Melvin Benn discusses Latitude’s future: “Can I see Wolf Alice headlining Latitude? Yeah, I can”

Latitude 2015 Melvin Benn discusses Latitude’s future: “Can I see Wolf Alice headlining Latitude? Yeah, I can”

Head of Festival Republic talks Latitude’s first ten years and what’s next on the agenda.

During a brief break from running around Henham Park, Latitude 2015 organiser Melvin Benn spoke to DIY about the festival’s future, while looking back on its first ten years.

Building on comments made to DIY earlier this year and speaking on the night that Alt-J make their Latitude headline debut, Benn backed Young Fathers to be a future bill-topper at the festival. He also claimed Wolf Alice and Years & Years could headline within the next few years.

Benn further discussed his festival’s responsibility for exposing a new audience to poetry and the arts. Asked about the UK government’s responsibility for the arts, he said: “I think the state should pay for culture in the way that it always has.”

Our full Q&A interview with Benn is below.

10 years - it’s been a remarkable journey. Did you start with ambitions that amount to this?

If I’m being truthful with you, I did always imagine that’s where that would be. In fairness, the first year we were incredibly lucky with where we were. A brand new festival, a very tiny festival with just 4,000 people - but we had a very clear vision of what I wanted this festival to be. And I wanted it to rewrite the rulebook of what a festival could be. It’s paid dividends. This is an extraordinarily beautiful festival, with incredible festival-goers. People say we’ve kept this festival going, but it’s the festival-goers who keep coming back. We have a really loyal audience and an audience who want to enjoy all of this.

Have the initial goals shifted, from when you started out?

Nothing whatsoever. Not one single thing. It’s not a coincidence that when you come over the bridge at the campsite, the first thing you see is the literature and poetry tents. That’s by design, because they’re so integral to the festival. Nobody else would have done that. And now everyone else has a bit of poetry or a bit of literature. Nobody would have had theatre to the level that we have. Classical music, or Gareth Malone. We’re constantly looking to change and improve, but I’m really relaxed about others following suit. We’ve got a great country for the arts and seeing it performed in all sorts of environments, not just hallowed ones.

Would that be the biggest legacy then, incorporating other sides of the arts?

It’s one of the things I should be most proud about. Places like the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre - they actually want to come to Latitude. And that is fantastic. It gives people a chance to see these things in a new environment. And it’s moved them into a place where they’re happy to go to the Opera House. One of the great things would be poetry. In the last ten years, poetry has become an art form that people talk about again, and it’s more accessible. They weren’t doing that ten years ago. I would say Latitude is part of the reason why. You’ve got someone like George the Poet. I think he’ll end up on the main stage. I think he’s that good. He brings these things together. We’d only talk about a legacy when something is no longer there, but the influence is that arts can be more than one thing.

Is it more important than ever to support the arts on this scale, when it’s under pressure from government initiatives?

It’s a really complicated debate. In a way, it shouldn’t be a debate about either / or. For me, it shouldn’t be a debate about private versus public. The government might want it to become that debate, because everybody wants to have a discussion. For me, we’re in a first world country. We have a responsibility to provide culture to citizens of this country. And I think the state should pay for culture in the way that it always has. It doesn’t mean to say that I shouldn’t as well. Nor it is to say that they shouldn’t, or I shouldn’t, pick up that responsibility. It isn’t about that. We should both be doing it, and that’s my preference. I’m delighted that I’m able to do it, but I shouldn’t be able to do it at the expense of the state.

You recently spoke to us about future headliners, saying Young Fathers were the best example. Where do you see a band like Wolf Alice in the ranks?

I can see why you might think they’re the best thing to happen to music. Great songs. Ellie is fantastic - she’s absolutely brilliant. Ultimately what’s amazing is the songs. Just fantastic songs. People respond to it. Wolf Alice will be very high in the bill. Can I see them headlining Latitude? Yeah, I can. Years & Years too. On Sunday here? That’s going to be the most over-subscribed performance of the weekend, I suspect. And Young Fathers - there’s no question in my mind they’ll go on to great things.

Tags: Wolf Alice, Latitude, Festivals, Features, Interviews

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