Live: Latitude Festival 2011, Suffolk, 15-17/7/11

It has been the topic of much debate in many a music industry panel and/or b2b publications as to what exactly is the main lure for somehow-cash-rich punters to attend any particular festival in an ever-growing sea of large scale outdoor music events. Now the issue is very much one of public concern, or so this glorified blogger earnest music critic says. These are the facts, as we understand them: there are too many festivals; a lot of these festivals have very similar line ups in terms of headline or main-attraction acts; the cost of attending these festivals is on a similar scale to the cost of taking one’s spouse/partner and kids on holiday to the Algarve for a week in one of those not-really-5* all-inclusive accommodations. So why am I banging on about this as a prelude to a review of Latitude Festival? Won’t the PR and promoter kill me? In regards to the latter, hopefully not (although they may well try still), and in regards to the former, hopefully that will become clear by the end.

Latitude Festival: Obelisk Arena (aka. The Big Ass Stage).

Rocking up in true farm-boy style on the Friday evening, the turnaround from parking-to-erecting-tent was a respectable 49 minutes. In all honesty, this could have been sped up significantly, thus increasing scope for maximum party potential, if various promises from luminous yellow-jacketed stewards of “someone will show you where to park” had actually proven to be true. In the parking stewards’ defence, a luminous orange-jacketed man in a van indicated to us exactly where we weren’t allowed to park several times. Wasting little-to-no time, we shook off the stale monotony of driving up the A12/14 for a few hours by charging headfirst into the main arena to look for some action in what has been described to us by several other journalists/punters as “probably the most middle-class festival in the world” (which is fine by us, we love reading The Guardian). We are instantly greeted by the Scottish tones of the multi-genred Admiral Fallow on the Lake Stage, which is so damn close to the arena entrance that the adjoining bridge might as well have taken you straight onto said stage. Elsewhere, the site is a bustle of activity – food traders dishing out anything and everything ranging from bleeding red meat burgers to freshly-prepared haloumi wraps; four-piece families nattering, running around and pushing buggies; Rob Baker droning about life existentialism and “what’s it all about” in the Poetry Arena. Immediately we feel that this cannot possibly be a real festival. Where are all the pisshead teenagers? Where are all the anarchy punks? Turns out a few of them had taken up residence in the Word Arena in prep for a semblance of a rowdy crowd for The Vaccines who, despite all the anti-hype and pre-doubts, are actually as fantastic live as their reputation depicts them to be. One pint of cider (plus £3 cup hire for the weekend – gone are the days of seeing hapless traveller children running around picking up paper cups like they were gold: now you have to look after your own shit and clear up, or lose money in the process) later, and we find ourselves basking in the beaming feel-good bitter sweetness of The National playing to a moderately-sized and generously spaced-out crowd on the Obelisk Arena. By the time we’ve hit the proverbial hay, we’ve also managed to squeeze in a bit of a boogie at the aptly-named In The Woods. Taking into account we have been onsite for less than 12 hours, Friday is a good start.

The Vaccines: Shouldery.

The National: Crooney.

Emerging like a refreshed beautiful pair of butterflies from a cocoon, or two not-as-rough-as-could-be-but-still-fragile-nevertheless depending on how you look at it, once more little time is lost on Saturday morning early afternoon as we head once more into the family-friendly breach. First up on the agenda was rain. Rain had at this point succeeded on dominating most proceedings throughout the course of the day, and the most discernable effects upon the festival population are two-fold: firstly, it somehow made the most basic tasks, such as sitting and eating, ridiculously difficult; and secondly, it had caused punters to develop a new sense of appreciation for poetry and literary works, as we approach respective arenas which are now brim-full of people desperately seeking any sort of respite from the damping elements – so much that parents with accompanying toddlers are fully prepared to put up with the readings of Mark Steel, who seems awfully comfortable reciting passages from a story about pre-pubescent kids debating the finer legal issues regarding the point at which the age of majority occurs in relation to sexual encounters, given the audience he now finds himself surrounded by (although simultaneously to words such as “twat”, “wank”, and occasionally the good ol’ C-word being thrown about like confetti, many a child’s ear is cupped by increasingly concerned parents and guardians).

Parents: Some impressed with swear words, others not so much.

Kid: Muddy.

Instinctively, we feel the need to go check out some music. Darting over to the Sunrise Arena, embedded in a rather elaborate woodland setting (i.e. the woods), we arrive just in time for festival-omnipresents Yellow Wire to unleash their modern take on dad rock (that’s Queen and U2 to our younger readers) upon a very receptive and respectable-sized crowd – we find ourselves applauding in unison on several occasions, albeit admittedly much in the same way as you probably would if you were watching American Pie’s Petey performing his trumpet solo at band camp in the sequel. Follow-uppers Tripwires deliver an extremely powerful performance, encapsulating a sense of intimacy in this open-air canvassed arena, which for the first time today is nothing to do with the rain which has miraculously subsided for the time being. Following a spot of The Rat at the Word Arena from US indie stalwarts The Walkmen, we take the time to investigate other amenities in the main arena. Cruising by a pop-up book shop, we’ve purchased the complete anthological works by Hunter S Thompson for just a fiver. Investigating the woods on the far side of the arena, we come across a hauntingly ethereal singing voice, which very soon turns out to be an outdoor theatrical stage featuring a modern rendition of a classic Greek tragedy (or at least we heard the name Menelaus being sung several times). We discover a BBC-dominated stage embedded along the lakeside where a folk band called The Moolettes are sound checking, where we are greeted with a comfortable-albeit-sodden sofa and a glass of champagne. The sun is now out. We can actually sit down. We’re very happy. So much that we feel it’s a great idea to start activating the booze in a big way which ultimately leads us to crashing out at the not-cool hour of midnight (yes, there are middle aged mums who partied harder than we did that evening); but not before we’ve taken in stellar performances from My Morning Jacket, Foals, Cerebral Ballzy, a wee bit o’ Echo & The Bunnymen, plus a cheeky Q&A/book reading from that food critic guy from The One Show and watching a naked guy being naked and laughing lots on the Literary Arena.

Cerebral Ballzy: So punk, they make their own rain.

My Morning Jacket: Stellar.

Sunday, Sunday, gotta get down on Sunday? Sort of. Casually brushing aside initial concerns of developing pneumonia after realising we have just spent the night sleeping and shivering in a cold, damp field in the middle of the sticks, we are able to rendezvous with friends in time to watch Anna Calvi do her James Bond-style of retro pop on the Obelisk Arena, who was preceded by that-choir-that-sing-the-orchestral-rendition-of-Creep-by-Radiohead on the soundtrack to hit film The Social Network (who clearly we don’t know the name of), who give an equally impressive and somewhat unique entree to the day. Gracing the Comedy Arena, we’re also able to ingest a riveting stand up from Dylan Moran who in textbook fashion delivers his personal brand of drunken common sensibility. Snagging tid-bits of Kele, Carl Barat and Everything Everything, regretfully it isn’t long before perpetual illness takes hold and the rain really begins to piss us off. So we end up back in London, shivering under bed covers by 10pm, utterly ruined in a physical sense by “probably the most middle-class festival in the world”.

Dude: Walking on water.

Holographic projection thingy: Cool.

“So, what was all that about at the beginning?” I hear you whine. As a first time punter at Latitude this year, it was important to me to experience something that I generally haven’t before. In essence, I wanted to get lost. I think we succeeded in this respect. Despite the obvious comparisons via the mode of featuring musical acts to other events taking place this summer, Latitude has managed to live up to its claim of being “more than just a music festival”, and on several occasions has indeed surpassed the inherent expectations owing to the sheer amount of “things” we were able to take in coupled with the sense of regret we have for the number of activities and performances we were unfortunate to not take part in. These are the facts of Latitude, as we understand them: there is only one of them; the line up was rather unique, in respect of musical and non-musical acts; it did not bankrupt us to attend for the duration. Now, if they can just control that bastard rain…

Words: Achal Dhillon

Pictures: Tim Crouch, Jana Cheillino, Bruce Atherton, Marc Sethi, Ryan Mason, Kerry Wilmot

Thanks: Dan Griffith @ Press Counsel and Festival Republic

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