Latitude has always had a weird energy to it. With perhaps a couple of notable exceptions (Grace Jones and Bloc Party), the headliners have always looked like a selection of magnolia dulux colour charts your mum agonises over when trying to decide what colour to repaint the dado rails in the hallway. Last year was perhaps the most stark example of this with headliners the 1975, Mumford and Son’s ‘Gentlemen of the Road Takeover’ and Fleet Foxes. Elsewhere, the boutiques, the glamping, the street food and the prosecco bars have always made the festival feel a lot like Stoke Newington had upped sticks and moved 70 miles east for the weekend, earning it the sobriquet ‘Lah-titude’.
Outside of this though, on the literal and metaphorical fringes of the festival, the curation and programming has always been much less 50 shades of ecru. It was on these fringes in 2016 where I saw two people eating each other out while doing a cover of New Order’s “Blue Monday” to complete a 30 minute set of songs about Brexit performed on a ukulele and a children’s drum kit. It’s in these fringes where the political, the avant-garde, the silly and the surreal chambers of Latitude’s beating heart can be found. Or in that case an exhibitionist sex act.
Clearly, there is a gulf between the curation of the Latitude programming and its clientele. It’s a festival that markets itself as edgy, artsy and boundary-pushing and yet attracts an overwhelmingly affluent, comfortable and middle class white audience. This gap was perhaps most apparent on the Friday night – as Solange pumped out bangers about racism, oppression and police brutality from her seminal Seat at the Table album to a half empty field, the crowd for James sprawled out from the tent that their clashing set was on, with thousands upon thousands just waiting to be told to sit down.
So, with that chasm in mind, I set out on a mission to see what it was that brought people here, and what it is Latitude is trying to be. As you’ll see, there’s a clear divide – two different audiences, two different Latitudes, and a whole load of people who want to see The Killers in a field.
"It’s got a real gap yah vibe"
Noisey: You said you’ve been to Latitude four times. How is this year?
Vijay: Pretty much the same. There’s some more cultural appropriation than normal. On the way here I saw two bindi’s on the bus, which made me more inspired to perform the piece I did tonight about my Indian Heritage and fighting against the vibe of Latitude.
Fighting? What is the vibe of Latitude?
It’s a lot more chilled than other festivals, that’s the reason I’m attracted to it it. It’s a lot of kids and families who get to experience festivals for the first time. There’s [also] a lot of white middle class people who want to dress up in glitter and put their hair in plaits. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily something I would do. It’s got a real gap yah vibe - white middle class people coming here and wanting to experience something different.
We’re sat right now in the backstage of a queer migrant takeover - how useful do you think it is having that space here?
This is a really valuable space and necessary. Last year it was empty and this year it’s been filled with Queer and Trans people of colour, which is absolutely amazing. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that there’s a predominantly white middle class audience here because we can take up space and challenge stuff. If they can learn one thing tonight, then that’s amazing, because they’ll take that away with them.
"We look at the headliners and then just go from there"
What have you two been up to?
Shannon: We unpacked, chilled, had a few beers and went into the arena to watch James. He was really good, but The Killers are our favourites.
What do you look for when you book a festival?
Shannon: The headliners. We look at the headliners and then just go from there.
Apart from the Killers who are you looking forward to seeing?
Emma: Alt J, Vaccines, Special Guest.
Who is that?
Shannon: I’ve been told it’s Liam Gallagher.
"It’s very gentile"
Noisey: Is this your first time here?
Louisa: No, I came ages and ages ago when it was just one field full of stuff. I came back because I’m a mum and this is my time to myself.
What’s been your impression of the festival so far?
It’s lovely. It’s very posh. Very civilised. People say please and thank you. It’s very gentile.
We’re sat outside the tent where there’s a secret set about to happen... can you tell me about that?
My brother Jimmy – who I love very much and has ginger hair – said he bumped into an old school friend who told him Liam Gallagher was performing.
That was very specific. What would it mean to you if Liam Gallagher played?
It would be amazing. Oasis are my childhood. They are my very soul and being, it would be phenomenal.
"I only know Solange because she punched Jay Z"
Noisey: How’re you finding the festival?
Jack: I don’t think there are many ‘festival thriller’ main acts. I think the Killers will be good, because they’ve done stadiums. We didn’t go to Solange, we went to a talk about the universe instead. A few of my friend went and said she wasn’t very good.
Do think the reason Solange didn’t land was because people don’t know her songs?
Jack: I genuinely don’t know her. I don’t know any of her songs.
Sam: I couldn’t pick her out of the line-up. Like, she’s Beyonce’s sister, it’s like going to watch Ashlee Simpson.
Sam: Like why would I want to do that? I only know her because she punched Jay Z.
"[Guardian readers] will come here and try glitter on their eyebrows..."
Noisey: You’re a queer performer and poet… at one point in your set yesterday you said Latitude Festival is the place where Guardian readers come to be free.
Travis: Oh god, I completely forgot I said that.
It was great, but what did you mean by it?
Often people come to these weekends, and they try and do what they would never do when they’re back in their 9-5 office jobs. Often these are the things that marginalised people have been doing and continue to do forever, so y’know, [Guardian readers] will come here and try glitter on their eyebrows and then go home and shout at the person that has glitter on their eyebrows in the street. I think what I meant by that was, look at all these things you’re trying on for the weekend, why don’t you try celebrating that back at home?”
Do you think there’s a tension between the curation and the clientele here?
What we’re seeing is incredible work by the curators of the festival to push the boundaries of what is fitting into art. It’s really great that you’ve got Duckie [Queer performance collective based at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern] who are bringing a whole QTIPOC collective, obviously putting me in a poetry tent at a mainstage time – all these things are clearly pushing the boundaries. I think it was really valuable though, for me to not just preach to the choir, but to access people who maybe it’s their first time.
So, in conclusion… What is Latitude? Well...
Almost everyone I spoke to, either for this piece or glancingly as we waited in line for beer or come up wees spoke of how chill the festival was. Thing is, it’s very easy to feel chill in a sunny field on your fourth prosecco cocktail of the day. What’s more, you can achieve that feeling in most of the boutique festivals on offer across the U.K. today. Or alternatively, just go down to Aldi and buy yourself a bottle and sit in Finsbury Park on a sunny afternoon with your headphones in (it’ll save you a couple of hundred quid).
What’s different and important about Latitude is what happens in those hidden places, like the faraway forest or the speakeasy (where Vijay and Travis performed respectively). To know that just beyond the treeline sits a world of possibility, of entertainment and challenge, and that if you go there, you will be one of a few to see it, is part of the draw. In the last few years, it looked like that fire burning on the edges might have gone out, that that beating heart had stuttered. Latitude 2018 showed it is back, in some way. One can only hope that the organisers continue to fuel it, champion it, and look after it. If not – that heart, along with the whole festival, might stop beating for good.
You can find Ben on Twitter.