It’s safe to say LEEDS FESTIVAL is a strange beast these days. Despite classic shell suits, cycling shorts and bum bags make an odd return to festival fashion, there’s nothing retrospective about the new wave of acts celebrated in a post-exam results haze.
This year’s bill featured the most diverse range of acts we’ve seen on that iconic yellow poster, and despite early dissent on social media, it seems the new blood got what they wanted, while the naysayers had to come to terms with the harsh reality that the times of guitar-dominated line-ups could well be over.
Sure, we bounced along to SUM 41 and FALL OUT BOY, and rocked out to secret set comeback kids BRING ME THE HORIZON, but all the stages around the arena championed big beats and smooth vibes, from the pop charm of DUA LIPA and RAE MORRIS to the urban grit of J HUS and hip-hop boy band BROCKHAMPTON.
The lack of crowd down the front as festival mainstays KINGS OF LEON dialled in a mediocre headline set was in stark contrast to the massive mid-afternoon surge for soulful rapper POST MALONE, while Gucci Gang star LIL PUMP packed out the Radio One tent as the following night’s headliners WOLF ALICE played a knock-out show to a surprisingly modest gathering.
There were some old school favourites who managed to defy the dwindling crowds and assemble armies of fans to welcome them back. Aussie drum n bass rockers PENDULUM were still on top form after a decade away. Backed by fierce lighting, their explosive set saw thousands of die-hards bouncing along to Propane Nightmares and Tarantula like they’d never been away.
And latecomers to Cali-rockers PAPA ROACH‘s headline set at The Pit had to make do with watching in the rain as the tent swelled with eager fans. Proving there’s much more to their music than that iconic early noughties anthem that we don’t need to namedrop, they closed the festival with a ferocious set that travelled the breadth of their two decades’ making loud (and in our opinion, highly underrated) music. And okay, we can’t resist – Last Resort was bloody AWESOME.
Even away from the big hitters, there were enough dazzling turns from rising stars to cover all tastes. It seems the future is very, very bright.
Scottish singer-songwriter LEWIS CAPALDI – a “chubby guy singing sad songs,” in his own words – provided some upbeat yet melancholic melodies with his effortlessly powerful voice filling the Festival Republic tent.
Leeds indie kids MARSICANS brought bags of sunshine to the Radio 1 Stage, playing to a very impressive crowd to kick things off on Friday lunchtime as the four-piece’s sun-kissed guitar-pop helping to shake off those hangovers.
With similar dose of serotonin-fuelled pop, FICKLE FRIENDS didn’t let a sprained ankle kill the vibes as the Brighton band kicked out all the hits from their debut album in a short but ever-so sweet set.
And DREAM WIFE could pretty much be our new favourite band. Because when you’ve got a lead singer channeling a 90s Gwen Stefani, jumping across the stage and chanting ridiculously catchy punk anthems about gender constructivism, you pay attention and you DANCE.
Also on that stage, Manchester’s PALE WAVES may have clashed with Dua Lipa over on the Main Stage, but pop perfection was also to be found undercover from the rain as Heather Baron-Gracie and band glided through a smooth set of feel-good 80s-infused guitar-pop which leans heavily on The 1975’s opulent production.
For us, though, the festival moments came from the Main Stage on Sunday as Linkin Park’s MIKE SHINODA made a solo appearance, beautifully paying tribute to his bandmate Chester Bennington, who died just over a year ago. A poignant piano-led version of In The End brought all the feels, as a young kid on his dad’s shoulders held a hand-drawn sign aloft – a rainbow over the words ‘Make Chester proud’. We’re not crying. You’re crying…
And filling our hearts with joy later in the day, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo managed to stop the rain briefly as late line-up additions N*E*R*D tore up the Main Stage with hits old and new – from Lapdance to Lemon via She Wants To Move and Rockstar.
The three-day event over at Bramham Park was an absolute blast, packed with surprises – good and bad – that kept us on our toes as we moved from stage to stage. Who knows what 2019’s festival will bring? Hopefully more inspiring new music and more inspired headliners.
Tickets for that go on sale this Friday. Head over to leedsfestival.com for more info.