It’s that time of year in England when festival goers forget the not so distant memory of Winter (which only came to an end a week or two ago) and take to the fields for a marathon of binge tanning, cider drinking, and stage exploration. From the mainstream themes of Glastonbury, to the metal-tinted Download and indie-flecked Reading/Leeds combo, the summer is awash with musical appreciation and recklessness across this bright and drizzly isle. At the far corner of that setting, located in the rump of England, sits Beccles, an area of beautiful and unspoiled countryside. It’s just a few miles West of Southwold, a lovely spurt of coastline, which brings a slight sea breeze to the picturesque landscape that plays host to everything Latitude.
In its eighth year, Latitude remains new to the scene. The festival distinguishes itself through the tagline, “More Than Just a Music Festival,” which is generic, but apt — there is a great deal happening at this event besides the intriguing selection of music on offer. There’s an outdoor theater, a literary arena, a poetry tent, circus performers, a comedy stage, a film tent, and an area dedicated exclusively to cabaret, making it one of the most unique festival experiences the British Isles has to offer. That nifty little package comes in addition to five music stages, ranging from big-name headliners at the Obelisk Arena (Kraftwerk, Jessie Ware, and Bobby Womack), to smaller acts performing for more adventurous audiences (Boom Bip and Charlie, Mordant Music and Walls). On top of all that, the festival prides itself on a camping field reserved for families, which allows for perhaps the most exciting summer holiday experience for kids — it’s probably one of very few places where you could find a man tripping his face off on acid next to a group of children playing with a soccer ball.
With such an impressive selection of music, performing arts, and comedy on the roster, it was distressing that a fellow in Ipswich decided to complicate the first day by climbing the roof of his train station and threatening to jump for an unknown cause. Armed only with a knife, it took fire fighters a good few hours to coax the man down onto the platform, during which time the entire line — the only one out of London to the festival — was closed between 8:30 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. This meant a huge number of weekend ticket holders planning to travel up on the Friday were diverted, and I was one of them.
(Photo Credit: Jenna Foxten)
Regardless of the wild detour affecting an entire day of coverage, it still proved to be fun and games. It was easy enough to spot folks heading up to the festival on public transport, with their backpacks and profuse frustration, and I made it my mission to shake the social blockage of anonymous city life and talk to as many people as possible. I needed to take a train out of London, then a bus, then another train (which eventually was replaced by a taxi) and then another bus before reaching the festival gates. I didn’t get to Latitude until 7, but on my way I met a number of wonderful people who all were heading in the same direction. Sure, there was anger vented at the climber for holding up the entire line, but on my travels I had a fantastic chat with a trader from the city, who was meeting his wife and children in the Purple field. There also was a young Japanese gent who was desperate to get there in time for Bloc Party, and a poet who was due to perform at the festival that very evening. My traveling companions were excited about the festival as I was, and there remained little else but to make the most of a bad situation.
The fields span more than 4,000 acres, so even when I arrived, there was yet another bus journey in store before I could pitch up. I bode my fellow travelers adjure and jumped into an already chock-full minivan — the people I met inside were either remarkably high or fuming at the climber. Either way, it felt like this mini-adventure would finally pay off — we were almost there. After sorting all the formalities at the gate, time was of immediate essence after finding a place to pitch. I ate like a ravaged animal and made my way down to the event area to find some friends who were sensible enough to come up on the Thursday — it was time to get stuck in.
Calexico kicked things off, for this reviewer at least. They were based in the BBC Radio 6 tent, the second largest at the festival, and despite belting out a fantastic selection, the joint was only three-quarters full. Couples swayed in their salsa dance, making the most of the space while getting physical to a combination of trumpets, guitars, and maracas. Joey Burns was in top form as he bounded from one track to the next, introducing his bandmates and urging on an already excited audience. Despite the heat, it was impossible not to move to the band’s excellent cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or” and the dazzling trumpets of Jacob Valenzuela, who got an amazing cheer after each solo — it was an incredible start to the festival and the perfect soundtrack to a scarlet sunset behind the oak trees that lined the area.
Bloc Party (Photo Credit: Danny North)
After a selection of smuggled rum cocktails and a good chinwag about what I had missed, we headed over to the Obelisk Arena to catch Bloc Party. I’m not a huge fan of the band — I remember enjoying Silent Alarm when it came out and jumping around to “Luna” in various rock clubs on the continent, but my appreciation for the British four-piece has gone little beyond that. However, Kele and co. just released an awesome new single, and the band are renowned for putting on an animated live show. They played a selection of old and new material, focusing a little more on A Weekend in the City than I would have hoped, but it didn’t stop them breaking into early tracks such as “Banquet,” “So Here We Are,” and “This Modern Love.” I bounced about in a slight state of shock after realizing Silent Alarm came out eight years ago. Even though Kele Okereke was streaming with hay fever, he still put on a superb show as Gordon Moakes danced about the stage sporting a fine mustache and Hot Chip drummer Sarah Jones delivered every kick drum thud with force — making for a glorious set and a wonderfully positive way of wrapping up the first day. Having said that, the festival never really ends after the last band stops playing — on the contrary, that’s when all the fun begins.
The short trek back to the tent took me through a tree-lined area leading up to the smaller iStage, where Japandroids had just finished. As campers made their way back to base, it seemed impossible to resist the luscious charge of a tree-covered disco, with slow pulse lighting and deep house, cradled in a forest-like setting. The bar remained busy until the wee small hours — as an antithetical statement to the cheese music tent located somewhere on the other side of the site. The disco posed hard hitting bass lines, which only stopped as daylight began to rear its presence. Amid a colorful collection of Jägermeister shot glasses and shambolic cheer, the crowd began to return for a few cheeky winks until the breakfast bar opened.
(Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana)
The audience and the atmosphere at a festival always are essential components. People turn out for so many different reasons; from celebrating a final year at Uni with one last royal piss-up, to families taking their children to experience live music for the first time. Somewhere in between those two extremes are the people keen on the music they are there to witness, and even though at times they may feel like a minority, the appreciation stood out more often than not among the diverse groups I encountered. I was camped up at the Yellow gate, with a really mixed bunch that also consisted of several young families. On Saturday morning, children wandered about with their parents, eying up bacon rolls as their olds plotted the bands they wanted to see; hung over teenagers poured over their cappuccinos and iphones in an attempt to regain their enthusiasm and upload last night’s shenanigans onto Instagram. The staff radiated their positive vibes; smiles and sunshine first thing in the morning, every staffer I met seemed happy to help out, and those positive vibes radiated far beyond the event’s crazy demographic.
I made my way through the woods, past a number of random paintings that seemed to have sprung up overnight, and past the Big Screen night kino, where Mordant Music were set to wind up that evening. The path led to a river separating the woodland from the main event area, which was bisected by a beautiful bridge that gave rise to outstanding views both up and down the water. I headed to the Literary Tent for the opening session and a talk by none other than Germaine Greer. Upon entering though I noticed the large 18 Certificate on the doors of the tent and couldn’t help but think that was a pity — surely there should be more effort to get young people interested in literature and poetry (which also was age-restricted) as opposed to censoring it from them. That was a shame, even though the kids had their own adventure playground over the other side of the field — it just seemed wrong to exclude them from what should have been one of the most interesting areas of the festival.
Dead Interviews consisted of a group of actors reconstructing conversations between famous people in a chit-chat setting. Parker Sawyers played Jimi Hendrix, and Peter Marinker managed to pull off Richard Nixon, but the undisputed highlight of the bunch was an interview with Marcel Duchamps, by Michael Faber. The French artist was played by Scott Handy from The Village. Along with his interviewer, the pair reconstructed a fictional conversation about modern art as well as some of Duchamp’s most controversial pieces, and it was absolutely hilarious. Handy played his character extremely well, making jokes and chasing innuendos about Duchamp’s Rose Selavy as well as the issue of controversy in modern art — “art does not have the potential to shock anymore” was a central argument. He approached this by tackling the shock value of Tracy Emin’s “Bed.” He said the subject matter was not shocking, but deduced people were rather shocked by the amount of money paid for it… dead or alive, perhaps he has a point. So good was the performance in fact that I stayed on to watch the rest of the interviews and missed Charles Bradley, whom I later heard rocking the main stage at a distance — it was a tough call, but I was still whacked from the previous day’s travel/dance combo. I sprawled on the ground and listened to a version of Ian Rankin.
Germaine Greer (Photo Credit: Danny North)
Performers aren’t immune to transport delays, and Germaine Greer was running 20 minutes late. So instead of waiting around and listening to the awful compare, I kept to my schedule and headed over to see a young British band called Drenge. They had been recommended by one of my traveling companions, and I was curious to see what they could do. The band consists of Rory Loveless on drums and his brother Eoin taking on guitar and vocal duties. With their crazed following at the front of the crowd, shouting along to the chorus of their opening song “I Wanna Break You In Half,” they certainly had the potential to cause a rift in the audience. Their sound ended up being somewhere between Black Sabbath and Modern English, but from the perspective of a fresh-faced twosome. They were fiery and aggressive, but also slow and pondering as a particularly young boy attempted to crowd-surf his way to the stage. Drenge melted into a stoner, blues heavy jam and asked politely if the young boy was OK after their song had bled out. He probably was, the security guys seemed extraordinarily vigilant in spotting crowd surfers, who were immediately dragged to the front of the stage and evicted from the tent; the same thing seemed to be the case for the Obelisk Arena — long gone are the days when security would just catch you, pop you back on your feet, and then send you in the right direction toward the crowd.
I’d left a friend waiting for Greer, who must have arrived shortly after I departed the literary tent. By the time I got back, the fiery Australian was in the throes of a Q&A section. Standing confidently alongside the lady signing next to her, she tackled topical feminist issues surrounding the use of the burka, the right for feminist organizations to remain “female only,” and for local initiatives to support any sporting facilities that focused on female-dominated activities. Greer is a fascinating speaker, her ideas truly captivating, but she did little to win the hearts of the ladies I watched her performance with — after she had finished, we discussed Greer’s ideas concerning the inclusion of men into feminist organizations, and how it doesn’t appear just. Surely it’s the right of anyone to fight for feminist opinions, not only women, and the inclusion of diverse participants has to be the best way to go about it… or perhaps not — perhaps men then warp the feminist agenda somehow and appeal to values that distort the cause, as Greer would argue. It was compelling to have such wonderful platforms for discussion at the festival, wherein acts were able to provoke wonderful conversations and debates on social issues in a context in which everyone was there to collectively appreciate the arts in one form or another. It’s a shame the compare thought it was his duty to act vulgar and menacing throughout the interval though. His brash conversationalism had people leaving the literature tent in droves.
(Photo Credit: Danny North)
As we took our seats on the sun blazed grass in front of the main stage, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba cautiously appeared wearing long, green traditional Malian dress. Of all the acts I had missed at last year’s Latitude, Fatoumata Diawara was the one I was most sad to have not seen — she probably played at about the same time and on the same stage as Kouyate and his band, who were this year’s main-stage African representatives. With beaming smiles and a selection of handmade string instruments, Kouyate and his family conducted an amazing performance of songs from Jama Ko. The set was split up with solos by Bassekou and his brother Andra, as they skillfully competed for vocal appreciation from the audience. The crowd was relatively small, but it steadily began to grow as the band slipped from one traditional Malian lute jam to the next. Before the set came to a close, Bassekou introduced everybody on the stage, which included his wife, two sons, brother, and nephew. The glee and happiness the frontman shared along with his family was a tough act to beat throughout the whole festival; the guy was stoked, but seemed at home with the crowd that was building up in front of him.
The film tent was probably a hard sell while the weather was so nice. Watching movies in a dark tent as the sun was shining brightly and wonderful musicians were playing outside didn’t sound like the most popular choice at the time. On this occasion though, something very special was afoot. Total Film had arranged a live interview with the outstanding British actor/director Paddy Considine. The tent was crammed, which laid waste to my inkling, and when Considine came out, he apologized for his lateness. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve just been out the back, pissing in some bottles.” How festival-like, I thought, and the crowd cheered. It was a real delight listening to Considine talk about working on Dead Man’s Shoes, almost hitting the big-time through his role in the Bourne Ultimatum and of course his relationship with Sean Meadows. He discussed the personality combustion that existed after the pair spent too much time with each other, their friendship over the years, and how Meadows had a skinhead, a black eye, and a psychedelic jumper on when the two first worked on a paired exercise back in college. It was a grand insight into one of the finest working relationships in British film history, which ended on a positive note — as far as Considine is concerned, he and Meadows will be working on a project together at some point in the next 10 years — a tasty carrot if not a vague and ambiguous one.