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Latitude, so much to answer for
4:15pm Thursday 12th August 2010 in Arts Reviews
Saturday afternoon in July, the sun is making its way downwards towards the trees that shade the arena at Latitude Festival.
Lying on your back, you listen to Frank Turner’s relaxing, yet engaging, voice and watch as bubbles drift over your head, blown by a small child sitting with their parents a short distance away.
However, something different appears: looking across towards the arena, you see five men walking through your field of vision, dressed in T-shirts marked “I told you I’m not gay tour 2010”, a stag party, probably on their way to the main stage in preparation for James’ set later that day.
Latitude, I’m sad to say, has changed.
I am a huge fan of the Latitude festival and all that it stands for. I stood at the barrier in 2008 as Sigur Rós played the best set I have ever seen, as Elbow played “One Day like This”, finding myself later on ITV’s coverage and as Blondie managed to get everyone from the ages of five to 50 singing along to all of her songs.
This year, however, the general ethos has changed: gone is the BBC tent, their coverage and their “Introducing” stage.
Also gone are the friendlier sponsors from last year, replaced by a massive “prism” advertising Sky 3D and the dozens of salespeople pushing The Times as “the only newspaper on site”. In my mind, this was not "Latitude".
In previous years, the atmosphere has been the one thing that has stayed constant about the festival.
It was always the case that you could talk to almost anyone there and get both an interesting response, and, more importantly, feel safe about it.
This year, however, the festival took on what can only be described as a “lads on tour” vibe.
Attracted by the more "populist" line-up, including Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons and Empire of the Sun, people flocked, and the extra 5,000 capacity arranged was not matched by an enlargement of the festival facilities.
As a loyal Latitude-goer, I was disappointed by this. Throughout the weekend, everything felt crowded, especially on the bridge which marked the only entrance to the arena, which filled up and was often gridlocked at peak times.
This was still a minor annoyance compared to the headline-grabbing events of the weekend.
The “lads on tour” vibe may have resulted more from the headline act choices than from the overcrowding, but the overcrowding made it seem a more present reality.
The behaviour in the campsite was markedly changed, taking on the feel of a festival like Reading or V, shattering Latitude’s reputation of being a slightly pretentious, but very respectable festival The final pieces of evidence for the change in the festival’s atmosphere were the two incidents of rape in the campsite.
In 2008 and 2009, I could never have imagined this happening, but with the changed atmosphere, including more shouting, drinking and irresponsible fire-building in the campsite, it became more understandable than unimaginable.
These tragic events, which have tainted Latitude’s reputation as a “family friendly festival” changed the mood in the campsites, and also provided a clear sign to the loyal group who keep returning to the festival that it had changed for the worse.
Whilst all of this sounds like a damning report on the state of the festival, there were a few huge success stories in the weekend which show exactly why Latitude has the firm following it does.
The comedy tent returned this year with a larger size and a great collection of sofas for the audience members further out to sit on – a huge improvement over the cramped tent of last year.
The new sign and coloured sheep looked more welcoming than in previous years, and the inclusion of Nigel Kennedy on Thursday was a master stroke which was a huge attraction for many of the festival-goers.
The “New Act of the Year” comedy competition was a great showcase of some of the best young talent around, and was one of the best performances of the weekend.
The musical line-up was also, for the most part, very well chosen.
Whilst the populist “Florence and the Machine” were somewhat lacklustre, the performance in total was still impeccable and a good choice for that evening, although the National were, I am told, equally brilliant.
On the main stage were Kassidy, Scottish rockers who channelled a 1960s sound to open proceedings for the weekend, who, although a small band, created a great atmosphere.
In fact, the whole line-up on the Word arena was excellent and although I did not get a chance to see much there, the Sunrise arena also presented a more intimate collection of bands in a great setting.
One of the star performances of the weekend was “The Feeling”, whose set was bursting at the seams with energy, and got all ages entertained and ready to sing along, providing a great high point for the weekend.
I am still a huge fan of Latitude Festival and everything that goes with it, but I felt that this year the shine had been taken off.
The only problems came with the atmosphere, which had changed from the year before, where the older, more established, but no less entertaining bands provided something for everyone without too much hype.
Next year, Festival Republic have a chance to rescue Latitude by reducing their ticket sales, no matter how much they have to change the price or their booking of bands to keep the festival true to its origins as a family-friendly festival.