Live Review // Latitude

Latitude

Henham Park – 18th-21st July

Tame, middle-class, bucolic; Latitude has seen all these criticisms levelled against it. Overheard conversations on the coach home eked their ways into my exhausted, semiconscious daydreams like some kind of psycho-osmosis, giving rise to confused images of the wool-dyed sheep Latitude have chosen for mascots telling each other “great lineup but it was a bit civilised at night wasn’t it?” or “Shappi Khorsandi’s stand-up set was a bit dry without all the usual talk of periods and swearing” (she suddenly developed a sense of shame around the many children that attend the festival). Most stand-ups referenced the festival as being painfully middleclass – a place where you’re more likely to be offered hummous than acid. And yet the festival grows each year. Why?

These criticisms simply don’t pass methodological vigour. To criticise Latitude for a lack of flaming tents or late night junglist DJs is to criticise a phone directory for being a novel about too many characters.

Latitude isn’t a place for people to come just to see music, stay awake and bath their brains in serotonin for as much of the time as possible like some modern Lupercalia. The people doing the most of that were the secondary school children from the local area which any large festival will inevitably (and not necessarily for the worse) attract. Rather, Latitude is a place to enjoy a range of artistic offerings – primarily performance, some visual and of course the musical performances which dominate posters, speculation and festival conversation.

The demographic was somewhat different to festivals of comparable size and to those attended by a similar genre/calibre of lineup. If one were to hear that the headliners of a large festival were Foals, The Maccabees, Bloc Party, Kraftwerk etc. then the assumption that the punters would be of similar age and interest as that of Reading and Leeds, T in the Park, Bestival etc. would be a fairly safe one to draw. Latitude however is perhaps unique, or at least different from the above events, because it draws stella lineups while offering other treats which themselves entice a wholly different crowd.

National stars of performance poetry, dance, theatre and literary lectures are as much of a magnet to intellectual pleasure-seekers as the promise of Purity Ring, Deptford Goth and Diiv is a magnet to young music lovers who like to think they’re ahead of the pack; even though the two groups may seem polar, discounting Glastonbury, perhaps only at Latitude do they not just coexist, but actively try to share with and convert each other, to broaden each others experiences. The cinema tent held screenings of a variety of film: from art house, more contemporary material (‘A Field in England’ being a good example of this kind of thing) to live footage of seminal live shows of rock eras gone by. The comedy shed boasted to be the smallest comedy venue in the world and has seen some of the biggest comedians do surprise slots in past years: Phil Jupitius for example. There’s nothing quite like seeing a comic tell jokes with a mere 3 other people in an area smaller than a single room in University of London Halls.

The atmosphere throughout was celebratory though rather laid back. It was a mood for appreciation that was perfect for and I suspect moulded by the aesthetic that had been meticulously created. Starting in 2006, the organisers of Latitude have had a fairly long time now to perfect their image. To sum it up in one sentence is hard, but noting that Patti Smith headlined the first ever festival 7 years ago gives you a hint. The daisy-covered main entrance is the first step on the way to an arena that tries somewhat successfully to be a mix of Eden, Arcadia and A Midsummer Night’s Dream not omitting a small dose of ‘what I want my garden to look like’. There are the aforementioned coloured sheep, a beautiful lake with two soppily named bridges (Writers’ and Sunrise…), stages in the woods, stages with sofas in front, grand marquees and tiny sheds. Everyone looks happy, estival and severely loved up. This was all helped by the weather of course – 30+ degrees on the first two days and sporadically as hot after.

A key thing to bear in mind when gauging the vibe of Latitude is that the family area is huge. It’s a substantial part of the festival in terms of ground area, acts and attendance. Furthest away from the main Obelisk stage in mood and location towered a huge helter skelter open to children for a pound a ride, which peered down the valley of the arena site in a manner which formed the antithesis of Suaron’s Barad-Dur and formed the focal point for all activities family-based.

I won’t describe any large band’s sets as they can be easily read about, imagined or even attended by anyone interested. You always discover a new band or two at a festival and these two I want to mention for their outstanding performances which can’t be denied, not their material (for the opposite, seek an album review) which can be argued over by others.

Those who say the festival is tame and subdued clearly didn’t see sets by Melt Yourself Down and Catfish and the Bottlemen. The former gave the best live performance I’ve seen in my life. It was saturated with energy and utterly, completely engaging. Pete Wareham, their frontman, was wild-eyed, almost ferrall, as he ensured everyone let their music (described as ‘post-punk jazz future’) fully take over their senses and bodies. Everyone was up, dancing, moshing and shouting phonetic imitations of the indecipherable and alien lyrics – and this in an outdoor venue where it’d be so easy for the energy to simply diffuse out into the night and for people to sit on the tempting leather sofas only metres from the stage.

Catfish and Co. gave a completely different kind of performance. On the way back from this one I found myself gagging when someone described them as “like… a real band, you know?” but now I feel like a judgemental dick because really there’s no better way to describe them. Guys – young, long-haired and skinny. Guitars – loud, Fender and played like there’s no tomorrow. Audience – blown away. They had that classic combo of Strat, Telecaster and Thunderbird that just works so so well.

The festival boasted some of the coolest coolies that the radio DJ circuit is likely to send along.  Huw Stephens has been involved since the start and was here again. Goldierocks entertained the raving 16 year-olds one night, as did Mary-Anne Hobbs. There were many more – Dermot O’leary, Moshi Moshi, Buttoned Down Disco of KOKO clubnight fame. Zed Bias appeared and stared over the decks at those too young to remember the decade in which he started DJing (the ‘90s).

Finally, the organisers Festival Republic deserve praise for an incredibly well-run festival. Granted, you’d hope that the people in charge of Glasto, Reading and Leeds have got it right by now, but they really have nailed it.  I observed virtually no hitches while at Henham Park. The organisation was phenomenal. People queuing in the sun were brought water, pretty much every stage was on time the whole way through, the sound quality was excellent. I think the showers broke once, but who wants to be so clean at a festival anyway.

All in all then, an eclectic mix to the the furthest extent of the word, Latitude 2013 was a festival where you’d struggle to stick to pre-made plans as some rare delight was bound to catch your eye on the way there, whether it be a dancer suspended from a hot air balloon above a sunset lake or talk on theology from a Cambridge professor. Yes, the Sunday afternoon scrabble and scones won’t be for everyone, but there are countless other places where the only triple word score you need to concern yourself with is “got any pills?” (Get it? Score? Three Words?) So come along next year, bring your children if you have any, enjoy trying to imitate the Suffolk accent (impossible); you can be sure that the music will be superb, the comedians will be hilarious (not just headliners like Dylan Moran and Eddie Izzard but some of the London circuit’s top talents too) and your tent won’t end up as a split between ashes and poisonous fumes.

Sam Hurst

Get Your Early Bird ticket to Latitude 2014 now