It's a cold evening in Leeds. Freshers week has faded into hazy-drunken memories, the hard working is starting and people hustle through town with scarfs high and heads down, trying to get home in the prematurely dark night. Illuminated at the heart of the city is the 02 Academy, where a queue of altogether more colourful and cheerful bodies are winding around the churchlike walls, wrapping one, two, three times. This is one very sold out gig, and it belongs to a band barely heard of this time 18 months ago - Years & Years.
Riding the wave of heartfelt electronic pop that has made household names of the likes of Disclosure and Chvrches, Years & Years are spearheading a new type of teenage-resonating chart music that has lyrical substance at the heart if it's minimal verses and huge choruses - true pin a poster on your wall and make fan art for tumblr type of stuff. Tonight's first act Oscar Key Sung has studied the art well and proffers the sort of music that prick the ears of any major label record exec - low key RnB with one arm slung round the shoulders of Chet Faker and the other SBTRKT. The Australian's twisty dance moves and unassuming good look have the makings of a star, as does his music - 'All I Could Do' is super catchy, as is 'Brush', which conceals at it's heart an impressive feminist message "Aren't you sick of men /Thinking you need them/To tell you who you are/And what you are?"
But Years & Years fans are used to euphoria less sophisticated than this. Cursed to that 'first on' timeslot, his more minimal efforts strain against the audible chatter of the disinterested crowd. As a live show, there's very little to look at, and it's his biggest downfall - in this day and age, it'll take a little more than setting tracks off and singing along to truly impress. An intriguing listen, but one that might benefit with a little dressage.
'I can't even' and 'Olly you give me life!' ring through the crowd before the lights even dim. Tonight's headliners enter the stage one by one - a low-decibel screech for synthesist Emre Türkmen, a modest cheer for bassist Michael Goldsworthy, and then an absolute Harry Styles-worthy caterwaul for lead singer Olly Alexander that forces him to take a small step back. For the next 90s minutes, they scream everytime he draws breath, everytime he smiles, everytime he adopts a new dance move. Most satisfyingly, the screams come from a wide demographic - teenage girls, teenage boys, mums, dads, the lot. He is rocket fuel.
They start with 'Foundation' (barely audible above the fuss before hitting their stride with 'Take Shelter', encouraging the dance routine that only people born post 1998 seem to know how to do - not quite a twerk but certainly a pouting squat, wrists limply trailing in the air. As a slightly (only slightly) writer, there is plenty to be a cynical killjoy about here, but there's just no need - this is pop worship at it's finest. A posterboy for the young LGBT community, Alexander is the perfect frontman, eminently loveable in the giddyness that makes it obvious that he's along for the ride with us. A quickfire rendition of 'Desire' and 'Worship' whip them into a further frenzy, before stripping things all the way back for a keyboard rendition of 'Memo'. But even this has to come with that extra touch of glitter - Olly invites a banner-toting young boy up on stage to sing it with him (he nails it by the way), and the moment is X-Factor-worthy genius. The whole thing positively reeks of clean good fun.
The sparkle does dim occasionally - the slower tracks are a hard sell but at least put pay to the rumours that Alexander's exuberance is a mask for his inability to stay in tune. They remedy a mid-set lull quickly with a cover of Blu Cantrell & Sean Paul's 'Breathe' - a little fussy an interpretation, but a crowd pleaser nonetheless. Released in 2003, it's a well-selected choice for their audience, with minimal head-scratching around the room. Closing with 'Real' before the inevitable encore of 'King', it's all over that little bit too soon - such is the nature of becoming an academy sized band on only one album. Who knows what next year's Arenas will bring...