The Tetley is the seat of future-reading creativity in Leeds, a place where artists and punters alike can let their minds wander and meet in its colossal spaces, or look north through its windows at the endearingly humble Leeds landscape. It is also a place that housed the brewing one of the county’s most beloved beverages. What place more fitting, then, to hold a garden party, where the arts and intoxicants merge to create summer-defining, or even life-changing moments? It is even more apt when, with the elegant red brick building and the warm hue of its neon signage hanging overhead, one feels the comforting reminder of our city’s prowess in the industrial and business world; the entertainment industry has taken over now, but the architecture of Leeds’ powerful business history still stands, and was put to optimal hedonistic use this August Bank holiday weekend.
The party was not always executed to perfection, though. At times, artists were failed by sound quality, especially in the Dummy/Crack tent where the bass was painfully pronounced. Nevertheless, their sets could still be appreciated, and were lapped up by an untroubled crowd of bank holiday revellers. Mr. Scruff proved that he is still, after all these years, one of the finest DJs on the circuit, dropping some smart afrobeat and a fun Hypnotic Brass Ensemble cover of of Good Life. Another act vying for legendary status was Soul II Soul, who shone in their ability to craft a low-slung groove, and kept their club classic Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) up their sleeve until the very last, releasing it to an inevitably manic reception. Fatima and the Eglo Band, however, were the outstanding act in the main tent, somewhat reshaping the Soul II Soul formula into a sensual, multifaceted soul aesthetic for 2015.
A fence divided the main arena and a grassy area reserved for the Skinny stage, which showcased live acts. While this, at first, may have felt like an indicator of imbalance caused by the incongruous introduction of live acts into the line up (a task well managed at last year’s Beacons Festival), it actually made for a little idyll away from concrete and DJs for those with sore heads and shredded feet. Across the weekend, superb sets from the likes of Scouse pixies Stealing Sheep, Manc funksters Dutch Uncles and proto-disco locals Galaxians provided a lighter escape from the harder stuff on the other side.
Elsewhere on Saturday, two of house music’s heavyweights had the Fact tent marching: Joy Orbison threw down his hermetically sealed blend of razorblade house, garage and techno, while Heidi pounded out a chunky set of electro and acid, leaving everyone breathless at the end of day one.
Things stepped up a notch on day two as the line up took on a meatier look. Disco permeated the party with stellar sets from rising stars and veritable royalty. One of those rising stars is Romare, who is touring one of the finest albums of the year, Projections. Nu-disco tastemakers Futureboogie chugged through an exhibition of glossy grooves, and were followed by Crazy P Soundsystem who need no introduction as imperials of the northern clubbing world. To put the cherry on the disco cake, everyone’s favourite Norweigan, Todd Terje, showed why he is such a festival favourite, building his italo-robo-house tracks to the point of orgasm, before freeing those vast euphoric drops and making the packed Crack tent very happy indeed.
The euphoria continued to the end as Bicep brilliantly bridged the gap between disco and house, and rolled out the red carpet for one of the scene’s near-mythological figures. Kerri Chandler drops tracks with masterstrokes, telepathically employing the CDJs as well as slamming down classics on the turntables. The set was a garage house workout that refused to yield, even to the very last track of the whole festival, a scorching spin of Johnny Corporate’s Sunday Shoutin (B Boys Shoutin Dub).
It is hard not to feel proud of what The Garden Party, and, by association, Leeds has achieved with this festival. Throughout the weekend, some of our city’s finest provided the musical backbone of the party – DJs from KMAH Radio, Alter, Butter Side Up, Deep Fever and Origins jumped on the Red Bull Truck at the heart of the festival site to play records. And, from here, a crowd danced and watched a serene, ruby-red sunset over city, already thinking about the year in music to come, and what the next August bank holiday weekend might hold.