Festival Review: Live At Leeds 2016

Photo by Andy Hughes

Live At Leeds festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, taking over venues all across the city to showcase the best of British music and introducing you to your new favourite bands. This year was bigger than ever; every venue was full to capacity from the start as people of all ages came out to celebrate the music industry and all those who work to support it.

Natalie McCool – 1pm, Nation of Shopkeepers (Penny Blakemore)
Liverpudlian singer-songwriter Natalie McCool was the first artist I saw in the warm Spring afternoon, performing to an eager crowd in the Nation of Shopkeepers. The place was so busy you could barely breathe, decorated with bunting and posters advertising 2-for-1 burgers, setting the scene for chilled out pop vibes in the summer heat.

“Most of  my songs are about ex-boyfriends… I’m petrified of flying so one day I just got on a plane and flew to Aus.” Natalie said, introducing us to her next song Oh Danger. The bass filled the room as Natalie played confidently; her voice was soft yet determined as she sang her fears to a room full of strangers.

Her recent single Cardiac Arrest was playlisted on BBC Introducing just a few months ago but it was her final song ‘Fortress’ which achieved Natalie’s one request: “I hope you all sing along to the chorus… It’ll be stuck in your head when you leave.” The catchy melodies united the room in one last song before they scattered to find the next gig of the day, pleased to have found someone so good so early on.

Hannah Lou Clark – 2:30pm, Holy Trinity Church (Penny Blakemore)
Loud chatter echoed through Holy Trinity this afternoon, a place where silence usually falls in the grand foyer. Pews offered seats to the few at the front but many chose to stand, drinks in hand, patiently waiting for the next artist to take the stage. And patience was needed, for Hannah Lou Clark had some difficulty getting started: “I’m so sorry. My car broke down, then all my gear broke…” she apologised, as she struggled through her first song.

Once started, her guitar echoed across the room, drowning out the unfortunate feedback, and her voice conquered them all. She wouldn’t give up, either, working hard to get her sound right. Hannah’s third and final song, It’s Your Love was the strongest of the set, kicking up the attitude to capture everyone’s attention. It’s her latest single, too, and it’s well worth a listen.

Mystery Jets – 4pm, O2 Academy (Emma Louise)
Kicking off proceedings in Leeds’ O2 Academy are Mystery Jets, providing their trademark laid-back, chilled out vibe as a soundtrack for people getting progressively more worked up in the ten-deep crowd at every bar.
Serotonin has a beautiful esoteric feel that changes the dynamic in the room, followed by Midnight’s Mirror and Blood Red Balloon that only heighten the serene feeling that washes over the crowd as people finally begin to break away from the bar. While it may be medical reasons that make it necessary for frontman Blaine Harrison to remain seated centre stage throughout their performance, it takes nothing away from the show- even perhaps adding to their persona and feel somewhat. “We’re on a progressive journey!” He announces to his audience mid-set, “thank you so much for joining us on it!” Two Doors Down is naturally the highlight, and it becomes evident that a large part of today’s crowd were waiting for this track in particular, which is nothing short of euphoric, increasing the pace ten-fold.

Kassassin Street – 4pm, Oporto (Penny Blakemore)
The tiny venue was a sauna in the surprisingly warm April afternoon, people crowding in to catch the Southsea-based band who had travelled 6 hours to be there. Kassassin Street are nothing short of wacky; their guitar set-up fools you into thinking they’re just another indie rock band but the electro vibes overpower this instantly. Their energy is unparalleled, waking us all up and encouraging us all to dance with each other.

Their latest single, Hand In My Pocket, proved a hit as their lead singer stared us down, unable to hide the joy of such an unbelievable crowd. Kassassin Street remind me of Sheffield’s own Hey Sholay, bringing an air of magic and mystery to their performance as the crowd started a mosh pit of manic proportions.

Max Raptor – 5:30pm, The Key Club (Erin Moore)
The Key Club stage is hosting the heavier side to Live At Leeds this year. The Key Club being the alternative venue to the now deceased Cockpit hosts Max Raptor as one of the earlier bands in the day. The Midlanders provide one of the more livelier sets to a rather dense crowd however the reactions from the audience are muted. It is vocalist Wil Ray’s birthday and the band enter the stage to Happy Birthday to which the audience sing along. Ray is captivating throughout and tries to engage with the disappointing crowd. Max Raptor possibly would’ve been more suited to Slam Dunk festival, they’re better and bigger than this stage and they deserve more from this audience.

Forever Cult – 5:45pm, Leeds Beckett University 1 (Emma Louise)
Forever Cult, up in Leeds Beckett’s main room, are a little heavier than your average indie band- all feedback and gravelly, grungy riffs make for a band who have slightly more grit to them. “This is from an EP that we’re releasing later this year!” They yell, before treating this early evening crowd to some of their newest music. While the above is all well and good, something just doesn’t seem to sit right about this band; perhaps it’s that everything is a little muddled and it’s too many genres in one, the entire set is very full on and although it delivers as a whole but doesn’t seem to hit any spots in particular. This being said, their fuzzy punk ethos is endearing and their audience down the front provide a more than warm reception.

Kloe – 6.15pm, Belgrave Music Hall (Penny Blakemore)
This Scottish electro-pop artist also struggled through tech problems during her set, signalling furiously to the sound techs at the back of the room to get through her first song Touch. Kloe’s voice is surpisingly delicate compared to her fiery attitude, reminding you just how young she is to be travelling the world and performing shows all over the globe.

An ambitious dance move saw Kloe fall to the floor during a new track that was dedicated to “straight girls who hate straight boys” but she got up, laughing, admitting she “always falls on stage, like fucking Madonna.” She would explain every song she played: Feel is about being a fangirl of a “bad band”, whilst Teenage Craze describes her feelings about the music industry and the people she was hanging out with at the time. Kloe is unashamedly blunt, calling out things as she sees them and openly supporting fellow female musicians. She’s fun, and definitely an artist to watch this year as she takes over the world.

Zuzu – 6:15pm, Leeds Beckett Union (Erin Moore)
Zuzu, is a Liverpudlian singer songwriter who is incredibly intriguing. Backed by a majority female band, they boast strong harmonies. They make a great amount of sound for a dainty four-piece. The originally sparse crowd grew as the set continued; stand out song Down The Rabbit Hole is catchy and memorable. 2016 looks be a great year for Zuzu as she plays Tramlines festival in Sheffield later this summer.

Pleasure Beach – 7:00pm, Nation of Shopkeepers (Emma Louise)
It’s down to Nation Of Shopkeepers now for Pleasure Beach, who are all spaced out across the whole front of the space, in a similar fashion to their music; all dream-pop and sedate, this is the ideal soundtrack for the current limbo between late-afternoon and evening. This aura of calm washing over today’s crowd however, is occasionally interrupted by moments of power that seem to come from nowhere- it’s effective in not letting anyone get too comfortable. Their stand out feature as a band though, is without a doubt their whole backing set-up, which makes for such a compelling choral sound in this small Leeds venue, it’s hard to turn away.

The Duke Spirit – 7:30pm, Leeds Beckett Union (Erin Moore)
Vocalist Liela Moss is the first thing you see when watching The Duke Spirit. She is ethereal and reminiscent of a younger Karen O. Her vocals in Mayday especially soar, even if you entered the SU not a fan of the band, you could leave remembering the melodies and the catchy ‘oohs’ to sing along to. This band are perfect for a summer outdoor festival, just as the sun is setting, with a cider in your hand. Their new album Kin came out this week (6th May) and the band are embarking on a UK tour in the Autumn.

Circa Waves – 9:15pm, LUU Refectory Doc Martens Stage (Emma Louise)
On an entirely different level to everyone else today, Circa Waves are sending reverb shaking through the halls of Leeds University within seconds of taking to the stage. Their old fashioned sounding intro music works so well with their style and dynamic. They begin with Get Away – which may ordinarily be a fun, bright number, however live there’s a gut shaking quality to it – cementing Circa Waves as an incredibly forceful, loud live band straight off the bat.
Good For Me runs many a parallel with The Strokes, which is absolutely not a bad thing for this kind of festival. The heavy bass especially adds an incredible dimension to their live show. It may still be April and it might still be chilly outside while everyone here is holed up inside, however a quick glance across the crowd indicates otherwise. Numerous people are sat on shoulders, dancing around like their sole aim is to have the best time ever – just like it’s Glasto in the height of summer. As the band rattle through tracks like So Long and the summery, laid-back 100 Strangers, the number of people raised above the crowd, arms in the air only increases. Ever polite, frontman Kieran Shundall takes a moment to be sincere “we just want to thank everybody for choosing to watch us tonight!” he tells the crowd as he looks genuinely humbled, before they drop into My Love which is a rousing moment before their set enters its final stretch.
Circa Waves wrap up proceedings with T-Shirt Weather, which is nothing short of the perfect way to end- and indeed fills people’s heads with thoughts of the impending summer with all that talk about T-Shirts and nice weather, which can surely only be a good thing.

Fatherson – 9:30pm, Leeds Beckett University 2 (Penny Blakemore)
This Scottish trio (and their crew) had just travelled 13 hours after supporting none other than Biffy Clyro in Germany the night before. I was expecting to see them all napping on a sofa backstage but these tired pups were raring to go, excited to headline the Leeds Beckett stage at such an iconic festival.

They opened with recent single Always, filling the space with heavy rock vibes before going on to a more familiar Hometown. Fatherson have perfected the art of songs that a crowd can sing along to; there were parts when lead singer Ross Leighton would move away from the microphone, listening to the chorus being sung back at him loudly and passionately.

“Thank you so much for seeing us at this time,” bassist Marc Strain sincerely announced, “so many other bands are on…” He was right; the trio clashed with Vitamin, Circa Waves, White, and many other incredible bands playing at the same time, but everyone in Leeds Beckett Uni knew they had made the right choice. Fatherson are a genuine band who are on their way up; their sophomore album Open Book will be out on 3rd June and their tours are only going to get bigger.

“It’s getting to the end of the night. Let’s all have a really nice time.” Marc added, unable to hide the grin on his face. They may have played an arena the night before but the Leeds crowd made the band’s journey to Yorkshire worth it, singing along to every word and dancing their hearts out to the indie rock sounds of Fatherson.

Photo by Ben Bentley
Photo by Ben Bentley

We Are Scientists – 10:30pm, LUU Stylus Gigwise Stage (Erin Moore)
Starting their set with This Scene Is Dead from album With Love And Squalor, the Leeds crowd erupted. Only two songs in and there are already the typical chants of “Yorkshire, Yorkshire!!” Bassist Chris Cain has great banter with the audience, exclaiming “if only we knew what shire we are in, that would be great”. Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt also gets a great reaction; it’s obvious that this audience have been hungry for the return of We Are Scientists and they aren’t disappointing. Billed as one of the headliners for the festival, their jaunty indie rock is a perfect way to end the day. Classic Love from new album Helter Seltzer is a great pop rock ditty, however the crowd didn’t seem as engaged during the newer songs. “Guys, it’s been so good to reconnect with you” states lead singer Keith Murray as the band launch into Nice Guys. During indie anthem After Hours there is a feeble attempt of a stage dive from an audience member. We Are Scientists ooze the New York cool and even when Murray launches into the crowd during set finisher Never Too Late he emerges with his floppy hair untouched and without a crease in his pin-sharp suit.


Suddenly it was all over; Live At Leeds proved that music is best heard live, surrounded by people who love the songs as much as you do. One wristband had opened the doors to hundreds of acts for over 12 hours of performances, ensuring there was something for everyone at each stage, allowing you to discover old loves and new favourites. I don’t know about you but I’m already looking forward to next year’s antics.


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