Live at Leeds are celebrating the culmination of ten years leading thousands of punters through the streets of the Yorkshire city to experience the finest new live talent that both the UK and the world has to offer. With no exception, the festival organisers have solidified and strengthened their name once again with the plethora of great acts on show this bank holiday weekend.
The fun of a inner-city festival (or what some might see as a drawback) is the venue-hopping. Travelling around, most likely walking, to and fro from each desired venue but within this process, it can also be stressful. Arriving at the venue too late can be devastating – missing out on an act because the venue is at capacity isn’t fantastic but it does push you out of your control zone and possibly gets you through the door to see an artist that maybe you’re not familiar with, and that’s the beauty of it. The day is never set in stone, there will always be surprises in-store. Plus, the walks in between venues become moments for silent reflection, collective discussion and digestion of what was just consumed within the last thirty minutes or so.
First on the agenda was a trip to Nation of Shopkeepers to meet Liverpool artist Natalie McCool. Arriving to a packed venue is always a good sign, as we find throughout the day, virtually everywhere we go is rammed and nearing full capacity.
‘Hello Live at Leeds! I can’t believe so many of you are here before it’s even time for a beer’ remarks McCool, before she kicks off her set with a song about attraction, aptly titled ‘Magnet’. On stage, she’s relaxed and confident – she’s in her element. Her prized guitar always at her chest side, until she breaks this rule upon reception of the most ‘bubblegum pop’ song in her repertoire ‘Cardiac Arrest’, which she introduces as ‘The bit where I go all pop star. Only joking.’
It’s her casualness that strikes a chord, with every song she’s open and candid about her influences, never coming across as contrived or insincere, she’s a new breed of pop star, although we’re hesitant to go as far to say ‘pop star’, we’re more so inclined to lean towards alt-pop chanteuse. Her songs have substance, they speak of real lived experience and they come from a personal place. The dark pop of ‘Pins’ is McCool at her most inventive, languid vocals cut through throbbing bass with snaps of snare and pads in there also. In this, she sings about strength and overcoming the people who want to cut you down. The following track ‘Oh Danger’ speaks about the ‘fear of the unknown’ and is a sonic pat-on-the-back, as such, to overcoming those fears. For McCool, this was plucking up the courage to get on a plane and travel to Australia.
McCool also unveiled a new song (‘Feel Good’), in short it’s ‘a big fuck you to someone’. A rockier number that see’s McCool trying to resist the charms of that no-good admirer: “I wanna hate you but it’s impossible.” She closes on latest single and her gospel ‘Fortress’ – it’s a join together anthem that builds to a euphoric crescendo and ends with just McCool’s voice solely occupying the space. It’s a powerful sentiment to leave on.
Ireland’s Otherkin are one of those promising bands that we have heard a lot about but still hadn’t had the pleasure of sampling live. This all changed when we headed into the Leeds Beckett Union, making our way through the crowds we reach the stage at the back of the building, where the foursome are eagerly met by the buzz of a mid-afternoon booze-happy crowd. Otherkin play fast and live loud – it’s a combination that is time-tested and proven for a raucous thrill ride of a live show. Otherkin certainly impress from the get-go, their punk-spun aesthetic for the dirtier side of indie rock is well received, they maintain a strong sense of immediacy with energetic hooks, unhinged vocals (with singer Luke Reilly spitting lyrics out like its his Holy Bible) and killer riffs, without it all seeming too much. Out of the acts we’ve witnessed today, Otherkin win the award for the most intense live show and a big plus also, is that they make it so easy to fall into their set. It’s easily palatable.
The most memorable performance of the day is given by the sublimely self-proclaimed ‘vampires’ of the festival FEWS, given that they had never played a show in daylight before, that amazement wasn’t just reserved for the band though. Within the 30 minute set, I think all of whom that were lucky enough to squeeze into the Nation of Shopkeepers small vestibule area were happy that this is the place they chose to reside. For what FEWS give in a live show is unrivalled to any other act on the bill.
FEWS make the essence of the live show a communal catharsis, each body sharing the same wild energy as the next, sweat and tears of joy flow from the outlets of each face and everyone leaves feeling revived. Watching FEWS is like a church mass, holy and vital. Even Ghostpoet was there to indulge in what was arguably the best performance of the day.
Their industrial post-punk splatters from each corner the room, the vocalists interchange between songs and it all feels feverishly energetic. Current single ‘100 Goosebumps’ makes an appearance and comes equipped with the feral energy of The Strokes. Upon receipt of the final track, the mic is passed around the audience, as the band launch into another huge number. This time though, it was ten times rougher, mania erupted and now everyone was fully accepted into FEWS mad little club.
Finally it was time to head over to the Belgrave Music Hall, a venue that we’ve been highly anticipating, that was housing an artist that we were as equally excited about. Glasgow’s most talked about rising pop starlet KLOE.
Firstly, what must be noted is that her set wasn’t all smooth sailing, after 24 long minutes of technical difficulties with no sound coming from stage and the pop star waiting in the wings fully psyched, ready to release her sharp wit and sultry tales of teenage life on all in attendance, the sound of drum pads and synth became palpable. And as suddenly as she could say ‘Hello Leeds! My name’s Kloe. How the fuck are you doing?’, the songstress launches into a victorious rendition of ‘Touch’. A song that documents the flirtatious rush of the first meeting between two lovers.
The song that put KLOE on the radar of every well-respected blogger came next – ‘Grip’ – and held at its core is KLOE’s bold and unapologetic lyrical attitude: “it’s just you fucked every girl in the room, ooooh.” For some this might be a tough statement to tell on-stage but KLOE will never shy away from being herself, that much is true. She’ll never be the cookie-cutter pop star that sings about the birds and the bee’s, and she certainly won’t be silenced. Thank you, KLOE. We appreciate you telling it like it is.
KLOE also shared ‘You Don’t See Me’, a track that is unreleased at the present, but one to search out. KLOE introduces the song saying that ‘This is a song about hating straight boys’, a hit back at the opposite sex and to all of those who make you feel insecure, this bubbling house banger had everyone moving in line with KLOE’s sensual sways and playful tones.
Completing the five song set was the sexy dark synth blaster, ‘Feel’ (“A song that I wrote about being a fangirl”) and rave anthem ‘Teenage Craze’ that is framed by the lyric, “We live our youth up”, signifying KLOE and what she stands for to a T.
Arguably, INHEAVEN are the hottest guitar band of the moment, the Londoners have earned the right to own that title, through their contemporary throwback to the scene-uniting rebellion of the most decorated sub-genres of rock music: post-punk and shoegaze. The noise-makers hold distortion and pedal fuzz dear to their chests, and live, even though a roughness bleeds through the speakers, strangely a slightly more polished sheen wraps around the band’s primal aggression, becoming more prevalent in the poppier efforts of their catalogue. Their songs are huge, brazen calls for a new age of collective thinking, it is within this forthright system of ideology that the band derive their full strength. The big singles appear, notably ‘Baby’s Alright’ and ‘Regeneration’ being the cornerstones of their set. Both working in part to visualise a new age of homegrown rock music.
Our last point-of-call was to the metropolis of Leeds University’s student Union to see a band who could easily be headlining every festival of this size across the country – Liverpool’s indie heroes Circa Waves. For a band of their calibre, approaching a headline slot might seem tedious by this stage, but they are gracious and take the time to thank everyone in attendance for coming along to sample what they have to offer. Even before the band took to the stage, the room was buzzing whether it was the booze soaked hysteria kicking in or the excitement of a mass sing-a-long to ‘Mr Brightside’, they were ready and fully hyped for the high energy indie that the four piece execute so well.
Upon receipt of the opening two tracks ‘Get Away’ and ‘Good For Me’, arms were flung up in the air and lungs were tested to their max, with each friend group scampering around to find the perfect spot. If Circa Waves do one thing well, it is that they unite people. But it’s a lyric in ‘Stuck In My Teeth’ that really summarises the ethos – “I’m a little too young with not enough time” – possibly the toughest battle facing millennials is that they just want to live it all. Whether it’s for the fear of missing out or maybe just because when you’re young, you have all the time in the world to try everything new, mess up, find yourself and generally just have a good time. And that’s what Circa Waves provide an outlet for personal identification and a space for all to revolt in their own trivialised revolution.
Ultimately, Circa Waves gave a crowd pleasing performance bursting with lung battering hits. Job well done, we’d say. Until next time.
Photo Credit: Andrew Benge