Leeds Festival 2015 – Big Boutique Beats

Posted by vibrations on 08-09-15

As has already been pointed out in these pages, this year’s line-up has had its knockers, and for me neither The Libertines and Mumford and Sons are hardly headline material - but then again, who is nowadays? – but for me Leeds has never really been about the headliners. For me it has been the stumbling around and discovering something fantastic and unexpected… or finally getting a chance to see that band that you completely missed the first time around… or indulging in that guilty pleasure. So, in all three instances, a thoroughly satisfactory Leeds festival.

But that’s hardly a review, is it? I suppose you’ll be wanting some details…

Friday

After a hectic 20 minutes of putting up tent and sorting out in flight ‘refreshments’, I manage to get into the arena to nab a bit of NARCS, Futuresound runners up and first on the Introducing stage. It’s a scrappy, lively set with some meaty hooks and a real bit of fire. They’re poppy but abrasive, like Berlin-era Beatles on PCP. Good work, continued by fellow Leeds band, Where Fires Are. Their sound is a subtle blend of Talk Talk, Arcade Fire and Twilight Sad… even a touch of Stonesour… but as the comparisons demonstrate, it’s not easy to pin down this band. I will be watching these guys with interest.

With a few moments to spare, I head over to the dance tent and find myself back in the nineties – not too surprising from an artist who calls themselves 99 Souls. It harkens back to a simpler time, and if this was after lights out, I would be over this like béchamel on a lasagne. Basic stuff, but proper on one.

For a different perspective, I decamp to The Pit stage to see local heroes Hawk Eyes and am disappointed by the muddy sound, the lack of crowd and truncated performance. As a band they remain one of the most cerebral and exciting metal acts today - songs like ‘The Trap’, ‘Witchhunt’ and ‘Bears By The Head’ really are terrifyingly good - if only more people realised this.

In another stumbling moment, I end up in the Festival Republic Tent watching Spring King. This was one of those ‘I wasn’t expecting that’ moments as they played a stormingly aggressive set including their big number ‘City’. Gengahr, who followed, weren’t exactly that, with a very competent yet ultimately empty set with too much falsetto. A magnesium ribbon band – all flash, no bang.

Heading back to the pit, I witness the first real defining set of the day from Turbowolf, a wild party of a set channelling the essence of rock and roll via Bristol, with Chris Georgiadis working the crowd like a pro, kicking off the first circle pit of the day. Monstrous fun.  I stay in the Pit for Beartooth, screamcore punk from Ohio. I know Caleb is not feeling his best, but he manages to stir up the crowd to a dervish fury, singing a line every now and again and letting the crowd take the strain. It’s a bit lazy, but he displays the arrogance and confidence of a young Mark E Smith, which some find is a good thing. Ahem. I stay for a third band, enjoying the metal vibe, and am rewarded with the stupendous Bury Tomorrow. Tighter than a tax dodging tycoon, they are hardcore yet melodic, doomy yet high speed and utterly accommodating to the crowd, with front man Dani Winter-Bates promising to high five everyone who makes it over the barrier – I personally boost eight people onto the crowd. It feels like a proper gang, a bit Viking, and Southampton should be very proud of these lads who bring the power and the glory.

By way of a complete contrast, I make my way to the mainstage for Kendrick Lamar, and find it surprisingly quiet for such an exciting artist. Maybe the blend of jazz and hip hop is too much, but for those of us who make it down, we are treated to a smooth, welcoming and laid back vibe, a short set but hit filled and appetising one. I take my continuing need to dance over to Hudson Mohawke, where a ritual of rhythm is in progress, hypnotic and orgiastic, three men making beautiful music, blue lit and moody. I could stay here all night, I really could…

… But I don’t, because I have to catch Sweden’s Refused in the pit, one of those bands you never thought you’d see again, and it is a surprisingly small crowd again. No matter: our select number enjoy the sight of Dennis Lyxzen flinging himself around the stage in a three piece suit like a hardcore Nick Cave. It’s a splendidly chaotic climax to a splendidly chaotic day. I might hurt tomorrow…

Saturday

... along with the rest of Leeds festival from the looks of things. There are a few sore heads and shameful stares this morning. This is no reason to be deterred from enjoying some good music though, starting with Leeds’ own Treason Kings on the Introducing stage. Packing all the melodic and harmonic punch of the Wildhearts and following it with an uppercut of raw grunge, they dominate the stage, wow the crowd, get a girl standing above it and have a top hole time. Valiant. Mallrats  are nauseatingly deft for fifteen year olds, and though their style is at the moment slavishly early Nirvana, give them time to find their own sound… and they need to keep hold of that drummer – he’s ace!

A quick trip to the main stage for a bit of Drenge from Sheffield. The  Loveless brothers are joined by Rob Graham, formerly of the late lamented Wet Nuns, who would have been amazing on the main stage. Still, though Drenge may not be as exciting as other two pieces I’ve just mentioned, they are solid, heavy, laconic and a little disappointed at the lacklustre crowd. See reasons above.  I stay for the Palma Violets, having confused them in my mind with the March Violets, and am pleasantly surprised by their Wonderstuffy stuff. It’s fun pop indie, but conceals an unexpected complexity in there.

The Radio One stage beckons for American Football, and I am surprised to find that the tent is half the size - I’m wondering about capacity for Limp Bizkit later, but I quite like the intimacy it brings, especially for post math Americana… esoteric, but hey! Look what we got! There’s even a plaintive trumpet! Mellow, soothing and melancholy. Sweet.

I’d seen it on the listings and was intrigued: The History of Heavy Metal by Andrew O’Neill. Sometimes those hunches pay off. THoHM is an hour’s worth of gags, riffs, tunes, images and a genuine love of all things metal and is an absolute joy. All I wanted to do after watching this was listen to metal and do what he does.

Bastille are on the main stage, but it is hard to tell. Mild and bland, barely audio wallpaper, their highlight is an exsanguinated version of ‘No Scrubs’. That’s not saying much.

Now Bo Ningen… that’s more like it! Prog metal from Japan via London delivered by a guy (Tungen) in a lovely frock. Psychrocky, acid punky and pretty scary, not helped by the fact that Tungen looks like a yurei…

I go to get some chicken and watch a bit of Alt J. I can make out some of their set, and it is pretty good but lacking somewhat in power… perhaps my need for chicken was affecting my judgement.

Ah well, suitably victualed up I am ready for what I consider to be the main event – Limp Bizkit, a guilty pleasure shared by many as the tent is absolutely packed out when we get there. They open with ‘Rolling’, which would have been one of the last in my books, but after this overpowered start they really do continue to deliver killer blow after killer blow – it is certainly something to hear representatives from three generations screaming along to ‘My Generation’. There are some tech problems, and one slower song, but for the most part it’s all about ‘the nookie’, we ‘break stuff’ and even rage against the machine. Now I know why I wanna love ya…

Sunday

Before we know it, Sunday is upon us, bringing us the heaviest line up of the weekend. But before we dive into the metal, a bit of dancing is in order, courtesy of Happy Daggers on the Introducing stage, whose funky laid back and catchy grooves are just the thing to get your moves on. Sinclair really does have a fantastic voice, and I think the open air does him and them a world of good. I expect to see a lot more Happy Dagger festival action in the future. Meanwhile and during on the main stage, Baby Metal are confounding all expectations with the oddest combo of heavy metal, jap-pop, choreography and metal mythology you have ever seen. It is manic and adorable, so odd that you can’t help but like it. Switching back to the Introducing stage (you can watch main and Intro at the same time just by stepping slightly to the left or the right of the Rare Breeds burger bar), Samuel S. Parks are keeping the dance vibe going with some Northern Soul, a supergroup of Mod, Skin and Wigan Casino influences and some outstanding Hammond action. Very groovilicious.

Right, time to get heavy with Ho99o9, grindcore hip hop, doom hop if you will, a violent unsettling blend of drums, distorted guitar samples, horror synths, stoner paranoia and back flips. It’s manic, dangerous and all over way too soon, so I decamp to the main stage to see Marmozets. Barnsley born and bred, they may be young but they know how to work a stage, and though the sound is pretty much Alanis Morissette goes screamcore, the kids love them.

I then get kinda split between Black Peaks and Vitamin, not really doing myself any favours but wanting to catch them both. Black Peaks are noisy, heavy and guitary, Vitamin are poppy, synthy and drawing a big crowd. It all gets very confusing, so I head back to the main stage for Modestep. I do like a bit of dubstep, but the marriage of Josh Friend’s glorious soul tinged voice and the hardness of the dub is heavenly. It’s full of energy, enthusiasm, melody, violence and contemplation, a mash of things that shouldn’t go together… but they do…

I almost miss And So I Watch You From Afar in the pit, and I can honestly say I would have been gutted if I did. Fiddly, mathy guitars, post-metal riffs and some real technical playing. I find it hard to recall details as I was caught completely by surprise by them . Baroness were less of a surprise, being of the very heavy variety and more of a foot on the monitor kind of band. Reliable and heavy, but not as spectacular as And so… on any other day…

Approaching the end, I get into the main stage crowd for Royal Blood. I last saw them at the Met, playing to a packed venue. Here they have a bit more space, but are diminished not one iota. Say what you like about the simplicity of their songs, how two guys can pack such a punch is beyond me and the fact that they can fill a stage is testament to their presence. I hope the second album has as much punch, but if the new track is anything to go by…

This is the third time I’ve seen Bring Me The Horizon, and each time I see them my opinion of them rises. This time it is all about the details – the humourous health and safety video, the accompanying videos in general, the sheer force of the music, the narcotic, hypnotic effect that the sound and vision has… this is industrial music from industrial country and I stick my neck out when I say that they are the heirs to the thrones of Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson. It is vulgar and triumphant, and when Ollie thanks the audience for giving him a reason to live it is touching too. Yeah… they could headline…

But now, back to the Pit for an audience with Papa Emeritus III and Ghost. There are a lot of confused people in the crowd who aren’t expecting satanic pop, but that’s what this is. With the theatricality of the faceless ghouls and Papa in his corpse paint and robes it is something to just have fun to – more Alice Cooper than Mayhem. And that can only be a good thing – taking yourself too seriously is never a good thing.

And so… to Metallica, the headliners of headliners, one of the biggest bands in the world. True, it all looks spectacular (sit down, Lars), the songs are all epic (sit DOWN, Lars), and they can certainly put on a show (SIT DOWN, LARS!) but the captive fans on stage? The gruelling bass solo/guitar solo/drum solo? The changes in tempo? Metallica have been on the road too long and need to get back in the studio, because they are becoming jaded, which is a shame as I first saw them when they were at the top of their game. Back in ’91. Metallica, I love you, but you have to let it go…

And so, that was it for Leeds, bar the circle pit in the VIP bar to Fleetwood Mac. Enjoyable, but still very quiet crowd wise… but personally I like that. It suggests that maybe with a scale down we’ll get some even more odd and interesting bands, some obscure and entertaining stuff. It can be the biggest boutique festival in the world. Yeah… that would be good…

Rob Wright




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