Benn Gives Leftfield Some Latitude

However this storm-interrupted summer is eventually remembered by European festival promoters, one of the main features of the U.K. market is likely to be the emergence of Melvin Benn’s Latitude Festival.

After appearing to stifle his disappointment when last year’s inaugural Latitude only did about 12,000 per day, he’s seen this year’s event sell all 20,000 tickets in advance and become a media darling in the process.

No other U.K. outdoor of similar size, with the arguable exception of the three-decades-old 10,000 capacity Cambridge Folk Festival, has captured the imagination of the country’s papers the way this year’s Latitude (July 13-15) has done.

The gushing began in the Independent, which said Latitude puts its crowd into a "why-can’t-the-real-world-be-as-perfect-as-a-Festival frame of mind."

The Times took up the mantle and called it "an idyllic new addition to the crowded summer schedule," while the Guardian picked up on the festival’s desire to "do things a little differently."

Benn’s quick to correct the view that the event he’s created on the wooded lakeside park near the Suffolk coast at Southwold is his vision of what a festival should be like.

"It’s entirely my vision of what this festival should be and is in many ways my ideal, but it’s not how all festivals should be.

"Reading and Leeds remain the best festivals in the world and how I want them, and Glastonbury is amazing and how I want it," he explained, although there’s still the suggestion that Latitude is his favourite charge as it’s the one that he created.

He says he’s pleased with the way the media has got behind it, and it’s been impossible to find a bad word written about it, but justifiably points out it’s because he and his Mean Fiddler Music Group had "worked hard on creating a great festival."

Benn says he’s created "a different atmosphere" by going back to the roots of what a festival should be, while offering the poetry, literature and art that no one else does.

"It interests me and obviously many others, judging by the crowds that came to look at them," was his view of the positive way in which the first two years’ visitors have reacted to his potpourri of entertainment and culture.

"It’s as near as a festival gets to the Edinburgh Fringe," is how Mean Fiddler programmer Tania Harrison describes the smooth mixture of music, comedy, film, cabaret, theatre and poetry.

Former Suffolk schoolteacher Louis De Bernieres, author of "Captain Corelli’s Mandolin," appeared in the literary tent. So did Guy Pratt, whose book "My Bass & Other Animals" recounts his days touring with such acts as Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson.

Latitude may owe something to the spirit of the multi-genre gathering that characterised Glastonbury from the days when it was called Glastonbury Fayre, but in crowd terms it’s a scaled-down version. The audience isn’t much more than a tenth of the size.

It could also be more than a coincidence that Latitude’s second stage is in a tent called The Obelisk, a shape that’s almost impossible to describe without saying pyramid, the name of Glastonbury’s world-famous main stage.

The only glitch to this year’s Latitude was that the wind ripped The Obelisk apart a week before the festival, when it was too late to replace it, so it went ahead as a second outdoor stage.

The Glastonbury site has cows on it most of the year, while the Latitude site at Henham Park has sheep. A few hung around on the outskirts of the festival.

From somewhere among the multi-cultural mix Latitude also managed to stamp itself as the new cool music festival, with Benn saying, "I think it would be very difficult to find more suitable headliners for Latitude. I think we hit all the right things in terms of what we’re looking for Latitude to be."

Live Nation’s Jon Dunn, who programmes the main stages, managed to get Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – both media darlings themselves – on a bill that also had Damien Rice, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Wilco, former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, Gotan Project, Rickie Lee Jones, The Magic Numbers and Bat For Lashes.