REVIEW: Festival of the Dead Meets Leeds

There could not have been a more apt setting for Festival of the Dead’s debut in Leeds than Church. If I’m sure about one thing, it’s that the Festival of the Dead was anything but dead. A concoction of music, laughter and elaborate costumes greeted us in a smoky room decked with rag garlands and large, colour-changing sugar skull balloons.

The stage was framed by a cut-out illuminated backdrop of skulls and UV strobe searchlights and decorated appropriately with luminous UV splattered skeletons on staked poles. These participated later in a snaking procession through the crowd along with two feather adorned men on spring stilts. The effort made by attendees ranged from incredibly intricate makeup to your standard t-shirt and jeans and the overall ‘anything goes’ feel of the night meant that neither seemed out of place.

The wackiness began with a large baby vulture craning its neck and meandering above the crowd. This was later swapped for a huge larger-than-life lit-up skull that was routinely wheeled through the space with hands dangling creepily over the heads of the crowd. The DJ mixed classic old and new dance tunes that fitted the tone perfectly and accompanied the, not-so-extraordinary, smoke, streamer cannons and pyrotechnics.

The night was spiced up with different acts who graced the stage, including an infectious ‘hype crowd’, with a live bongo addition. The strangest act was undoubtedly a sadomasochistic man, who inserted scissors up his nose and later attempted to play an electric guitar with a chainsaw, creating a shower of sparks. He was joined by a trio of break dancers and gravity defying gymnasts on hoops and ropes. A particularly impressive routine revealed that the dancer was attached to a vertical cable by a mere loop through her bun.

This event radiated a carnivalesque, Halloween feel that celebrating the weird and the wonderful. You were never quite sure if you were in a psychedelic club or at a Cirque du Soleil show. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle. If you get a chance to attend this lively alternative to an average night out, I urge you to go.

Caitlin Tilley

(Image: Festival of the Dead @festivalofthedeaduk)