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Leeds Festival 2016: Review

Mud? What mud?! Exposed Mag got royally stuck into the plethora of live talent on offer at Leeds Festival 2016. Here’s what went down.

Day 1

2.30pm: Wellies donned, tinnies cracked open and tent (sort of) assembled – Leeds Fest 2016, here we are! And despite torrential rain the previous evening throwing much of the main arena into sludgy disarray, the camping areas were largely unscathed – and what’s more, the sun is shining! Sorted, guv.

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6pm: Suitably well-oiled but gasping for our first whet of live music we head to the main stage to catch indie kings The Vaccines entertain the gathered masses with a typically well-polished set delivered with gusto. Opening up with last year’s bouncy hit ‘Handsome’ followed by fan favourite ‘Teenage Icon’, boots and wellies shimmied in and out of the mud throughout the hour-long set which finished strong with spirited airings of ‘Post Break-Up Sex’, ‘Wreckin’ Bar (ra ra ra)’ and ‘If You Wanna’ inspiring the first mass singalongs of the weekend.

7.15pm: Next up it was a short stroll to the BBC Introducing Stage to catch local legends KOG & The Zongo Brigade, who had Radio Sheffield’s Christian Carlisle pulling in the punters walking by. “Give them five minutes and I guarantee you won’t regret it,” he shouted from the stage while beckoning more passers-by to come and join. Sound advice indeed and the nine-piece paid back people’s curiosity with a typically energetic performance of their inimitable hip-hop/rap/reggae hybrid sound which has them down as one of the most exciting live bands from the Steel City. They could quite easily have kept us dancing for much longer than their allocated thirty minute set, but their lively performance flew by and before we knew it the NME Stage was beckoning.

7.45pm: Arriving in time to catch the end of a raucous set from Kentucky-based noisesmiths Cage The Elephant, a large and hugely animated crowd had assembled for The Wombats. The Liverpudlian group interspersed well-received favourites such as ‘Moving to New York, ‘Techno Fan’ and ‘Tokyo (Vampires and Wolves)’ amongst newer tracks which admittedly fell a bit flat. But the set-closing rendition of ‘Let’s Dance To Joy Division’ finished a varied performance on a high with smoke bombs, limbs and pints flying around the venue.

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© Lauren Maccabee

10.00pm: Our time and money was then spent wisely at the bar as we steeled ourselves for a DJ EZ set, widely regarded as one of the finest live experiences UK dance music has to offer. And the garage legend absolutely lived up to his reputation with a genre-skipping performance mixing in a selection of anthems from garage to grime and hip-hop to house – naturally supplemented with trademark massive drops throughout. The next DJ set of the night offered a distinctly different flavour as This Is England’s Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) and Milky (Andrew Shim) dropped Britpop bangers over at the Alternative Stage, before a wander up to the visually stunning Relentless Stage where Jax Jones and Feed Me rounded off the opening day.

Day 2

7.30pm: A mixture of inclement weather, an unwelcome cancellation from Fetty Wap and a missing phone somewhat delayed our entrance into the main arena on the Saturday; but still we endeavoured to get a good spot for The Foals’ co-headline slot (somewhat controversially shared with dance duo Disclosure), so donned the ponchos and marched on. Despite near torrential conditions, the Oxford-based five-piece were on superb form and cemented their status as the crème de la crème of modern British guitar bands through entertaining the soaked masses with colossal live performances of ‘Spanish Sahara’, ‘What Went Down’ and a rare, yet much appreciated rendition of early hit ‘Cassius’. “We’re proud to be a British guitar band,” declared lead singer Yannis Phillippakis before the band finished their stunning show under a wave of confetti and final song ‘Two Steps, Twice’.

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© Tom Martin

8.30pm: Soaked very much to the bone we headed to the 1Xtra Stage hoping that some tented shelter and reggae vibes from Protoje would be enough to dry us off. Thankfully, the legendary Jamaican artist’s live set was the closest thing to a musical warm bath you could get as the crowd relaxed and rocked to his upbeat tunes and unique hip-hop flow. A strong message of unity and social consciousness runs throughout his music, but the live shows inspire more dancing than reflecting and the humble singer thanked the crowd time and again for their participation in what was surely the most “chill” performance of the festival.

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© John Heyes

10.10pm: At pretty much every festival there is a gig that entirely surprises you. And this year it was Geordie mid-noughties faves Maximo Park. What started out as a ‘yeah, it should be a laugh’ quickly turned into one of the most entertaining sets of the whole weekend, with animated frontman Paul Smith leaping around the stage and regaling the crowd with some of the band’s finest tunes – and it’s easy to forget just how many great songs they have. ‘Our Velocity’, ‘Apply Some Pressure’, ‘Going Missing’ and ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ naturally inspired plenty of nostalgic bopping in the crowd, but the set-closer ‘Books from Boxes’ was sung back at the band with such gusto that they genuinely seemed touched when signing off for the evening.

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© John Heyes

01.20am: One of the most compelling UK live acts around today received the nod over the many late-night DJ sets taking place around the festival: a dance beckoned with self-destructive but nonetheless brilliant punk outfit The Fat White Family instead. Ready to appease with more filthy, unapologetic rock and roll antics, lead singer Lias led his group of rebels admirably; a multitude of veins popping out of his neck as he half-growled/half-shrieked his way through the set. And just how do you dance to songs about heroin, ejaculation and fascism? Answer: however you want. Some swayed, some lost their shit and some stood relatively still but nodding intensely to every beat and soaking in what could well be the last fading rays of genuine anti-establishment rock and roll. A must-see live band.

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© John Heyes

Day 3

3.30pm: With a line-up touted as the best day of the festival, we headed to Festival Republic Stage where back-to-back performances from Slaves, Eagles of Death Metal, Imagine Dragons and Red Hot Chilli Peppers gave many a fair reason to stay put for the rest of the day. However, we decided that Imagine Dragons would face the chop in favour of rap legend Nas and settled in for Kentish hell-raisers Slaves. Unbeknownst to the crowd, lead vocalist Isaac Holman had dislocated his shoulder just moments before coming onstage. “Leeds, we will get through this,” he informed the crowd with a grimace, but the performance from the duo was as explosive as ever with raucous renditions of ‘White Knuckle Ride’, ‘Sockets’, ‘Cheer Up London’ and ‘The Hunter’ blowing away the cobwebs for a few hungover punters. Big shout-outs also to new track ‘Rich Man’ from the upcoming album and Laurie’s dapper suit and Doc Martens combo.

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© Will Hartley

4.45pm: Eagles of Death Metal, sadly without Josh Homme who only plays on the odd occasion with the band, followed by bringing their brand of goofy rock and roll to the stage. Despite plenty of bristling guitar riffs and a nice touch in the form of a David Bowie tribute, they struggled to a inspire a relatively quiet main stage – a sign, perhaps, of some’s reaction to lead singer Jess Hughes’ outspoken views on gun control and support for the Trump presidential campaign.

6pm: Courteeners took to the stage next and a swarm of bucket hats, cagoules and polo shirts donned by hundreds of youths launched to the front. That said, frontman Liam Fray has managed to flesh out the band’s repertoire somewhat since the early St Jude teen indie anthems which saw them catapulted to success. Opener ‘Are You In Love With A Notion’ and new track ‘The 17th’ sounded superb on the big stage, but naturally the real hysterics were saved for closing tracks ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ and ‘What Took You So Long’ – both were delivered impeccably in Fray’s deep Mancunian accent with in-between mentions of his pleasure of performing to northern crowds further pepping up an already “mad-fer-it” audience.

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© John Heyes

8.35pm: Next up was possibly one of the most underrated bookings of the festival – Nas. His clash with Imagine Dragons and Red Hot Chilli Peppers meant that one of the most-celebrated MCs on the planet had a somewhat poor turnout at the BBC Radio 1 Stage. Rap fans at the Festival had received a few sucker punches thus far following withdrawals from Fetty Wap, A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott, but the New York rapper dipped into his extensive back catalogue and provided a monumental set-list which had hands in the air and bodies bouncing to legendary tracks ‘NY State of Mind’, ‘Nas is Like’ and ‘The Message’ which cemented his status as a true hip-hop don.

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© John Heyes

9.15pm: Even after leaving Nas early, we managed to miss a couple of songs from the Sunday headliners Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Not to worry though, as the band had a full two hours to entertain a crammed audience with tracks spanning their remarkable 30-year career. Managing to meet and exceed the high expectations bestowed upon them, the set was busting with classics from 2002’s By The Way, 1999’s Californication and a couple from their well-received latest album The Getaway. And a stellar performance closed with the likes of ‘Under The Bridge’, ‘By The Way’ and ‘Give It Away’ gave Leeds Festival 2016 the grand send-off it richly deserved.

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© Sarah Koury

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