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Live at Leeds 2017 review

Ben Jolley was lucky enough to witness the Yorkshire festival first hand , enjoying heaps of top music.

Henry Lewis

Date published: 5th May 2017

Image: Sam Nahirny

Now in its 11th year, Live at Leeds proved - once again - why it's regarded as one of the UK's best inner-city festivals. 

Spread over more than 20 venues, 'the North's leading metropolitan new music festival' offers real value for money - with more than 100 of Britain's buzziest bands and artists playing throughout the day. 

Veering between rock, indie, pop, electronic, grime and punk, there really is something for everyone... 

After getting off to a disastrous start before Skiddle's journey has even begun; thanks to delayed and overcrowded trains; with a giggling hen party in one of the carriages (obviously), we miss sets from George Ezra's brother Ten Tonnes, as well as Luxury Death and Easy Life. 

It's not the best start but when we eventually arrive in Leeds, it's clear the whole city is geared up for the annual one-dayer - with a pop-up Trinity Kitchen stage in the middle of the street surrounded by people dressed as fluffy animals bouncing around it…

After picking up our wristbands, Skiddle heads straight to an already-packed 02 Academy for Brighton four-piece Black Honey, whose 45-minutes onstage sees them rock out to a sea of at least 1,000 in the rowdy crowd. It's only just hit 5pm but the energy is unbelievable. With bangers like ‘Somebody Better’ and ‘Hello Today’, they have the tunes and attitude to be absolutely massive.

What’s impressive and interesting about Live at Leeds is the diverse range of artists that are booked to play, each lined up to perform in some petty unusual and unlikely spaces, too. Whether it’s The Magic Gang performing their jangly indie inside a church, Kyko’s tropical guitar-pop easing festival-goers into the day above a food diner at Belgrave Music Hall, or hundreds of rowdy indie revellers packing pub-sized venue Nation of Shopkeepers.

Take The Faversham, for instance. Despite having the exterior appearance of an upmarket wedding venue which leads us to question whether Google Maps has mislead us, the all-purposes venue actually hosts high-energy sets from grime's top MCs AJ Tracey and Kojey Radical

Earlier in the day, though, there’s a completely different vibe – and clientele. Chilled and relaxed, with a crowd of mainly middle-aged people, London vocalist Cosima brings the room to a silence with her effortlessly soulful tones. Barely opening her eyes, Cosima’s mature voice is made all the more captivating.

Meanwhile, next door in the seated, sun-lit Patio, former busker Joe Fox is taking a seat with his guitar. Dressed in a sparkling gold jacket and having been discovered by A$AP Rocky, the talented singer-songwriter showcases his light, blues-y tones on 'Radio' and Michael Kiwanuka-style earworm ‘Like Jesus'. 

Ten minutes away, inside Leeds University, Brighton quintet Fickle Friends welcome a busy crowd – some in FF t-shirts right at the front - into the vast and spacious Refectory. Unsurprisingly, it fills up within a few minutes thanks to their bouncy, upbeat synth-pop perfection. Banger after banger, each track has the crowd singing back every word and jumping along: 'Brooklyn' and 'Hello Hello' are highlights, as well as unreleased chart-hit-in-waiting 'Glue'. They certainly know how to write great pop hits.

Over at Leeds Beckett Student Union, the trend-setting Dr Martens stage hosts another buzz-starting guitar band, Liverpool trio The Orielles, whose sprawling, seven-minute epic 'Sugar Tastes Like Salt' comes after guitarist Henry gees up the rammed crowd; "let's have a good ole boogie." On the way out Skiddle passes two members of The Big Moon who are sat, relaxing on the grass minding their own business, when a random guy approaches and gets down on his knees to pray before them. Moments like this, as well as Skiddle’s photographer randomly being handed condoms in the street, is an indication of the slightly weird experience of one day in Leeds.

But things soon get a lot stranger when we – eventually – find our home for the next three hours: the Brudenell Social Club. After walking to what seems like the other end of the city, we arrive at the strange but iconic venue. Once again, from the outside the working men’s club-style building doesn’t look like one of the city’s best live music venues but, as we quickly realise, looks can certainly be deceiving. 

With a load of twenty-something hipsters sat on the benches outside, smoking, drinking and enjoying some pizza, Skiddle notices lots of band members milling around – including one guy in a bright orange suit and blue eye-shadow. "It just gets weirder," Skiddle’s photographer correctly summarises, as we find ourselves in possibly the oddest venue so far: Brudenell Games Room. With a sofa lined up on the left hand side – and only a handful of people so far – there’s the feeling of a relaxed, living room environment. 

The peace and quiet is quickly interrupted (in the best way possible) when Copenhagen trio Off Bloom take charge of the bedroom-like space. It’s a show unlike anything Skiddle has ever seen before – and instantly becomes the standout performance of the entire festival. Transforming the Games Room into a fully immersive experience, lead vocalist Mette spends most of her time on the ground among the rapidly-growing audience. 

Stalking the crowd, crawling around on the carpeted floor, it’s as if she’s being possessed at times, before showcasing some seriously body-popping moves – all whilst staring her fans dead in the eye and instigating dance-offs with them. Meanwhile, on stage, hyperactive electronic producers Alex and Mads throw themselves into it, bouncing off each other’s energy and looking as if they’re having the time of their lives… off bloom are destined to be massive, and it’s no surprise that they’ve just been on tour with pop’s hottest property, Dua Lipa.

Immediately after, in the quickly-filling room next door, punk trio Dream Wife make sure there isn't a seat left inside the Brudenell’s main space. With an onslaught of feminist anthems in their Icelandic-Brightonian arsenal, lead singer Rakel Mjöll, Alice Go and Bella Podpadec power through ‘Somebody’ and the aggressive 'FUU' – which skews the Spice Girls brilliantly – they are seriously not to be messed with. 

Half an hour later and another girl gang who are absolutely smashing it right now prove why they’re debut album is so out of this world. Having just released 'Love in the 4th Dimension', The Big Moon have stacks of hits to their name and, unsurprisingly, they fill the Brudenell with ease. After a team hug, it only takes two seconds of 'Silent Movie Susie' for all of the crowd to start jumping, head-banging and singing every lyric back to them. 

Two tracks in and there's a mosh-pit in the centre of the crowd; “Jules broke a string - you guys are great!” enthuses guitarist Celia. They look like four best friends having the time of their life and, as Soph and her guitar tower over the crowd, one girl gets lifted in the air – momentarily joining the gang. "This is the first festival we ever played as a band,” they remember fondly, before 'Cupid' sends everyone crazy with one reveller crowd-surfing overhead. 

And that’s what makes Live at Leeds so great – it’s a springboard for upcoming artists to play career-defining shows in front of massive crowds at venues they’d never expect. Long may it continue.

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