Leeds Festival – Bramham Park – 24-26 August 2012
Debauchery and carnage seem like great fun when you’re 17 years old, fresh from college with a crate of Strongbow on your shoulder. But walking into Bramham Park on Friday I was quickly reminded that the 17 year old me was long gone and a cynical man stood in his place. Leeds festival is rammed from wall to wall with groups of ‘lads’ downing cans of warm lager, teenage girls fresh from buying their festival outfit from Topshop complete with straw hat and people throwing up against fences, portaloos and each other. Leeds festival has a reputation for being more raucous than Reading as it lacks a visible police presence. Added to the mix is the lax nature of the campsite security that lends a ‘turning a blind eye’ approach to literally anything other than drug dealing and starting knee high fires.
Sadly for Leeds Festival, the current trend in popular music has moved away from guitar bands and towards more dance orientated music. Throughout the whole bill on Friday, SBTRKT was the only name that I wanted to see and his set proved to be one of the most confusing things I have ever seen. A full drum kit surrounded by synths and a sampler was SBTRKT’s space to work, as long-time collaborator Sampha provided vocals centre stage. Seeing a crowd of thousands losing it to “Something Goes Right”, crowd surfing to “Pharaohs” and singing along to “Wildfire” was a baffling contrast to the usual club scene SBTRKT is attached to. Strangely, it worked. The whole atmosphere was more dance floor than mosh pit and the set was a real highlight of the day.
On the main stage The Gaslight Anthem and The Black Keys churned out what seemed to be the same American rock song again and again, until Foo Fighters took to the stage. It was 8.30pm and they were scheduled to play for two-and-a-half hours. They have a few good singles but no way near enough quality to fill that slot, so the band resorted to stretching every well-known song into self-indulgent, crowd interactive, drawn out boredom – “Monkey Wrench” lasted well over ten minutes. Dave Grohl’s constant expletive laden speeches about starting rock bands were cringe-worthy and the crowd seemed restless and bored. It was a shame because when they are good (“My Hero”, “Times Like These”, “Best of You”) they really do have some fantastic festival-friendly songs to perform.
During the break before the encore I encountered the staggeringly drunk Lewis – it was his nineteenth birthday and he proclaimed that Leeds was the best festival in the world. I asked him why, but the reply “I don’t know, it just is” didn’t really answer my question. It did make me realise that therein lies the beauty of Leeds festival; sometimes we all just want to belt out the chorus to “Everlong” with 50,000 people around us, not asking questions and not caring if a pint of unknown, warm liquid comes descending from the heavens over our heads.