Live Review: Leeds Festival 2021 – Sunday

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Entering back into the arena for our final day, we begin at Main Stage West with practically black skies setting a rather doomy backdrop for openers The Hara (5). Playing to one of the main stages’ smaller crowds we’ve seen this early on, the band nonetheless seem intent on making at least a visual impact, with frontman Josh Taylor boasting both a leather skirt & suspenders combo and a bright blue mohawk as they stroll out and plug in. Unfortunately, that’s about where anything remarkable about the band seems to end, with the proceeding half hour consisting of a muddy mess of guitars and completely buried vocals that totally undo any of their chances before they can get going.

Drawing significantly more people to that same stage are You Me At Six (6), who announce their return to the stage after an apparent 719 days by jumping onstage and launching straight into Bite My Tongue. Again, the sound mix seems to fail them slightly, with initially very little impact to the guitars, though this is somewhat rectified by the time they start cranking out heavy hitters like Reckless and a towering Underdog, to the delight of those at the front. Being another of the bands within their scene to have dabbled in adding electronics to their sound in recent times means we’re treated to a handful of such attempts culled from recent album SUCKAPUNCH, but it’s only really closer Beautiful Way that seems to make much of an impact in that regard.

Next up is something a little more theatrical, as Utah duo I Dont Know How But They Found Me (7) (or iDKHOW for short) take to the stage for a gleeful set of electronic-tinged pop-rock that’s punctuated with as many self-deprecating jokes as it is songs. Pulling almost entirely from sole studio album RAZZMATAZZ, frontman Dallon Weekes and drummer Ryan Seaman get off to an impressive start with the highly danceable Do It All The Time, and reception more or less stays at fever pitch throughout thanks to a fair few hardcore fans seemingly in attendance. “Just to be clear this song isn’t about anybody but us”, Weekes later quips dryly before tongue-in-cheek ballad Nobody Likes the Opening Band, and that coupled his later promise of crowd participation with “no peer pressure” certainly does a lot to make those unfamiliar feel at home with what’s going on around them. 

Perhaps one of the names with the most hype behind her, indie singer-songwriter Beabadoobee (8) is our next port of call back over at Main Stage East. Last seen gigging as support to The 1975 right before the onset of COVID-19, Bea certainly made an impact over lockdown with her debut album Fake It Flowers fusing both an affinity for grunge with ethereal pop vocals, and the occasional diversion into the low-fi bedroom acoustic strumming she first garnered attention with. Today, she looks every inch the superstar you suspect she could become, bashing out songs from both the aforementioned …Flowers and newest EP Our Extended Play. Opening track Care is a concentrated blast of joyously distorted power-pop goodness, and the momentum basically builds and builds with every moment – even keeping high when the acoustic guitar comes out for Coffee. Really though, it’s the anthemic stuff Bea seems to do best with; a colossal She Plays Bass proving still maybe one of the best songs in her canon thanks to a massive chorus set atop a shoegazy dream-pop backing.

Switching gear just about as much as possible, we then make our way back to The Pit to catch grime-punk duo Bob Vylan (9), a band whose modus operandi seems to be “be antagonistic as fuck”. After an extended instrumental intro, the pair of vocalist Bobby and drummer Bobbie set about putting on what might be the rowdiest tent set of the entire weekend, with furious cuts like Northern Line and Pulled Pork providing perfectly concentrated blasts of grime-punk fury. “Kill the fucking Queen – she killed Diana”, Bobby yells at one point, to considerable applause, if you needed context as to where this incendiary duo are at. It’s not just their existing catalogue Bob Vylan fire at us today either – scathing newbie Pretty Songs we’re later told takes swipes at “the new wave of ‘activists’ and ‘allies’ – including those in bands – we’ve seen grow over the past year or so”, and it’s easy to see what they mean with scathing lines like “Black lives have always mattered – you were just never told so on TV” set amidst an almost-nursery rhyme chorus. Arguably not since letlive. have a band sounded this angry and this vital, but there’s an overwhelming sense of community within what Bob Vylan do as well. Closing track We Live Here, one of their most furious, is cheekily introduced by Bobby with “this is Wonderwall”, before he ends up diving headfirst into the pit to bellow directly into peoples’ faces, finally ending the ferocity of their set with their now trademark group hug.

In fairness most bands would struggle to follow such an incendiary set, but LA rockers Badflower (6) have a particularly bad time of it, running into tech issues within seconds of opening their set. It’s an unfortunate start, and one that the band never quite recover from with such a limited time on-stage. Frontman Josh Katz does his best to banter with the crowd, calling out joking pleasantries like “How’s everybody doing? What’re all your names?”, though again, finding The Pit not even a quarter full after having emptied out doesn’t exactly help his cause, and they make almost no impact on this occasion.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, brilliant Liverpudlian metal collective Loathe (8) follow up next, and despite The Pit continuing to be embarrassingly empty (seriously, what is going on?), they proceed to deliver a wonderfully pummelling 35 minutes or so for those lucky few in attendance. Having already had some of their festival appearances this year somewhat hampered by various circumstances, including technical difficulties at Download Festival Pilot, and subsequently a last-minute drop-out of Bloodstock due to COVID, there’s a real sense that the band are out for blood today. Nowhere is that more apparent in frontman Kadeem France, whose stage presence feels murderous today as he stalks the stage barrier, practically roaring directly at the small collective of hardcore fans gathered in the tent. At times suffocatingly heavy-sounding, watching this five-piece do their thing after the frankly terrible time they’ve had recently is one hell of a cathartic watch, as they throw out riff after riff from last year’s I Let It In and It Took Everything. Everything lands with a significant punch here despite the lack of much crowd, be it literal (an absolutely feral Gored) or even emotional (the Deftones-y Aggressive Evolution), and by the time they’re wrapping up with a soaring version of Two-Way Mirror, it’s impossible not to begin to understand the hype.

Our last Rock Sins appropriate set of the day before heading off for Post Malone’s weekend-closing Main Stage East headline set comes from a very special band indeed, and another coming off the back of a well-received Download Festival Pilot appearance. Welsh post-hardcore band Holding Absence (9) have been gradually building up hype for a while now, but in this year’s sophomore album The Greatest Mistake of My Life, seem to have finally begun to hit the heights they deserve. Put simply, there isn’t an opening combo in all of live music that hits with more emotional impact than intro track Awake going straight into the bellowed “I’m aliiiiiiiveeee” of Celebration Song from vocalist Lucas Woodland – a hook so massive that you can already picture it being belted out to rapturous arenas and main stages up and down the country. And that’s only the start, as they go on to plow through a good chunk of said album and more over the course of a set that feels at the same time perfectly paced and yet tantalisingly brief. Tracks like Curse Me With Your Kiss, Beyond Belief and Gravity all boast ludicrously huge soaring choruses, while longtime fans are treated to Like A Shadow from their 2019 debut, reminding everyone that, yes Holding Absence really have been this good the whole time. Eventually closing out on a stunning version of Afterlife, a song which may well boast the best rock chorus of 2021, they leave and the few here disperse, most excitedly chatting at having just witnessed something genuinely special-feeling.

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