Leeds Festival, August 26th to 28th

I had the pleasure of attending LEEDS FESTIVAL 2011 for the third year. This yearly rock festival is world-famous for it’s strong line-up, huge crowds and variety. Headlining this time around were Muse, My Chemical Romance and Pulp.

Arriving after a monsoon on Friday having missed a raft of bands, INTERPOL were playing some songs in the remaining rain. A fitting setting. As moody and gloomy as they have been branded, there is a light inside of Interpol that is present on their new self-titled album. In the torrential rain of Leeds they pounded through some of the favourites from debut LP ‚Turn On The Bright Lights‘, playing ‚Obstacle 1‘ to close their set. They were full of energy and impressively entertained the rain-soaked crowds. Someone even held up a sign saying ‚I came all the way from Africa to see you‘. Track ‚Lights‘ from the new LP really stands out strongly as amongst their finest work since their debut record. A good start.

Photo taken from Leeds Festival Facebook ProfileOver to Radio 1/NME stage, DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 were engaged in a loud, intense set that saw Jessie F Keeler and Sebastien Grainger win over the crowd. Their brand of heavy dance-punk pulsated and the throbbing bass and huge drum sound never let up. It was then time for ELBOW on the Main Stage who have won over the majority of critics over the years, but they do sound tired and jaded now; ‚Asleep In The Back‘, their debut LP which announced them on the scene was broken scattered and beautiful; their new material seems intent to win over crowds like Reading and Leeds. In reality,  it was a dull set – pretty uninspiring on this Friday night.

Friday night’s headliners MUSE at least cannot be branded with the tag ‚boring‘. They came on to an eerie backdrop of forks scattered over a black landscape with a spoken-word dialogue whispering sinister messages, before Muse took to the stage straight into their hit ‚Bliss‘. What is striking about Muse is their strong musicianship which is hugely overshadowed by an unnecessary, irritating warble from frontman Matt Bellamy. On hits such as ‚Time Is Running Out‘, ‚Plug In Baby‘ and the excellent ‚Super Massive Black Hole‘, all played in this set, Bellamy gets it right; at other times, the dramatic over the top nature of his vocal really drags the quality down.Photo taken from Leeds Festival Facebook Profile He mentioned that it was 10 years since their second LP ‚Origin Of Symmetry‘ was realised and released, hence the backdrop of forks in the landscape (featuring in the art-work of that record), and that the band intended to play a lot of that LP which was a treat for fans who have been into the band since the beginning. All in all, there were some high moments, and Muse did their job of opening the headline to Leeds 2011 generally well.

Onto Saturday at Leeds: on the Festival Republic Stage THE COMPUTERS offered their loud, brash punk to the morning crowds though some thought better of this and wandered to the BBC Introducing Stage to catch the set of CLOCK OPERA, who played a mixture of dance-rock and electronica and who were mightily impressive for a breaking act. Certainly one’s to watch. Onto the Main Stage DEFTONES ripped into their set with their usual reckless abandon. Leeds festival favourites, Deftones‘ hard rock mixed with Chino Moreno’s strong vocal interplay marks them out as a great band; however, at this festival, they did not really get the crowd going. The impact of their sound didn’t carry from the main stage well, despite playing through hits like ‚Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)‘, ‚Change (In The House Of Flies)‘ and ‚My Own Summer (Shove it)‘, as well as material from new LP ‚Diamond Eyes‚. Perhaps they would have been better suited on a smaller stage to a smaller crowd.

Meanwhile, over on the Radio 1/NME stage THE VACCINES played their set to a captivating audience. Despite only being around for what seems like 5 minutes the band have already taken their place in the affections of an adoring British public. Perhaps the death of The Libertines and the slow decay of frontman Pete Doherty has led to the need for a cheeky, honest, simple rock and roll band, singing about break-ups and hang-ups. Either way, the crowd sang louder than front man Justin Young could muster, as they tore through hits such as ‚Wet Suit‘, ‚Blow It Up‘ and ‚If You Wanna‘. There is something infectious about The Vaccines, and as simple as their music is, it connects people very positively and the band left the crowd screaming for an encore that never came. Debut LP ‚What Did You Expect From The Vaccines‚ is worth checking out.

From this triumphant appearance over to the Festival Republic Stage for the first time to catch the quadruple last four acts; WHITE DENIM kicked things off first with a furious live show featuring loud drums and guitar assaults that impressed, before a highlight of the festival took to the stage. Photo taken from Leeds Festival Facebook ProfileTOM VEK, gone for a long time, released ‚Leisure Seizure‘ in June of this year; previous album ‚We Have Sound‚ was critically acclaimed, but released as long ago as April 2005. In any case, Thomas Timothy Vernon-Kell, as he is truly known, performed his brand of rock/dance/electronica. (He is perhaps the dance electronica version of Buddy Holly). Impressive throughout his set, with no filler, he played a mixture of old and new with a band around him who aided and assisted. His cool, controlled vocal works well across the backdrop of glitches and sound, and first single from the new LP ‚A Chore‘ shows that he has been busy in his six-year absence. A great return.

Following Tom, DIGITALISM quickly took to the stage, creating a rave amongst the crowds packed into the tent to see them. Jens „Jence“ Moelle and İsmail „Isi“ Tüfekçi pounded through a wonderful set, swelling and dipping always, with Jens taking the front of the stage to lead the crowds dancing. After the impact of Tom Vek, (who Digitalism have remixed for), Digitalism had to work hard to keep the crowd interested, and with the lights down low, and with no break in the set, the band played songs from their previous 2007 album ‚Idealism‘ and new LP ‚I Love You, Dude‚, released this year. Superb set also.

Headlining on this stage, THE HORRORS second LP has seen them re-invent themselves with a gloomy 80’s indie sound, parting from their post-punk introduction to the masses. They were cut short by a power failure during their new single ‚Still Life‘. The band have enjoyed some critical acclaim in recent years, and being nominated for a Mercury Music Prize for their second LP ‚Primary Colours‘, and their new sound is interesting and layered. Sadly, the power cut ended things rather abruptly at Leeds, so I’m sure the band have some choice words about this…

Opening on the Main Stage in the breezy sunshine of Sunday early afternoon, THE JOY FORMIDABLE played tracks from their fantastic debut LP ‚The Big Roar‚, ‚Whirring, ‚The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade‘, and ‚Austere‘. From Wales, they are a seriously life-affirming rock 3 piece band who make a huge noise, add layers of sound, all topped off by Ritzy Bryan’s strong vocal and interesting lyrics. They set things off very well for the Sunday, and the crowd were suitably warmed up. Onto the Dance Stage CRYSTAL FIGHTERS, a new band who are being hyped as ‚the most exciting thing to happen to dance music in years‚ in some quarters, played their brand of summery, danceable tunes. Across the board it has been done before much better, and is being done much better; the hype seems truly over the top. They made people dance and also dabbled with electronica and dub-step in places… however overall, they didn’t set the heather alight…

SEASICK STEVE, back over the main stage, invited Led Zepplin’s John Paul Jones onto the stage to aid his shanty-rock. Again, another festival highlight; it’s quite incredible how quickly Seasick Steve’s stock has risen in festivals over the last few years. Having successfully released his own LP’s, and turned his hand to producing other’s work (notably, he was involved with Isaac Brock’s Modest Mouse project, producing a few of their records), he seems entirely at home at a festival. He played his self-made instruments, told the crowd stories, and explained how the chant of ‚Steve-oh, Steve-oh‘ unsettled him the first time he heard it – as he thought the crowd were booing him. Someone then explained to him that ’no, Steve – it means they like you‘. Charming. He invited a young lady up to the stage to serenade her, and sat her on his amp as he played gently to her. A swig of a bottle of Jack Daniels and some Thunderbird (a ‚cheap and nasty American wine‘) later, he was off, thanking the crowd for ‚giving me this incredible job‘.

TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB united the crowd with their bouncy, jaunty songs, calling to mind the little-known act I Was A Cub Scout and encouraged the crowd to get a little wild: ‚let’s see how many people we can get on other people’s shoulders‘. After a break, and successfully avoiding MADNESS (a band to despise, at least for oneself), JIMMY EAT WORLD came to the Main Stage to rock… they delivered. Playing their back catalogue in 45 minutes, they attacked and snarled through their bouncy, poppy rock songs and encouraged singing along and clapping – driving the crowd wild finishing on ‚Bleed American‚ tracks ‚The Middle‘ and ‚Sweetness‘. Up next was THE NATIONAL, who have risen to this stage after the success of previous LP ‚Hight Violet‚. Matt Berninger singing out ‚It takes an ocean not to …break‚ over their huge soundscapes call to mind bands such as INTERPOL or ARCADE FIRE, and the front row crowds screamed and lapped up their offerings. An impressive set gave way to Photo taken from Leeds Festival Facebook ProfileTHE STROKES, second-to-headline on what was clearly a very strong Sunday night billing. A simple stage set up, the band started from the start of their career, playing hits from ‚Is This It‘, the record that changed things so much for guitar music in 2001. They then moved into songs from their new LP ‚Angles‚, a welcome return to form after the disappointing third LP ‚First Impressions Of Earth‘. Julian seemed in sombre mood, not interacting very much with the crowd, and intent rather on just skulking around the stage as he does so well. There is something very refreshing about The Strokes not pandering to everyone and just doing it for themselves; you get the sense that as long as they are happy about their set, that’s good enough. They are undoubtably a hugely influential band and their return to festival slots is a welcome one. Newer material from ‚Angles‘ sat alongside the older material well, and confirmations that the band have began work in the studio on their 5th studio album also hints that they are back to stay.

Finally, the headliner of Sunday night’s elaborate stage set up, PULP. Always the intelligent alternative to Oasis and Blur when they were around, with their songs concerned with sex and intrigue, Photo taken from Leeds Festival Facebook ProfilePulp were sorely missed when they decided to call it a day after ‚This Is Hardcore‘. They epitomise ‚Brit Pop‘, but go further than that – able to call themselves a rightfully great band outside this branding. Their set was hit after hit, with lead singer Jarvis Cocker holding the crowd in the palm of his hand. He played the part of the ultimate showman and by the time track ‚Common People‘ arrived, it was clear this was a defining festival moment. He mentioned before playing it that when they first played this song, it was after their LP and Single ‚Common People‘ had just came out in 1995, and it was performed in Leeds. This homecoming was special, and it was a privilege to be a part of it, witnessing the return to the stage of a fantastic British band.

For highlights and photos, go to www.bbc.co.uk/readingandleeds.

Photos in this article: Leeds Festival Facebook Profile


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