Latitude's Melvin Benn

Last night we headed down to the Latitude Festival launch party at the Maida Vale Studios, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 6 – the festival’s new broadcasting partner.

After a couple of numbers from Steve Mason, a well received line up announcement from Steve Lamacq, several tins of Tuborg and a last-ditch attempt to freshen up by scoffing half a tray of canapés, I managed to grab a few minutes with Latitude Festival founder and Festival Republic head honcho, Melvin Benn.

How do you feel about the label Latitude has been given as the middle class festival?

I’ve got no grief with it at all. If that’s people’s perception, then that’s people’s perception. I don’t think it needs to carry any negativity about it. The festival is a thinking person’s festival. It’s a thoughtful festival and I think inevitability when you have poetry, literature and theatre tents, alongside ballet, people are probably going to say its got a middle class element to it so why not embrace that?

What are doing to make Latitude more edgy than in previous years?

Depends what you describe as edgy. I would say Liz Lockhead and Carol Ann Duffy are as edgy as they come. Trust me, there is no more edgy Rock ‘n Roll star than Germaine Greer. I think it’s got its edginess, but it’s got its edginess with a degree of intelligence.

In the light of recent events at the Latitude Festival what kind of arrangements have been made for the security at this year’s festival?

We constantly work with the local authorities and the social services to ensure a high level of pastoral care, and this year we’ve got a lot more Oxfam stewards who will have specific pastoral roles in order to make sure the element of care required is present.

We noticed that you were co-presenting a Fashion Mash Up at Norwich’s Fashion Week. What other plans do you have to expand the Latitude brand beyond the festival? Are we likely to see more sub events?

We’ve created a Longitude event here in London, which is a monthly event where we preview some of the smaller acts that are playing at the festival. This is a free thing for people that are ticket holders or Facebook fans that’s already developed. The Fashion Mash up is something where we’re working very closely with the people in Norwich. We’re always looking at things like that. We’ve been working with Dance East and and the Aldeburgh Young Musicians Ensemble. We’re very keen on this kind of thing.

What will Latitude be doing to maintain that organic, home-spun feeling that people want from a festival?

Very difficult question to answer, but I guess we’ll just do what we’ve always done. We just create a festival that I think people will be comfortable in and there isn’t a blue print for that. It’s just the way that we do it.

What kind of vibe can party people and festie-heads expect from Latitude?

I would say the Party in the Woods every night at Latitude is as good as it gets anywhere in any festival. Is it going to be an all night dancing rave? No, it’s not that sort of vibe, but it’s certainly a great party and atmosphere. But no, there’s not going to be head-banging. That doesn’t work at Latitude…

And in our opinion…

So there you have it. If you’re expecting to see lots of 24-hour party-people or circle-pit psycho-billies you’ll be disappointed. That’s not to say that they’re not present; they’re simply behaving in a more civilised and ‘thoughtful’ manner. Maybe even broadening their cultural horizons during the day with a spot of Chaucer while they recover from the previous night’s Party In The Woods, some Disco Shed shenanigans or maybe an initiation into the infamous tent of Guilty Pleasures.

And as a family friendly festival that is what you would hope for; after all, no-one really wants their children dribbled on by a decontaminated teen-age techno-trooper at 3 in the afternoon.

Personally I feel the middle class element adds to the festivals appeal; yes – it is a little unnerving to think you might bump into your old geography teacher while doing your thing outside the Disco Shed at 11 am. However, you can do so comfortable in the knowledge that your tent wont be robbed by scallies and there’s no chance you’ll get in a dust up with Roger the ‘roid goon for looking at his can of energy drink the wrong way.

Furthermore, Latitude has always been sold in as an ‘upmarket’ event and as Melvin points out, poetry, theatre, literature etc. have always been billed. Also, it’s in Southwold – which should give the game away… Need we say any more?

The line-up is definitely a lot sexier and Rock ‘n Roll than previous years. House-heads Disclosure have been included in the main proceedings, instead of the after-hours slots usually reserved for such acts at Latitude. This, combined with the BBC Radio 6 broadcasting partnership replacing Radio 4’s and the new Radio 6 stage, maybe shows that Latitude are trying to shake off that middle class label and provide the more eclectic line-up that’s required if they are to be compared to Glastonbury. I still can’t see them booking Jay-Z or the Chemical Brothers in the foreseeable future though. Maybe a bit of Toots and the Maytals to round things off?

For more information and tickets click here.