Reflections on Latitude

In Culture, Opinion on July 20, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Music festivals are a glorious testament to human ingenuity; the desire to create makeshift replicas of all the bare essential necessities and commodities of modern-day civilisation – running water, sanitation, shelter, beer (yes, it’s essential), and food. Nearly all shit by considered judgement of course; as Marcus Brigstocke quipped, “the only real difference between this [Latitude] and some refugee camp in Southern Sudan is that we’ve got Elbow.”  And it is endearing in its gallant – and largely successful it must be said – attempt to create a microcosm of wider society in some fields in the middle of nowhere (this one, in deepest Suffolk, at least).

For this is where the Big Society is to truly be found – not in the minds of politicians wishing to offset the harsh effects of recession with cheap rhetoric. Where else would one willingly – and so politely – constrain oneself to approximately three centimetres of ‘personal space’ (except the Northern Line, but that’s hardly polite, if even willing), or queue to use muddy, stinking bogs, all for some grander collective purpose?!

The irony of course of all these Jezs so merrily traipsing round fields in wellies is that it is controlled by decidedly more Mark Corrigan-like figures. They’re not actively anti-fun; just that any such fun must be within certain limits and relentlessly fair to all – even more fair to the bottom lines of the companies involved. That’s not to suggest festivals should be organised in any other way. Those of a hippy inclination may have much to recommend them – the egalitarianism, their free-spirited nature, the music and the drugs – but I think it’s fair to say that diligence and organisation are not really their strong points. It’s merely pertinent to point out that, as AA Gill brilliant put it, “the price of freedom, to be a bit of an anarchist and a fire-worshipper, is a lot of razor-wire”.

And for a self-proclaimed liberal arts fest, it’s very capitalist. Watery beer costs £4.20 a pop, and that’s before considering the £3 deposit to be paid every time. Burger vans vie for customers with ‘quality’ Scottish fish huts and vegan outlets, but all sell very basic takeaway fare for, at the cheapest, £6. Don’t even blame them, really – apparently the eateries pay the organisers £50,000-£100,000 at major festivals just to set up stall, so to speak.

The final morning of a festival is a strange experience. The listless grey skies would have represented great pathetic fallacy if the weather was not similar for the most of the weekend. The hangover, literal and metaphorical, is almost palpable, as litter is strewn liberally across the fields and people pack away their tents and belongings. And with it, it seems, their youthful dreams of a life other than tuition fees, sales jobs or unemployment (or all three).

Joel Durston

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