I promised myself before I wrote this preview that I would steer clear of the terms ‘middle-class’ and ‘family-friendly,' both wheeled out almost without fail when it comes to Latitude. Because honestly the event deserves better than that.
At the moment Latitude is a festival with form: an uncanny ability to get things right with its audience; an atmosphere which is half-Camden, half-fairytale, half-Waitrose, and a reputation for providing a bewildering array of things to do. This is combined with surely the most civilised setting of any of the larger festivals, in the rolling fields and woodland glades of a Suffolk country estate. The quality of the food and the good behaviour of the punters is legendary, as are the loos. If you want mud and passion, don’t come to Latitude.
But why would you want it to be any different? On a warm July evening (and it’s going to be warm), the stroll from the campsite to the business end of the festival is a magical affair. The air crackles with excitement. You pass under canopies of trees to a lakeside where the lights are switching on as the natural light fails. The crowd swells; you walk across a gently-sloping meadow, through a village of food-stalls where every smell begs to be investigated. You might find yourself lying in a hammock with some freshly made donuts and a beer before you’ve even got to the music. But if you make it to the hilltop, the great plateau of the main arena opens up around you. In the Latitude of my memories, the sun is always setting here as the bands fire up on stage, the air thick with the scent of the Suffolk woods. A wonderful place entirely – Latitude always seems to have the happiest crowds.
The main stage has come to specialise in a particular sort of artist: those born gentrified (see Paolo Nutini and Suede at last year’s festival, or Elbow and Ben Howard this year), or those who have had gentrification thrust upon ‘em (Paul Weller, the ‘Modfather’, gets this year’s keynote slot).
This year’s typically mature lineup is rounded off superbly by folk acts Bon Iver and Laura Marling, both old before their time but hugely talented. Metronomy alone buck the trend – Devon’s finest electronica act are a treat live and should liven things up on the first evening.
Honourable mention must also go to last-minute addition Rufus Wainwright, the latter-day David Bowie of Americana, whose operatic performances will surely be spectacular.
But it is beyond the main stage that Latitude really gets going. The stand-ups on this year’s list for the Comedy Tent are typically appealing. Best of the bunch promises to be a trio of imported acts with highly literate routines, bound to appeal to the regulars: Tim Minchin, Reginald D. Hunter and Rich Hall. Minchin is probably the finest musical comedian on the circuit today. Just don’t expect any of them to hold back their language for your ten-year-old.
Meanwhile the WORD arena is hosting the trendier bands: Lianne La Havas, White Lies, the Horrors, Yeasayer, the Antlers and Sbtrkt, all big indie names which should fill this cavernous tent with gusto. And (whisper it) Lana del Rey.
And if your ears start ringing there’s so much else to do. Where else can you disappear into the woods and find poetry, theatre, dance workshops, fashion shows, cinema, even an art gallery? For all these reasons, Latitude remains in a class of its own.
Latitude takes place at Henham Park in Southwold, Suffolk, from Thursday 12th July – Sunday 15th July 2012