After photographing the fantastic Reading Festival in 2015 and 2016 I was really looking forward to seeing how the other half of the festival in Leeds compared in 2017. It turned out to be one of my favourite ever weekends, thanks to great music, excellent organisation and some beautiful late August sunshine.
My good buddy Kingo and I rolled up to the site just gone 2pm on the Friday after getting stuck on the motorway for what seemed like an eternity. Us and half the country it seemed had decided to head for Bramham Park at the same time. It didn't help that the rumours of Queens of the Stone Age playing a secret set close to midday had been true. I was absolutely gutted to miss such a legendary band already. But my mood remained good. The sun was shining and I was about to enter one of the best music festivals on Earth for the first time.
The organisation was typically great from the Festival Republic team and we were through media accreditation in no time. We zoomed through the VIP behind the behemoth main stage and into the action where I belong; in amongst the carnage. We caught the tail end of Vant's set on the main stage. It was great to see them there after getting some great photos of them last year at Reading on a smaller stage, but sad to hear they have since announced an indefinite 'hiatus' on touring. Hopefully they will be back as a small early afternoon crowd were getting pretty rowdy.
After familiarising ourselves with the site I got into my first photography pit for the band Slotface on the Lock-Up stage. Plenty of energy in the tent for 15.00 and I got into an early groove with a few decent shots. It's these smaller stages I enjoy the most at festivals where you will see a great mixture of raw upcoming bands giving it their all, and seasoned mid-level bands who never quite blew up to the big time, but still usually excellent. This is Leeds after all, the festival every band aspires to play always featuring a world class line up.
We then detoured through the BBC Dance Stage to check out Jacob Plant laying down the beats to the afternoon ravers. The sound system was thumping all weekend and I am very partial to all forms of electronic music. From house to drum & bass. Over the weekend we caught the sensational Jaguar Skills, Camelphat, the hilarious Kurupt FM (shout out to the MC Grindah!), the brilliant Shy FX showing the younger generation of DJs how it's done, and the absolute road block that was Fatboy Slim (literally impossible to get any more people in a tent, he must have been the biggest draw of the weekend). I could quite happily have stayed in there all weekend but there were several other stages demanding my attention. We had to miss the new mega-star Marshmello and one of my favourite ever DJs Andy C. Suffice to say the ravers are well catered for.
Another stage I sadly had to neglect was the BBC 1Xtra Stage featuring all the stars of the UK Grime scene, alongside the occasional US rapper. The only artist I managed to catch over the weekend was the fantastic Danny Brown. If you like extremely challenging lyrics, heavy bass and alternative drum patterns and samples, he is your man. His headlining set on the Saturday night was blistering.
It is worth mentioning grime's Giggs' noticeable elevation to the main stage this year. He well and truly nailed his 5 o'clock Saturday set. Excellent to see the genre being represented on the biggest stage another year after Boy Better Know in 2016.
Now, one of my favourite things about a festival is discovering new music. Friday's second secret set saw The Pretty Boys absolutely slay the Lock-Up Stage with their post-hardcore sound. They were new to me, but I loved their set and got some of my best ever pictures. Thank you guys. Arcane Roots played in the same stage, renamed The Pit on the Saturday. Again a brilliant band who were new to me providing some really good shots. Thank you too.
Then from new artists to one I have known and waited a couple of decades to finally see; Liam Gallagher. (Ok it was Oasis I never got to see live, but this is a close a consolation prize possible). I have to say his new music is okayish and it went down okayish. The crowd at the main stage seemed sluggish all through his typically attitude-y set. That was until his last song. A genuinely annoyed looking Liam asked the crowd in his mancunian drawl 'who likes Oasis?'. The crowd went ballistic and he followed up with a 'get this down your f*cking neck' before dropping possibly the biggest 90's indie anthem of all 'Wonderwall'. I was in nostalgia heaven and sang along with Kingo at the top of my voice. Well played Liam, and well saved.
We then moved into a great position a few meters from the centre protruding section of the stage to await the UK rock gods themselves. Muse! I was buzzing to see them headline such a legendary stage so close, and they delivered an utterly incredible set. If you're one of the few people left who have not seen them play I would recommend doing so. They are simply the best rock band on the planet right now. This is what the Reading & Leeds organisers do so well; putting great bands on an iconic stage with breath taking sound. Absolute respect to each and every one of them.
While I'm on the subject I have to commend them for providing the best selection of food stalls possible too (albeit well over priced, as all festivals are unfortunately), and getting the layout of the site in general to work so well. There is very little sound clash between the stages, and the stages are positioned well to give good visibility.
Saturday began with a bang as The Amazons smashed the Festival Republic Stage to pieces at 1.40pm. I have never seen such a packed tent so early in the day, nor so rowdy. These guys have a huge buzz about them and despite being relatively new on the scene gave a massive performance. Giant sounding anthems, sing-along classics and pounding guitar riffs the whole way through. All of which were brand new to me. The crowd were loving it as we stayed for the whole set. Surely these guys are going to make it as they have the music, and the look. Four guys from Reading I am tipping to do very well.
Jagwar Ma deserve a shout for giving a brilliant, yet way more down tempo performance later that evening in the same tent. I have been listening to the Aussie psychedelic rockers for a few years now and it was great to see them perform, despite being on one of the smaller stages after being used to touring the biggest with their Antipodean contemporaries Tame Impala.
The rest of Saturday afternoon was spent enjoying Circa Waves play a great set on the sunny main stage, Ann-Marie brilliantly singing through her repertoire of pop sing-alongs on the huge NME / BBC1 Stage, The Orwells being average, seeing The Magic Gang for the second year running, albeit stepping up to the bigger stage, and snippets of Two Door Cinema Club and Bastille on the main stage.
It all seemed to be gearing up for the Saturday headliner; Kasabian! The kings of the indie anthem did not disappoint. Despite recently recovering from an illness Tom Meighan alongside his best buddy Serge tore through their back catalogue brilliantly. Again Leeds did what it did best and gave a gigantic crowd a band at the absolute top of their game. Two days in, and two British rock bands had nailed their headline slots at one of the worlds biggest festivals.
As we re-entered the site on the Sunday afternoon I was not sure it could compete with the previous two days. How could it?! So many great bands, artists and DJs had already been enjoyed. Not to mention the occasional comedian. Katherine Ryan take a bow! But somehow it did. Sunday managed to top the lot!
It started with Blaenavon. Another band I caught last year at Reading on a smaller stage being bumped up to the NME / BBC 1 Stage this year. They played an excellent early afternoon set with the Burberry Model front man Ben Gregory looking like he well and truly belonged up there. They were followed by the decent Cabbage, then Marmozets. It was great to see a local Yorkshire band play so well. Their front woman Becca Macintyre deserves special credit for her performance, scalding in its ferocity. She has a true punk edge, despite their sound being more rock. They were followed by a group of lads renowned for being one of the best live acts in the country. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes. What can I say about them that hasn't been said before. They were brilliant and former Gallows front man Frank was at his irrepressible best, bounding across the stage, down in the pits and diving into the crowd. I managed to get a great shot of his railings hand stand! Then the last band we caught that afternoon on the second largest of the stages; Sundara Karma. They are surfing a huge wave of hype right now, and rightly so. The crowd absolutely loved their sound and they tore a hole in the tent roof. Five really decent British bands enjoyed throughout the afternoon.
Using the final reserves of energy we moved to the main stage area to enjoy Korn. Well that was the plan any way. They were the most disappointing band of the weekend, sounding generic and average, clanging through a samey nu-metal repertoire. Without their trade mark look they could have been any band on stage and seemed well past their best. I'd call them the Cristiano Ronaldo of music. Still getting the plaudits, but we all know they are just trading on their name and peaked years ago.
Luckily they were followed by the brilliant Major Lazer. They dropped a punishing set of the heaviest reggae and dancehall influenced electronic beats, reggaeton, house, moombahton and dub-step. Diplo and DJs Jillionaire and Walshy Fire absolutely obliterated the enormous crowd with their sound, alongside some mighty fine dancers and singers. It was an inspired booking and worked perfectly for the 7.25 -8.40 slot and paved the way perfectly for the Sunday headliner, juxtaposing the previous two evenings' guitar based slots. The one and only Eminem was about the show every other performer across the weekend how it's done!
Words fail me at this point. His set was phenomenal. Incredible. Amazing. I could work through the Thesaurus but even then it wouldn't do it justice. He perfectly rapped his way through all the huge hits, from way back in his early 00's Slim Shady days, to the modern day, super-speed raps, even breaking to give the best and most scathing Donald Trump diss of the weekend. And there were plenty. Eminem wasn't the best selling artist in America for nothing. He has unleashed some of the most famous and catchy tracks of all time. From 'My Name Is', to 'Stan, from 'Lose Yourself' to 'Rap God', I had forgotten just how many great tracks there were. And he managed to cram them all into one and a half hours of headlining perfection.
So in summary I would say Leeds Festival is on a par with Reading Festival. It has an identical line-up after all. And a just as crazy cross section of punters. Both events are brilliant of course and need to be visited if you consider yourself a live music fan. Their mix of music across the stages is perfect, with something for almost everyone. The best grime artists, the biggest rock headliners, big name comedians, up and coming bands destined for greatness and the world's finest DJs. All in one (well, two) places. Get there in 2018.
Published on 29 January 2018 by Paul Jones