Leeds Festival. Home to post-exam result teenagers, a fair proportion of (nu–) metalheads, and, these days, thanks to a cracking down on people who think firebombs are funny and Festival Republic finally hiring security with some brain cells, a Sunday night that’s as enjoyable as the rest of the festival. But – more importantly, especially if you are one of those who saw nothing but a who’s who of bands from yesteryear plastered all over the main stage line up and reached for your pension book before realising you couldn’t afford a ticket – Leeds Festival is also home to a veritable shedload of new bands.
Exciting bands. Bands you’ve vaguely heard the name of but never heard. Bands you’ve heard ad infinitum on the radio but you’ve no idea what they’re called. Bands you’ve never heard of before at all. When you’ve got all this to get stuck into, how much do you really need to see Limp Bizkit?
So in this spirit, our first stop is at the BBC Introducing stage, cunningly plonked so you have to walk past it wherever you want to get to, it’s an open air stage (with a canopy, packa-mac forgetters, not that the weather was unkind at Leeds this year) so it’ll easily grab your attention if you’re walking past. I wasn’t the only one to have turned up here to watch, listen and discover though. As one group of friends who’d parked themselves there for the day told me, they were there to see new bands they’d never heard before too. Well they got it – from Blacklisters’ gumbleedingly intense hardcore and The G.A.N.G.’s heartfelt electrohop life & love songs, to Penguin’s perfect and loveable indiepop. From Little Fish’s powerfully Patti Smith / Polly Harvey-esque vocals and endoflevelbaddie’s bonkers sampling to Club Smith’s infectious hooks. And from Amys Ghost – totally sumptuous in every way – to Gallops’ plinky plonky 8 bit apocalyptic filth sounding like an 80s roller disco hijacked by zombies, I’d put 20 English pence on a good proportion of these going onto bigger things, like previous Introducing stage protegés before them.
Wot Gorilla?’s Mat Haigh, whose band’s flailing melodies won them a spot at this year’s festival, summed up the excitement and anticipation of the bands themselves: “Playing our first festival at [Leeds and] Reading was amazing, I’m kind of speechless. Just an amazing opportunity for us”. It’s clear that Leeds Festival and the BBC Raw Talent shows in Hull and Sheffield, along with local promoters Futuresound and Leeds indie label Dance to the Radio have worked their little bottoms off to make sure they’ve found bands that really deserve to be there. Which translates to you, dear punter, as giving you some bloody brilliant breaking acts to check out.
But if you can’t handle the lack of familiarity, then the Festival Republic, LockUp/Dance, and NME/Radio 1 tents had some treats for you instead. Four of this year’s Mercury nominated bands were playing, plus any number of others being namedropped in muso-land, getting airplay on 6 music and on radio 1’s specialist and even mainstream shows, including Band of Horses, who for me won the beard-&-banjo-Kings-of-Leon-theme lookalike competition a lot of the bands seemed to be participating in. Fortunately, the frontwomen in the NME tent weren’t taking part – and rocked it up instead – Rolo Tomassi’s Eva in typical brain-melting style, and Alice Glass and her possessed-porno-stare doing her ethereal, slightly rabid yet mesmerising whisper with Crystal Castles. The Joy Formidable’s loud and offbeat upbeat pop was a lot of fun, despite Ritzy’s smug mum outfit (although smashing her guitar made up for that), and Tahita from New Young Pony Club and their infectious synthpop actually know the secret to making an audience have an incredibly good time.
The boys can still rock too though – The Drums (still as vibrant and toe-tapping as ever), Delphic (just that little bit darker, and a little bit more anthemic), and Enter Shikari (providing their brand of lightshownoise) were all huge crowd pleasers. But special mention has to go to Mercury-nominated Foals with their stark, breathtaking electro art-rock, and Wild Beasts’ looping, soaring, perfectly crafted raunch-pop – it’s clear to see why they were both up for this accolade.
The Festival Republic Stage this year was intensely eclectic. You ears could be romanced by Villagers’ beautiful (and Mercury nom’ed!) rocky folk, Summer Camp’s girlish melodies or Gaggle’s fabulously-costumed, powerful and gripping vocal constructions. Or the party-intent Sunshine Underground, blinding Atari Teenage Riot, and safety & crowd–control worriers Pulled Apart by Horses were all more than happy to make your ears sit up and pay attention thanks very much. Darwin Deez showed off his gloriously kitsch synchrodancing (and two fans showed him their “Radar Detector” tattoos – this man also inspires great love!).
I Blame Coco, who at times looked angry, proved she can sing (think Little Boots stylee), and despite The Crookes’ terrible barnets, they did rather nice 50s loungecore rock for us. Egyptian Hip Hop’s lovely twangs were occasionally reminiscent of Duran Duran, Blood Red Shoes have brilliant yell-along tunes you can dance about to, and to close, much to the delight of every straight male at the festival, Marina (and the Diamonds) packed out the tent with her fabulously kooky, super catchy pop songs.
Last on our stage list was the schizophrenic Lock Up / Dance tent. It really was worth risking Fred Durst’s party tricks on the walk over for some really special dance, punk and hardcore. We were treated to a fiercely intense set from the practically psychotic Trash Talk, Random Hand who never fail to make ska sound menacing, and a (very badly kept-) secret gig from the brilliant testosterone-fuelled Gallows – while HEALTH’s tribal-like drumming, primal vocals and scintillating FX pedals totally grabbed us by the bollocks. And I’m a girl and don’t have any of those.
So if you didn’t come away from Leeds festival loving a band you’d not heard before, you probably spent too much time in the bar wishing it was 2001. Better luck next year though eh?