Melvin Benn chills ahead of the festival
Oh, what a lovely Latitude!
By Anna Louise Dobbie
The stages are being taken down and the faded pink sheep are roaming free in the aftermath of Latitude 2009. We find out how the art and design of the site makes it more than just a music festival.
The Latitude Festival, held at Henham Park near Southwold, has been annually gaining in status due to its diverse and increasingly high-profile line-up and its scenic, country setting. However, before the crowds of revellers arrive, a team of designers have to transform the site from a rural estate into a magical, musical summer wonderland.
Melvin Benn, the director of Festival Republic who put on Latitude Festival, had a very clear concept in mind: "I guess the core design came from wanting the literary and poetry arena to be at the heart of the festival. Traditionally at music festivals, other activities are on the periphery and I wanted to flip that so that literature and poetry were at the heart.
"I wanted a festival with a completely different look and feel to other festivals.
"I'd been looking for a site that would somehow convey the friendliness that I wanted to portray; I looked around many, many places and nothing really caught my eye until I sent my site manager down to Henham Park. He said 'It's really lovely, I really like it but the big issue is that there's a lake and a big, wooded area right in the middle'.
"Actually, that sealed it for me, that's exactly what I wanted. He was aghast that I'd have a lake at the heart of the event, but we put a lot of activity on the lake.
"There's something wonderful about being close to water – people like to visit the sea. I take great care in laying out and shaping the festival so people can easily move from one space to another.
"You can enjoy comedy without the hindrance of the main stage even though they're relatively close to each other. The design is almost two horse shoes: an inner horse shoe for the literary, poetry, theatre and art arenas and an outer horse shoe of music arenas. The essence of the festival very much remains with the arts arenas and that's not just by chance."
However, Melvin had not undertaken his ambition lightly: "It takes about two or three weeks to prepare the site and about a week and a half to take it down. It's massively expensive – I'm pretty unlikely to break even this year, as it costs about £3.5m to put the festival on!"
Amy Jade Cadillac, the creative director of Lavish, heads up the team responsible for the design and layout of the site: "Melvin wanted me to create a very iconic look – his actual words were that he wanted it to be a festival that he'd attend himself.
"He's a very cultured man, very knowledgeable in the arts, so it was important to him that they were prominent.
"I think the look and feel was always very unique from the beginning, but in 2009, the art exhibition has grown massively. The calibre of artists has been raised and we have art critics involved for the first time!
"I have a large database of artists as I also direct multimedia shows, but some also contact me directly and some come via Melvin."
Music of the Spheres - a dancer performs
The Music of the Spheres giant transparent orb has been there before, but a new development for 2009 was a large, floating cube on the lake from which an orchestra called The Irrepressibles performed. : "I presented them to Melvin in the first year, he absolutely loved them and is now their patron.
"He gave them the freedom to create something bespoke the first year, and they've continued to do so ever since. This year, their art director heard that the Victoria & Albert Museum were holding a baroque exhibition and he came up with the concept of a human music box, that he would premier at the exhibition and then bring to Latitude.
"The idea then came that not only would they do their performance in a cube but that we would also float the thing in the middle of the lake, which might well have been Melvin's idea, actually! Festival Republic created the stage on the lake and pulled it out of the way every night so that it magically disappeared, and then put it back into place each evening!
"Year by year, I think the look and feel is improving. Every product we use is environmentally friendly and we look into ways of reducing waste.
"We recycle as much as we can with the props, we don't just chuck them away, we reuse them so that's a key aspect of design as well. To see huge crowds of people sitting amongst valuable works of art with no walls around and no severe people telling them to step away, actually enjoying the work, is incredible for me.
"It's very special."
If you go down to the woods today...
One of the most notable works of art in 2009 was a large mural of Michael Jackson by spray-paint artist Foundry aka Neil Antcliff: "I recently sprayed a Michael Jackson tribute on the side of the Prince Albert pub in Brighton, famed for its Banksy notoriety.
"It was a double connotation, a memorial but also a rip of Obey Giant by American graffiti artist Shepard Fairey, as he's known for borrowing his own imagery as well."
After completing a picture, Neil then sprayed over it and started a new piece: "We did decide beforehand that because of the nature of the space and the scale of the board that we could cover each piece several times over because aerosol is such a fast medium and we can paint over it so quickly.
"In a way it's sad, but I'm used to painting over my commissions although sometimes I haven't even had time to photograph my work before it's covered over! You need to have some detachment and be quite brutal but you know if you have a photograph you can paint it again.
Aerosol artist, Foundry
"Often I bow to public demand and let people decide what I should paint from a pre-selected group of images, which is what I did at Latitude 2009. I also did one painting of a pilot in lightning which was very appropriate after the weather we had over the first few days!"
Hobbits and other festival goers
Skedaddle Décor in Wiltshire is responsible for designing some of the distinctive Children's Arena, including an enchanting Hobbit House entrance gate, with a smaller gate cut into it for your little fairies and pixies. Vix Scott is very proud of having her work on show.
"I like to use bright, primary colours, but I also want to make children think. The turf roofs on the huts are crafted from 1,500 plastic bags, which show the kids about recycling and making good use of materials.
"I think the attention to detail, love and care that goes into the decor at Latitude make it more than just a music festival."
Martha Cowell of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, feels that the elaborate design has minimal impact on the resident flora and fauna: "I'm sure the animals don't mind at all! I think they just go into hiding for the weekend.
"It's a very eco-friendly festival – they use composting facilities and recycling bins and there's lots of green space between things. I think that the trees around the edge of the main site make it seem cosy and colourful."
With an ever-growing range of art on display and new design features popping up where you'd least expect them, I can't wait to see what 2010 will bring!
last updated: 03/08/2009 at 11:58
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