Latitude Festival

In the idyllic grounds of Henham Park, babies crawl after the brightly-coloured sheep grazing by the river, toddlers listen to interpretative theatre through headphones, and well-bred teenagers frolic to dreamy pop with flowers in their hair and their parent’s cash in their pockets. Oh, Latitude, how middle class and lovely you are.

Yet this year a black cloud hovers over the fifth instalment of the festival; a big fat Tory-shaped cloud. The grassroots and fringe culture that Latitude celebrates is under threat from the new government, consequently a growing sense of concern feeds into many of the performances. The comedy may still be rife with jokes about how posh Latitude is, all hummus and Guardian reader jibes, but more often than not genuine anger abounds. Robin Ince and Josie Long are among the angriest, providing compelling and hilarious reasons to mistrust the Conservatives including Long’s: “The Tories don’t even like The Wire!”

Elsewhere, former Beta Band front man Steve Mason devotes half of his stage time to a documentary about the 1984 miners’ strikes. He warns, in an impassioned manner, about the dangers of allowing a government to go unscrutinised, before delivering renditions of Dr. Baker and Madonna’s Borderline. Singer-songwriter David Ford closes out his politically-charged set with She’s Not The One For Me, an anti-love song about Maggie Thatcher, and the aptly named The Agitator, lead by Derek Meins, employ their soulful skiffle stomp to promote direct action. There’s even a hint of foreboding about the bigger bands; The National for one are superbly morose, headlining the Word tent on Friday night.

Thank god then for Saturday night headliners Belle and Sebastian. Propelled by Stuart Murdoch’s wit and inspired dance moves, the Scot’s tweeness is catapulted into a danceable set of textured indie-pop. An impromptu cover of Jumpin’ Jack Flash sits alongside the blue-eyed soul of Funny Little Frog and the heartfelt tenderness of The Fox in the Snow in what is a varied and uplifting set. When a dozen teenagers take excitedly to the stage to bounce around to The Boy with the Arab Strap, the audience has an image to match their joy.

Other musical highlights include gothic rockers O. Children who deliver a brooding synth-driven set deep in the woods. Front man Tobi O’Kandi’s insane baritone and huge physical presence makes the pastiche element of their noir stylings all the more enjoyable, in particular on Dead Disco Dancer. The Archie Bronson Outfit dressed in kaftans are both a visual and aural treat, mixing the beefed up bluesy strut of Derdang Derdang with the doom-disco odyssey that is Coconut. They whip the crowd into such a frenzy that when singer Sam Windett offers free t-shirts to any one prepared to dance naked, one man is quick to shed his clothes without a thought for the burly arms of the security guard that awaits him. In the intense sun, the Dirty Projectors deliver a jaw-dropping set of vocal ingenuity and inventive avant-garde pop. The r’ n’ b influences of Bitte Orca, especially on Stillness is the Move, anchor Longstreth’s creative vision into a more digestible and ultimately pleasurable package.

It is the diversity and quality of the line-up across all stages that sets Latitude apart from the multitude of summer festivals. It is the shows that you stumble across that make the four day event so special. Whether it’s Eddy Argos performing the Art Brut classics Modern Art and Emily Kane or Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory recreating their brooding score to the French silent movie, The Passion of Joan of Arc, you can’t help but feel privileged. There’s even enjoyment in watching Miranda Sawyer doing all she can to coax Bret Easton Ellis out of his cocaine comedown to talk about his work, or anything at all for that matter. Long live culture; long live Latitude.

Words by Tom Spooner

Photography by Natasha Netschepir