Friday, 29 August 2014

Leeds Festival Part 3: Sunday

It’s the last day of Leeds fest and it falls to BBC Introducing stars-in-the-waiting Forever Cult to shift those hangovers. Their ‘soft verse, loud chorus’ approach works well, displaying a love of both noise rock and melody in enough balance to keep them feeling progressive. Oldies ‘Graves’ and ‘Luck’ sound as good as ever, but it’s the vocal melodies of their newer material, showing off their poppy side, that hints at even better things to come 

We're ready to continue the rock with Pulled Apart By Horses, but due to illness cancellation we end up at Little Matador, who soundtrack out third Chinese takeaway in as many days with well orchestrated Scottish radio rock that should please any Twin Atlantic fan. They’re pleasant enough, but lack that indescribable x factor.

Choosing to watch Royal Blood requires some serious elbow work through one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. One we do get inside, we're thoroughly baffled: clearly the band is made up of just two guys, but what we get is a wall of sound that looks like there is a guitar backing track underlying Mike Kerr’s live bass, rendering proceedings a little fake. However, before we get on our authenticity high horse and ride off into the sunset, we figure out that his instrument is in fact strung to play both guitar and bass parts, this means he is TWICE as talented. Suitably humbled, we release that they're pretty darn awesome and well worthy of donning Matt Helders chest at Glastonbury.

With the main stage having brightened up, Peace get the paisley clad teenagers dashing to the front for their slice of deliciousness. ‘Lovesick’ and ‘Money’ sounding slicker than ever, highlighting how comfortably and cohesively their set now sits together. Filling the main stage with a natural ease normally reserved for bands twice their stature, they’re destined to be a bill climber.

What do a Wolf Alice crowd and a Rolo have in common? They both have gooey, moorish centres that get sweaty in the heat. The turnout for the London four piece is staggeringly informed, bellowing along to each of their angst-anthems in fine voice, taking it in turn to clamber on one another's shoulders for a closer look at their new icons. Resplendent in white, they remain as grateful as ever despite a long run of festival shows this season, coolly ignoring the laddish cries of 'Ellie you're fit' with a concise, well executed set. Expect to see them in the NME tent this time next year.

Watching Circa Waves play is a little like watching the younger, less miserable brothers of The Strokes play. They fling out massive choruses like canapĂ©s at a fancy press party, and the audience just can't get enough. Their chord progressions occasionally remind me of the OC theme tune (oh Seth, why won’t you be mine), but I’ll never say no to this sort of nostalgia trip: here, at the end of August, it feels like summer has arrived. Along with yesterday’s Southern, they prove themselves to be my favourite discovery of the weekend.

If being greeted onstage by a giant cardboard of your own face is enough to terrify anyone, but if Chvrches, Lauren Mayberry is bothered, she doesn't look it. Launching into  ‘We Sink’, they cater to expectations (her voice holding out much stronger live than we expected), but they do little to go above or beyond, and their set ends up feeling a little lacklustre because of it, despite a pretty stunning light show.

Perhaps Chvrches could learn a little stage presence from We Are Scientists who despite having stalled a little out of the starting blocks growth wise, will always have ‘With Love And Squalor’ and a beautiful bromance between members to fall back on. ‘Nobody Move…’, ‘The Great Escape’, ‘It’s A Hit’… they’re all present and correct, but it’s forgotten classic ‘After Hours’ that gets a nostalgic tear dwelling in the corner of our eye.

If Melvin Benn fancied scouting for future headliners, he would have down well to skip out on Jake Bugg and watch Bombay Bicycle Club instead. Boasting beautiful, hand crafted visuals over their well travelled, intelligent indie, their set feels like something of a celebration of all they have achieved thus far, Jack Steadman grinning from ear to ear. The overlap with tonight's main stage headliner means a slightly early finish and a mass evacuation before the final songs, but ‘Feel’ and ‘Carry Me’ sees hardcore fans sticking around, using the new found space to launch a serious dance party. As established Bombay fans, it’s the first time we’ve seen newer songs get a better reaction than old, which can only mean very, very good things. Bombay Bicycle Club, headlining 2016. You heard it here first.

And so the weekend has come to an end, and what more classically northern way is there to end things than with Arctic Monkeys? By the time we push ourselves out of the Bombay melee we’re far too late to get anywhere near the stage, but the Yorkshire pride is palpable in the air, and cries of jubilation ring out as Alex Turner takes to the stage in a custom made coalminers jacket, emblazoned with two Yorkshire roses. What ensues is a typical Monkeys set; nothing fancy, but fun nonetheless, a fitting way to say goodbye to the ‘AM’ era. Whilst ‘R U Mine?’ restarted 3 times isn’t exactly much of an encore and Turner teases the audience by throwing out a solitary casual verse of ‘Mardy Bum’, there is simply no touching his Las Vegas worthy cool, however obnoxious, and the band sound as tight as the trousers Turner is sporting. Rest your snake hips and quiff comb Alex, you’ve ready for a well deserved break.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Leeds Festival Part 2: Saturday

Normally festival mornings mean a slow stumble past the portaloos before rummaging in your change for an overpriced bacon bap, but on Saturday morning, we skipped the breakfast and headed straight for the NME tent with the other eager beavers to catch the festival premiere of Gerard Way. Having headlined the festival with My Chemical Romance 3 years prior, he seemed genuinely chuffed to be back, costumed as always in a sharp blue suit that set off his cartoon character red hair. It seems solo life has set him free – the ‘sorry you don't know any of these songs, but you're going to love them anyway' quip is delivered with the sort of humour you never would have gotten at an MCR show. ‘Action Cat’ gets a few heads bopping, but it’s ‘Zero Zero’, heavily indebted to Brit Pop, that is the real star of the show.

Fellow newbies to the festival scene, Girlsondrugs only formed in February but are already attracting critical plaudits and a set on the BBC Introducing Stage, testament to their of-the-minute sound. Like Alunageorge if they were skulking around after dark instead of throwing arms up in the club, they’re sultry, sharp and oh-so-sassy. Ones to watch.

Subtelty is not the aim of the game for Japanese Metalcore outfit CrossFaith, but then again, they are on the main stage. Their energetic set is as obnoxiously fun as always, but the driving rain pushes casual fans away in search of much needed refuge. Let’s face it: moshpits aren’t that bad ass when everyone is fumbling for their regatta.

CrossFaiths loss is Southern’s gain, who play in the nearby Festival Republic tent and draw a crowd so large that singer Tom is forced to humorous praise the rain for the turnout. However, even after the rain dwindles, the Southern siblings retain the majority of the audience for the simple matter that they’re brilliant: melding their Belfast via Liverpool heritage to create a modern blues psych sound that is halfway between The Kooks and The Black keys but more likeable that either. An early bid for new discovery of the weekend.

You always know you're onto a winner when people sing your riffs back at you rather than your lyrics, so Drenge must be pinching themselves right about now. Circle pits aplenty compliment their romp through the majority of their debut record, as well as a new, very Nirvana track which whets appetites for the Castletown brothers return. Ending with an incredible rendition of ‘Let's Pretend’ that seems to go on forever but not long enough at the same time, they have the NME/BBC Radio 1 Tent eating out of their little mischievous palms.

For all the day trippers who missed the Blink 182 party the night before, The Front Bottoms plug the void of outsider emo in the Lock Up Tent, inciting a devoted following befitting of their cult status. Whilst the first time we watched them (supporting Brand New) felt a little like a Tom Delonge tribute act, they’re inherently more inviting second time round now when the songs are familiar. By the end of their set, I’m left feeling 14 again and ready to take over the local high school in with my nerd-gone-good underdog triumph montage.

Nerdiness plagues the dance moves of the majority of the turnout for AlunaGeorge – we’re talking some seriously overzealous twerking and slut drops from those certainly odd enough to know better. However, we can’t blame them too much – Aluna Francis is looking fab as ever and her honey smooth vocals are perfect for a bit of an afternoon boogie, especially to songs now this familiar - even the guy next to me in a madchester bucket hat and round glasses is hollering ‘Just boys, White boys’ in a broad northern accent with no irony whatsoever.

It always seems to rain when Vampire Weekend play Reading & Leeds, which might be why the normally snappy dressed Ezra Koenig is sporting a particularly casual Nike tracksuit. Despite their brilliance as a band, their set comes off as laid back as his choice of attire, delivered with very few smiles and only a degree of heartfelt stage chat. Luckily, the songs make up for it – ‘Holiday’, ‘Walcott’ and ‘A Punk’ were built for the British summertime, getting the mud flying and underage boobs flashing on the main stage screens. With a world exclusive of ‘California English Part 2’ sweetening the deal, I’m willing to forgive them for being a bit knackered this end of touring season.

What a difference two years makes for SBTRKT. In this same tent in 2012, you could barely get near the fringes, and now we walk into the tent with ease. Despite a newly remixed version of massive hit ‘Wildfire’ and a somewhat terrifying new inflatable marking out his stage presence, the lack of guest vocalists from the debut record renders the set a little like a glorified DJ slot, and people leave in droves after one or two songs. An exclamation of ‘How you doing Reading Festival?!’ does little to help his People who stay for newer material are treated to cameos from Emily Warpaint and Ezra vampire weekend, but as he finishes off on ‘Right Thing To Do’, the tent has more than half emptied and it seems that the newer atmospherics have failed to inspire.

Fuelled up on Chinese noodles and canned cosmopolitans, Queens Of The Stone Age’s set comes as something of a understated triumph.‘Sick Sick Sick’ sounds particularly feral under the darkening clouds and 'Make It Wit Chu' ensures that my inexplicable crush on Josh Homme remains intact. There’s no denying that they’re a formidable live act, but it feels a little like going through the motions and we find ourselves wishing we had could have a nip of the tequila Homme is necking to get the party properly started.

Thank god then, for Paramore’s Queen of The iPhone Age, Hayley Williams. People questioned their position as headliners, but by the end of catchier-than-a-festival-cold opener ‘Still Into You’, the chorus screamed back at them is louder than anything aimed at QOTSA, and she is visibly energised by their enthusiasm. High kicking, pacing and writhing around with not a note out of place, she is professionalism personified. With a history of in band spats, trials and tribulations, this headline position clearly means a great deal to them, and by the time she rallies the misguided and disaffected on new album highlight ‘Part 2’, the tear tracks are visible down her face. Paramore are a band who really mean it, and it is this which is the true key to their unstoppable rise. By the time they 'take us to church' for ‘Ain’t It Fun’ (aka pop punk song of the decade), we're all well and truly won over. Welcome to the head table.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Leeds Festival Part 1: Thursday & Friday

All images by Kevin Lawson - Thanks Kev!

The first time I attended Reading Festival was the best day of my life. No scoffing at the back, I’m serious. It was Thursday 27th August, in 2009, I’d just landed myself 4A*s and 7A’S at GCSE that morning, and as my parents drove me to the festival I had watched on television for as long as I could remember, in the bright sunshine, I genuinely felt as if I had everything I had ever wanted in my life at that moment. Yes, I was the classic post-education teenage clichĂ©, but it goes some way to explaining why, out of all the festivals, Reading and Leeds holds a special place in my heart.

Having moved up north for University, Leeds Fest became my nearest option and after being thoroughly impressed by it’s atmosphere in 2012, I was thrilled to be invited back as press this year. Boasting one of the most impressive line ups in years, it read like a who’s who of bands who soundtracked by teenage years and in Arctic Monkeys, has an irresistible headliner homage to my first ever Reading five years ago. With guest camping, REAL toilets and a press area to charge my phone, speak with bands and write up this here review, the normal perils of festival camping were minimised, leaving me to take in over 30 acts across the weekend. Let’s get into it shall we?


The pressure is always a little off for the first band on stage on the Thursday night (everyone is normally off getting too pissed on cheap cider to be particularly scathing about who they watch), but that doesn’t stop Leeds natives Post War Glamour Girls putting in a strong set. They have the package – good stage banter, a full, warm sound and dark vocals which are reminiscent of an old band I couldn’t put my finger on and haunted me for the entire weekend.

After distinctly underwhelming in a support slot for Wild Beasts last year, I had massively low hopes for Fryars, but the fact that I had to check who they were on my Clashfinder three songs in speaks volumes about how unrecognizable they've come to sound. Coming across somewhere between Everything Everything at their most introspective and newbies Breton, Fryars, consider this a public apology.

If Leeds Fest had an onsite casino, I would have placed money on Honeyblood being American. My head is filled of images of them frolicking on a spring break beach with Beth Cosentino of Best Coast on an LA beach, but then they HAVE to go and ruin it by announcing that they’re from Glasgow. Sheesh. Once I’m over my initial disappointment, I’m fully sold on their summery blues and effortlessly cool stage presence.

With the rain pounding down, we decide to bail on Toy and Superfood in favour of the VIP Guest Bar. Yeah I know, we’re those sorts of people.Taking refuge in the marquee, we’re treated to delicious triple cooked chips and the sorts of RnB bangers that magnetise people to the (muddier by the minute) red carpet. As Notorious B.I.G segues into Justin Timberlake into Mary J Blige, I did find myself almost wishing this was an RnB festival… snap out of it Williams, this isn’t Wireless. Off to bed!


 If there is a better way to shake off the morning cobwebs than watching The Wytches tear up the NME/BBC Radio 1 Tent, then we haven’t found it yet. Howling through curtains of hair, they remind me of the stomach lurching feeling of missing a step in the dark, eerily off kilter like The Horrors back when they had massive hair and immediate tunes.

The cacophony sit at direct odds with Twin Shadow, who is so slick and radio ready that he may as well consider hiring someone to edit his entire life into manageable 3 minute 30 chunks. No fuss or bother – just smooth, classy modern pop. We like.

If ‘bands who are sort of all about the soloist, but are kind of still a band’ is your preferred niche genre, stop reading this blog right now and peg it over to YouTube to check out Saint Raymond. Drawing a crowd size practically unheard of at this time of the day, he/they fills out the Festival Republic tent with teenage girls sporting 1975 t-shirts and does a brilliant job of executing memorably indie pop that perfectly fills the gap left by Two Door Cinema Club. We’re very hopeful for his future.

Causing the first annoying clash of the weekend, Saint Raymond’s overlap with blogger captnip Jungle means we only catch the last tent minutes of their set, which feels like a genuine festival moment. Turning a tent the size of the NME into a smokey and intimate club is no mean feat, but their multi-layered brooding funk is enough to get me wishing I’d caught the whole thing, and my parents texting to say they were loving it on BBC Three. The ultimate seal of approval.

Similar parental plaudits commend Clean Bandit’s televised set from Reading Festival, but unfortunately for Leeds, something got lost in northern translations. As expected, ‘Extraordinary’ and ‘Rather be’ inspire sing-alongs but the music itself is barely audible halfway back in the tent which dampens proceedings somewhat, and a cover of dance classic ‘Show Me Love’ serves only to highlight the lack of consistency in their own debut album. A bit of a shame, but definitely not the end of them just yet.

We plump for a change of pace and pay comedy king Simon Amstell a visit in the Alternative Tent. His half hour set takes in everything from racial segregation at radio 1 and 1xtra to autism, but he rather brilliantly manages to flirt with offense rather than gleefully submerging himself in it like so many other comedians. Jokes about his sex life cause mass exodus as the lady majority appear unable to deal with gay sexuality, but he remains unflappable, politely dismissing hecklers without missing a beat. Definitely worth a rebook.

Another ghost from my very first Reading and Leeds experience, I’ve fallen somewhat out of love with You Me At Six and their lackasadical treatment of fans (note: never ask your fans to take items of clothing off at gigs when the majority of them are underage), but I have to admit that the popularity of their mainstage set is impressive. ‘Bite My Tongue’ and ‘Lived A Lie’ eclipse the reactions to older material, showing that they really are making progress. Whilst it often comes across a little too much like hard work with Josh Franceschi leaving the crowd to a little too much ‘sing it’ than is strictly acceptable, they’ve they've sanded off enough of their edges enough to become the huge rock outfit they've clearly always dreamt of being, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if they make it to cult headliner status in a few years.

Feeling cynical is never a good thing at a festival, but The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart restore my faith in music within minutes, despite the Festival Republic tent being virtually empty. People of Leeds fest you're missing out- their super bright driving indie is a lovely sincere thing and they seem genuinely happy to be here (and to see Papa Roach, but who wouldn’t be.) 

Large quantities of breath is bated around the Leeds site as we wait for this years ‘controversial’ booking of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but as their take to the stage in a blur of explosions and bombast, but in the muted reaction to ginormous hit ‘Thrift Shop’, it becomes quickly apparent that they’re incredible showmen the way only Americans can be, but they just aren't big enough in this country yet. The crowd is sizeble, but the reality is that most of them are just staking their places out for the headliners. Macklemore fights, and fights, and performs his face off, but it's an undeniably slow start. Equality anthem ‘Same Love’ fares okay, but perhaps the pastoral, evangelical approach to his stage patter just doesn't translate as well on British shores. It takes two renditions of 'Can't Hold Us' to get the crowd reaching for the invisible ceiling, but by this point the band look understandable exhausted. Get these boys to Glastonbury: with another big album, Macklemore& Ryan Lewis are headliners in waiting, but just maybe not at this festival. 

Having heard comments on their live tekkers ranging from the high praise to the dreadful damning, we approached Blink 182’s headline set with some caution. Can a group of 40-something blokes really pull off fart gags and your mom jokes with the same humour as 20 years ago? We needn’t have worried: exploding on to stage with ‘Feeling This’ in front of a huge Union Jack flag, it’s a greatest hit set complete with an all-you-can-stomach offering of lewd jokes and heartracing choruses. There are lovely, genuinely touching moments with ‘All Of This’ and ‘Stay Together For The Kids’, but they don’t linger long:as they tear through their back catalogue with the glee of a band twenty years their junior, they appear to be one of the few bands of their age left who look as if they're actually still enjoying doing what they do. Sure, the singing isn’t the best you’ve heard in your life, but was it ever? And let’s face it: propelling the word ‘fuck’ in giant flames is the embodiment of schoolboy cool.