Festival Reviews

Festival review: Latitude 2011

By | Published on Wednesday 27 July 2011


Diversity remained the predominant feature of the Latitude manifesto for its sixth edition at Henham Park last week. Naturally, this meant that it found itself offering to be a great many things to many different people, but somehow harmony was achieved. With Latitude 2011, Festival Republic managed to create an environment akin to an alternate universe where glittery faced teenagers were happy to revel alongside a pair of septuagenarians with their grandkids in tow.

Admittedly, there is little that is edgy about Latitude. Instead, it focuses on safety, family friendliness and general pleasance. It achieves this in abundance, but by doing so it does risk feeling a bit Cath Kidston at times, though the array of artists and activities on offer are its saving grace.

The strains of the Phantom Band were carried on the wind as we set up camp in the glorious Suffolk sunshine, choosing a paddock of multi-coloured sheep for neighbours. This idyllic festival scenario was made even better when we moseyed down through the woods to the Sunrise Arena to see the great Scots in the flesh.

We mainly flitted between the Obelisk Arena and the Sunrise Arena where Glasser competed with Jenny & Johnny for best in show, though it was Caribou who absolutely owned Friday. That said, after a phenomenal year, it felt fitting that The National should graduate from the Word Arena to close main stage proceedings on Friday. Generally, stage choice was spot on throughout the weekend, with a couple of exceptions; Bright Eyes and Iron & Wine seemed badly accommodated in the cavernous Obelisk Arena.

On Saturday, the rain Gods made us pay for our day in the sun as the heavens remained open for the duration. Irish Conor Oberst-alike Villagers shared the crowd with They Might Be Giants, whose puppetry and playground melodies ensured they were a hit with the kids.

Because of the sheer quantity of children in attendance, Latitude sometimes feels like a less comfy Butlins. Though there is a family campsite, there’s always one who slips through the net and that tiny baby up in Guest Camping made sure everyone within a 50 tent radius knew how rubbish it was feeling at 5am. Like suitcases and high-heeled wellies, perhaps babies are one of those things that should not be at festival campsites.

But never mind – we were all crying like babies when Foals announced that the band would be put on hiatus after their rapturous Saturday night performance in the Word Arena. Luckily, despite a late start, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble helped us to forget our troubles.

Of course, Latitude offers the festival-goer much more than great bands and tepid lager. Off piste activities include comedy, cabaret, film, dance, theatre, poetry and art, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The roster of comedians lined-up for the Comedy Tent was possibly the best I have seen at a festival, save Edinburgh. Dylan Moran, Mark Watson, Jason Byrne, Danny Bhoy and David O’Doherty were amongst the acts served up as laughing fodder.

Meanwhile, the Literature Tent played host to all kinds of bookish luminaries, Q&A’s and lively debates and the Poetry tent held a steady stream of poetry bigwigs, including Saul Williams. And as the arenas wind down the festival’s underbelly comes alive with all kinds of oddities, including The Electric Hotel installation, performance art and silent disco where onlookers are piped audio via headphones.

Scandinavian contemporary choir Scala & Kolacny Brothers soothed even the sorest of heads on Sunday morning, before Anna Calvi took to the stage, to a relatively sparse audience it has to be said, presumably something she’ll see less of post that recent Mercury Prize nomination. Conversely, an immense mob packed into the Word Arena for OMD, though I cynically suspected that the monsoon happening outside may have contributed to this. Lykke Li followed suit and then it was time for Eels who finished in time for us to catch the end of Suede’s headlining set.

Latitude is a bit of a gem, actually. A festival where people-pleasing feels higher up on the agenda than money-making is refreshing. MB