Festival Review: Leeds Festival, 26-28/08/16

As the Monday morning sun rose across the fields of Bramham park, illuminating the skeletons of abandoned tents and burnt-out fires, the scene looked more like a battlefield than the aftermath of Leeds Fest 2016. The post festival blues that wormed its way through the dreary eyed crowds trudging to the exits, coupled with the sound of the weekend’s music still ringing in their ears, marked an end to the fleeting illusion of wonderland and a return to normality.

Once again Leeds Fest defended its deserved reputation as one of the most prestigious and diverse music festivals in the country. Despite the weather’s best efforts to piss on everyone’s parade, spirits were never dampened, and for the most part viewers were able to enjoy the weekend beneath the rarity of a West Yorkshire sunshine.

The Alternative Stage began proceedings and provided a huge variety of musical and comedic talent throughout the weekend. On Thursday night, a politically charged Casetteboy and some questionable karaoke performances broke the ice, before Grandmaster Flash took the packed tent to an unprecedented level of energy and perspiration with some unforgettable old school wizardry. During the day, poets like Mark Grist gave intimate performances, before comedians like Russell Kane, Russell Howard and Bill Bailey all delighted overflowing crowds with their distinctive styles. As darkness fell, numerous DJ sets and a stand out performance from Loyle Carner kept the party going well into the early hours.

And it was the same story across all the stages. The NME/BBC Radio 1 Stage offered an enviable platform for smaller artists like Whitney, Hinds and Mura Masa to ply their trade to substantial crowds. But it also provided the room for fan favourites like 21 Pilots, the Wombats, the 1975 and Two Door Cinema Club- who drew the short straw of playing at the same time as the Red Hot Chili Peppers -to entertain huge numbers. Likewise, the hangover-friendly vibes like those of the Japanese House that supported the Dance Stage during the early afternoon were replaced by intense DJ sets that lasted all night long.

If that wasn’t enough, the almost constant buzz surrounding the BBC Radio 1 Xtra Stage was explained by the plethora of young up and coming artists like Rejjie Snow and genius last-minute addition, Stormzy. There was also an exciting amount of talent on show at the Introducing Stage and the Jack Rocks Tent, that gave less known artists, whether they go on to make it or not, an unforgettable experience. Tucked away like some aggravated animal, the Pit never stopped rocking, and drew a crowd double the tent’s capacity for You Me At Six’s secret set. And performances from the likes of Ezra Furman, Lewis Del Mar and the Temper Trap provided a haven at the Festival Republic Stage for quality music and a family friendly atmosphere.

As the crown of the arena, the Main Stage surpassed all expectations. Throughout the weekend, outstanding performances, most notably from Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Die Antwoord, Boy Better Know, Slaves and the Courteeners kept the masses in perpetual motion. As headliners, Fall Out Boy quenched our guilty pleasures by taking us on a full-throttle nostalgia trip, and Biffy Clyro lived up to their reputation as one of the best live bands in Britain with an electric performance. Foals battled the rain to generate a climactic set of epic proportions, whilst Disclosure made use of the Main Stage resources to full effect and drowned out the rest of the arena with brilliant sound. Finally, the Red Hot Chili Peppers reminded us why they are true rock legends with an amazing set-list that spanned their four decade-long career. Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend, the funk rock gods had the whole audience singing along to the classics, and dancing to the edgier reverberations of their latest album, The Getaway.

The success of this year’s Leeds Festival is a testament to the variety of acts it manages to secure each year. As a Festival it refuses to set itself boundaries, and ensures that all its attendees feel at home. Of course, credit has to be given to the festival’s staff and stewards who did a fantastic job in making the event run smoothly and keeping festival goers in high spirits. In the campsites, volunteers worked tirelessly to keep the ground as litter-free as possible, and were always present to keep facilities clean and provide information. At the stages, the security were quick to clamp down on hazardous behaviour in the crowd, but were also willing to allow the inevitable crowd surfing and shoulder climbing to occur without intervening. It was this sensibly flexible stance that let the atmosphere swell without descending into anarchy.

Unfortunately, the news headlines were dominated by the drug-related death of seventeen year old Lewis Haunch, who collapsed inside the arena on the Saturday night. Tragedies like this seem to occur every year and, whether it’s a case of the festival organisers taking higher precautions or a case of educating the public, these deaths have to be avoided for festivals to truly prosper in the future. The same can be said for the excessive amount of flares on show. Although they looked magnificent, too many spectators ignored the numerous warnings and lit flares- which burn at the melting point of steel and are dangerous for those with asthma -during the majority of the weekend’s biggest acts. Even Anthony Keidis poetically threatened to “do a WWE into that table full of drinks down there”, as he found it hard to breathe amongst the smoke from the flares, and festival organisers across Britain need to clamp down on the issue before someone gets seriously hurt.

That being said, Leeds Fest 2016 was an unearthly experience to rival its southern counterpart, Reading. And this is precisely why Leeds Fest is one of the loudest and most successful festivals around, because it is a competition. Every raucous chant of ‘Leeds’ is a battle cry, not merely a disinterested statement of geographical location. Every mention of ‘Reading’ is met by boos, as if the crowd wanted ‘those bloody southerners’ to hear them. It’s why the chants are fiercer, the music is louder and the crowds dance for longer, because retreating to your tent at anytime before 2 AM would be a shameful acceptance of defeat. The ever-present brutal rivalry that is the butt of almost every act’s joke is the energy that fuels Leeds Fest’s flame, and gives it that unique Leeds Fest feeling that is hard to find anywhere else in the world.

This year, the festival maintained is stellar legacy, and with the abandoned camping equipment going to local Leeds charities to help the homeless, it will continue to benefit the city until it reopens its gates next summer.

Robert Cairns

[Image: Bart Pettman]

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