Having first appeared all the way back in 1999 as a sister event to the famous Reading Festival, over the last near two-decades, Leeds Festival has grown to become one of the biggest events in the UK festival calendar, encompassing a huge variety of acts across multiple genres. We trekked up north this year to see what the world of rock would bring to the table across the entire weekend – beginning with Friday.
Local lads Dinosaur Pile-Up (7) are up first on the Main Stage, and the trio immediately set about trying to kick things off with a bang by throwing out plenty of scuzzy garage-rock riffs. Packing their set full of delightfully crunchy material so early on in the day certainly brings the band a hefty impact (visibly confusing several pop fans wandering over to the stage in the process), however lingering strong winds do eventually begin to rob some of the band’s innate heaviness, and there’s a sense that the band aren’t quite hitting full-stride as an unfortunate result. Sadly, it seems as though Matt Bigland’s vocals are the most notable casualty of the weather here – his bellowing on the likes of 11:11 and new track Round The Bend taking a massive hit, and the band’s performance can’t help but feel affected. Nonetheless, this is still a decent opener, and one that sets a decent tone for what’s to come.
After a quick diversion into the press tent for interviews, we then return to find the arena being battered by a sudden massive downpour and even hailstones before Billy Talent (8) take to the Main Stage to set things right. Opening with a frankly ludicrous double-header of Devil In A Midnight Mass into Rusted From The Rain to start with, the Canadian rockers waste absolutely no time in getting their entire audience on-side with what essentially feels like a condensed greatest hits run. “We have 16 seasons in 14 minutes back home”, frontman Benjamin Kowalewicz quips at one point in reference to the madcap weather, and the general response is one of bemusement. Packing in enough cuts from a catalogue now spanning 15 years is no easy feat for any band, but the Canadians more than cope thanks to effortlessly catchy numbers like Devil On My Shoulder, Viking Death March and the absolutely unstoppable Red Flag. Nearly boiling over with white-hot intensity, the band provide the Main Stage’s first truly essential performance of the weekend, and leave having not only rocked the socks off of several hundred people, but also somehow miraculously bringing the sun back too.
It’s not too long after this that buzz begins to spread on social media about an imminent secret set taking place at The Pit Stage. Sprinting over, we find banners and amps hastily being wheeled in declaring the brilliant surprise arrival of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes (10). More or less sprinting onto the stage, Carter wastes absolutely no time in bellowing something along the lines of “We’ve got five fucking minutes!” before launching into mountainous opener Juggernaut. He is of course, overexaggerating just a touch, but what follows is a lightning-fast paced run-through of some of the band’s absolute biggest songs at such a pace, you’d be forgiven for temporarily believing him. All of the band’s usual marks are hit in the all-too-brief set too, be it Carter inviting the women in the audience to crowdsurf during Wild Flowers, or the colossal circle pit that goes around even the outside of the tent housing The Pit, before circling back inside on the microcosm of punk fury that is Jackals. Easily one of the most exciting moments however, comes in one of Frank’s many quips. ”Some of those songs might never get played again”, he notes towards the end of the set to a torrent of boos, before continuing ”…because our next album’s fucking banging!” to impossibly loud cheers. Indeed, if that record turns out to be another up to the standard of its predecessors and of the band’s explosive live shows, then it’s difficult to imagine a world in which Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes won’t be heading towards the top of festival bills before long.
By contrast, it’s impossible not to feel slightly sorry for Normandie (5) having to follow such an explosive performance. With the vast majority of Frank Carter’s crowd having now dissipated, the four-piece are left with just a handful of varyingly-enthusiastic punters to aim their electro-tinged pop-rock at. Sounding much more akin to a Swedish 30 Seconds To Mars than the heavier tones of most of the other acts they share billing with, the band run through a set consisting mostly of fairly safe-sounding pop-rock that occasionally seems to drop all pretence of the latter half, and divert into straight-up pop songs far more often than it should. Frontman Phillip Strand does a perfectly serviceable job in anchoring everything for the most part, but his attempts at crowd interaction mostly fall flat, and Normandie fail to rise above merely average as a result.
If there’s one band you can count on to be reliably great regardless of conditions though, it’s Milk Teeth (8). The Stroud pop punks have had a mixed few months to put it lightly, thanks to lineup changes, but today joined on rhythm guitar by Nervus vocalist/guitarist Em Foster, they end up acting as the perfect antidote to the continually-dreadful conditions brewing outside. There’s plenty of humour tucked into the band’s set today, be it guitarist Billy Hutton cutting a snippet of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air’s theme song into opener Nearby Catfight, or vocalist/bassist Becky Blomfield’s casual introduction of tracks like Brain Food with dry quips such as “This one’s about not having a job”. All that would be for naught if the band weren’t up to scratch though, and luckily Milk Teeth deliver one of the most high-energy sets of the day thanks to a virtually perfect balance of up-tempo punk-rock bangers and slower, grungier cuts like Prism. Ending on Owning Your Okayness ensures one final high point too, as Milk Teeth bash out one of the very best songs currently in their arsenal to a crowd at this point fully on-side and mostly singing along to the ridiculously catchy chorus. Hutton eventually chooses to incite one last pit at this point too, and the delight on his face and the faces of his bandmates at the band’s reception as they vacate the stage is touching, to put it lightly.
Exeter trio Black Foxxes (7) have the slightly daunting task of following on next, bringing with them something very different but just as interesting. Bashing out a bright and anthemic set of alt-rock goodness, the three-piece instantly endear themselves to the denizens of The Pit thanks to frontman Mark Holley’s timid-seeming, yet hugely-quick-witted persona. “I’m not very good at public speaking”, he quips towards the start of Black Foxxes’ set, as the band quickly launch into some choice cuts from albums Reiði and I’m Not Well. Boasting a captivating, haunting vocal presence and guitar tones bordering at times on Placebo-like, the three-piece fare rather well in their time onstage, drawing strong applause and cheers with affecting tracks like Breathe and Manic In Me. Evidently determined to cap things off in the most left-field way possible, Holley jumps down into the crowd as the band begin closing song JOY, moving to the centre of the tent before a trumpet solo of all things marks the end of the band’s set. As they pack up and leave, it’s evident that a fair few people aren’t quite sure what they’ve just seen, but all appear to have enjoyed it.
For whatever reason, The Pit is almost empty to an embarrassing degree as Lowlives (9) take to the stage. What makes that fact even more sad is that those not present miss out on one of the entire weekend’s highlights, as the US/UK band deliver an absolutely ferocious set of brilliantly spirited punk rock in the time they’re given. Throwing out material from debut EP Burn Forever, along with brand new cuts, the band are simply electric from start to finish. Powered by the throaty vocal roar of talismanic frontman/guitarist Lee Villain, within moments there’s absolutely no doubt that Lowlives are the real deal, as the four-piece set about creating an unholy racket that’s simply joyous to behold. The aforementioned EP’s title track proves arguably the peak moment in their set on this occasion, with an incendiary grunge-meets-punk tone bordering on Nirvana levels of excellence, and an utterly monolithic chorus, but the rest of their set is arguably on similar levels too, thanks to a canon of tracks that seem to increase in both catchiness and heaviness as more time passes. They might not have been seen by many today, but for the few who were in attendance, Lowlives are a band sure to stick in the mind for a long time to come.
The somewhat woeful turnout doesn’t seem to improve a couple of hours later either, as sub-headliners The Bronx (7) find themselves faced with a ridiculously sparse crowd for a band in their position. Not that this seems to deter the punk icons though, as they quickly set about kicking the metaphorical heads off of every single person who does show up for their set with a chaotic set of massively impactful hardcore that’s equal parts emotion and ferocity. Captained by the excellently charismatic Matt Caughthran, the band plough through their set with gusto from moment one, seemingly completely unperturbed by the mostly barren space set out in front of them, and as though merely seeking to cause as much mayhem as possible.
Thankfully, by the time Hollywood Undead (9) arrive to headline The Pit, the tent is absolutely packed to bursting. From the very second their intro tape hits, the rap-rockers have every single person in attendance in the palms of their hands, thanks to a set rammed with more absolute bangers than some bands manage in their whole careers. With five members onstage (plus touring drummer Matt Oloffson), there’s plenty of room for each musician to get their time in the spotlight as instruments are traded in and out as frequently as verses, and the rap-rockers sprint through a genre-mashing set that encompasses everything from crunchy nu-metal-esque ragers (Undead), to massive almost-pop-hook-driven tracks (California Dreaming), to ridiculous electronic-driven party bangers (War Child). This being a Hollywood Undead set, there’s of course the now-obligatory moment of pulling a fan onstage to play guitar on Comin’ In Hot, something which garners near-fanatical appreciation from just about every last one of the HU fans crammed into the tent. There’s even time for a couple of cheeky covers in amongst the chaos too, as the band throw quick mash-up snippets of both Metallica’s classic Enter Sandman and Rammstein’s thunderous Du Hast into the mix, much to the delight and bemusement of the audience. Eventually finishing off in the only way they appropriately could, the band close off the evening with the brilliantly puerile fan-favourite Everywhere I Go, a song that’s pretty much their calling card by now, and one that seemingly everyone in the tent knows every word to. Only one thing is certain as they leave and the site begins to empty – Hollywood Undead sure know how to party, and that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished in Leeds tonight.