LIVE REVIEW: Leeds Festival – Saturday @ Bramham Park, Leeds – 27th August 2016

From a weather perspective, Saturday looks dubious to say the least. Yesterday’s blaring sun has been replaced by overcast clouds, and the already thick mud in the arena has become even more treacly, despite what appears to be metric tonnes of hay laid down to combat it. Still, the rush hasn’t let up, with punters flooding into the arena to see what day two has to offer.

A Main Stage opening slot is a place for up-and-coming talent to show a sparse amount of Reading and Leeds punters what they’re made of, but not today. The crowd is huge considering it’s 12pm and a large number of them are probably nursing hangovers – it’s for good reason, too. It’s Frank Turner [9]‘s tenth year playing at the festivals, and something in the air feels special as the man himself and his band The Sleeping Souls, dressed in their signature white shirts, bust out their hits with the energy and passion of a new band that would usually take this slot. Their reputation as an exceptionally talented live presence certainly hasn’t gone anywhere, with Frank’s voice sounding as close to recorded quality as ever. And then there’s the songs. The heart-on-sleeve lyricism of I Still Believe and Get Better has most of the crowd belting their hearts out, the country / punk marriage that fuels Out Of Breath gets mosh pits and a wall of hugs (egged on by Frank) going, and closer Four Simple Words sees everyone make the most of their last chance to dance. It’s all the elements of a perfect set, and here’s to ten more years of Frank gracing Reading and Leeds stages. • GJ 

On the face of it, the Frank Carter that steps onstage today is completely different to the one who played last year. Twelve months ago, he was just another grotty punk playing one of the best sets The Pit had seen that day; now that Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes [8] are on the Main Stage, the frontman seems to be well and truly embracing the high life of an upper tier act, strutting onstage to James Brown in a gaudy, floral suit. It’s a merely aesthetic change though; a couple of seconds into the acerbic Trouble is enough to verify that. And though the scale may be larger this time, the opportunities for mayhem haven’t diminished, with Carter climbing into the crowd to incite one almighty circle pit during Juggernaut, at one in the afternoon, no less. The fact that this is Carter’s first time on the Main Stage (a fact that is both surprising and completely not in equal measures) means that both crowd and band relish every moment, with the closing I Hate You acting as the antidote to any of the fresh-faced nice guys to hit this stage this weekend. Just don’t expect to see him this high up again. • LN

We’re at the jumping off point with Creeper [8] now, the point where they’re well-known enough to be a real mainstream force, and it’s only a matter of time before that becomes a reality. It’s quite surprising that they’re so low down on the bill then, especially considering the floods of people in The Pit tent betray a capability for a much more high-profile booking. But as has become the theme with this band, they work with what they have extremely well, conjuring up a surprisingly clear sound for this stage, and letting melodic punk anthems like VCR and a truly brilliant Valentine go off with consummate ease. Will Gould is a captivating frontman, the lanky lovechild of Morrissey, Davey Havok and Gerard Way who oozes passion and showmanship in every syllable. If that isn’t enough reason to bump them up much higher next year, the spine-tingling finale of Misery is enough to convince even the stoniest of non-believers that this is one special band. • LN

Based on the lowkey year they’ve had (you know, touring stadiums with Muse), Nothing But Thieves [5] should be right at home on the Main Stage. But if they do, it really doesn’t feel that way, and their set comes across as inexperienced as any Main Stage newcomer should. It’s hard not to be disappointed considering the calibre of their Radio 1 / NME tent opening slot last year. Vocal powerhouse Conor Mason is usually the focal point of the set, but today he’s shaken with nerves. He does have moments of brillance, but the weaker ones outnumber them. Joe Langridge-Brown’s guitars are turned right up and subtle flourishes, especially in lush ballad If I Get High, are audible. It provides a nice new perspective to Nothing But Thieves’ tracks, but hopefully this performance is a blip in the road for them – they can do much better than this. • GJ

It’s telling about Lower Than Atlantis [8]‘ popularity that, even as the drizzle begins to encroach, there’s no thinning out of the crowd. And after twelve months of relative silence, that’s no mean feat. So to see them take to the stage with not one hint of ennui as the roaring Get Over It kicks off is a fantastic sight to see. The fact that their set consists entirely of material from the 2014 self-titled album onwards may be enough to rub some long-term fans the wrong way, but they’re the kind of massive tunes a Main Stage set is built on – Emily and newbie Work For It are the kind of pretension-free rock songs that even the most casual fans of the genre can get behind, and there’s a surprisingly weighty guitar tone present for a crushing Here We Go. The instrumentation is top notch too, especially from drummer Eddy Thrower whose fills and extended outros give a real rockstar flair. It’s by no means a legendary set, but there’s still plenty of time for that when their new album drops next year. • LN

Citizen [6] are in the middle of a transitional stage between the accessible side of emo and the fuzzier, more experimental side. But for their Pit set today, they’ve stuck with their better known forays with the former, and it’s probably a good decision. Sleep and Roam The Room‘s huge choruses gain them consistently good reactions from the sizeable turnout. Mat Kerekes may not be the most enigmatic frontman in the world, but his ability to switch from delicate verses to growled emotion-dripping choruses is certainly something to be applauded. • GJ

There are times when Dinosaur Pile-Up [6] feel like a placeholder in the UK rock scene. They’ve pretty much been permanently in stasis, and their set on The Pit shows no sign of that changing. The trio’s grungy rock is chunky and has some great rhythm to it, and they’ve pulled in a solid number of dedicated fans, but they do have a tendency to get a bit samey at times. It’s probably because they don’t have that one go-to anthem just yet; Friend Of Mine and 11:11 get dangerously close, but they don’t quite hit that sweet spot that a few of their peers have got two or three songs in. They’re on their way for sure, but until they actually get there, it’s going to be low bill, mid-afternoon slots from here on out. • LN

You know when you see a band that you have absolutely no expectations for and they just blow you away? Enter Nothing More [8], a band who’ve been given no promotion since they were announced, but may just be one of the best discoveries the festival has to offer. As is to be expected, their progressive hard rock doesn’t draw the masses to The Pit, but with the likes of Mr. MTV and Jenny, there’s the possibility for huge appeal, especially in the live environment. It’s mainly due to their absolutely insane stage presence – as a frontman, Jonny Hawkins is a dynamo of a man, darting around the stage and screaming blue murder with the intent and volatility of a man spontaneously combusting. As well as that, guitarist Mark Vollelunga and bassist Daniel Oliver throw taiko drums between each other while still managing to keep the song. Oh, and the three of them play a bass solo. On the same bass. With Hawkins using drumsticks. The things this band could do with some budget are mind-boggling. • LN

The heavens have well and truly opened over Bramham Park, so it’s a disappointing turnout for CHVRCHES [8]‘ highest profile Reading and Leeds slot ever. It’s a shame, too, because they’re on top form, proving to those braving the weather that they’ve made the right decision straight from opener Never Ending Circles‘ pulsing beat. The trio’s back catalogue couldn’t be more averse to the stormy skies, and it’s an absolute joy to see crowd members dancing to the Balearic synths of Clearest Blue in muddy puddles. The band themselves don’t go overboard performance-wise, either and keep the affair polished and subtle, especially when all three members switch between keyboards and singing, showing prowess at both. From Lauren Mayberry and Martin Doherty’s naive and cheerful adresses to the audience (“if you’ve lost your friends, wave to the camera and try to find them”) CHVRCHES seem like unlikely stars, but they’ve definitely proved their worth today. • GJ

Now that Hacktivist [8] have finally – finally! – got their act together and released their debut album Outside The Box, it’s time for things to get serious. Clearly they know that too, as today’s set sees them firing on all cylinders and then some. Opening with a cover of Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff is a risky move for any band, but the band’s rap-djent assault makes it come across all the heavier, and with J Hurley and Ben Marvin’s twin vocal attack, they sound absolutely furious. Songs like Hate and Taken walk the line between scathingly political and hugely enjoyable, clattering out of the speakers to a crowd just itching to cause chaos. Some of the more intense vocal passages do get lost in the limitations of the stage’s sound system, but these are minor nitpicks – on the whole, Hacktivist are well on their way to becoming one of Britain’s best metal bands. • LN

As much as you want to, you can’t get annoyed at Crossfaith [8] for running late. After all, they have an ambition that can’t be rushed, and even though you essentially know what you’re going to get every time – searing metalcore fused with some weapons-grade EDM – it’s always worth it. The same applies here – they haven’t changed at all since they last appeared at Leeds in 2014, but they really don’t have to. Jägerbomb is still the same riot it’s always been, and new track RX Overdrive is one of the heaviest missiles in their arsenal to date. The only thing that really comes close to being tiresome is their cover of The Prodigy’s Omen which has lost some of its luster in recent times, but other than that, the Japanese mob remain as one of the most exhilarating metalcore bands in the game, especially electronics whizz Terufumi Tamano who climbs to the very top of the stage’s scaffolding, much to the chagrin / terror of the security below. Turns out Crossfaith are still as brilliant as ever then. • LN

Forget today’s headliners, there’s one set piquing everyone’s curiosity above all the rest. And it’s not even on the Main Stage. The rain is still torrential, but there are huge amounts of people spilling out of the Radio 1 / NME tent. Say what you want about Twenty One Pilots [8] but they sure know how to put on a show. Take Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun’s near-perfect execution of their carefully-crafted songs and well-rehearsed physical set staples and it’s clear this is a bonafide performance. There are so many signature TØP live elements that it does border on gimmicky (Tyler declaring “I don’t know who that person was performing a few minutes ago” right after removing his Blurryface mask in full view of the crowd is beyond cringeworthy) but Josh’s drum solo atop the crowd after Ride, Tyler’s podium climbing during Car Radio and especially their combined drum pounding to see out stunning closer Trees makes the whole thing seem ridiculously special. Seeing this much effort go into a live show, especially for a non-headline festival slot is refreshing, and it’s clear this is the lowest Twenty One Pilots will be on the Reading and Leeds bill for quite some time. • GJ

Clashing with two of the festival’s biggest draws, Foals and Twenty One Pilots, means that Thrice [6] find themselves playing to a disappointingly sparse crowd in The Pit. What’s more, given their present company of the triplet of insane performers that precede them, their no-frills approach can easily be confused for plainness. It’s such an unfortunate circumstance because the music is great – newer material like Blood On The Sand and the lurching Black Honey sound brilliant (even though Dustin Kensrue’s vocals lose a lot of their creak live), while favourites like Of Dust And Nations pack a hefty, post-hardcore punch. As an independent entity, Thrice would fly easily; the only reason they seem a bit lacklustre is purely pragmatic. But nonetheless, it could definitely be better. • LN

The main desirable traits of a live show for any rock band – let alone one headlining an entire stage – are spontaneity, an interesting sound and generally great songs. Bearing all that in mind, Asking Alexandria [7] should fall flat on their faces. As well as their sound being largely as derivative as metalcore comes, their set on The Pit is meticulously choreographed down to the smallest detail, from the blasts of CO2 from the front-of-house cannons to where each band member stands. But here’s the thing – they’re actually supremely entertaining. Even with guitarist Ben Bruce currently on leave expecting the birth of his daughter, the band sound like a cohesive, strong unit, even with songs from their most recent album The Black whose recorded counterparts are often mediocre at best. A big part of this is thanks to Denis Stoff; he has a fantastic vocal range in both cleans and screams, the former lending that epic, clean edge to tracks like Here I Am, while the latter builds up some real whirling fury for older material like Not The American Average or the panicked rage of To The Stage. There’s absolutely nothing mindblowing or mold-breaking on offer, even compared to some of the other metalcore bands to have graced the same stage today, but there’s such a drive and epic scope to Asking Alexandria that it’s difficult not to be taken aback, especially when seeing how packed out the tent is. And on a Saturday night in a rainy field, that’s more than enough. • LN

Filling the Radio 1 / NME tent’s dance headline slot this year is Skrillex / Diplo chart-topping duo Jack Ü [7]. And they’re not letting only having a single album as a collective hold them back either, by having their own material make up half their set. It’s a strange approach, really, especially seeing as the bulk of Jack Ü inclusions sit right at the start of the set (Take Ü There and Febreze are particularly brilliant at getting the tent bouncing). But the remainder of the set is more like being in a nightclub than at a festival. Skepta, Major Lazer, The Chainsmokers and Disclosure (who are playing the Main Stage at the same time as Jack Ü) all make the cut, as do System Of A Down for a weird, remixed moment. Honestly, it all comes off as a bit hot-footed and frenetic seeing as the DJs only want to play a song for a minute before whisking the crowd off to the next one. Their solo material even gets bigger reactions than the joint tracks the crowd is here to see. It’s crazy and shouldn’t work, but the atmosphere in the tent is absolutely electric, especially when Skrillex and Diplo themselves run around the stage like madmen, waving flags and spurring on the crowd. They may not be asked back, but at the end of the day, huge tunes to go mental to and a brilliant vibe is what a dance set’s all about, right? • GJ

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN) and Georgia Jackson (GJ) 

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