Typically the last 'big' festivals of the summer months in the UK, Reading & Leeds are a special pilgrimage a combined audience of hundreds of thousands of people make every August Bank Holiday weekend. This year I headed to Leeds Fest to check it out, here's what happened!
Arriving on Friday morning, the site was buzzing with campers dampened slightly by a little storm on Thursday evening, but nothing to put off the masses from what was hopefully going to be a great festival.
Don Broco, a Bedford-based alternative rock band took to the Main Stage, and were an unexpected surprise. 'Hold On', probably their most popular tune got everyone going, as did the band's in-time dance moves, steps to the side, hand-claps, a cheeky boyband touch for the popular quartet, who's lead singer had an Elvisy-look going on.
Then it was time for something different, a rapper by the name of Wacka Flocka Flame took to the brand-new Radio 1Xtra Stage, to a huge crowd. His hype man got things bouncing, as the man himself finally arrived 15 minutes late. Wacka wore a Leeds United shirt and some appropriate bling, as his set saw him get a few headbanging fans up onstage,along with a girl plucked from the crowd who 'twerked'. It was an interesting 40 minutes or so.
Just over the way to the NME/Radio 1 stage, where American girl trio HAIM were the main attraction, bringing their guitar-laden hooks to the masses. They played favourites like, 'Forever', 'Falling' and new single, 'The Wire', all from their much-anticipated debut album. One of the best things about HAIM is Este, their bassist. The older sister likes to have coarse, blunt banter with crowds during gigs and is famed for her 'bassface'. You can watch her facial expressions for 45 minutes and be easily entertained.
Overall, their performance was better than expected and I left happy, as did many others who had squeezed into the tent.
I took a bit of a wander around the Arena site afterwards, taking note of the wide variety of stalls, grabbing a few ponchos for the oncoming storm and taking in some pizza (note: this was at a time when you could actually SIT on the ground and not get covered in mud…)
Then it was time for the sub-headliners, Nine Inch Nails, almost a cult band, such is their feverent support. Being a few rows from the front barrier, I couldn't tell the size of the crowd at the time, but having seen so afterwards, it wasn't very busy, but then that should be expected given Trent Reznor and his merry band have never been notable to a mainstream audience.
NIN were good. They missed out a couple of hits, like 'Closer' and 'Hurt', but if a newcomer like me could get into it, I'm sure the hardcore fans were ecstatic with their 80 minute set. Reznor is a tense, serious stage presence and if memory serves me right, he didn't interact with the crowd one bit. At the time I didn't question this, but afterwards it turns out he put out tweets suggesting he was 'lied to' by R&L boss Melvin Benn, which Benn himself has since said is a lie.
It's all very confusing but what we are led to believe is that Reznor was promised a more extravagent stage show than the one he got, as headliners Biffy Clyro would've had stage priority, it resulted in a bank of lights instead, still impressive but not the full NIN experience.
There were probably the perfect set-up for what was a definitive headlining performance, from Biffy-motherf***ing-Clyro, as they were known for the evening.
Some doubted they had it in them to headline a major UK festival, but they delivered in spades, with a strong set packed full of their more recent mainstream hits, with a few golden oldies squeezed in for long-time supporters. Simon Neil, lead singer, was very appreciative of the crowd, telling them, '"It all goes downhill from here…I'm only joking"'. Their 'banter' was limited, but the shirtless trio let their epic music do the talking, which really got the crowd going too.
Lasers, fireworks, smashed up guitars, sing-a-longs, a massive tree prop, mental mosh pits; the show had it all, and despite the swirling wind and rain it was a fantastic way to close the first night of Leeds 2013.
Saturday came and the site's landscape had changed drastically. Rain had come in a big way, with heavy rain in the night, turning the lush green grass into a mudbath. Wellies were a necessity, as were ponchos, it was 'proper' UK festival weather.
As a result of the poor conditions, I was stationed in the NME Tent for a good few hours and was lucky to see what I saw!
Fatigue seemed to have set in during the first half of Deap Vally's set. At the 20 minute stage, drummer Julie Edwards instructed the crowd to wake up and have fun, reminding them they were at a festival! They promptly did so and the atmosphere was quite good afterwards, shame the music wasn't quite as good. I sort of like Deap Vally, but their music is too samey for my tastes, I liked their energy during the gig though, they played at such a frenetic pace I'm surprised they managed 2 shows in 2 days!
Next up were fellow Americans Fidlar. A little heard of band, but an excellent band, one of my finds of the festival. They played a clutch of quick, simple songs that relied on great riffs and lead singer Zac Carper's hyper vocals. I was reminded of a very low-fi Nirvana, if you want to see for yourself I recommend you check out 'Cheap Beer', the slogan that adorned their merch and the song that really had the crowd going wild.
I suspect that the crowd was boosted because of the next act. Brummie stars Peace, were as flamboyant as predicted, lead singer Henry Koisser striding out in a leopard print jacket and hat to a loving audience. Tracks 'Follow Baby', and 'Lovesick'', got the best responses and saw the band at their most confident. Sure the live set isn't yet perfect, some of their songs weren't the most interesting in a a live arena, but they are getting there as one of a few bands that could really kickstart the era of the British guitar band.
After a bit of Peace, I ventured into the now spitting rain to find some fresh music. It was the Rock Stage that I found it, with The Computers part way through their set. Instantly I thought I'd been transported back to the 1950s as they were all dressed in slick suits, with even more slicked back hair. Their tunes matched the image, and were a breath of fresh air. Sure the lead singer's attempts at telling a story inbetween songs were a bit manufactured, as were his off-stage antics which saw him join a wet, muddy mosh pit. But it was pure fun, reminding me of The Hives' eccentric set from 2012, in a good way!
Then, then it was Major Lazer time. Now I didn't know what to expect, a pure DJ set?
Headliner time had come, and the pop-punk of Green Day was blasted from the Main Stage. Now I was a fair distance back, and wasn't massively impressed with the size or energy of the crowd, but to be fair, it was constantly raining, muddy as anything and the band were just okay, nothing more, on reflection. Billie Joe Armstrong annoyed me, with his political speeches and subtle nuances. However, I did enjoy songs off 'American Idiot', which I loved at the time of release, with their comprehensive playing in full of 1994 album Dookie, released the year of my birth, missing the mark for me, but not for the legions of loyal fans down the front.
Come Sunday, the thousands of campers were weary and out on their feet, but ready for a fantastic days's entertainmen The site was still a swampy mudbath, but with forecasts of clear skies and sun, it was looking promising for the final day of the festival.
Similarly to Saturday, I spent a good couple of hours in the same place on Sunday, this time the Festival Republic Tent, a place full of new talent waiting to be discovered. I saw Drenge and Swim Deep, back to back. Both were good in moderation, with outstanding songs, like 'Honey', 'The Sea' and 'She Changes the Weather', from the latter Brummies. Crowds were pretty decent too, with plenty of shoulder-riding and singing going on for the latter. Drenge were slightly more subdued, as the duo rattled through some awesome sounding music, but I'm not entirely sure whether they fit the tone of the stage.
Then it was time to check up on another NME darling, Palma Violets, a group who I was undecided on, their first album deceiving me at times. However, their blistering live set had people jumping around and going crazy. They are energetic, cocky and funny, all great features for a band to have. 'Best of Friends', was the highlight, a song that evokes the spirit of the Libertines when they were in their prime. With a couple of albums under their belt, I can see the southerners living up to the aforementioned hype, they look like they believe it too!
With that brief foray to the NME tent, it was off to the Main Stage for the remainder of my 2013 festival. White Lies were 4th from the top of the bill, but didn't really live up to expectations. For a start, I wasn't the biggest fan, I think a lot of their material sounds very 'samey', which was true of the performance, a performance hampered by sound problems and a pretty uninterested crowd, most of whom were hanging around for Chase & Status and Eminem later on that evening. Their early hits, 'Fairwell to the Fairground', and 'Death', were nice, but the longer it went on, the longer it felt they were 'going through the motions'.
Up next were Foals, again a band I was wary of. I like a lot of their songs, but had never been impressed by their live performances I'd caught on TV. However, they were great fun, energetic and had some good banter with the crowd, lead singer Yannis ending up in the crowd by the end of their set. Before that though, songs like 'Spanish Sahara' and 'My Number', showed the variation in their song-craft, going from the deep, building tunes to a catchy pop number. The boss of the festival Melvin Benn has since claimed they could headline the festival, which I think was a slight over-exaggeration, although he said the same about the next act, something which may be true…
Chase & Status, an incredible act and a perfect appetizer for what was to come. Their set up saw the duo positioned behind a 'C' and 'S' DJ booth each, with MC Rage effectively the ringmaster of proceedings, dragging out the likes of Liam Bailey as guest vocalists, with Plan B and Delilah projected onto a humongous video screen above their heads. It was impressive to see such a stage show, especially given the problems Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails had.
When tracks like 'No Problem', 'Let You Go' and 'Hypest Hype', dropped, the crowd went nuts for it, descending into mosh pits and general dancing. It was amazing to see, and one of the loudest, best atmospheres of the festival I had witnesses (more of which later). It was strange, given all I'd heard and read online prior to the festival was that their booking was a poor one, not in-keeping with the tradition of the festival. Sure, that may be correct, but why not move with the times, book popular acts who DO have crossover with the rock, alternative and indie music scene (you'd have been surprised just how many 'metalheads' were enjoying themselves to C&S). I don't see it as an issue, especially as it helps to keep the festival going, something which the next act definitely helped with.
The rap legend that is Eminem graced the stage for his second headline set, amongst a bunch of questions and fears. I got talking to people around me beforehand and whilst everyone was excited, noone knew what to expect! Old material, new material- a mixture of both? Would he mime? Well whilst that wasn't really clarified (although personally I think he relied on backing track the odd time, but was at his best and actually rapping for the majority of the set), one thing was clear; Eminem was back.
Whilst a lot of the first half of the set was his newer material, from 'Recovery' and 'Relapse', it was bearable in a live environment. This was partly due to the live band AND DJ he had accompanying him, aswell as the buzzing crowd, still excited from C&S who were devouring his hit-packed set.
My favourite moment of the festival came with the 3 minute medley of older songs, that was, 'My Name Is/The Real Slim Shady/Without Me'. For 3 minutes I was a child again, and it was amazing! As was the special guest for 'Stan', Dido herself. Both of those moments were special and brought much acclaim from the audience. Then a one-song encore came about a great rendition of the intense, 'Lose Yourself', before Em headed off for good. It may have been a fairly brisk, 25 song, 100 minute set, but god was it good. And that was Leeds Fest 2013, done just like that!
So, to round it all off, Leeds 2013 was fantastic, perhaps as an overall experience outing 2012's edition, Foo Fighters and all! We saw the newly anointed Biffy Clyro become the rock gods they were destined to be, a return for the veterans of pop-punk, Green Day and Eminem finish it all off with a blistering display of a hip-hop gig. Other personal highlights were the likes of HAIM and Peace on the NME stage, Chase & Status killing the Main Stage, Major Lazer bringing the party to the tent, aswell as echoes of the Libertines, with Palma Violets giving a confident, humourous performance.
It may have been muddy, it may have been soaking wet; but Leeds Festival 2013 was bloody good!
Photos by Danny Payne