My Festival's Better Than Yours: Latitude

Duncan Forgan | 10 Jul 2007

The realisation that there might just be leverage in staging intimate and relaxed events in surroundings that don't resemble a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah is worthy of a few Hosannas. <br/>

British. Summer. Festivals. It's amazing how the juxtaposition of three simple words has the power to divide the nation's music fans down the middle. In one camp are those for whom the opportunity to let down their hair in an over-sized paddock is a welcome rite of passage as synonymous with the season as striped deckchairs and an early British exit at Wimbledon.

For a significant proportion of others, however, the growing scale and commerciality of the major festivals – not to mention the reliably crap toilets, the teeming mass of drug and drink addled humanity, the questionable sound values, rip-off prices and the overweening emphasis on 'having a good time, all the time' – are reasons enough to spark a virulent outbreak of fear and loathing.

Strange as it may seem, this polarisation has actually brought about a hugely positive evolution on the summer circuit, namely the advent of the 'Boutique' festival. The label may be vaguely cringe-worthy, but the growing realisation of promoters that there might just be leverage in staging intimate and relaxed events in surroundings that don't resemble a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah is worthy of a few Hosannas.

Certainly, there was no shortage of praise for Suffolk's version of the downsized music-bash, Latitude, when it debuted in the lush surrounds of Henham Park Estate near the town of Southwold last year. With stellar performances from bands including Antony and the Johnsons and Mogwai rubbing shoulders with arty poetry happenings and decent grub amid a bucolic lake and tree studded setting, reviews were of the rave variety.
Latitude has even been touted as an alternative to the sold-out Glastonbury with Michael Eavis, figurehead of the legendary Somerset shindig, remarking on its similarity in vibe to the early days of his own festival. While the world's hippest dairy-farmer may have offered his words as a sop to the legions unable to scoop a ticket for Glasto, the line-up for this year's Latitude definitely stands up to comparison with the rest of the competition.

The music runs a gamut of styles – everything from painfully hip Brazilian party-starters CSS to the unashamed rock classicism of Yanks Midlake and the Hold Steady – while serious care seems to have gone into providing plenty of alternatives to watching bands, with tents catering for comedy, poetry, literature and cabaret giving extra weight to Latitude's tag line of 'more than just a music festival.'

There's no doubt, however, that the majority of punters will be swayed more by the quality of the tunes than the promise of performance poets and tasseled-breasts and the band line-up certainly looks pretty decent. Friday night's headliner Irish minstrel Damien Rice may not be to everyone's taste but he is followed at the top of the bill on Saturday by Damon Albarn's gloom-rock supergroup The Good The Bad & The Queen and on Sunday by the Arcade Fire, both of whom could stake a fair claim to being among the most compelling live acts in the world right now. And with Jarvis Cocker, Cold War Kids, the Rapture and Wilco among a swag-bag of other highlights it's fair to say that Latitude is coming from a righteous angle in the boom of the Boutiques.
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk, 12-15 July. http://www.latitudefestival.co.uk