Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Latitude Festival 2011: Preview

Latitude Festival returns for it's sixth edition on the coast of Southwold and is, as ever, emphasising it's slogan 'it's more than just a music festival', with an excellent line up of actors and performers, poets, musicians and comedians. Headlining the prestigious Suffolk festival performing on the open air, stadium sized Obelisk Arena are Brooklyn alt-rockers The National, upbeat chart botherer Paulo Nutini and the forgotten princes of dad-rock, Suede.

The National will return to Latitude after a packed out and spellbinding performance in 2010 headlining the second largest venue, The Word Arena. Not the most obvious choice for a festival headliner this year with no new material out -especially after having played last year, but far from a disappointing one. The National are bound to put on a fantastic stage show and the size of the Obelisk Arena is far more suited to their big sound, professionalism and ever-growing fan base. Perfect festival music, the band will welcome in the start of the festival on a strong note for the Friday evening with sing-along vocals and hypnotising instrumentation.

Paulo Nutini, who will headline Saturday night, didn't prove such a popular choice with Latitude regulars. Comparing him with headliners of previous years such as Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros and Belle & Sebastian, Paulo Nutini's brand of happy-go-lucky mainstream pop is bound to be a disappointing announcement for an alternative festival. It's a confusing step on Latitude's behalf as through acts such as Florence & The Machine in 2010 and now Nutini in 2011, the festival appears to be taking a more mainstream direction as it increases in popularity and capacity after generally being viewed as an outlet for more alternative bands. I don't doubt Nutini will pull the crowds in, I am sceptical however as to whether these crowds can appreciate the full diversity of acts Latitude has to offer. This was perhaps a move to emphasise the other aspects of the festival, or perhaps a lack in judgement on Festival Republic's part. Either way, those predicting R.E.M, Bjork or Paul Simon will be sorely disappointed. Paulo Nutini's harmless style is unlikely to make an impact in Latitude's history books and Nutini should perhaps be left for festivals such as V where he belongs.

The decision to book Suede as Sunday night headliners was another unusual move, as fans of the London five-piece are pigeon-holed into a rather specific brand of person; an older generation with quite an acquired taste. Latitude prides itself in being a family festival, however Suede's alt/glam-rock is reminiscent of something you might find on a 'Dad Rocks!' CD - the perfect gift for Father's Day. A Sunday night closer is an important choice for any festival and to choose a band that in stark contrast to the mainstream pleaser Paulo Nutini, frankly not many people have even heard of doesn't strike me as an explosive finale. As far as headliners go, I personally have found myself getting more disappointed with each passing year, from a hit every night in earlier years to being lucky if I find one out of three attractive.

The Sunday lunchtime special act is always a hugely anticipated slot. In previous years acts to play the special guest noon set have been Joanna Newsom, Thom Yorke and most recently Tom Jones - some big names setting the bar high. Latitude even launched a competition this year in which whoever correctly guessed the name of the 2011 act to fill this prestigious slot would win tickets to see them live in concert before the festival. This hype had high-hoped fans pitching names such as Beck, Fleet Foxes, Loudon Wainwright III and PJ Harvey, to name a few. When the announcement came for the generally unknown Scala & Kolacny Brothers, a Belgian all girls cover choir conducted by the siblings, I think I speak for many when I say that this was a hugely disenchanting selection - especially after the hype and aforementioned past acts. The reputation of this slot suggests it's usually reserved for big names, so Latitude threw a real curve ball with this bizarre booking. The girls sing choir covers of music from popular culture such as Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and Radiohead's Creep. This begs the question, if Latitude goers were given the opportunity to see Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke perform in 2009, why would they want to see a bunch of unknown Belgian choir girls sing his worst song? They're like the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain except refuse to admit they're a tongue-in-cheek comedy act. I don't envy whoever won this competition expecting Bob Dylan and instead being treated to a second helping of YouTube novelty averageness, I think I'd rather lie in that Sunday.

However, Latitude redeems itself with acts further down the bill from all arenas, as it always does. My Morning Jacket's psychedelic rock will support Nutini on Saturday night; the Kentucky band will no doubt be performing tracks from their excellent new album Circuital. Following the release of much anticipated album The People's Key, Bright Eyes is a name that has been a long time coming for Latitude. Conor Oberst's accessible and popular brand of folk music will no doubt pull in the crowds after his limited sell out 2011 tour. Iron & Wine's latest album Kiss Each Other Clean has put him in a league of his own. Having been fortunate enough to see one of Sam Beam's subsequent performances earlier this year accompanied by a sublime band, I can safely say that this will be one of the highlights of the weekend. Ex-frontman of Scottish post-punk band Orange Juice - Edwyn Collins, best known for the track A Girl Like You, is a perfect addition for the family festival and a rare pleasure.

On to The Word Arena, the second from largest and often home of some of Latitude's finest performances. Headlining this year and competing for crowds with the Obelisk are indie sensations Bombay Bicycle Club, Oxford rockers Foals and the sublime experimental singer-songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, more commonly known as Eels. Each band provides a welcome alternative to the main stage headliners and I'm serious when I say that Suede have a difficult slot clashing with Eels who I can imagine will be quite the crowd pleaser with his rare performance.
Acts also playing The Word Arena across the weekend include up and coming Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow, post-punk heroes Echo & The Bunnymen, New Zealand pop sensations The Naked & Famous and many more.

The Lake Stage is a great place to see some great new acts play an to an intimate sized audience before they erupt into fame. Previous acts to have played here include Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, Blood Red Shoes and Bombay Bicycle Club. An act that promises to be a very special inclusion on the stage this year is young Londoner James Blake, whose unique blend of dubstep and dreamwave has been complimented by Paul Simon himself.

Also playing across the music arenas over the weekend are: Stand and Deliver! - Adam Ant, Gold Panda, Jenny and Johnny, Lykke Li, The Leisure Society, They Might Be Giants (life is unfair), KT Tunstall, Crystal Fighters and many more.

More than just a music festival, ticket-holders can visit the ever popular Comedy Arena for sets from Omid Djalili, Mark Watson and Alan Carr, the Film Arena for a Q&A with Voldemort himself - Ralph Fiennes, the Poetry Tent for readings from Simon Armitage or the Theatre Tent for performances from brilliant groups such as Propellor, to name but a few acts. The Cabaret Theatre, Waterfront Stage and Literary Tent provide further entertainment outlets throughout the weekend with DJ sets in the woods for night time partying.

Latitude 2011 will take place in Henham Park, Suffolk on 14th - 17th July. Tickets are available at www.latitudefestival.com.

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