A not quite as stellar as usual lineup may have dampened enthusiasm in some alternative quarters for this year’s Summer Bank Holiday Reading and Leeds spectaculars. But with some great bands being given their first or biggest opportunities at the festivals yet, it was still an optimistic Already Heard team that headed to Bramham Park to see what the weekend would have in store at its northern leg. Would our wildest expectations be surpassed or might we be left rueful for what the festival once was? Let’s read on to find out.
Friday, 24th August
A second festival season encounter with Glaswegian kings of hip-hop and Brit rock crossover, The LaFontaines, kicks off our Leeds Festival 2017 experience. ‘Slow Elvis’ and ‘King’ are as enigmatic and addictive as ever, while new track ‘Delay’ showcased a more synth heavy sound and saw Kier push the limits of his rap flow. The songs massive chorus hook certainly bodes well for the band’s forthcoming second album. (4/5)
There aren’t many bands that can say that they made their first Leeds Festival Main Stage appearance with just a day’s notice, but that’s exactly what our favourite Scottish three-piece The Xcerts did. The decision may have been made overnight, but this was an opportunity earned by years of touring their arses off and it was great to see Murray and co given the opportunity. The trio grabbed it with both hands, looking and sounding right at home in the towering surroundings. They’ve had the songs for just such a space for years, and here ‘Shaking In The Water’ and especially closer ‘Feels Like Falling In Love’ sounded as majestic as they ever have. (4/5)
Of the two surprise sets on Friday, only the appearance by Queens Of The Stone Age actually managed to be one, the word only spreading shortly before they stepped on to the Radio One NME stage. A short set was sprinkled liberally with new songs, meaning it was unsurprisingly old favourites ‘Little Sister’ and ‘No One Knows’ that really got the packed tent rocking. (3/5)
Local boys Fizzy Blood smash out their raucous take on indie-grunge in undeniably compelling fashion on The Lockup Stage. There’s a sparky unpredictability to the quintet’s presence that makes for great viewing, as their sound wrestles with itself veering from edgy indie to all out grunge, with hints of metal and full blooded screams occasionally supercharging the mix. (3.5/5)
In a triumphant moment for British metal, Architects tear up the Main Stage in typically uncompromising style. Sam Carter owns the crowd with an iron grip, and effective use of pyro only adds to the sort of impactful and blistering showing that confirms the band could easily headline stages of this size in the future. The expansiveness of ‘Downfall’ and ‘Gone With The Wind’ in particular sounds especially at home in such spacious surroundings. (4/5)
Everyone’s favourite DIY indie-punk trio Muncie Girls make the step up from the BBC Introducing stage in the pouring rain the last time we encountered them at Bramham, to putting in a delightful showing on The Lockup Stage this time around. Their fuzzy, feel good melodies and guitar lines provide the perfect antidote to the early evening lull in energy all festivals suffer, while their lyrical subject matter brings as much interestingly spun and thought-provoking subject matter as any other act on the bill. The three piece just get better every time we see them, and this was no different. (4/5)
Culture Abuse somehow manage to combine the look and manner of an Oasis tribute band with a punk sound so generic that a group of middle aged blokes playing in a pub would probably think twice about it. All with just a touch of Slaves thrown in. Sadly few aspects of any of these characteristics strikes much of a chord with more than a handful of onlookers in The Lockup Stage. In fairness, the San Francisco quintet’s debut album ‘Peach’ is quite a bit more listenable than this showing would suggest, so maybe the band were either having a bad day or simply hadn’t been booked on a stage best suited to their sound and approach. For good or ill, the most lingering take away from this set was how bemusing the whole experience was. (1.5/5)
At their core, Don Broco are still a great band, tight musicians live and capable of merging genres into solid songwriting. But somewhere along the way they seem to have got lost in their own image maintenance. Their live shows and online presence primarily concerned with what laddish laddie lads they are. Preened Brit rock with a sun bed habit and an ASOS addiction this may have become, but the band get The Lockup as rammed and fevered as it’s been all day, and tracks like ‘You Wanna Know’ are still grade A bangers. (3/5)
For a main stage headline set to be properly considered a headline set it needs three things: spectacle, a sense of occasion and plenty of gargantuan tunes. Love them, hate them or feel entirely indifferent to them, that was one thing megastars Muse always, always deliver in abundance. Back to back airings of ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Plug In Baby’ see to that early on, the former featuring Tron themed visual effects which are certainly striking.
The trio are in the unusual position of having to follow another larger than life talent in Liam Gallagher, and there’s a distinct sense of anticlimax and hangover from the former Oasis frontman’ set early on. You can have all the sky searing lasers you want, but they’re still not ‘Wonderwall’.
Later more ethereal sci-fi themed visuals and some neat perfusion and loop work from drummer even keep the obligatory drum solo interesting. It’s the irresistible riff and falsetto combination of ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ that really steals the show though, the band sharply silhouetted against glowing red screens. Devon’s finest set the headliner bar so high that it was hard to see Kasabian having a chance of getting near it, and made it look effortless in the process. (4/5)
Saturday, 25th August
After a hit and miss day on The Lockup Stage on Friday. New Jersey’s Palisades gets our second day at the stage underway with an explosively engaging showing. Their melodic take on heavy rock may follow in much the same vein as Pierce The Veil, but they deliver it with far more bite and edge, the likes of ‘Nothing Personal’ proving more rough and ready, yet equally easy on the ear than their better known and excessively polished peers. A performance of ‘Dark’ dedicated to Chester Bennington is a nice respectful touch too. (3.5/5)
We make a first trip to the Festival Republic stage for Bristol’s Idles. Their raw, visceral indie punk is unflinchingly direct, their delivery resonating with an infectious conviction. Rarely has Leeds Festival experienced indie quite this bruising. (4/5)
Pop-punks WSTR looked to stride out of the shadow of their mates, and the stage’s previous nights headliner’s Neck Deep, with a rambunctious set that got a rowdy The Pit crowd off its feet from the off. A comparatively new name on the scene they maybe, but the Liverpudlian quartet kept the seething pits in front of them pumped throughout ensuring they’ll be a name getting passed on plenty by word of mouth once the weekend was over. Frontman Sammy Clifford showed plenty of charisma and a solid take on the now tried and tested UK pop-punk vocal style. The response to EP track ‘South Drive’ showed plenty present had followed the band since the very beginning, while more composed number ‘East Bound and Down’ reminds us they really stepped up their writing for their debut album released early this year. (3/5)
We get the briefest of glimpses of former Futures frontman Anthony West in action, now one-half of rapidly rising duo Oh Wonder. His years spent turning out smart pop-rock clearly having proved an excellent sharpening tool for his talents, as West along with Josephine Vander Gucht, deliver gorgeous shimmery pop that floats around the Radio One NME tent and shows why they are one of the hottest new acts in any genre on the planet. (3.5/5)
Jimmy Eat World have long since established themselves as R&L and Main Stage veterans, and it showed. Their set only hit one even remotely low key moment, the rather forgettable ‘Pass The Baby’, but elsewhere fan favourites ‘Bleed American’, ‘Hear You Me’, ‘Sweetness’ and biggest hit ‘The Middle’ made sure proceedings hit all the right high points with some huge communal sing alongs. (3.5/5)
Tigers Jaw more than live up to our expectations, their delicate keys, crunching guitars play off sounding crisp and essential ringing around the inside of a festival tent. Peppy melodies and immaculate harmonies keeping the feel good vibes flowing and figures swaying happily throughout the tent. The only minor issue being playing the songs in a five-piece form meant that at times the emotion, colour and shade of the lyrics were overshadowed by the guitars. (3.5/5)
Blackpool’s finest Boston Manor waste no time in tearing it up. After a summer on the Warped Tour, the band are in the form of their lives, doing some excellent work in stirring up pits all over the shop and showing why they’re one of the very best rock acts in the North in the process. The quintet are one of the key acts in blowing up the UK’s pop-punk scene and it’s excellent to see them getting the opportunities, plaudits and credit they deserve. Boston Manor have grown into one hell of a self-assured, intense live act with a deceptively versatile sound. Homecomings don’t get much more triumphant than this was. (4.5/5)
Arcane Roots rounded off a busy festival season by bringing one of the most immersive live music experiences imaginable to The Pit Stage. It’s pretty common to refer to bands as having an expansive feel, but that doesn’t come close to doing Andrew Groves vocal or guitar prowess justice. His guitar lines, in particular, are practically continental in scale and scope. At a time of the day when energy levels are starting to flag, being able to stand and simply let the sound and feeling break and wash over you is nearly blissful. Arcane Roots are a sonic force of nature that all rock fans need to experience at least once. (4/5)
In years past an appearance by a band like Billy Talent headlining The Pit would have had a seething mass of fans bursting the tent at the seams, and spilling far beyond its confines. Sadly, as has often become the case at the last few Leeds Festivals, that wasn’t to be the case. The always frenetically entertaining Benjamin Kowalewicz is as fun to watch as ever, while Ian D’Sa’s blinding riff work whips up plenty of activity in the pit in front of him. ‘Rusted From The Rain’, ‘Surrender’ and a fiery rendition of ‘Try Honesty’ all get fists and voices raised as one, but it’s a shame more fans of the genre hadn’t been enticed into the festival to make this set as special as it could have been. (3.5/5)
Sunday, 26th August
Nothing screams perfect for the dance stage like Get Inuit’s delightfully quirky, angular indie-pop. Although it did mean they got to play on the stage with the big shiny LED backdrop and surround which looked cool as hell, so who are we to judge? The zipping guitar lines of ‘All My Friends are Dead’ and ‘Blown Away’ did a cracking job of blowing away the cob webs and irrepressibly setting the final day in motion. (3/5)
Just as we were starting to recover our senses from the intensity of Arcane Roots the night before, along came Casey to batter them into submission to a whole other level. Atmospheric, bruising and delivered with a savage beauty that can’t be denied, this was a masterclass in how you manage the peaks and flows of energy and feeling in a live setting. (4/5)
Despite packing too many heavy rock cliches and tropes into their set to count, The Pretty Reckless still avoid coming across as tired or like a parody band. This is largely due to vocalist Taylor Momson’s powerhouse vocal ability, probably only Myles Kennedy comes close to to the strength of her delivery and stratospheric range. Oozing superstar magnetism, she owns every inch of the Main Stage, and in big time hard rock gold like ‘Heaven Knows’ and ‘Take Me Home’ they have the songs to match. (3.5/5)
Arguably the biggest week in Pvris’ careers to date is brought to a close on the Main Stage. Proceedings get off to a low key start, but ‘Smoke’ drops and immediately kicks the set into high gear. While they’re every bit as expertly crafted and multi-layered, many of the new songs just aren’t as impactful live as their predecessors. While it makes perfect business sense to play songs from a new album to a crowd of this size just days after its release, it does marginally hamper the set, consistently reaching the heights it could have due to not enough established fans not knowing the songs well enough, and that the enthusiasm and excitement spreads to people seeing the band for the first time. The always show stopping ‘My House’ does however close things in excellent fashion. (3/5)
Vukovi’s mercurial rose continued apace with another dazzling showing on The Pit Stage. The Scottish quartet are as entertaining a live act as British music has right now, and with tunes as razor sharp and insanely infectious as ‘Animal’, ‘La Di Da’ and ‘Boy George’ they’ve more than got the music to match. In Janine Shilstone, the band have as captivating and multi-talented a focal point as any could wish for. The main stage may have had an intentionally famous actress grace it earlier in the day, but there’s no doubt who Leeds Festival’s real leading lady was on form like this. (4.5/5)
In a sign of just how mixed up The Pit Stage was this year, next up on the stage was the punishing post-hardcore of Boston’s Defeater. In a set that was all out attack from the get go, fists were soon windmilling in the pit. The twin assault of the relentless riffage and Archambault’s visceral vocals conquered all before them to the very last second. (3.5/5)
Even with metal, punk and heavy rock as a whole underrepresented on this year’s lineup, the inclusion of nu-metal dinosaurs KoRn felt more than a little out of place. The band came across as distinctly outdated and out of touch. Where Architects were able to take metal and win over sections of the masses, KoRn’s take on the genre was met with mass in difference on the biggest scale. Only a closing performance of ‘Freak On a Leash’ was able to salvage anything positive here. (2/5)
One OK Rock’s appearance second from top of the bill on The Pit Stage, may have seen them play to one of the smaller crowds they presumably have in quite some time (the vast, vast majority of festival goers were already patiently awaiting Eminem’s arrival on the Main Stage by this point), but it was instantly recognisable why the band have achieved near god like status back home in Japan. This was rock performed with the sort of aplomb, confidence and slick showmanship born of wowing gargantuan crowds on a regular basis. Think something along the lines of Don Broco meets Baby Metal and you’ll have a decent impression of what their live show was like. Takahiro Moriuchi’s were nothing short of pristine throughout and backed up by the impressively tight bass and guitar lines of Ryota Kohama and Toru Yamashita, had a rapidly growing crowd in the palm of his hand. The four-piece had plenty of their compatriots in attendance, and the excitement of these fans spread to more the initially more neutral observers to create a charged atmosphere. With a little patience and more performances like this on our shores, and UK rock fans will surely start to appreciate and adore One OK Rock almost as much as their fans across Asia. (4/5)
That just left it to a genuine jaw dropping appearance from Eminem on the Main Stage loaded with spectacle, some instantly lapped up Trump-bashing, and some seriously great re-workings of his hits featuring sharp guitar and drum work, to bring the curtain down on another Leeds Festival in spectacular fashion.
Leaving Bramham Park, it was hard not to have mixed feelings as a fan of rock and alternative music. Sure across the weekend there were some blinding performances from the likes of Architects, The Xcerts and Vukovi, but overall there was the distinct impression that rock music was something of an afterthought, included somewhat begrudgingly and in token amounts.
Gone are the days where impeccable line-ups of bands reflecting every spectrum of rock and alt music would dominate the main stage, and pack killer line-ups on The Lockup Stage too. In the past, groups of similar bands would be grouped together on the same day, allowing fans specifically of that genre to pick up a day ticket and see loads of their favourite bands, in recent years that hasn’t been the case with bands of different genres scatter gunned across the line-up with no clear method to the madness or reason why. The result, these types of fans simply don’t bother showing up in the same sorts of numbers, leaving big name rock acts playing to visibly diminished crowds year on year.
If you take the cynical view it could be seen as heavy bands being set up to fail, the likes of Architects facing an uphill battle to win over a crowd (which they did comprehensively) sandwiched between homogenised pop-rockers Against The Current and grime star Giggs, or KoRn appearing before Major Lazor blaring out an endless succession of cuts of other people’s dance songs. Continue that school of thought further and it could be speculated that had these bands flopped badly in front of crowds not interested in them, there’s a ready made excuse to ditch them in favour of more bland fodder aimed at drawing in yet more teenage girls and shirtless ‘lads’ in bucket hats gurning their faces off. Gone seemingly are the days where alternative acts on the cusp of greatness would propel themselves to greatness with an iconic showing on the R&L Main Stages, instead its acts with a handful of tracks popular on Spotify and mainstream daytime radio out to make another quick buck.
On The Pit Stage too, things continue to head downhill. This year’s lineup there felt done on the cheap, too many anonymous bands fleshing out a bill they were neither ready nor suitable for. We can’t be the only ones pining for the days that Mike Davies’ would pack that stage with a raft of underground and cult heroes.
We’re hoping that this year will end up being a blip, an anomaly on a festival with a proud and glorious legacy and history. But if it’s not R&L could be heading to becoming an another soulless clone of V Festival and its ilk, packed with fans whose interest sees the music way down on the list behind Instagram snaps and sparkly faces. And that would be one hell of a crying shame. We can only hope the bands and the organisation takes a step back in the right direction next year: Seriously, for the love of any deity that’s out there, don’t book fucking Drake. Because that really would take a massive shit on the legacy of Nirvana in 1992 and all those other iconic R&L moments.
View more of Already Heard’s coverage of Reading and Leeds Festival 2017 here.