The Verse’s Alex Berdugo tells us what he thought of Leeds Festival, which took place from the 24th – 27th August 2017.
Upon arriving at Leeds Festival on the Thursday ahead of the weekend, the atmosphere struck me immediately. There was an indescribable electricity and excitement that resonated throughout camp which was impossibly infectious.
The Alternative Stage was hosting the first late-night DJ set of the long weekend, with Hot Dub Time Machine ready to take Leeds by storm. After selling 16,000 tickets at the Edinburgh Fringe (cementing it as the biggest event by a country mile) Hot Dub Time Machine promised the number one tunes from every year since the sixties. Within ten minutes, we heard everything from R Kelly’s 2003 hit Ignition (Remix) to 1992 club banger Jump Around by House of Pain.
The dancefloor was completely rammed with eager festival-goers, which had its pros and cons. It was fantastic to see such a community of dancers, yet the temperature inside the tent was ridiculous. It reached the point where sweat was beginning to rain from the ceiling, causing me to put up the hood of my waterproof to be sheltered. Despite this, the setlist was perfect for the occasion, whetting our appetites for the weekend ahead.
What better way to start the Friday than with drum and bass? After rubbing our eyes awake, we traversed to the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage to catch Loadstar B2B Matrix and Futurebound, a power duo that never disappoint when bringing the bass. I noticed right off the bat the exceptional skill of the DJs as they bobbed and weaved between each other. Both had an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess, causing serious bass faces in the crowd. Their set was carefully thought-out and succeeded in fuelling the audience with adrenaline. I would highly recommend checking them out!
Later came Blossoms, an indie band that took the scene by surprise and who are still riding the phenomenal success of their critically acclaimed debut album. They were upgraded from the NME stage last year to the main stage this year, a huge step for a band in such an early stage of their career. The band were bizarrely stationary for such a prestigious occasion, but what really mattered was how close they made Honey Sweet and Charlemagne sound to the record. Singer Tom Ogden effortlessly delivered his vocals, while bassist Charlie Salt carried the band through their set like a human magic carpet. Blossoms make no secret of their love of Oasis, meaning they made sure to hype up the main stage crowd for following act Liam Gallagher.
As Liam Gallagher took to the stage, chants of ‘Liam! Liam! Liam!’ reached a cacophony. As one of those artists that is on almost every northerner’s concert bucket-list, there was a feeling of giddiness as the first chords were struck. Oasis superhits Rock ‘N Roll Star and Morning Glory were first on the setlist, nineties euphoria sweeping through the air with every note. Gallagher also played new songs from his yet-to-be-released solo album As You Were, proving that his song-writing abilities weren’t to be doubted. However, he did resort to playing his brother Noel’s songs for at least half the set. Liam Gallagher is obviously using the Oasis frontman gimmick as one of his main selling points, but he might need to break away from it eventually. Overall, was a great old-fashioned rock ‘n roll set and a breath of fresh air from the songs currently in the charts.
Friday’s headliners were mind-blowing. Muse, who have been around since their game changing album Showbiz in 1999, were also here to leave their mark on Leeds festival. An awe-inspiring array of LED lights and lasers welcomed the band with their latest single Dig Down. Live, Muse were so loud that I wouldn’t be surprised if Reading festival could hear their performance. Matt Bellamy was a god-like presence on stage; the chemistry between him and his fellow band members immeasurable. They nailed renditions of Supermassive Black Hole and Plug In Baby, but the real highlight for me was Psycho. It was the second song in the set and the opening riff was the moment I thought ‘this is going to be mental’. It was a flawless show by a very deserving headline band, it left me feeling changed as a human being.
Let’s take some time to talk about what food the festival had to offer. The answer: a lot. We were spoilt for choice over the weekend. If I got bored of chicken burgers and chips, I would simply walk two metres to the chilli con carne stand. If I overindulged in burritos, I would merely stroll to the piri piri chicken stall or pick up a box of fresh noodles at the Chinese bar. The food was on the expensive side but was tasty enough to not be considered extortionate. You won’t ever go hungry at Leeds festival – just make sure you bring some extra cash to splash.
The Amazons were one of the first acts I caught on Saturday, an electric guitar-based band who have, despite only this year released their debut album, become a fan favourite. Hundreds of devotees flocked to the Festival Republic stage to catch them, many having to stand outside the tent. The band were clearly having the time of their lives, giving the audience what they came for and smashing out one unforgiving rock song after another. The Amazons have a promising future ahead of them – there’s no doubt that they could be given a slot on the NME stage in the next few years.
After, we needed an area to ‘glitter up’ and the main stage seemed like the perfect place to do it. We arrived just in time for Circa Waves, the feel-good indie band that provides no shortage of summer tunes. T-Shirt Weather was the standout track of their set. The crowd lapped up every note and I was left wishing for more at the end.
A pleasant surprise was the next band, Jimmy Eat World. The group has existed for over two decades but weren’t short on youthful energy. Singer Jim Adkins demonstrated that he hadn’t let his vocal ability slip over the years and I thoroughly enjoyed the defiant performance of Bleed American. Jimmy Eat World’s setlist was full of throwbacks, making it an endearing and nostalgic spectacle on that Saturday afternoon.
Touring off the cusp of 2016 album Gameshow, Two Door Cinema Club joined the fray. Fuelled by guitar, synthesisers and falsetto, this is a group that sound like no other. Two Door Cinema Club have the rare ability to record a huge tune in the studio and then make it even better when played live. They played the classic What You Know, yet the performance of Lavender was so sensational I think it took the top spot in their set. The band did the fans more than proud – can they ever do wrong?
Bastille, consistent pop chart toppers, were on the bill before the night’s headliners Kasabian. It’s virtually impossible to not hear hit track Pompeii on a standard club night, so it there was a collective anticipation from many to hear it live for the first time. The band were tight and had no problem making the songs engaging to watch live, especially with frontman Dan Smith running and jumping around the stage like there was no tomorrow. However, their performance seemed to lack a certain X factor. Perhaps it was because Muse set the bar so high the night before, but Bastille seemed a tad lifeless. On the other hand, they were still worthy of the slot they had and did not disappoint. Perhaps some work on their live show is all that is needed.
9:25pm had finally come. The headlining band Kasabian had rocked Reading and now they were here to do the same at Leeds. Tom Meighan and co. swaggered onto the stage like they owned it, power chords blazing. The light show lit up the crowd, with every audience member singing their heart out to classics such as Club Foot and Underdog. Kasabian were an unstoppable wall of sound that thundered from the main stage. Tunes such as Bless This Acid House that truly kickstarted the party, carrying the atomic ambience all the way to the encore. Without a doubt, Fire was the highlight. The entire crowd leapt like they had never leapt before, joined together in what can only be termed as ecstasy. A historic performance from Kasabian – you haven’t lived until you see them live!
If you aren’t in the mood for more loud music as soon as you wake up, you can always explore the wide array of shops that Leeds festival has to offer. You’ll find yourself walking in for a bandana and leaving dressed like a Red Indian. Plenty of steampunk outfits were on display next to rails upon rails of vintage clothes. We also found a store that sold bracelets, rings and the like all made from recycled skateboards. It was a good time killer to explore the shops and their merchandise in between sets, as well as useful if you needed to top up on necessities like blankets and pillows.
Typically the day when the pre-emptive post-festival blues began to set in, this Sunday felt different since Leeds festival was still clearly far from over. The arena was the busiest it had been all weekend and hordes of bustling people could be seen far and wide. The shops were brimming with customers and the food stalls had queues full of hungry ravers.
Today, I intended to check out what the Alternative Stage had to offer during daylight hours, though not before taking a seat for The Pretty Reckless at the Main Stage. Cheesy pizza in hand, we watched Taylor Momsen and co. tear up the stage with their unapologetic metal-pop songs. The band got an impressive amount of the audience to chant to Heaven Knows, considering it was a relaxed early afternoon. The Pretty Reckless were a great choice to have in 2017’s line up, they were the perfect warm up to the day ahead with angsty singalongs such as Make Me Wanna Die.
The Alternative Stage boasted a very different line up to the ones surrounding it, promising comedy gold from the likes of Tapeface and Joe Lycett. Tapeface was an America’s Got Talent finalist, and for good reason. His act was originality at its finest, and the crowd were fighting for a view of the act, all eyes firmly on the stage. Tapeface would bring up various audience members, integrating them into key roles of his performance. Everyone who was chosen was dropped into a hilarious scenario or instructed to perform peculiar actions at certain times. The purpose of these actions would sometimes be unclear until all pieces of the puzzle had come into place, the final realisation would hit the crowd simultaneously and conjure up applause and side-splitting laughter. Tapeface was an epitome of a superb and unique comedian, I hope more follow in his footsteps.
The same goes for Joe Lycett, the stand-up comedian who has no problem breaking boundaries with his audiences. He had us in fits of giggles in every anecdote he told, everything from his kooky friend who tried to spend 24 hours in a 24-hour Tesco, to his feud with Olympic diver Tom Daley. Lycett even went so far as to crowd-surf at the end of his set, a feat that left our mouths gaping as he was carried from one end of the tent to the other. It was a top show from Joe Lycett, one that was embraced by his fans at Leeds.
Back at the Main Stage, Major Lazer had put in the work to create a sensational production, making it impossible to break eye contact with the stage. Dancers bobbed and popped to the rhythm of Lean On, while Diplo ran over the crowd in a man-sized hamster wheel. The bass was cranked to an unbelievable extent, taking each song up ten notches and having everybody swaying to the beat. The chart topping group also ensured there was audience participation. They kept it classy by asking all lads to take off their tops and throw them, leading to hundreds of people being startled by a stranger’s sweaty t-shirt landing on their head. Major Lazer got us all involved in a set that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Time for Sunday’s headliner. Legendary rapper Eminem came on with his old friend Mr Porter and session band in tow. With a setlist that spanned virtually his whole career, The Real Slim Shady took Leeds by the horns. I myself am not overly familiar with all of his catalogue, yet even I could recognise and sing along to most of the set.
The rapping was flawless. Mr Porter was finishing Eminem’s sentences and bringing a new charisma that was much appreciated. The between song chatter didn’t seem forced and was genuinely entertaining. There was something for everybody at this performance, whether you were a diehard fan of the early material or had only heard the more “charty” tunes. The encore was superb, rounding off the night with a killer rendition of Not Afraid. Anyone who says Eminem has ‘lost it’ couldn’t be more wrong. Catching him in concert should be everyone’s number one priority.
Leeds festival is a weekend that everybody should experience. There is always an artist you’ll love, a crowd that you won’t forget and a burger you’ll miss when its finished. You would be bonkers to overlook this event next year. Do yourself a favour and book a ticket now!