For some, Leeds Festival is no longer the rock-heavy late Bank Holiday gathering it once was. However, this year’s event aimed to prove a point by offering one of the diverse, yet exciting, bills in quite some time. From future headliners to rock veterans to cutting edge music and everything in between, 2019 had all the makings to be a significant year in Leeds Festival‘s ever-evolving legacy.
Already Heard spent the weekend finding out if it lived up to expectations.
Longtime AH favourites Milk Teeth (4/5) have the honour of kicking off the Main Stage, bringing a DIY supergroup vibe to proceedings with Em Foster on guitar and Nervus bandmates Paul Etienne and Lucinda Livingstone on backing vocals. The likes of ’Owning Your Okayness’ and ’Swearjar’ sizzle with almost as much intensity as the sun searing down on the stage. The band visibly win over the plentiful casual observers and Becky Blomfeld fills the huge space of force on personality alone.
With the sun rising, it’s ideal to find some shade in the Pit stage tent where Plague Vendor (3/5) are showcasing their brand of California-soaking garage punk. Jay Rogers’ razor-sharp guitars battle out with Brandon Blaine’s fraught vocals and a solid rhythmic pairing of bassist and drummer. Blaine’s presence is naturally carried with a cool brattiness. As the curious crowd grows, there’s a laid back appreciation for the quartet.
Despite being a late bump up to the Main Stage, California’s SWMRS (3/5) bound on to the stage with all the energy of joyful puppies, immediately keeping the raucous, spiky Punk vibes rolling. It’s fun, exuberantly delivered stuff that’s impossible to dislike. It’s well suited to the weather and the band’s ode to Miley Cyrus eventually connects, but there’s an argument to be made that they would have been better suited to their original spot on the lineup.
Sound problems dog the early moments of Mayday Parade’s (2.5/5) time on the Main Stage, limiting the usually potent emotional hit of ’If You Wanted a Song Written About You’, but they soon get things back on track. A cover of The Killers’ ’Mr Brightside’ gets the predictable cheap pop from the primarily youthful, mainstream crowd; but it feels hollow compared to the set closing ’Jamie All Over’, which finally sees the Floridians reach their usual standards. Always a safe bet at a festival, they’ve delivered much stronger sets here in the past.
For the past 18 months, The Faim (3/5) have been regular visitors to the UK. While last years ‘Summer is a Curse’ EP didn’t quite match the hype, we’re willing to give the Aussie four-piece a chance. Today’s Radio 1 stage set shows they have potential. Undoubtedly vocalist Josh Raven is their strongest asset yet is backed by a slick, accessible pop-rock sound. My Heart Need to Breath’ and ‘Humans’ have a pleasing anthemic quality to them yet the occasional assist from production takes away from the authenticity on stage. Nevertheless, The Faim produce a digestible, slightly routine, set that will have won over some new fans.
Yungblood (4.5/5) provides the first real “moment” of Leeds Festival 2019. The Yorkshireman oozes every possible quality of a megastar in the making and is visibly ecstatic to be back on home turf. Enigmatically attired in a black dress and pink socks, he owns the massive crowd with a stage presence eerily reminiscent of a younger, sassier Billie-Joe Armstrong. ’21st Century Liability’ and ‘I Love You Will You Marry Me’ both garner huge reactions before things get a bit euphoric as Machine Gun Kelly makes an appearance for recent single ‘I think I’m OKAY’. R&L has always been the perfect showcase for an artist to make a major statement of intent, it’s all the more remarkable given that Yungblood did so in front of a crowd he was standing in just two years ago.
Back over in the Pit tent, garage rockers White Reaper have bought some riffs over from Kentucky with playful melodies. Although they’re not the biggest pull, they solider on with slick guitar solos and power-pop hooks. While for Hot Milk (3.5/5) it seems an eventful summer of festival spots has paid off as they draw in a strong crowd. Despite arriving with plenty of energy, sound issues diminish the co-vocal work of Han Mee and James Shaw. Thankfully it’s only brief as they storm through songs from ‘Are You Feeling Alive?’ with conviction. ‘Are You Feeling Alive?’ and ‘Take Your Jacket’ is irresistibly fun, highlighting Mee and Shaw‘s strong dual vocal work before a new cut allows James to showcase his smooth voice.
Having stepped away from their pop-punk origins, The Story So Far (3.5/5) sound at ease on the Radio 1 stage. Cuts from ‘Proper Dose’ are well received yet old favourites such as ‘Quicksand’ and ‘Placeholder’ are sung back in unison, echoing throughout the massive tent. Sure, Parker Cannon’s energy is lacking but it’s made up by an assured performance. With jangly guitars, soaring hooks and a punchy sound, TSSF provide a satisfying set ending with a boisterous rendition of ‘Roam’.
Not even the recurring problem of iffy sound levels could perturb irrepressible Aussie pop-rockers Stand Atlantic (3.5/5). Their infectious hooks whip up the sort of pits usually reserved for much heavier bands. ’Skinny Dipping’ provides a definite highlight, but it’s the infectious ’Coffee at Midnight’ that gets by far the biggest singalong. It’s definitely not a stretch to suggest the quartet will be in the Main Stage for their next R&L appearance.
After spending some time away to focus on other projects and family life, The Distillers (3.5/5) return to the UK, unfortunately, isn’t a big pull. Sure there are thousands stretched out across the main stage feel, but only a small fraction of them are here to witness Brody Dalle and company. On stage, they produce a thriving punk rock set that is delivered with an abundance of energy. Whereas Dalle’s distinctive raspy voice is backed by a sonic wall of sound. Expectedly ‘City of Angels’ and ‘Drain the Blood’ gets the best response as Dalle display a cool as fuck rock star demeanour. Although it’s not the grand return it may have seemed on paper, The Distillers weren’t fazed by the task ahead of them.
Nothing,Nowhere (4/5) packs an awful lot of bodies into The Pit, underlining just how much of a draw the crossover artists are at R&L this year. His emo-fuelled atmospheric rap makes for quite the effecting live experience, helped by the crisp musicianship of his live band and his undeniably smooth vocal flow. A superb airing of ’Hopes Up’ dispels any real doubts that the Massachusetts native is deserving as 2019’s most hyped alternative act.
For Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes (3.5/5), Leeds (and Reading) Festival has been beneficial to their rise. And today it shows as they’re welcomed back with open arms. Carter is routinely the charismatic frontman as he and his Rattlesnakes play a set made up of our familiar favourites and slices from ‘End of Suffering’. Although they occasionally reign things like with the sultry ‘Love Games,’ FC&tR are here to deliver a rock n’ rock show yet it’s executed with substance and dignity. One moment Carter and guitarist Dean Richardson are amongst the crowd, the next delivering sincere messages of equality and stating this is a safe space for females before launching into the rumbling ‘Lullaby’. While ‘Devil Inside Me’ is as explosive as ever, there’s still a grittiness to their set as they round things off with ‘I Hate You’.
As a recording of legendary ring announcer Michael Buffer asks the crowd if they’re “ready to rumble,” A Day To Remember (4.5/5) make the bold decision to kick off their main stage sent with ‘2nd Sucks’. Nevertheless they’re not here to hold back and come out swinging as they smash through with ‘Back At It Again,’ ’Paranoia’ and ‘Sticks & Bricks’. It’s clear the Ocala band have plenty of massive songs to please the masses as ‘Have Faith In Me’, ‘I’m Made of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?’ and ‘All I Want’ sees them thrive with new single ‘Degenerates’ merely adding to the momentum. While their recent collaboration with Marshmello, ‘Rescue Me,’ is completed by a sea of beach ball. Add to that smoke cannons, and crowd surfers surfing on crowd surfers, and it’s obvious that ADTR have fine-tuned how to deliver a show to the masses.
The usual appearance of ‘If It Means a Lot to You’ brings temporary brings the pace down sweetly. As the massive crowd sing “la la la” during its conclusion, it’s clear rock still has its place at Leeds and ADTR justify their high billing. Rounding off the set with a pairing of mosh-made bangers in ‘The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle’ and ‘The Downfall of Us All,’ ADTR‘s return to the UK is certainly memorable.
As A Day To Remember bring ‘The Downfall of Us All,’ Basement (4/5) are bringing a ‘Disconnect’ to the Festival Republic stage. The emotional grunge alt-rockers are on form, yet it’s not until longtime favourite ‘Whole’ that the crowd truly gets involved as the line “lie to me” is sung in unison by dedicated albeit small following. Likewise, ‘Pine’ and ‘Spoil’ later receives the same elation. While ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘Covet’ are confidently delivered by vocalist Andrew Fisher before he comments on the ridiculous gap between stage and the crowd. The quintet never seem to disappoint and this all-too-short outing served as a small reminder of that.
“Do you want to rock and roll?” asks Foo Fighters‘ (4.5/5) Dave Grohl during a lengthy version of ‘The Pretender’. With a packed out field, it seems that many do and Grohl and company don’t fail to live up to their end of the deal as they returned to Leeds Festival for a stellar, career-spanning headline set.
For the best part of over two hours, the sextet showed why rock is alive and well. Classic songs such as ‘All My Life’, ‘Best of You’ and ‘Monkey Wrench’ are welcomed with plenty of elation by the thousands watching. Yet the Foo Fighters‘ tendency to draw out some songs gradually begins to wain. It’s also expected for recent, lesser know cuts ‘Sunday Rain’ and ‘La Dee Da’ to get a lukewarm reception.
Nevertheless, a bittersweet rendition of ‘My Hero’ between Grohl and his Daughter Violet is one of many special moments. Another being a member of the crowd dressed as Freddie Mercury being invited on stage to “work it” as Taylor Hawkins steps from behind the drums to perform a cover of ‘Under Pressure’. Hawkins also delivered an epic drum solo, assisted by a riser during ‘Times Like These’.
Apart from the minor issues, the veterans exemplified that rock music can still be a strong pull at an ever-evolving festival like Reading and Leeds. By the time the final chords of ‘Everlong’ rang out across the fields with fireworks lighting up the sky, Foo Fighters‘ mission had certainly been accomplished.
Saturday starts in the unfamiliar environs of the Dance Stage with Scot-rock/rap crossover purveyor The LaFontaines (3/5). Old favourites ’Under The Storm’ and ’Class’ provide the standout moments in a set dominated by more pop and dance-heavy cuts from recent album ’Junior’.
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me’s (3.5/5) synth and bass-heavy pop vibes sound right at home in the expanse of the Main Stage. It’s crisp, smoothly delivered and irresistibly melodic fare and the duo exudes a playful charisma. It appears Fearless Records have picked up yet another rising gem.
After a period out of the spotlight, Twin Atlantic (4/5) have used this festival season to serve as a Romeo see that they’re still one of the most potent Rock bands in the UK. The Glaswegians romp through their back catalogue with ‘The Chaser’ and ‘Make a Beast of Myself’ sounding as vital as ever. New song ’Volcano’ is revealed to be a slow-burning grooves that explodes into a frenetic chorus.
From political wisecracks about Brexit and Donald Trump, to their rollicking video game tribute ‘Hey Mario’ via Greggs chants, Patent Pending (3.5/5) bring quite the rollercoaster ride to the Lockup Tent. The band have steadily built a dedicated UK following in recent years, but showings like this give the impression they remain one of the most underrated pop-punk acts around.
Between the no-nonsense, wall of sound sonic approach of Press Club’ (3/5) and the powerhouse vocals and tempestuous stage presence of Natalie Foster, the Aussie quartet pack an immediate punch on the Lockup Stage. Days after the release of new album ’Wasted Energy’, the band give a solid advert for it, putting in an impactful performance undeterred by an underwhelming turnout in the tent. Enthusiasm noticeably builds throughout, complete with well-deserved pits by the end.
Expansive Welsh rockers Dream State (3/5) come storming out of the traps on the Lockup Stage, big, sweeping epic numbers following one after another. Immaculate musicianship is the order of the day, while sharing a stage with a largely straight-ahead punk bill makes the variation and grandiose nature of their attack, even more apparent.
You Me At Six (2/5) return to their perennial early evening slot on the Main Stage. Josh Franchseci sporting a jacket that looks like it’s been doodled on by teenagers on their last day at school is about as memorable as this set gets. Well until he utters the words “This song goes out to all the millennials, I feel sorry for us”, which comes across as more cringe-worthy than sincere. ‘Underdog’ and ’Reckless’ shows vestiges of the band’s former infectious vigour still lurk, but much of the newer fare all merges into one mass of fairly bland mid-tempo pop-rock. New single ‘What’s It Like’ shows a little more bite and potency, at least showing some hope that the band may yet return to the form they’ve shown in the past.
For those that were there Laura Jane Grace and The Devouring Mothers‘ (5/5) Leeds 2019 will live long in the memory as a moment time seemed to stand still and every individual present connected entirely with the performer. This batch of songs make up some of Grace’s most varied, at times fragile in their rawness, at others beguilingly whimsical, in years. they hit hard, really hard. What hit harder was the number of young people utterly lost in the music and seemingly in awe at Grace’s presence. By the end, several hugged and shed tears of joy. It was the single most heartwarming moment this year’s R&L will see at either site. For being able to provoke this reaction from individuals who don’t always have masses of artists they can relate to, or connect with in this way, appearing at such major mainstream events, whatever band she’s making music with, Laura Jane Grace will always be an utter hero. The most important punk artist of this generation? It’s hard to argue otherwise.
That this was The Maine’s (4/5) Leeds Festival debut comes as a surprise for a band that feel like they’ve been around forever (over a decade if we’re being more specific). The chaps from Arizona have experienced quite the career resurgence following the release of last year’s ’You Are OK’, and with that level of experience added to riding such a wave of confidence, you get an impressively polished showing from a band right at the top of their game. Frontman John Callaghan has always been a charismatic showman, but in the last year or two, the rest of the band have come into their own too. Matching white suits that suggest the band are about to either sell some fried chicken or manage an 80’s Wrasslin tag team, only add to the presentation. ’Girls Do What They Want’, ’Am I Pretty’ and ’Heaven We’re Already Here’ all land with equal aplomb, showing the all-important thread of continuity alongside the sonic development.
If ever there was a stage headliner where attendees know exactly what they were going to get, that band would be veteran Texan pop-punks Bowling For Soup (3/5). Daft, tongue in cheek gags by the busload and entertaining knobbing about, interspersed with trademark power chord driven pop-punk blasts that’s as witty as it is laden with sophomoric charm. And that’s exactly what they deliver to close out the day on the Lockup Stage. Playing at the same time as Main Stage headliners The 1975 doesn’t appear to attract the number of people spilling out of the tent and gives frontman Jaret Reddick some new gag material, “You’re booing the 1975, don’t you guys like chocolate?” proving one of his sharper quips.
Sure the balance could probably have down with being a little more in favour of music the than banter, and a cover of Fountains of Wayne getting a way bigger response than any BFS songs was kind of weird, but this was grin-inducing fun all the same.
The roasting final day of Leeds 2019 gets underway with Counterfeit (3.5/5) making their debut on the Main Stage. As the band crank up preparation for the release of their second album, a respectably sized crowd reacting enthusiastically to everything they did will have come as a welcome shot in the arm. Between the all-out punk attack of ‘Get Over It’ and the airy ‘Oxygen,’ the quintet smash out a well-balanced set, before super poppy new single ‘It Gets Better’ ends on an infectious high.
These days it’s tricky to go to a festival and not encounter Boston Manor (3/5) at some point. The always compelling boys from Blackpool impress again here. The sonic expansion of the tracks from most recent album ’Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ felt crafted for spaces the size of the Radio One Stage, closer ’Halo’ sounds particularly titanic.
Opportunities to check out genuinely heavy music were fairly thin on the ground across the weekend, but for those inclined to seek them out there were a couple of hardcore diamonds in the rough. First up on that score is local mob Higher Power (3/5), fists fly in the pit as they crush their spell on The Pit. Blistering, sludgy riffs are the order of the day, battling for attention with Jimmy Wizards high energy snarl. The assault on the senses provides a welcome alternative to the strains samey summery pop or grime drifting across the site.
The Hunna’s (3/5) slices of highly polished, radio-ready rock go down a treat on the Main Stage. Showing enough edge and genuine rock chops in their soaring choruses, yet still bright and accessible, it’s crowd-pleasing if not terribly original stuff.
The marquee name for Sunday may be Post Malone, but it’s evident that the real draw of the day is teenage prodigy Billie Eilish (5/5) who draws a crowd that may well have exceeded than the one for the previous night’s headliners. It’s a little scary just how staggeringly great a performer Eilish already is at just 17. From the opening strains of ’Bad Guy thousands and thousands of people lose their minds at once, something the bona fide megastar takes in her stride. It’s not just star power on offer though, a spine-tingling rendition of shows a vocal ability to match. Elsewhere ‘See Me In A Crown’ slays on an epic scale creating a sea of writhing bodies. That Eilish will headline R&L is a question of when, not if.
Blood Youth (3.5/5) provide the second offering of locally sourced hardcore. The Pit Stage goes off in a big way for set highlighted by a titanic performance of ’Reason To Stay’. The savagery finally reaches an even more intense level for closer ’Starve’ that brings the band’s Leeds Festival debut to an end in brutal fashion.
Odd, hard to pin down, surreal, none of these terms quite encapsulate Poppy’s (2.5/5) appearance on the Pit Stage. It’s certainly a striking, if bewildering, experience. Imagine smashing down a load of really strong cheese before bed and listening to a playlist of BabyMetal, lullabies and 70s Pop while dosing off. The resulting dreams would almost certainly look and sound like this set. Poppy herself appears to be working some kind of living doll gimmick with a backing band clad in matching black wigs, bodysuits and joker style makeup. On record, Poppy is fascinating and genre-defying in equal measure, live it’s all a little disjointed and forced. How natural or live the vocals are is also anybody’s guess. ’X’ does really rip when the heavy sections drop and there’s serious musicianship on display too.
Pvris (4/5) are as sonically dazzling as ever on the Radio One Stage. The cavernous tent providing the perfect space for them as the trio’s resonating synth and guitar lines sound especially massive echoing around the cavernous space. Lynne Gunn has grown into one of the most composed and endearing vocalists in Rock, her vocals as pristine and powerful as it gets. ’St Patrick’ and Smoke both make excellent live choices before new single ’Hallucinations’ gives an enticing taster for album three.
Not content that the tent was already roasting enough, Of Mice & Men (4/5) arrive on The Pit Stage and promptly ramp the heat up still further with both their scorching riff work and actual fire. Although technically not the last act on the stage, given the very specific appeal of Ghostmane, they’re effectively the stage’s de facto headliners and immediately set about laying waste to everything in their path to prove it. ’Would You Still Be There’s stratospheric feel sets the bar high early before punishing new song ’Earth, Wind and Sky’. The band manage to be completely uncompromising and visceral in their sound and approach without losing elements of accessibility for casual observers. On a weekend devoid of other metal acts, they represent the genre triumphantly.
On a weekend defined and stolen by genre-hopping, pigeonhole-defying artists, it’s fitting that AH ends our Leeds Festival 2019 with Twenty One Pilots (4.5/5) portion of the co-headline. The duo go all out to make it an immersive, visually and sonically striking spectacle. From a revolving array of masks and costumes, to both members breaking out dance moves joined on stage by members of stage security, Josh’s crowd surfing drum solo and the final verse of ’Car Radio’ sung from a precarious platform high, high above the crowd no effort is spared in the aim to entertain. Add in the fact that both are ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalists performing a captivating cross-section of pop, electronica, dance, rock and hip-hop, and this constantly evolving act really are the total package.
As AH takes our leave from what could prove to be our final Leeds Festival, there’s certainly plenty to take stock of. Three new acts have attained headline status, others made major debuts or put in potentially career-altering performances, and the yearly musical barometer that R&L has become has swung once again. For years, the questions and grumbling about building new headliners have persisted, so now that has happened it seems churlish to complain that they weren’t out and out rock acts. Two out of the three still incorporate aspects of many of the scenes we all love and presented in them in a way that appeals to large numbers of people at a mainstream festival. It’s still early to quantify exactly how successful the new headliners were from a commercial or crowd-drawing point of view (veteran headliners the Foo Fighters appeared to significantly outdraw The 1975 at a very rough visual estimate), but Festival Republic are still to be commended for giving them the opportunity. One thing that is clear from this year’s event is that, in the short attention span of the steaming generation, an ability to combine drawing from a variety of genres with a personality laden performance is key for any successful Main Stage set.
Looking ahead to possible future headliners, Fall Out Boy and Biffy Clyro will both inevitably come into the conversation, depending on where both are in their respective album and touring cycles. Paramore would also prove to be a relatively safe option, while the increasingly diverse Bring Me The Horizon could be an outside bet. Yungblud and Billee Eilish both staked major claims at this year’s events to be considered for a future co-headline slot. Lastly, it seems a matter of time until a grime artist also gets their chance, potentially Stormzy could add a Reading and Leeds doubleheader to his Glastonbury success. Whoever tops the bill, Reading & Leeds is only going to continue to be the biggest and most diverse festivals of the summer.
Words by Dane Wright & Sêan Reid.