Leeds was once again tranformed into a sonic jungle last Saturday (16 October) for its annual urban music festival. Live at Leeds, as always, was a rich ecosystem of talent, overflowing with new sounds and promising future stars. Some real gems were to be found throughout the day in a plethora of venues, if willing to Indiana-Jones-your-way-through the city, weeding through an overabundance of shouty-male-guitar music, and enduring some crusaders of a lost spark.
Courting (a fantastic shouty-male-guitar band as it goes), kicked up the energy early at The Wardrobe with a riotous set following Low Hummer and The Sherlocks. The dark basement venue, which was impressively packed for just gone 2pm, was the perfect match for their wild and theatrical take on British punk. With a cult following creating mini circle pits in the cosy venue, front man Sean Murphy O’Neil thrived having the crowd at his fingertips as he passed round a cowbell, encouraged a sing-a-long of The Rembrandts’ Friends theme tune, and toyed with a heavily requested rendition of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’. Tracks like ‘Grand National’, ‘Popshop!’, and even the new ‘Tennis’ were all equally seismic. Despite playing a similar show to their hometown performance in Liverpool for Sound City a couple of weeks earlier, the energy was noticeably magnified and O’Neil even managed to keep his fly zipped this time. Result.
A short hike across the city to the suprisingly early set from The Big Moon at Stylus was next. The pit-like venue soon flooded with others keen to take advantage of the band playinng at 3:45pm. With chic white guitars and smart blazers the band performed an immaculate set, polished and with clarity. Julliette Jackson of the band commented how excited she was not only to be returning to live performances again, but to be playing Live At Leeds, “the first festival [The Big Moon] ever played as a band”. This genuine afinity with the city was warming and shone through their perofrmance. The band have an impressive range, seemlessly criss-crossing from keyboard led and pop-leaning tracks such as ‘Barcelona’ and ‘Waves’ from their latest album, to the punchier debut singles like ‘Silent Movie Susie’ and ‘Bonfire’. A smiley, pristine, and all-round wholesome afternoon performance.
Moving to the O2 Academy next, where despite being the biggest venue for the day, it certainly wasn’t the most diverse, varied, or exciting for its majority. While Reverend and The Makers brought their usual Yorkshire-fuelled riot, the slightly sleepy bookings of Vistas and The Night Cafe failed to fill the room. More a poor venue choice than a slate on the band’s performances as a whole, it all just dozed into a bit of a bloke-filled snore-athon with jangly guitars and cooing choruses. Then Sports Team arrived at quater past seven. The London band – arguably the most awaited band of the festival, didn’t fail to draw in the crowd, nor did they fail to relight the room. Channeling Iggy Pop with long locks and a red netted vest, vocalist Alex Rice owned the stage as the band tore through new tracks including the latest single ‘Happy (God’s Own Country)’ which was met with equal appreciation as songs from their Mercury Prize nominated debut Deep Down Happy. Sports Team completed their set with fan favourite ‘Kutcher’, a rowdy romance track centred around the Hollywood heartthrob Ashton Kutcher himself, and their debut single ‘Stanton’.
For a complete change of pace, it was a return to Stylus for Poppy Ajudha. Despite Ajudha’s music being more soul and jazz oriented, there remained a fitting punk energy that radiated throughout the London vocalist’s soothing set. Ajudha’s silken vocals take centre stage during every track with instrumentation flowing around effortlessly, and this paired with elite lyricism and sparks of groove plus the occasional twinkle of a dancefloor beat make for the most textured performance of the day. With personal tracks about relationships like the new singles ‘Change Your Mind’ and ‘Weakness’ combined with songs which cover topics like gender identity, the refugee crisis, and feminism – Ajudha flaunts that rare ability to merge the personal and the profound while also sustaining a captivating and entertaining show.
To end the day, it was an explosive headline set at Brudnell Social Club courtesy of Dream Wife. While The VLM wasn’t present for Frank Carter, there is little doubt anything could have matched the bonfire of a gig delivered by Dream Wife. Filled to the walls with bodies, the band were on a raised stage, rightfully lording over the crowd like the punk royalty they are. The whole band was visibly fuelled and on form. Vocalist Rakell Mjoll donning her signature silk attire (check out her Silk Basics Instagram shop here if you fancy) was smiling through out. 2020’s So When You Gonna… offers a few more stripped back tracks for the set which put Mjolls impressive vocals on display – ‘Hasta La Vista’ being a particular highlight in this regard. Meanwhile bassist Bella Podpadec sprung across the whole stage with her high kicks, as guitarist Alice Go and drummer Alex Paveley thrashed uncontrollably, firing up the room. The band are fantasticly fierce and unrelenting in getting their messages about gender out during the set. Mjoll calls for the “bad bitches” in the venue to make their way to the front as she asserts “gender is just a concept!” before diving into a wave of tracks from their debut which touch on this topic, such as ‘Somebody’ and ‘F.U.U.’. Creating a safe space at gigs without forfeiting any of the viseral spirit is what Dream Wife do best and the band are a living, breathing, bad-ass embodiment of exactly why festivals like Live At Leeds should elevate a richer spectrum of artists and leave the snoozy safe-bet bands at the door. Why settle for cotton when you can have silk ey.
See below for some more photos from Live At Leeds including shots from The Murder Capial, BEKA, and Sunflower Thieves. Photos: Jacob Flannery