REVIEW: Leeds Festival 2014

REVIEW: Leeds Festival 2014

Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th August 2014 – Leeds Festival @ Bramham Park, Leeds
Words: Tom Sanders

Reading & Leeds have had a hard time adjusting since the festival boom a few years back, as competitors like Download, Latitude and Bestival nibble away at the market share and a changing musical landscape has left things a lot less clear-cut than they were a few years ago- simply put, there’s no discernible musical ‘tribes’ left to pander to anymore, and a changing of the guard has meant there’s not as many new bands ready to jump up and seize the headline spots yet.

Despite this though, this may have been one on the most smartly curated Leeds line-ups yet- while the headliners were all big name, ‘sensible’ choices, they were an important tent pole to hold up one of the most creatively fertile undercards yet, as the promoters put out as many feelers as possible to find the next generation of talent ready to step up and headline the festival in years to come.

Leeds/Reading have always operated a bit like football teams, nurturing their own talent and steadily promoting them through the ranks, and artists know that strong performances here will see them rewarded with a loyal fanbase and a higher billing next year. So with the festival in a state of transition and more level playing field than there’s been in years, now was the time for newcomers to make themselves known with everything to play for.

As is typical of these kinds of weekends, the first afternoon is always a bit of a slow starter, as it takes time for the festival grounds to fill up with the steady drip of day-trippers, and people adjust to their new surroundings and get those first, crucial campsite beers inside them.

Kicking things off were hot up-n-comers The Wytches, who’ve been steadily building up their audience the old-fashioned way with a relentless touring schedule, a string of excellent doomy, psychedelic garage rock singles and a little dash of weirdness and mystique that’s becoming increasingly hard to find these days. Their midday set was an excellent off-kilter start to the festival.

Elsewhere, for a festival that once famously bottled off 50 Cent after only two songs, it’s remarkable what a strong showing Hip-Hop and R&B had this weekend. Mysterious R&B collective Jungle performed a strong set, and though the setlist was a little short, this is an act that are dead certs to climb their way up the bill once they get a little more exposure.

The first big highlight of the day though was Schoolboy Q, one of the vanguards of LA’s Black Hippy collective and a crucial player in the re-shaping of West Coast Hip-Hop. Clad in his trademark bucket hat and with a No.1 album under his belt, Q put on an electrifying performance full of future classics such as ‘Collard Greens’, ‘Gangsta’, and ‘Studio’  which brought the house down.

Elsewhere, Danny Brown and Joey Bada$$ continued to fly the hip-hop flag to widespread acclaim. Danny’s notorious for being one of the best party starters in the business due to his impeccable flow, side-splitting sense of humour and super-aggro beats that owe as much to Skrillex and EDM than any traditional hip-hop influence. Joey meanwhile delivered on his set and showed everyone why he’s one of the most hotly-tipped newcomers in the game, representing the East Coast with a classic throwback sound that puts a modern spin on the lyrical boom-bap style pioneered by Nas, Wu-Tang, and Biggie.

On the other side of the musical spectrum, one of the most unexpected highlights of the weekend was The Kooks, who made a triumphant return to Leeds after a few years in the wilderness. With a brand new look and sound, their new material was the best they’ve sounded in years, and this was a very welcome re-introduction to a band that seemed like they’d run out of ideas. But of course, as strong as their new material was, it was their Inside In/Inside Out classics that went down a treat.  ‘Naïve’, ‘Eddie’s Gun’, ‘Seaside’ and ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’ tapped into everyone’s inner 16-year old, and unleashed a massive sing-along that left people surprised but happy that they still knew every word to these songs. Definitely a contender for the biggest comeback of the year.

Klaxons played a similar set, balancing a set of strong new material with a selection of classics from their debut that reminded everyone why they cared for the band in the first place. New Rave might not be so new anymore, but when that first ‘DJ!’ sample hit at the start of ‘Atlantis to Interzone’ the tent exploded, as people couldn’t throw down shapes fast enough to keep up with the onslaught of hits. Welcome back Klaxons, it’s been a while.

As for the headliner, is there a band more quintessentially Leeds Fest around than Blink-182? The band have become an institution since their first appearance at the festival in 1999, and from the second they hit the stage have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands with a never-ending parade of hits. Where to even start? Feeling This, What’s My Age Again, Rock Show, Miss You, All The Small Things… the list just goes on and on. At this point the band knows exactly what the crowd wants and gives them everything they ask for. For 90 minutes straight they make the entire festival pogo along to every crude joke and power chord and never let up. This was a textbook performance for sure, but when you’re a band like Blink who’ve practically written the book on catchy pop-punk, it’s ok to sometimes just give the people what they want.

Saturday is always the marquee day for weekend festivals and this year is no different. The first act of the day is Gerard Way, frontman of the recently defunct Leeds favourites My Chemical Romance, playing his first ever solo shows. Clad in a bright blue suit with a shock of red hair resembling an off-brand version of The Joker, he’s a far cry from the chubby goth we first met in MCR’s early days. As for the music, the new songs have a grungier, more alternative sound than anything MCR produced, and with a bit more polish should go down a treat.

Meanwhile on the Main Stage, Blood Red Shoes may have been playing to a crowd afflicted with a bad case of early-afternoon apathy, but the fearsome two-piece still managed to deliver a rip-roaring set of enthusiastic, energetic punk rock, cutting a sharp figure onstage. Prime candidates to climb up the bill at the festival, their tunes have been getting steadily bigger and more anthemic with every release, and now that they’ve finally nabbed their Main Stage slot it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep hold of it. One thing’s for certain, their next move will be an important and interesting one.

Moving from one hotly-tipped two-piece to another, over at the second stage Drenge absolutely slayed the crowd in what must be one of their biggest and most important gigs to date. As one of the biggest breakthrough acts of the past 12 months, the duo quickly proves their worth to a packed out tent. Channelling all of the best alt/punk shredders of the past 30 years (plus a wonderfully manic drummer reminiscent of Nirvana-era Dave Grohl); Drenge tore through tracks from last year’s self-titled debut with a thrilling intensity. Delivering awesome riffs and face-melting solos with massive grins on their faces the whole time, Drenge currently represent everything thrilling and exciting about rock music at its most primal.

One of the most exciting new acts of the festival though would have to be The Fat White Family, who took to the Festival Republic stage with one of the best sets of the weekend.  Shambling on stage looking like a motley crew of tramps, drug dealers and burnouts, the band play a heady mix of nihilistic psychedelia with a twinge of Britpop thrown in, capturing that weird, sideways feeling of trying to listen to music whilst off your face at 4am. It’s hard to draw direct comparisons to other bands as the group has a sound that’s totally their own, though the crowd know quality when they hear it and from the first clanging notes of opener ‘Auto Neutron’ are fully along for the ride. Though their set was tragically cut short after only 20 minutes it may have been a blessing in disguise as it left the crowd fiending for more. In six months’ time publications will be falling over themselves to call FWF the best new band in Britain, so now’s the chance to get in on the ground floor.

They were followed shortly afterwards by The Orwells, who played a fine combo of ferocious garage rock and bratty pop-punk to a packed out tent. Stumbling their way through a wonderfully chaotic performance, they’re a stellar live act and a lot of fun.

As for the first of the night’s headliners, Queens Of The Stone Age swagger on stage and waste no time in letting everyone know why they’re the undisputed kings of modern rock, kicking things off with a fantastic one-two punch of ‘Millionaire’ followed by ‘No One Knows’, which launches the crowd into a frenzy.

Boasting one of the strongest back catalogues around, the band effortlessly flip between sexy ballads like and intense headbangers like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and when the band dropped the first throbbing notes of ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’, which was quickly followed a hit parade of classics including ‘Go With The Flow’, ‘Little Sister’ and ‘Sick Sick Sick’, a thousand moshpits erupted in the crowd.

The band’s real secret weapon though was their closer, fan favourite ‘Song For The Dead’. Already one of the heaviest songs in the Queens catalogue, here it was stretched out into a massive jam, stacked with extended solos, fake endings, a trash-talking interlude from Josh Homme and insanely hard-hitting drum fills. As they strolled off stage like nothing had happened, it was clear why they’re considered to be one of the greatest bands of our time.

Following a set like that is probably one of the toughest jobs to do, and Paramore’s arrival to the Main Stage shortly after, sad to say, felt like a jarring tonal shift after the masterclass in rock the crowd had just witnessed, like chasing a shot of whiskey with a blue WKD.

However, once they were up and running Paramore delivered a solid set, making their mark immediately with exciting renditions of ‘Still Into You’ and ‘That’s What You Get’.  Easily the most energetic of the weekends headliners, the band bounced, pogoed and cartwheeled all over the stage, their guitar players doing somersaults off each other at one stage which made Blink 182 look very old in comparison.  Hayley herself was also in fine form- her vocals were impeccable, her stage presence electrifying and her mid-song banter warm and humble. The highlight of their set came near the end during ‘Misery Business’, when the band invited a fan up onstage to perform the bridge and final chorus. Credit to the lucky girl, named Ellie, who performed a fine job and didn’t choke under pressure, it was certainly a thrill to watch.

The debate over which band was ‘better’ ultimately comes down to personal preference, and while it’ll no doubt be a hotly debated subject over the next few days, if there’s one thing that’s for certain it’s that Saturday was an excellent day across the board for live music.

By the time Sunday rolled around the stage had been set, and everyone knew what to expect from the rest of the weekend. There was no gentle easing into proceedings as there was on Friday and Saturday; quite the opposite in fact, as some of the loudest bands of the fest were all scheduled early in the morning to taunt anyone with a lingering hangover.

First up was DZ Deathrays, an Australian duo who made an immediate impact with an arsenal of thrash-heavy dance-punk, spearheaded by an arsenal of buzzsaw guitar riffs and a vibe that suggested they’d be more at home tearing up a house party than a festival tent. If anyone was still dozing at the start of their set, they sure weren’t by the end of it.

Arriving on stage shortly after looking like a gang of bank robbers clad in matching sunglasses, cheap bling and face-concealing bandanas, The Hell were easily the most badass band of the festival and may just be the saviours of British Hardcore. After a whole weekend of hearing artists tell everyone that “it’s such an honour to be here” and thanking everyone for coming along, it was refreshing to see a band really embrace the punk spirit, sticking their middle fingers up at the audience, chiding them for being “a much worse crowd than Reading” and encouraging people to kick lumps out of anyone who fell over in the mosh pit. Leave your manners at the door when you see them live, The Hell are pure punk rock and were one of the best hidden gems of the weekend.

After a relative lull in the mid-afternoon, it was up to The Hives to reinvigorate the crowd on the main stage, which they did with aplomb. Pretty much the perfect festival band, frontman Howlin’ Pete Almqvist is one of the most energetic and entertaining Rock frontmen of all time and it’s pretty much impossible not to be entertained by their ridiculously over-the-top charisma. Ripping through a slew of modern classics including ‘Walk Idiot Walk’, ‘Main Offender’ ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ and an awesomely extended version of ‘Tick Tick Boom’, during which Howlin’ Pete managed to squeeze in a full band introduction, several call and responses and even managed to make the whole crowd sit down, The Hives have definitely notched up another reason to call themselves one of the best live acts on the planet, and provided everyone with a much-needed jolt of energy.

Taking up The Hives’ baton and running with it, We Are Scientists also delivered an amazing set shortly after to a packed out tent of adoring fans. Aside from being one of the funniest bands around (seriously, their quips are almost as good as their tunes), WAS smashed out one of the most entertaining sets of the fest, busting out a slew of hits including ‘Nobody move, Nobody Get Hurt’, ‘After Hours’ and ‘The Great Escape’ to a crowd that lapped it all up and sang every word back at them. Arguably one of the best crowds of the weekend, We Are Scientists should be very proud that they’ve got such great fans.

The highlight of the day, and arguably the whole festival though, was the Arctic Monkeys’ much-talked about headline spot, which hands-down drew the biggest crowd of anyone all weekend. Acting both as a capper to their AM world tour and their homecoming gig, as the band strutted onstage bathed in yellow mist and kick-started that ominous intro to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’, it was clear that tonight was going to be one hell of a victory lap. “Yorkshire!” Turner bellowed at the end of the first track, a white rose pinned to his jacket, “We’re gonna ‘ave some reyt fun with you tonight!”

This is the third time Arctic Monkeys have headlined Leeds Festival, and in that time they’ve morphed from scrappy young upstarts to long-haired stoners to the sharp-suited, rock stars they are today, and in all that time the band have never looked as comfortable in their own skin and with their back catalogue as they do tonight.

With a setlist that comfortably encapsulates their whole career, the band effortlessly lurched between their massive singles like ‘Brianstorm’, ‘Dancefloor’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ to fan favourites like ‘Dancing Shoes’ and ‘Teddy Picker’, knowing exactly when to change gear and when to sprinkle in a sing-along like ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ to switch up the tempo.

The band themselves look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage, striking poses, and leaping around with gleeful abandon. They’ve been criticised in some corners recently for their transformation from scruffy Sheffield lads to full-blown Arena Rock Gods, but when you play shows of this scale and magnitude as often as The Monkeys do, it’s much better to embrace your inhibitions than hide behind some false humility, and it’s probably this aspect of their live show where they’ve benefitted most from Josh Homme’s tutelage.

“What a crowd you’ve been, that were f’in brilliant” Turner exclaimed near the end of their set after a barnstorming version of ‘Old Yellow Bricks’. “We’re gonna leave you with a love song because we love you so much” He said, before closing their set with a great rendition of ‘505’. The crowd were too hyped to leave it at that though, and the band were soon back out again for the encore, lighting the place up with a great version of ‘When The Sun Goes Down’, letting the crowd sing the first verse as has become typical at their gigs, and teased an a capella verse from Mardy Bum. Saving the best till last though, the band closed with a massive version of ‘R U Mine?’, playing the songs final chorus three times in a wonderfully off-the-cuff moment of spontaneity capping off arguably their greatest live show to date and bringing an excellent Leeds festival to a final, definitive end.


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