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings’, that receives the biggest response of the set. The undeniable hook has the tent bopping from front to back. We know you’ll be singing it all the way home.
Just in case we weren’t enjoying ourselves enough, Russell Howard’s headline slot in the Comedy Arena brought laughs aplenty. With fans queuing long before the cult comedian was due to take to the stage, by the time he appeared, the tent was packed to the rafters.
Blending sharp social observations with personal puns — and more than one Boris Johnson impression — Howard brought politically-aware punchlines to an enraptured audience. The set saw comedy at its very best: astute, understanding and sharply shining a light on social justice issues whilst still having crowds in stitches.
Inevitable Covid jibes aside, his quick-wit and smooth segues between jokes had his sprawling crowd roaring with laughter throughout — the perfect pick-me-up for a Friday evening when the winds are starting to change and the night beginning to draw in.
After taking aim at everyone from American crowds and men who send unsolicited dick pics, to JK Rowling and the government, the comedian rounded things off with a slightly more intimate anecdote. Telling the story of how his father had recently fallen from a roof, and explaining how he had found light in his dad’s close-shave, Howard concluded: “Life is a battle and laughter is respite.”
His comments summed up his set and the jovial offerings in the Comedy Arena as a whole. No matter how steep the uphill battle might feel at times, laughter is always the best sort of remedy.
Even before she stepped on stage, there was a hum in the air as the crowd eagerly waited for indie darling Maggie Rogers to arrive. She seamlessly performed a mix of old hits and new tracks from her upcoming album ‘Surrender’ (plus a surprise Whitney Houston cover), including a pandemic written song about the isolating feelings we all felt during the difficult times. This upcoming album is one she jokingly tells the crowd she keeps forgetting to promote, but judging by the adoring crowd, it’s unlikely she needs to.
For someone who found viral fame quickly, she shows a natural aptitude for the stage that makes it feel like the audience were all crowded into a cosy venue, as opposed to the imposing Obelisk Arena. An intimate concert, the hour quickly passes by in a blur of melodic, shoe-gazing tracks like ‘Alaska’ and ‘Retrograde’.
For her first festival in three years, Rogers’ angelic voice is without fault, a perfect backtrack to the purple-pink sunrise that flows over the arena. Lots of young children end up on their parents shoulders to sway to the music, newly made fans of the songwriter and her ethereal presence on stage.
At the close of her set, a hush fell over the crowd. Everyone took just a second to take in the transformative power of the collective moment we all wanted to keep dipping our toes into. Maggie left the stage in a different setting to which she had entered: one of whimsy and wanderlust.
When Phoebe Bridgers steps into the crowd, you make way. High fives from the understatedly cool indie rock artist resulted in screams from die hard fans that crowded the BBC Sounds Stage in a frenzy. Bridgers, however, calmly breezed through them as if she were more angel than human.
Dressed in a white pantsuit, her opening performance of ‘Motion Sickness’ was eaten up as the bright lights lit up the love struck crowd. Through the likes of ‘Garden Song’ through to ‘Sidelines’, Bridgers gives us a much needed space to explore the feelings of dystopian bleakness together. Perhaps the most impactful moment of the set is when she discusses the recent abortion related laws in the US. Direct and cutting, Bridgers celebrates the anger and frustration much of her audience feels at the world we inhabit.
A cathartic experience, Bridgers somehow makes it seem like her set has just appeared off the riff of her guitar. She’s still polished, however, and largely lets her music speak for itself. This ability to command such a large crowd on this personal level seems effortless. A singer-songwriter, the impact of hearing her poignant lyrics live during her finale song, ‘I Know The End’, swells the tent with a magical aura that leaves us feeling like perhaps she was speaking just to us alone. As she dives into the crowd to be amongst her enraptured fans, you’re bound to leave a little bit of your heart behind for her in return.
With the last trickle of sunset draining from the sky, Friday night headliner Lewis Capaldi took to the Obelisk Arena with a laidback blend of musical perfectionism and quick-witted humour.
Feeling more like a stand-up show in parts — Capaldi is well-versed in the art of breaking up his ballads with chatty interludes and self-deprecating jokes — the songwriter ensured that even his most heart-wrenching hits didn’t drop the morale too much.
Ever nonchalant in his stardom, and seemingly unphased by the huge and adoring crowd at his feet, Capaldi confided in his audience like a group of old friends. As rowdy chants of his name rang out across the field, the songwriter powered his way through the likes of ‘Hold Me While You Wait’, ‘Bruises’ and a stellar cover of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles’.
With gauzy key taps, gentle acoustic guitar plucks and crystal clear vocals paving the way towards larger-than-life choruses and tear-jerking harmonies, each track reached a dazzling climax before Capaldi sliced the tension with another quick-witted remark. “Is anyone here happy?” he asked in one interlude. “Well you better not be, that’s not the sort of music I make.”
With a poignant pyrotechnic display bringing climactic closer ‘Someone You Loved’ to an end, the songwriter closed out a headline set that was touching and triumphant in equal measure. “I’ve got new music coming very soon!” he promises just before leaving the stage. A stunning victory lap for a pop icon on an infinite upward trajectory: there could be no better way to wrap up a fun-filled Latitude Friday.
Come back tomorrow for Saturday’s highlights, including headliners Foals.