I love Leeds Festival. From the incredible music to the freedom and atmosphere; in spite of the lack of hygiene and sleep, I’ve loved it from the very moment I first arrived there in 2014.
This year, however, I did have some grievances with the festival. Three, to be precise. Number one – the cancellations. We received news of A$AP Rocky’s absence half an hour before his set was due to start – with no replacement organised. Fetty Wap’s set was cancelled the day before – again without replacement (a blow to a girl who just really wanted to sing ‘seventeen thirty eight’ along with ‘Trap Queen’). Additionally, in the weeks prior to the festival, Haim, Travis Scott and G-Eazy also pulled out. Obviously, cancellations are usually unavoidable and understandable, but five – that I’m aware of – is a lot. Leeds 2016 also seemed to be the year of clashes. Perhaps this was just down to my personal taste, but I regularly found myself having to choose between who I wanted to see. I had to forgo The Wombats for Fall Out Boy, eschew Twenty One Pilots for Foals and miss Two Door Cinema Club for Red Hot Chilli Peppers (to name a few). Clashes are always going to happen, but it’s frustrating when the bands are like buses – none for a while, and then they all come at once. The final issue was the weather. This, of course, is beyond anyone’s control, but the onslaught of rain that dominated Thursday and the subsequent mud definitely did put a dampener – ba dum tss – on the vibe for a while, especially on the one day where there’s little to no music to distract you. Fortunately, it’s something easily remedied by still being able to bask in the sun on the main stage grass on the following day.
What’s really important, though, is the music. Let’s begin chronologically and start with Friday. For me, Friday was spent building up to Fall Out Boy’s set. At the risk of sounding like a painful cliché, this is one of the bands that really shaped my teenage years. After their four year hiatus that at the time seemed as though it would never end, having the opportunity to see them still feels like something to never take for granted. They open with ‘The Phoenix’ from their Save Rock & Roll, their first release post-hiatus, but it really begins with the second song ‘Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down’, one of their most famous tracks. The set continues with a mixture of songs from all of their albums, with highlights including ‘Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes’, ‘Dance, Dance’ and ‘Save Rock and Roll’, the latter of which featured a tribute to the late David Bowie in the form of a red and blue lightning bolt as the backdrop. It’s a show of theatrics, with fireworks above the stage, dancers wielding fire and giant balloons being released into the audience. Set against a sunset ablaze with purple, pink and yellow shades, it’s a magical ninety minutes.
Honourable mention – thinly veiled Fall Out Boy pun, there – also has to go to The Vaccines, Third Eye Blind and Good Charlotte. The Vaccines make music perfect for festivals, with tracks such as ‘Norgaard’ and ‘If You Wanna’ prompting crowd-wide singing, dancing and smoke bombs. Watching Third Eye Blind and Good Charlotte in succession and hearing classic songs such as ‘Semi-Charmed Life’, ‘Girls and Boys’ and ‘The Anthem’ live felt like being inside the soundtrack of a late-90s/early-00s American high school movie – in an entirely positive way, of course.
Again, Saturday for me was all about the main stage headliners. I’ve wanted to see Disclosure for years (I sacrificed their Leeds set two years earlier in favour of Blink-182) and anyone who knows me will be aware of how strongly I feel about Foals. Earlier in the day, Mura Masa perform a vivacious and lively set to a packed-out tent at the Radio 1 NME stage and Die Antwoord delight – and for some, confuse – with their wonderfully bizarre music, aesthetic and persona.
Shortly before Foals’ set, the skies open again. It’s disappointing that after a dry day, it just had to rain during the main band I wanted to see. True to form, however, Foals pull off a near-perfect set despite the less than desirable weather conditions, with tracks such as ‘Cassius’, ‘Inhaler’ and ‘Spanish Sahara’ proving to be highlights. Their set is as brash, exuberant and intense as ever – there are few bands that put on a show as impressive as Foals do. Disclosure take to the stage shortly after – following an appearance from them during Foals’ standard closing track ‘Two Steps, Twice’ – and launch immediately into ‘White Noise’ from their debut album Settle. Their set is filled with a mixture of tracks from both of their albums; mainly singles but interspersed with their less commonly known songs. It’s an effervescent show of stunning visuals, good music and a lively atmosphere.
For many, the highlight of the entire weekend will have been Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who closed the festival on Sunday night. I’ll admit it – I’ve never really been into RHCP. I know their famous songs and their singles, but that’s where it ends. Despite this, I was still impressed by their set (not that I expected not to be – bands don’t get as big as RHCP are by delivering weak sets). Their songs evoke the loudest and most widespread singing and cheering from the crowd all weekend, especially during classic songs such as ‘Can’t Stop’, ‘Snow (Hey Oh)’ and ‘Dani California’. I’m probably not the best-qualified person to comment on them, but I haven’t heard one negative comment about their set; only a barrage of compliments.
Another remarkable performance on Sunday was from Jack Garratt, arguably one of the most talented artists of the weekend. What was really notable was him being the only individual onstage for his whole set; his ability to play all the instruments involved in his music by himself simultaneously was an extraordinary thing to see. Garratt performed a captivating show that filled the entire Radio 1 NME stage with frenzied joy, with his cover of the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ theme song being a high point.
Whilst Leeds Festival didn’t come without its issues this year, it was still the weekend of outstanding music and revelry it promised to be and always has been. I’ve no doubt I’ll be back again next year.By Lucy McLaughlin