LIVE REVIEW >> Leeds Festival 2019

So another August bank holiday, another Leeds Festival. But wait, what’s that strange yellow thing in the sky? It’s only the bloody sun! This is not a drill, people – summer has returned in glorious fashion just for us.

The 1975 - Leeds Festival
THE 1975 – Photo: Sarah Koury

There are already seriously sun-burned backs by the time Yorkshire lovelies THE LOOSE CUT and TALKBOY take to the BBC Introducing Stage. It’s hardly lunchtime – rock out with the SPF, kids!

The unusually hot weather is very warmly welcomed, and bumbag tanlines prove it so, but with it comes a slightly different atmosphere to the festival.

As well-worn Converse kick up a fine haze of grassland dust around the main arena, replacing the usual quagmire of mud and over-turned noodle dishes, there seems a sense of urgency surrounding the festival’s – and the planet’s – sustainability.

Clearly marked recycling bins are everywhere and plastic water bottles have been banned, replaced by well-positioned water filling stations at the peak of endless queues. Extinction Rebellion even has its own sailboat stage, positioned just by the main entrance for all 70,000 attendees to take notice.

And few festival-goers could avoid the stark warnings of climate change and the need to take action during Saturday’s headline performance from THE 1975. The band devote a part of their set to the cause, airing the most recent version of their theme song that features powerfully frank spoken word lyrics from environmentalist Greta Thunberg, insisting that it’s now time to rebel.

Hell, the Manchester band even go as far as recycling old t-shirt stock, reprinted with artwork inspired by their forthcoming album, Notes On A Conditional Form, at the merchandise stalls. THAT is sustainability.

The 1975 - Leeds Festival

THE 1975 – Photo: David Dillon

And further flickers of hope for the future come in various guises across the weekend. Friday night’s headline set sees FOO FIGHTERS frontman Dave Grohl switch from rock legend to doting dad for a few minutes as he serenades the crowd with a poignant version of My Hero with his teenage daughter Violet, who sings every word straight back at him.

LAURA JANE GRACE AND THE DEVOURING MOTHERS bring their frenetic Lock Up set to a close with the singer dedicating Manic Depression to anyone who feels like they’re struggling with their mental health, offering the reassurance that they’re not alone.

Doncaster pop-punk misfit YUNGBLUD, who draws a decent-sized crowd bouncing along to his wired pop-punk, throws himself around the Main Stage with wide-eyed abandon, wearing a floaty LBD like it was the coolest thing to do (in the soaring temperatures, it probably is). His zero-fucks attitude, which has earned him an army of loyal fans, is a riotous rally cry of solidarity and empowerment.

And it seems that the kids really are alright, as 17-year-old odd-pop superstar BILLIE EILISH proves with ease with her mid-afternoon Sunday slot which draws one of the biggest crowds Leeds Festival will have seen for some years.

Billie Eilish - Leeds Festival
BILLY EILLISH – Photo: Luke Dyson

Her set seems to be the most talked-about of the weekend, having been bumped up from the Radio 1 Stage at the last minute – clearly a health and safety issue if ever there was one, judging by the thousands of bucket hat-sporting school-leavers packed in front of the Main Stage for her performance.

The Ocean Eyes star also made an impact shortly after her set with a chaotic meet and greet while promoting the festival’s Keep It Bin It campaign – staying as green as her graffiti-laden outfit and emerald hair.

Elsewhere around the weekend, young Leeds lot MARSICANS offer a taste of what’s to come when they return to the city in the autumn for a huge hometown show with a criminally short but sweet set headlining the BBC Introducing Stage. Bursting with pop goodness, the four-piece tear through a handful of sun-kissed hits like Your Eyes, Too Good and Little Things in front of a hungry crowd.

And fighting the power, Hertfordshire rockers THE HUNNA show that not even a major label record contract can contain their rock promise, with frontman Ryan Potter blasting their former label before launching into new tune I Get High To Forget during a blistering half-hour set.

Anderson .Paak And The Free Nationals - Leeds Festival
ANDERSON .PAAK – Photo: Sarah Koury

More good vibes are dished out by ANDERSON .PAAK AND THE FREE NATIONALS as we bask in the sunshine by the Main Stage. A wild blend of Motown soul and hip-hop, he brings plenty of colourful California cool to Leeds Festival, grooving along to smooth R&B and delivering on-point vocals, while tapping away at his vine-entwined drum kit.

And one of the highlights of the weekend comes as worlds collide with co-headliners TWENTY ONE PILOTS and POST MALONE teaming up for a surprise cover of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger during the former’s set, which also saw drummer Josh Dun crowd-surf complete with mini kit.

Gone are the days of Leeds Festival being an exclusively rock event. Now we have the full rainbow spectrum of punk, metal, pop, dance, grime, rock, folk, indie and soul, shining brightly under the warm glow of a late summer sun.

Everyone is in this together, waving a two-fingered salute in the face of broken politics, waving a white flag in the face environmental disaster and waving in a new age of artists borne of a generation finding their voice.

There has been a wind of change sweeping through the dust this year, breathing new life into a festival which will hopefully continue to thrive and provide ceremonial coming-of-age stories for future years of school-leavers and more magical music moments for the aging Millennials.

EDIT: It seems like the environmental message didn’t quite spread to the campers who chose – once again – to turn the campsite into a litter-strewn wasteland of discarded tents and debris once the festival came to a close on Bank Holiday Monday.

As the calls for environmental consciousness from three of the biggest main stage performers of the weekend fell on deaf ears, it was a grim sight to see footage of bulldozers clearing the site this week, making a mockery of the hard work and stark messages delivered over the three-day event.

Making the best out of a bleak situation, hundreds of volunteers stepped in to clean up the fields and salvage tents, sleeping bags and unused food for the city’s homeless and local charities. But clearly much more needs to be done.

It’s not all bad news, with festival organisers claiming that the various green initiatives in place made this year the most environmentally friendly festival yet. Things are definitely moving in the right direction, so we really hope this is the last time we see such a clear-up operation at Bramham Park. It’s time the hypocrisy and jarring indifference becomes a thing of the past as we all look to a brighter future together.

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