Live Review: Leeds Festival 2021 – Saturday

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Starting off day two of Leeds Festival in strong fashion, we immediately make our way over to Main Stage West to catch an opening set from Southend rockers Nothing but Thieves (7), whose set seems to have been getting heavily promoted across the site’s many screens. Completely gone is the somewhat dreary weather of Friday, replaced instead with borderline-uncomfortable heat, though this doesn’t seem to have bothered the surprisingly strong crowd of early punters who pack the front of the stage in the slightest, as the band arrive onstage and launch straight into the punchy Amsterdam. Well, most of them arrive anyway – we’re quickly informed that guitarist/keyboardist Dominic Craik is actually playing from somewhere off-stage today due to a back injury sustained at Reading Festival the previous day, but his presence in the mix today is still very much evident. Given a solid 45 minutes or so in which to reacquaint themselves with the Northern contingent, Nothing but Thieves put on a valiant effort across their set, packing in plenty from both 2020’s Moral Panic and their back catalogue, to fairly equal applause. Newer cuts like the atmospheric Real Love Song and the almost-electro stomp of Unperson set excellently alongside older cuts like Trip Switch, and the consistent quality in doing so is genuinely applaudable. Ending on the sleazy, Muse-esque swagger of Futureproof, they then take their leave, comfortable in the knowledge they’ve probably gained themselves many new fans today.

With the sun suddenly coming out in impressive style, we retreat into our usual tent haunt (today it’s dubbed The Lock Up) and run into the London-based Chapter & Verse (6) mid-set. Apparently suffering from the ongoing problem of crowds mostly ignoring anything alternative this year, there’s maybe 40 people at most down at the front for their set, which is a shame considering the relative decency of what we manage to catch. Led by the shockingly-high-registered vocals of frontman Josh Carter (calling to our minds acts like Sleeping With Sirens and Coheed & Cambria), the alt-rockers who apparently come tipped by Metallica’s Lars Ulrich certainly do an alright job from what we catch, with songs like Sweet Time and Ink impressively mixing sugary pop choruses with some solid riffs and bouncy electronics. It’s hardly anything groundbreaking, but it’s enjoyable enough for a warm early afternoon and perhaps worth keeping an eye on.

Ramping the distortion back up just a touch and drawing a slightly bigger crowd in the process, punk five-piece Bad Nerves (7) almost seem as though they aren’t going to make their set, soundchecking various instruments right up until the very last second. Not that this is a problem for the pocket of fans that seem to have shown up though, as it takes mere moments for a couple of crowd members to be up on shoulders and yelling along to the likes of Radio Punk and watching frontman Bobby Nerves jump off the band’s drum kit as he sings. It all feels incredibly ramshackle at times, but you suspect that’s almost the point, and the increased energy from watching the band throw themselves around the stage is certainly welcome at this point in the afternoon.

Sadly, neither that crowd nor that energy level seem to hang around for Grace McKagan (6), with the vocalist most known to audiences for formerly fronting The Pink Slips suddenly facing an incredibly empty tent following a much hyped secret set placed between Bad Nerves and herself, and perhaps 30 people at most actively engaged with her, rather than the vast majority either hiding from the sun or heading to the nearby water point. That lack of crowd really seems to set the tone unfortunately, as the McKagan and her band members face a multitude of mostly keyboard technical problems across their 35 minute set, sadly robbing her decent enough bluesy hard rock material of the majority of the impact it might have been intended to pack, despite an impressive and charismatic stage presence from Grace herself throughout. Sadly a missed opportunity.

By far the most impressive set of the day so far though, comes courtesy of hotly-tipped duo Wargasm (8). Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Sam Matlock and vocalist/bassist Milkie Way, the pair are seemingly continuing their post-lockdown crusade of just playing as many festivals as humanly possible, having already been seen by this writer at both Download and Bloodstock in months prior. Today’s set is largely the same as those others, seeing the pair joined by touring musicians to round out a full band capable of creating their everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sonic melting pot. Opening strong with Rage All Over, the pair pretty much set out their stock from the off. Instruments are thrown down and picked up again seemingly at random, as Matlock and Way trade screamed, rapped and melodic vocals across an impressively diverse selection of backings. Rarely staying in one place for long, tracks like Pyro Pyro and Your Patron Saints meld glitchy electronics and nu-metal-esque rapping with soaring choruses to fun if occasionally a little disorientating effect, while new track Salma Hayek (an ode to vampire flick From Dusk Til Dawn) is another absolute rager in the making. Easily the largest curveball for the uninitiated though, presumably comes when Milkie seemingly out of nowhere yells “Who wants a Lapdance?”, and the pair launch into their riotous and surprisingly faithful cover of N.E.R.D.’s 2001 rap-rock hit Lapdance, before they close things out with a thunderous rendition of Spit; seeing both crowdsurfers and a cheeky closing snippet of Metallica’s Fuel thrown into the mix. Undoubtedly a polarising band to many on musical basis alone, Wargasm are nonetheless a ton of fun to witness in a live environment, and if they keep up their momentum at the rate it seems to be building now, who knows where their limit might be?

Returning to the tent a few hours later, we find a backlit clear sheet covered in sloganeering graffiti now adorning The Lock Up’s back walls. The words belong to Brighton four piece Yonaka (7), another band who’ve been hitting the festival circuit as hard as possible with the reopening of live music. Kicking off with the throbbing synth stabs of Seize The Power, vocalist Theresa Jarvis does her absolute best to get people moving as quickly as possible, her impressive rapped vocals providing a solid starting point to endear the band to those kicking around the tent. Pulling almost entirely from the mixtape of the same name, the rest of the band’s set is a genre-fluid sprint through both pop and alternative sounds, skewing heavier on the likes of Punch Bag and Clique, and more melodic on cuts like Rockstar (bizarrely more of a pop song) and Call Me a Saint, and accomplishing both pretty well on the whole thanks to Jarvis’ powerful vocals. Arguably saving the best for last though, closer F.W.T.B. brings things to a furious close with a gigantic pit that really brings the band’s heavier tendencies to the forefront. 

Our final stop of the night before heading over to watch Stormzy’s headline set comes in the form of something too unique to not mention. On a stage mostly filled with a variety of rock and punk bands, North Carolina rapper Ashnikko (8) stands out as not only drawing the biggest crowd perhaps of the weekend to The Lock Up and The Pit, but also being the artist to do the most in terms of staging. Despite a 10 minute delay starting due to lighting problems, by the time she strolls out, clad in an outfit that can only be described as “alien cyborg meets Dragonball Z character” and kicks off proceedings with the sassy Tantrum – sending the entire tent into a frenzy with her impressive vocals and dance routines. Later we’re introduced to a giant pair of vagina shaped mascot creatures dubbed “my psychedelic pussy bears”, who’s entire purpose seems to be to dance in a limited fashion whilst also making any outsiders wandering past wonder exactly what hallucinogenics they must have taken to be seeing such sights. Of course, to fans, this is all exactly par for the course with an Ashnikko show, and the crazed response to virtually every movement she makes is testament to her popularity. The biggest response of the night by far is reserved for mega-hit Slumber Party, as seemingly the entire tent bellows along to its lyrics of exploring sexuality, but arguably the most interesting point comes with the airing of a new track entitled Maggots (“it’s out whenever the f*** I feel like it”, is its introduction, in case you were wondering).

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