With the rise of city festivals, such as Sheffield’s Tramlines and Brighton’s The Great Escape, Live At Leeds has seen a steady growth in size over the years from a handful of bands in 2007 to 189 acts performing at 21 venues across the city on its 10-year anniversary. This year’s festivals attracted a host of well-known big acts as well as a plethora of equally fantastic lesser known ones. Headlining acts this year included Slaves, Rag’n’Bone Man, White Lies, Wild Beasts and Nothing But Thieves and it was one festival that I wasn’t going to miss.
Besides being able to catch some of my favourite bands, festivals like Live At Leeds allow me to discover new acts and venues, and this year didn’t let me down. The festival successfully showcased the impressive array of excellent music venues that Leeds has to offer, including working and converted churches, concert halls, both universities and a wide range of bars.
The problem, however, with a city as large as Leeds is that the distances between venues were, in some cases, further than what the average festival-goer is used to. On a bank holiday weekend with a football match on, the city was crowded and buses were full. So, in order to make sure that I got to see all the bands that I wanted to, careful planning was in order, especially given the first come first serve basis.
The excellent organisation, that Live At Leeds has become famous for, made planning very easy. All the information and maps were available online beforehand and there were plenty of helpers to point me in the right direction. So, I decided to start in the city centre and slowly work my way up the hill towards Leeds University as the day progressed. Unfortunately, some outstanding venues that were host to terrific bands, such as the Brudenell Social Club and The Wardrobe bar, were too far away from the core of venues to allow for quick return trips. However, with careful planning, a bit of running, and the aid of a queue-jump bracelet, I managed to enjoy 12 bands across six venues.
Starting off nice and early, I headed down to Holy Trinity Church, in the centre of Leeds, for the dulcet lunch-time sounds of Bryde. The excellent acoustics of the place of worship, with pews for the audience to sit on and a make-shift bar, perfectly allowed vocalist Sarah Howell, also of Paper Aeroplanes, to flourish and show off her soulful range. The setting for Bryde’s performance, that transported you to a magical place, was the perfect start to the festival and a good sign of things to come. The rest of the festival now had a lot to live up to.
Suitably in the mood for a day of musical delights, I moseyed on up to Chapel, the ballroom venue of Church, to take in the alternative indie rock vibes of Fletcher Jackson and his band. The audience that came down to see the show got into it very quickly and Chapel started to fill up within the first couple of songs. Personally, the sound was a little too generic for me and it seemed that there was too much focus on having a wide range of instruments rather than concentrating on writing simple but effective songs.
After a short interlude, Hertford-based Ten Tonnes took to the Chapel stage. At this point the place had filled up and the audience was in for a treat. With creative indie pop tunes and heartfelt lyrics, frontman Ethan Barnett quickly won over the crowd and immediately put everyone in a good mood. The positive vibes of Ten Tonnes carried on throughout the set and the young lads had clearly left a mark on the festival. I would not be surprised to see them play a bigger stage in years to come.
Housed in the same building, I did not have to go far for the next concert on my list. Playing an acoustic set at the Dr. Martens store later in the day, The Pigeon Detectives kicked things off in one of my favourite Leeds music venues, Church. It’s fantastic to have one of the big acts play early on during the festival, to avoid clashes later in the day and to raise the energy from the off. Performing at the same time as headliners White Lies eased the pressure on Church a little, though the line to get in snaked its way up the street and the venue was soon at capacity.
As always, The Pigeon Detectives are a known quantity and you know that they are going to put on a high-energy and powerful alternative rock performance. It always surprises me that these indie rockers from Leeds manage to draw such a young crowd, many of whom were toddlers when the band formed. Though, this fills me with hope as it shows that the next generation clearly has good taste in music.
After The Pigeon Detectives finished their highly entertaining water-squirting microphone-swinging set, I headed down the road to the small Dr. Martens Presents Stage at Leeds Beckett University to see one of the bands that was firmly highlighted in my festival calendar, King Nun. I’ve been meaning to catch these four young musicians for a while, and this was the perfect opportunity. Being on at the same time as Seafret, The Hunna, and the end of White Lies’ set, King Nun had serious competition for fans but nonetheless, the smaller of the two Leeds Beckett University stages was busy and a 200-strong crowd had turned out for what was going to be one of my highlights of the day.
With their delightful musical innocents and lots of fun, it was refreshing to see a band that just got up on stage and enjoyed themselves. Turning up the volume to 11 with their heavy alternative rock, King Nun’s sound gave my rebellious punk soul a big snog and I knew that I made the right decision to prioritise seeing them.
Straight on from King Nun, the next musical revelation of the day was Black Honey who played to an O2 Academy packed with an adoring audience of dedicated fans, and those waiting for DMA’s and Slaves. Brimming with a certain in-your-face attitude that would have made Quentin Tarantino proud, front-woman Lucy B Phillips, walked out on stage drinking from her Black Honey soda cup, hips kicked out, staring into the crowd, before picking up her guitar and launching into a barrage of thumping fast-paced alternative rock.
The relentless onslaught of rock tunes that were impossible not to dance to delighted the packed Academy. Black Honey are playing at several festivals this summer and I will not miss the chance to see them again, and neither should you!
Next on my list were Brummie quartet Ekkah, aptly named as the band’s vocalists are called Rebekah and Rebecca. However, before I would treat myself with the finest slow disco funk to be heard in Leeds this weekend, I took a quick detour to the Dr. Martens Presents stage to witness the shy and heart warming performance by New Zealand’s Fazerdaze.
Playing in Leeds for the second time, singer Amelia Murray, was surprised and impressed by the size of the crowd that had turned out to see them. In stark contrast to Black Honey, Fazerdaze enthralled with gentle, slow, and mesmerising tones that made me forget about time and space completely and let me simply be in the moment. Transfixed by the musical ballet of Fazerdaze, time just flew by and before I knew it, their fantastic set was over.
It was now time to pick up the pace again and speed up my heart rate once more. A quick hop over to the main stage at Leeds Beckett University and the atmosphere and energy changed entirely. Bouncy and fun Ekkah took to the stage to the delight of the crowd who had been awaiting their performance. With broad infectious smiles on their faces, the happy energy of all four musicians translated into the positive vibes of their performance. Their polished and accomplished set highlighted that Ekkah are a force to be reckoned with and that they added a unique dimension to Live at Leeds.
Back at the O2 Academy, Ozzie rockers DMA’S brought all of the Britpop attitude and sound that we are used to from the likes of the Gallagher brothers. Although the sound was not entirely new and something that we have heard before, DMA’S’ performance showed that they are versatile musicians, who are more than their acclaimed debut EP Delete. Playing mainly songs from their debut studio album Hills End, DMA’S carved out their own little retro niche of the iconic Britpop sound.
DMA’S is one of those bands that wouldn’t necessarily be on my musical radar, but after being pleasantly surprised by their terrific performance, I will definitely want to see them again.
Staying in the O2 Academy, the band that I had been looking forward to most, besides King Nun, were up next. I caught Slaves, supported by Shame, last year and knew that the duo from Kent’s live show was every bit as gritty and high-octane powered as their studio sound. Leading off with bass and drums only, Slaves like many other duos, highlighted that you don’t need to be a five-piece band with lots of fancy instruments to create a roaring and growling auditive assault that moves every fibre in your body.
Slightly lost on the big headline stage of Reading 2016, the O2 Academy was a perfect venue for a relatively intimate, yet powerful performance that send the floor pulsating to the thumping rhythms of vocalist and drummer Isaac Holman and soul attacking riffs of bassist, guitarist, and vocalist Laurie Vincent. Like their headlining tour, post-punks Slaves were on top form and fans who had been waiting in the front row for hours were not disappointed.
After Slaves’ primal power and heart rate raising performance I needed a bit of a breather again and decided to calm things down a little with Scottish indie folk band Frightened Rabbit, which brought me back to Church one last time. Belting out their anthemic indie rock hits, sprinkled with the odd new song from their latest album release Painting of a Panic Attack, Frightened Rabbit was the perfect band to relax to after a long day of the melange of musical performances.
Making their return to Live at Leeds, after having headlined the first incarnation back in 2007, Wild Beasts, who’s name is slightly misleading, took to the stage to infuse the crowd with their synth-heavy electro pop. Competing with other headliners, such as Rag’n’Bone Man, Gabrielle Aplin, and Nothing But Thieves, the crowd was made up of people who specifically came to see Wild Beasts, rather than those who just turned up to the next available gig. With the venue not at capacity, there was plenty room for swaying and dancing along to the wonderful disco sounds of the rather tame Beasts.
Musically exhausted after enjoying fantastic performances across a wide spectrum of intensity, genres, and energy, I decided to end my Life At Leeds 2017 experience with the Beasts. As so often with great festivals my Spotify playlist has been firmly updated with great new bands that I will certainly try to catch on their own tours as well as with established bands who I normally would not have listened to. My highlights of the day were certainly discovering the phenomenal energy and sound of King Nun and and the raw attitude-packed musical explosion of Black Honey alongside seeing The Pigeon Detectives rocking Church to its foundations. With festival season only just getting started, my appetite is whetted and I can’t wait for the next round of musical spoiling. Live At Leeds 2018 has a lot to live up to!
Live Review & Photography by Gunnar Mallon. Live @ Leeds was on 29th April 2017.