Live At Leeds. The day that transforms Leeds into an indie playground. Music lovers race breathlessly across the city to catch their favourites on the lineup, leaving cigarette ends and glittery Uber seats in their wake. Sweaty sets in smoky venues make midday feel like midnight, as the best of the UK’s indie talent provide the perfect itinerary for a bank holiday Saturday.
The line for Birmingham darlings Peace snakes around O2 Academy and up towards Beckett. And oh was the wait worth it. Peace made us forget it was 3pm on a bank holiday Saturday, and transported us to timeless, care-free planes. “This is our favourite place on earth,” proclaims king Koisser after opening with ‘Power’ – the opening track of their new album Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll. Sophomore bangers ‘Money’ and ‘Lost On Me’ got the whole crowd moving, even as Koisser’s guitar cuts out. This technical difficulty didn’t faze the crowd, as everyone belted back the riff in solidarity. ‘From Under Liquid Glass’ was another touching moment of crowd togetherness, as friends and strangers alike clambered atop of one another’s shoulders and held each other while singing back lyrics of the passionate, intimate anthem that was born out of struggling with mental illness. With 16 million people in the UK suffering with mental health and feeling too scared to talk about it, it was poignant seeing so many people belting back the powerful lyrics with genuine emotion.
Stumbling out of the darkness of O2 Academy and into the sun-bleached streets of the city centre was a shock to the senses. Refuge from the scorching daylight was found in the dank basement of Key Club to witness the brilliant energy of King Nun, who signed to Dirty Hit last year. Their unhinged yet superbly precise performance captured the London delinquents’ effortless ability to deliver rib-rattling riffs and lurch about the stage without missing a single beat. Catching up with Theo after speaking to him back in 2016, the frontman gushed about how they’re “having the time of their lives.”
In the time it took to get another drink from the bar, Hey Charlie graced the sticky stage in their signature identical uniforms. The three piece were snake charmers hypnotising the crowd from the shadowy depths of Key Club, as their sweltering riffs and seductive pop hooks magnetised even those with folded arms in the corners. With flowing blonde hair and vicious bite, Hey Charlie resembled three golden Labradors morphed into a demonic Cerberus; dressed unanimously in red and white, the band were on brand in resembling the cans of Leeds’ favourite Jamaican lager. ‘Cheer Up Princess’ opened up the first of many moshes, with punters spilling drinks and faceplanting shoulders in euphoric bliss.
The beauty of Live At Leeds is experiencing all the venues the city has to offer. From intimate spots where future breakout artists play their first performances, to the iconic venues where the UK’s finest grace the stage – Leeds has it all. The humble Hyde Park Book Club offered a sun-soaked resting place to get some lunch and witness future headliners (Honey Arcade and Lucia caught attention), whilst Belgrave Music Hall enticed everyone to fill the venue to capacity with their line-up of sensational acts. Here, Love Ssega rekindled the energy of a sun-stroked crowd with his blend of new wave, 80’s hip-hop and NYC disco. After walking away from Clean Bandit to pursue a PhD, the Ugandan-Lewisham producer combines delectable dance hooks with tribalistic beats and lyrics that reflect modern-day social observations. His tracks are the perfect soundtrack for a sweltering roof party atop of Belgrave later in this summer.
Meanwhile, back at O2 Academy, The Magic Gang were bringing their nostalgic, sun-kissed anthems to the party. After completely filling Church at last year’s Live At Leeds and going on to sell out the venue on their recent UK tour, it was about time the Brighton boys played the city’s second biggest venue. “I reckon this is our favourite festival to play,” declared frontman Jack Kaye, inciting proud chants of “Yorkshire” throughout the crowd. Moshes swirled left, right and centre, allowing no room for a breather or to wipe the sweat from your forehead; even those who were only there to get a good spot for The Vaccines after were enamoured by the gang’s charm.
Anticipation for the headliners bubbled over as the sweaty crowd reverted to their fifteen year-old selves – it’s 2012 again and The Vaccines are providing the soundtrack for a messy sunny evening. Frontman Justin Young slinks onto the stage with the magnetism and charm of an irresistible rock star, but without any hint of sleaze or pretence. Adolescent adoration swells across the room, as the introductory roars of ‘Wreckin Bar’ transport the audience back to the past. The guitar kingpins blend old and new effortlessly, swirling the enamoured crowd in the palms of their blistered hands. The shiny new anthems of Combat Sports reverberate into the nostalgic bliss of What Did You Expect From… and Come of Age, as The Vaccines give the crowd everything they were expecting and more. Making meaningful eye contact and holding moments with members of the audience, Young made everyone’s experience something to brag about.
The headliners may have shut down O2 Academy, but the day is far from over. The place where all good nights either begin or end, Brudenell Social Club hosted DIY Magazine’s wonderful lineup of breakthrough talent. As always, Anteros were something truly special, as their bitter dream pop cleansed anyone of any pessimism. Frontwoman Laura Hayden commands the stage with a grace and effortless swagger that instantly captivates the exhausted crowd, possessing them with the energy for one last dance. In an industry dominated by men, Hayden proudly stands to inspire girls to pick up instruments and assert themselves within the music scene; “I just want to thank DIY for putting so many women on this stage,” acknowledges Hayden, before inviting all the girls on stage to dance with her for empowering single ‘Bonnie’. This was a party for everyone to feel involved, not just the alpha-male moshers who dominate crowds.
When Anteros’ set came to an unwanted end, tired legs dragged bruised bodies towards the smoking area for some much needed air. Here, the wobbly picnic benches of Brudenell created the perfect gathering place to reflect on the day, as band members and punters alike mingled under the muggy moonlight. Catching up with Gus from The Magic Gang, he expresses his adoration for Leeds: “it’s definitely my favourite city to play,” he says before licking a Rizla. It’s a moment that encapsulates just how special Leeds’ understated music scene is; Live At Leeds flaunts the city’s exceptional music and independent culture, bringing together people from all walks of life to mosh and dance their troubles away.
As the day draws to a close and eardums are left ringing, Live At Leeds has proved – once again – why it is the hailed as one of the UK’s best city festivals. As a celebration of home-grown indie talent, Live At Leeds provides a perfect, euphoric break from the stress of deadlines and exam dates. Here’s to next year.
Feature image by Andy Hughes