It’s been a long time since I’ve been up on the wrong side of 11am on a Saturday morning. But of course, this is no ordinary Saturday morning. Returning for its fourth annual outing Live At Leeds is back bigger than ever. With around 170 bands, split between 17 venues across the city, it’s hard not be intimidated by the scale of this fast rising city- wide celebration. Shockingly, this is my first ever Live At Leeds, and with that in mind I plan accordingly, sticking mainly to venues I already know, but also working in a few gaps to explore new, unfamiliar territory. What could possibly go wrong?
So on with the plan and upon my arrival at the Cockpit it’s a weird experience starting off somewhere I usually end most of my ventures into Leeds. I’m met with disappointment, finding out that the hotly tipped Japanese Voyeurs have cancelled due to ‘Unforeseen circumstances’. Annoying, but not a total disaster as it provides the ideal opportunity to head upstairs to watch local lad Sam Airey. Cockpit 3 doesn’t take long to fill, with punters lined up on the stairwell by the time he starts. Seizing the opportunity, his acoustic based act, complete with cello and banjo accompaniment, provides a gentle start to the day.
Back downstairs and South Yorkshire quintet Rolo Tomassi gave what can only be described as a furious performance. Coming onto M83, you could be easily fooled into expecting similar avant-garde synth led sounds, instead you get the deceivingly feminine frontwoman Eva Spence screaming down the microphone as if it has just stolen her first born, backed with loud, disjointed noise. Urgent and full of conviction, they really are an exciting draw for those with a rockier leaning.
Local favourites Vessels follow and produce a half hour outing showcasing exactly why they’ve earned such high regard in these parts. Their set may have only featured four tracks – none of which I can recall by name, but from the slow build starts to the overwhelming climaxes I was hooked. Superb.
After a short treck through the city centre I arrive at Leeds University Refectory ready for Castrovalva. At first, the half empty venue is a disappointing sight, but it’s not long before I’m impressed with their efforts from latest acclaimed offering ‘We Are A Unit’. Worth watching alone for the inhuman efforts of frontman Leemun: his frantic onstage antics only bettered by his crazed venture into the crowd mid set. Wonderfully chaotic, they are a force to be reckoned with.
A quick nip into the University Union, and there’s just time to catch Eureka Machines deliver a half hour of their high tempo pop rock goodness. With the Mine packed, it’s not hard to see why they’ve found much success; with a strong image, plenty of stage presence and ample feel-good tunes, they provide a much needed shot in the arm as the first signs of fatigue start to kick in.
I head back to the Refectory for These Monsters. Like Brew Records label-mates Castrovalva, they produce a powerful set, although noticeably more controlled and less chaotic. That’s not say this Leeds quartet don’t pack one hell of a knockout blow, just in a very different manner. They’re also the first band to take a justified swipe at the Hadouken! banner draping behind the stage. “How big do you have to be before leaving that out for 5 or 6 bands to play in front of before you seems perfectly alright?” they quip.
It seems only a matter of minutes after they depart that the Refectory starts to fill up. And rightfully so as The Bronx have earned a strong following over the years. They deliver exactly what you’d expect from the LA hardcore act; a sweaty, gritty and commanding performance, with highlights coming in the shape of ‘Heart Attack American’ and White Guilt’.
Having spent most of the day in the more established venues, it’s time for a wander in search of a bit more intimacy. To my disappointment, as I arrive at the Packhorse, ABC Club’s 7:30pm slot is packed, so much so that I can’t even squeeze into the back; people are desperately crowding the doorway to catch a glimpse of the Halifax quintet’s blend of retro indie pop. Fortunately, a short walk across the road and I manage to get in The Library for Tubelord. Equally as full, the Kingston trio offer up a frenetic and well-received set in this tiny space.
As the day draws to a close, after a quick taster of Blood Red Shoes’ excellent Refectory outing, then comes the day’s biggest decisions: Wild Beasts, 65 Days Of Static or Everything Everything? I choose 65 Days of Static for my headliners as a) everyone is already hyping Wild Beasts, which puts me off b) whilst Everything Everything intrigue me, they’re another long walk away back down to Cockpit. My decision is soon vindicated, as not long into their hour long Stylus set the Sheffield quartet produced more than enough to earn the praise as one of Yorkshire’s most unique and talented acts. It’s a struggle to articulate just how good they were without using the clichéd expressions associated with progressive bands such as ‘Euphoric’, but from their mind boggling layers of sound, to onstage showmanship; granted balancing guitars on their chins was a little too much, their hour slot flew by; quite an achievement given they are not most the instantaneous of bands.
On my final journey back to the train station, it’s crazy to think that even after all that, I’m still passing up performances by Hadouken!, The Sunshine Underground, Sky Larkin and a very special performance by Mariachi El Bronx at the Brudenell. Live At Leeds you have bested me, I’m exhausted but savoured every minute of it. With barely any queues and a wide variety of artists and venues, there’s plenty to love. Alongside the success of the recent Record Store Day, and that other Leeds Festival you may have heard of still to come, is there really a more thriving music scene in the UK than Leeds? As for Live at Leeds, I’ll see you next year.