Image © Reading and Leeds festivals/Tom Martin
The campers are broken. They’ve broken camp. Tens of thousands of performers, staff, volunteers and festival goers slept in late this morning. A few square miles of Yorkshire countryside now resemble the bloody Somme. Leeds Festival is over for another year. The question is: was it all worth it? Here’s our day-by-day review of a riotous weekend.
Have you ever noticed how every mosh pit has the same smell? Always hard to put your finger on, yet ever familiar. But that’s beside the point – we’re in the middle of one now, as Turbowolf visit their fantastic space rock theatrics upon The Pit stage. “We are here for one reason only”, proclaims wily frontman Chris Georgiadis, tongue in cheek, “and that reason... is to have a good time.” It’s an oddly inspired moment of self-aware rock and roll cliché, and it makes a refreshing change from the self-pitying histrionics emanating from the main stage for much of the afternoon. The crowd duly responds.
For us, Turbowolf’s fast-and-furious mid-afternoon set represented the best of the day’s entertainment. The Bristolians belted through a host of true gems from their two full length LPs, with ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Let’s Die’ providing the dizzying highlights.
But a number of acts did give them a run for their money. Ghostpoet and his outstanding backing band magicked up a stunning soundtrack to the early afternoon on the BBC Radio 1/NME Stage, his mellifluous intonations weaving woozily around intricate guitar, keys, drums and bass. Another standout performance came from the nattily clad Mini Mansions, with QOTSA’s Michael Shuman on drums and vocals. If you like the sound of a complex and compelling marriage between School-of-The-Beatles harmonies and the kind of off-kilter glam-pop genius that marks the two latest albums from Shuman’s better known project, you’ll like the sound of Mini Mansions.
We’ll head, now, deep into the evening, via a brace of appreciative nods to a stylistically disparate trio of Yorkshire exports: Hawk Eyes, Skinner and The Cribs…
It’s not that The Libertines are a bad band. They’ve written some iconic tracks. Pete Doherty is a magnetic character. But on any Friday night, in several music venues in almost every city in the country – and certainly on this Friday night at Leeds Festival - you’ll find more creative musicians, playing with greater feeling, with far more interesting tales to tell. The anaemic audience which has turned out for their set tonight suggests we’re not alone in this sentiment. It’s the supporting cast who really cap off the first full day of Leeds Festival 2015 – the magnificent Replacements, who pick out crisp rock melodies with precision and passion on The Pit stage; and Boy Better Know, who’ve rammed the BBC Radio 1 Dance tent to capacity for a triumphant headline set of their own.
It’s not all about Mumford & Sons, y’know. Hoards may well have looked on tonight as the immensely popular anthem-mongers roared their vile sonic bilge out into the crisp Yorkshire air, but there were some decidedly more exciting things happening elsewhere in the same instant.
Take Django Django’s revelatory headline set on the Festival Republic stage, for instance. Slowly but surely, these brilliantly inventive art-rockers have earned themselves a sizeable following – here tonight in their thousands and cutting loose with gusto. Django Django’s songs are made for this moment; phenomenally dancefloor-friendly, consistently upbeat, and peppered with compelling harmonies and percussion for good measure. Hits ‘Default’ and ‘Waveform’ are sounding especially fantastic, and from the first woozy chord to the last the band look like they’re having the time of their lives. This being Leeds Fest, there’s some hilariously incongruous circle pit action up for grabs too.
Django Django and Mumfords weren’t the only stage headliners to receive a hero’s welcome on this memorable Saturday night. In fact, nu-metal legends Limp Bizkit could well have been the most rapturously received of all. Some bizarre and frankly menacing banter from Fred Durst aside (“How many of you are wearing condoms right now?”, he shouts), their set surpasses our expectations. Classics like ‘My Generation’ still pack a mighty punch, Wes Borland (guitar) and Sam Rivers (bass) play with impressive finesse, and say what you like about Fred Durst, the man can put on a show.
Also back with a bang were emo’s answer to Take That, Panic! at the Disco, whose mid-afternoon Main Stage set took in old faves ‘9 In The Afternoon’ and ‘I Write Sins Not Tragedies’, a couple of electro-infused tracks which sounded an awful lot like a MSTRKRFT remix of Panic! at the Disco, and a string of classic rock covers – the best of which, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, inevitably went down a treat with the crowd. A pleasure of the guiltiest variety.
There was plenty to enjoy earlier in the day too - psychedlicised Japanese ex-pats Bo Ningen may well have provided the high-point of the festival on The Lock-Up stage with their explosive combination of squalling guitars, mesmeric rhythms and unbelievable charisma. This band is a visual and musical phenomenon the likes of which you’ve never experienced before – give ‘em a listen. Another great set on the Lock-Up Stage came from Californian 2-piece The Bots (read our in-depth review here).
Spare a thought for the attendees of Leeds Festival 2015. Waking to two-day compound hangovers on Sunday morning, many must surely have felt themselves tipped into full-blown existential crisis as they watched Main Stage openers BABYMETAL, who presented the heady combination of groove-laced heavy metal with spectacular dance routines from an infant troupe. Low-end guitars a la Slipknot. Great tunes. Sharp moves. You know what? It was great.
This wouldn’t have been Leeds Festival without a ‘secret’ set from a marquee name – this year its math-poppers-turned-pop-rockers Foals on the NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage. Some say Foals are one of the only bands of their generation with the potential to make the leap to festival headliner status, and there are some indications in their performance today to suggest those commentators may be right. As listeners’ expectations of Foals have developed, so too has their sound, with the more complex melodies of Antidotes and earlier releases giving way to stadium ready riffs and slower tempos. That’s not necessarily great for old-school fans, but it has done wonders for the band’s mass appeal. If rock music’s next big pop culture moment comes around anytime soon, Foals are well poised to ride the crest of the wave.
Sunday’s Metallica-topped Main Stage line-up represented the festival’s heartiest helping of metal acts – it would have been remiss of us not to sample a slice of the fury. We opted for post-hardcore veterans(!?) Alexisonfire, who tempted us over to the Main Stage with the brilliant ‘Boiled Frogs’. With a winning combo of mighty screams, powerful vocal melodies and a smattering of singalong sections in glorious half-time, they make for a thoroughly enjoyable mid-afternoon listen. It’s well worth mentioning that young Brits Marmozets – heard from afar - were sounding great earlier on too.
It wasn’t all good on Sunday at Leeds Fest – Mancunian pop tinkerers Everything Everything seem to have traded in the brilliant fun and humour of earlier tracks like ‘Suffragette Suffregette’ and ‘Schoolin’ in favour of a bombast which smacks a little of hubris. That’s not to say they put a foot wrong musically.
In contrast, there was plenty of fun to be had later on in the BBC Radio 1 Dance tent, where rising pop star Charli XCX and backing band yelped and fist-pumped their way through a hit-heavy set that was never short of highly enjoyable – read our in-depth review here. Our own private comedy moment of the festival came during this particular set, as a young festivalgoer bearing a passing resemblance to Dawn French stood in front of us, pupils like saucers, transfixed by a man twirling a giant ‘flump’ around above his head. “Wha… what’s that?” It’s the little things in life, don’t you think?
It takes a great headline performance to really lift a Leeds Festival crowd at the end of a long weekend. Thank the Gods of ROCK, then, that living legends Metallica were on hand to deliver the coup de grace. If you’re a fan of James Hetfield and Co., you’d have loved this. The band sounded in fantastic fettle, gracefully flitting between the characteristic poles of their sound - super-heavy thrash and reverb-drenched moments of emotive reverie. And even if you’re not a Metallica fan, the staging, the professionalism and a roster of hits like ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Master of Puppets’ will likely have given you plenty to shout about (and along to) at the end of what has been an excellent weekend’s entertainment.
If we were to judge this festival on the strength of its headliners alone, we’d be leaving relatively nonplussed – where the Isle of Wight Festival came up trumps with Fleetwood Mac, Blur, The Prodigy and The Black Keys, Leeds and Reading failed to deliver on that same summer-defining scale. But then, the headliners aren’t the whole story, are they? Throughout the whole long weekend we seldom struggled to find a notable, interesting and - more importantly - enjoyable act to watch. Often enough, we found a fantastic act to watch. This festival may not offer the same sub-culture-tailored experience you’ll find at smaller events, and the chances are it won’t be your favourite festival for that very reason. But they don’t half put on some great bands. Long may the silliness continue!