Live Review: Leeds Festival 2016

After months of waiting, the festival season came to a climax at Leeds Festival. With an ever-increasing diverse line-up, we spent three days exploring a mud-filled Bramham Park, taking in as much rock, punk and hardcore as we possibly can.

Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Friday, 26th August

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Just a week removed from releasing an exceptional debut album in ‘I’m Not Well’, Exeter trio Black Foxxes have the honour of opening the NME/Radio 1 stage. With a growing crowd, they deliver a thunderous start to the weekend with their emotive brand of alt rock. Mark Holley’s winding vocals wrap Tristan Jane’s dense bass lines and Ant Thornton’s effective drum work. Recent singles ‘Husk’ and ‘Whatever Helps You Cope’ are boisterous whilst ‘River’ dwell in intense intimacy. Holley’s compassionate words has a tendency to leave you hooked proving to be simply compelling. Their thoroughly honest approach is heartwarming and powerful. Hype or no hype, Black Foxxes are one of the most exciting rock bands in the UK right now. (SR) (4/5)

After an impressive showing at 2000 Trees last month, we had high hopes for Basement and so it seemed like many others did as they arrive on stage to large crowd. Jumping right into ‘Promise Everything’ from the album of the same name, the Suffolk group are vibrant in their delivery. With a set dominated by cuts from ‘Promise Everything’ and ‘Colourmewithkindness’, the quintet sound as tight as ever, embracing their pop sensibilities along the way. Throughout there is a undertone of melancholy, which hits home when they finish with ‘Covet’. (SR) (4/5)

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As their inclusion in our R&L must see list suggests, we had high hopes for Greywind’s set in the Lock-Up Tent. Sadly it didn’t come close to meeting our expectations. The timid delivery of the titanic sound felt awkwardly at odds with each other, while the excellently crafted style somehow managed to sound just that little to pristine. Live Greywind have a rather anonymous stage presence and although front-woman Steph O’Sullivan goes for full bore with the theatric gesticulation clutching a retro mic smacks of both trying too hard and feels forced. The band urgently need to develop a stage persona to match the scope and of their soundscape. Possibly it’s that session musicians may work magic in the studio, but can be tricky to incorporate in an engaging live show. Proceedings aren’t helped by the set finishing ten minutes early either as the whole band practically stampede for the exit with no acknowledgement of the crowd. (DW) (2.5/5)

Orlando, Florida’s Sleeping With Sirens are no strangers to playing the main stage having played it just two years ago. With the sun blasting out, Kellin Quinn and company provide a adrenaline-fuelled brand of heavy pop-rock. Although Quinn admits his voice isn’t a 100% there, as a unit they manage to stir up a strong reaction from a dedicated following in the crowd. They know what the band want and that’s a set of bright, hook-filled songs such as ‘Better Off Dead’, ‘If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn’ and ‘Kick Me’. It’s clear the five-piece have perfected their style but it’s quickly forgettable. (SR) (2.5/5)

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Texan pop-punkers Waterparks did their growing reputation within the scene no harm at all with fine showing in their first Leeds Festival appearance. The band’s quirky, likeably awkward electro spattered take on the genre came across every bit as new and exciting as it did on their newest EP ’Cluster’. Despite losing guitarist Geoff to injury shortly before making the trip to Europe, their live show was crisp and a lot of fun, something not harmed at all by the experience and composure of a certain Mikey Way holding down bass duties. As standout track ’Crave’ got an increasingly busy tent dancing, co-manager Benji Madden watched proudly from the wings. Even with more famous faces in the vicinity it was frontman Awsten that was easily the star of this show, and with plenty of bashful, youthfully exuberant chat and undeniable vocal ability there was enough to suggest he could be another pop-punk poster boy in the making. (3.5/5)

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It’s been a couple of years since Sydney Australia’s finest Tonight Alive first made a major impression with an early slot on the Leeds Festival Mainstage. Since then they’ve grown in size, stature and maturity and make the cavernous expanse of the NME Tent seem like their own personal and intimate gathering with their fans. The tracks from new album ’Limitless’ maybe slickly produced pop diamonds on record, but here they really blossom into their own with the live setting bringing out the rockier side of the likes of ’To Be Free’ and resonating around the space. ’The Ocean’ and ’Lonely Girl’ are a welcome reminder of the excellence of the second TA full length, while ’Listening’ reminds us they had solid pop-rock chops from the outset. Any band that can own a space this vast while putting on a confident and immaculate show are doing something right and put themselves in the conversation as future arena headliners. (DW) (4/5)

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It’s fair to say Philly art punks Beach Slang have had their fair share of widespread praise over the past 18 months or so. Their Leeds Festival debut goes down well. James Alex’s raspy delivery compliments the bands heartfelt, summery punk style with Alex introducing the band with “We’re Beach Slang and we’re going to punch you right in the heart”. It’s a statement of intent and is achieved through a mix of older material and newer cuts from the upcoming ‘A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings’. The quartet put on a thrilling and vibrant account of themselves. Whether it’s a basement or tent, Beach Slang have an exciting aura and lyrical relatability. (SR) (3.5/5)

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Having unfortunately pulled out 12 months ago, there certainly seems to be a sense of expectation for Modern Baseball as they play to a packed out Lock-Up tent. Despite a slight early vocal volume issue, the quartet soon get in their stride demonstrating their brand of upbeat indie/emo punk with ‘Wedding Singer’ and ‘Your Graduation’ being sung back in unison. Through their repeated visits to the UK, fans have embraced their emotionally-driven college rock and today is a celebration of Modern Baseball defeating their troubles, coming out on top. Admittedly, for casual attendees, that connection is lost and wanes during the later stages of their set. (SR) (3/5)

Of all the bands bothering the top end of the Main Stage bill, Fall Out Boy stood as the act that has been consistently wowing crowds and stealing shows of this scale consistently in recent years. And it really did show. From the outset it was a masterclass in showmanship and entertainment a lush, colourful video of a biker making flowers erupt out of a desert landscape introduced the band’s current ‘Bloom’ project, before the screens made way for exotic, futuristically clad dancing girls who raised the temperature both figuratively and literally as they whirled there way amongst Stump and co twirling fire throughout a riveting rendition of ’Phoenix’. This was just the beginning of a vibrant, pyro heavy set that was all killer, no filler and as hit filled as it could have been. From the grandiose pomp of ’Save Rock and Roll’ to the rollicking emo nostalgia of ’Dance Dance’ and ’My Songs Know What You Did in The Dark’ via the irresistible pop grooves of ’Uma Thurman’, this was a consummately delivered co-headline effort. Even if at times the band themselves came across as a little business like. Still it’s hard to imagine many complaints if a set with this much quality had closed the day. The challenge for Biffy had been explosively thrown down. (DW) (4.5/5)

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Making their European festival return after a protracted period of absence, Good Charlotte drew inspiration from the hot, cramped and fervent Lockup Tent to smash out a set that scythed gloriously though the early section of their back catalogue. ’The Anthem’ whipped into life a predominantly twentysomething crowd as they took a delirious trip down memory lane, with many of the rest of the prime cuts from ’The Young and The Hopeless’ following in short order. The energetic responses to ’Boys and Girls’ even prompting a delighted Joel to quip ’Who said pop-punk was dead?’. It’s a testament to the new GC material that ’The Outfield’ sounds equally at home in the setlist as earliest hit ’Little Things’. But to the surprise of absolutely nobody it’s ’Lifestyles of The Rich and Famous’ that’s the real highlight and drains every ounce of energy that both these not quite so young pop-punkers or pop-punk fans have left. This was properly great stuff as team Madden served a no frills reminder of just what originally made them megastars in the first place. (DW) (4/5)

Having worked their way up the bill over the course of 15 years, tonight Biffy Clyro stand proudly on top as main stage headliners. Over the course of 25 songs, they delve deep into their back catalogue (’57’ and ‘Glitter and Trauma’) and compliment it with a smattering of lively new songs including explosive opener ‘Wolves of Winter’. By the time they reach the mid-set point of ‘Bubbles’, ‘Howl’, ‘Black Chandelier’, ‘That Golden Rule’ and the harmonious ‘Rearrange’, the trio seem at home on the big stage. Frontman Simon Neil is an upbeat mood, taking a swipe at the absent A$AP Rocky and fellow headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers along the way, whilst his band mates Ben and James Johnston provide a sturdy display on drums and bass respectively. Ending the night on the rapturous ‘Stingin’ Belle’, the sky explodes in a sea of fireworks marking the end of a great first day for Leeds Festival. Undoubtedly, Biffy Clyro have earned the right of being UK rock’s new major festival headliner. A satisfactory outing from the Kilmarnock trio. (SR) (4.5/5)

Saturday, 27th August

Day two of Leeds starts off in buoyant fashion as festival regular Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls provide the midday singalong. No matter how often we see Frank and company here, he’s constantly a delight. Songs such as ‘I Still Believe’, ‘Long Live the Queen’, and ‘Photosynthesis’ have the ability to easily unite a crowd through their joyful and despondent tone. Although we have to wonder why Turner and company are on so early, they collectively warm up the crowd brilliantly. (SR) (4/5)

Difficult though it was to tear ourselves from Mr Turner on the Mainstage, we’re not the only rock and punk fans to have made the unfamiliar trip to the Radio 1Xtra Tent. The lure of this journey? Prodigiously talented Bay Area rapper KFlay who’s stay on the stage passed in a wonderful blur of mesmerising verbal flows and irresistibly cool grooves. All delivered with precision as she dropped thoughtful wordplay seamlessly over the guitar and drums of her super-tight backing band. On a day dominated by genre-merging acts KFlay was an excellent choice of early afternoon entertainment. (DW) (4/5)

One year removed from making their debut here, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes have made the jump to the main stage. For Carter himself, it’s his ninth time here but only first on the main stage. There’s no doubt the quartet set out to leave an impression. Their style of riff-heavy, punk-fuelled hard rock continues to become more refined with Carter being the charismatic frontman, showing a willingness to join the crowd early on. ‘Jackals’ sees a tornado-sized circle pit wrap around Carter whilst ‘Snake Eyes’, previews their forthcoming second album in a positive light. By the time they end with the intimidating pairing of ‘Devil Inside Me’ and ‘I Hate You’, it’s difficult to pull yourself away from Carter and the Rattlesnakes as they justify their position on the bill. (SR) (3.5/5)

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No matter how often we see Creeper this summer, it’s always a joy to see the Southampton goth punks and today is no different. Whilst some heavily talked about bands fail to back it up, Creeper don’t need to. To put it bluntly, they’re the real deal. Vocalist Will Gould leads the crowd throughout as collectively celebrate all that has happened to date. ‘Lie Awake’ roars throughout the packed out tent, ‘Astral Projection’ is welcomed by a sea of crowd surfers before ‘Misery’ impassionately closes the set on a high as Gould allows the crowd to take over to sing-back the bonafide anthem. With every outing and viewing, you realise how far Creeper can go and today is no different. (SR) (4.5/5)

Anyone doubting that Lower Than Atlantis aren’t currently one of the biggest rock bands in Britain should have witnessed their effortless ability to draw life and enthusiasm from a sizable crowd that’s piss wet through thanks to the rain. There’s a reason LTA get as much airplay as any band around and their radio rock went down a storm here. Even the hefty hooks of new single ’Work For It’, released just a week previously, received a decent singalong which is an achievement in itself. (DW) (3/5)

Whilst some bands at Leeds Festival are on the rise, for Superheaven it’s the end of the road. Today’s showing on the Pit stage is one of the bands final outings. It doesn’t get off to an ideal start as Taylor Madison suffers mic issues on ‘Sponge’. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of distortion amongst their 90s alt-rock tinged sound. Throughout their set, the quartet provide a wall of noise with grunge-esque tones with a short-haired Madison supplying slightly awkward comedic talk in between. He even addresses the bands hiatus by saying “if you pay our rent, we’ll continue to be a band”. Admittedly, it’s not a grand farewell and was never intended to be. ‘I’ve Been Bored’ and ‘Life in a Jar’ round out the set in a downtrodden fashion. (SR) (3/5)

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Emotive alt-rockers Citizen ideally follow up and look to have a better showing that Superheaven. Easing in with ‘Sleep’, they explode with ‘Roam the Room’ as Mat Kerekes’ vocals roars in the bridge. Whilst songs like ‘Silo’, ‘Figure You Out’ and ‘Cement’ showcase the bands slower, brooding style; winding guitars and plodding bass lines compliment Kerekes’ intimately delivered words. With an underlying rawness, Citizen pull in a strong set that demonstrates that subtly diverse sound. (SR) (3.5/5)

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There isn’t much to say about Happy Accidents that we didn’t already observe in glowing terms after we saw them back at 2000 Trees. But it was another peppy, enjoyable performance from the young trio that actually managed to get feet doing their best to shuffle in the utter mud bath in front of the BBC Introducing Stage. The likes of ’Chameleon’, ’But You’re Probably Wrong’ and ’Leaving Parties Early’ just sound better live each time we hear them and Happy Accidents would be our pick to make the deserved step up to one of the bigger stages next year. (DW) (3.5/5)

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When you have one of the single hottest acts in the world playing in a tent it was never not going to be the most hyped appearance of the weekend. Certainly the atmosphere in the NME Tent was nothing short of electrically charged long before Twenty One Pilots got anywhere near the stage as a huge sea of humanity jostled to get inside. What followed lived up to the hype and then some as consummate showmen Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn put in a performance that was as remarkable as it was visually spectacular from start to finish. Early arings of ’Heavy Dirty Soul and ’Heathens’ served to supercharge the atmosphere even further, but it was a surprise cover of House Of Pain’s ’Jump Around’ that properly made the entire tent lose its collective shit.

For all the bells and whistles of video affects, zorbing on the crowd and more it’s the unreal multi-instrumental skills of Josh Dunn that really stood out, transitioning from the sort of drumming performance that would make even Travis Barker envious to playing trumpet among other things at the drop of a hat. Not put off by events at Reading the day before he even found himself perched on the crowd with his kit without missing a beat. The quirks and magnetism of Joseph perfectly balance out his bandmate, as he draws every eye in the tent to him in his oddly Willy Wonka-esque get up while toting his trademark ukulele during an epic jig inducing rendition of ’We Don’t Believe What’s on TV’. It’s a mystery quite how Twenty One Pilots weren’t deemed worthy of a co-headlining slot on the Main Stage, there’s no doubting their live show is visually and sonically cinematic enough in scale to warrant such an opportunity. If they continue to craft songs as ecstatically received as ’Stressed Out’ was here then nothing short of headlining a day of the festival in their own right awaits. (DW) (4.5/5)

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Although Thrice are often cited as an influence by many and with ‘To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere’ receiving high praise in recent months, you’d think their return to Leeds would be witnessed by more people but with the increasing diverse nature of the festival, it’s not to be. For those in attendance, the Californian quartet supplied a strong showing that highlighted their strengths from the past and present. New cuts ‘Hurricane’, ‘Black Honey’ and ‘Blood on the Sand’ are bold and thunderous slotting nicely old favourites ‘Artist In The Ambulance’, ‘All the World Is Mad’ and ‘The Earth Will Shake’. It may have not been witnessed by many, but Thrice’s rare visit to the UK went off without a hitch. (SR) (4/5)

Sunday, 28th August

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We’ve never been shy about singing the praises of Fatherson, so when it was announced they would be opening the NME Stage we were immediately curious to see how they would fare in one of the biggest appearances of their career to date. The lads from Kilmarnock have been on an impressive rise over the last 18 months, seeing them sign to Easy Life Records and put out superb second album ’Open Book’ back in June. And it was the scale and potency of these newer songs that made them sound right at home in the vast surroundings. ’Wonderous Heart’ in particular soared around the tent to truly spine-tingling effect. As the crowd continued to grow to numbers far beyond anything the band seemed to be expecting so increased their confidence, and it was as enthusing and stirring a performance of ’I Like Knowing’ as they’ve ever delivered that got hundreds if not thousands of fists in the air waving in unison. As the last strains of closer ’Lost Little Boys’ died away there was a tangible sense that this was a key moment in the band’s growth for them and their fans to remember. (DW) (4/5)

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London via Southampton rockers Dead! have been honing their skills throughout the summer. An early afternoon spot on The Pit stage doesn’t attract too many folk yet that doesn’t deter the quintet. Without a doubt there’s urgency to their scrappy-but-structured, punk-infused rock. However, their style borders on sounding like an endless list of other bands in the “Brit rock” scene. Their five-song set lacks zest and whilst ‘Skin’ carries itself with a big chorus, Dead! fail to make good use of such a big opportunity. (SR) (2.5/5)

With news of Parkway Drive’s unfortunate absence spreading across the main stage area, Skindred show up with intent to make up for bad news. Arriving on stage to a remix of the Imperial March theme from Star Wars, the Newport collective instantly show plenty of energy with frontman Benji Webbe splitting vocals and Mikey Demus’s thick guitar. ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Sound The Siren’ show just why the Newport group have been so beloved for so long. Whilst Webbe uses his experience to entertain the crowd, at one point “trolling” the crowd as he promises some demonic metal only for DJ Dan Sturgess to play Justin Bieber with a bit of Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ thrown in for good measure. We wouldn’t be surprised if Skindred picked up a few new fans from today’s showing. Energetic, entertaining and fun. (SR) (4/5)

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The secret is out and The Pit tent is unsurprisingly packed out by the time HECK conclude an always chaotic set. As for You Me At Six, this marks the start of a long run up to the release of ‘Night People’ in January. Today sees them taking a step back from the big stages we’re used to seeing them at. Nevertheless, they’re band that have clearly been missed as Josh Franceschi’s face beams with a huge smile even with some mic issues. With a set of resonating hits; ‘Loverboy’, ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Underdog’, the quintet soon sound in their stride. Whilst new album title track, ‘Night People’, is delivered with swagger with its stomping tempo and adds intrigue as YMAS move away from the bland pop-rock they’ve been producing in recent years. Closing with ‘Bite My Tongue’, You Me At Six’s return proves to be euphoric. (SR) (3.5/5)

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It’s been a big year for Milk Teeth. Their debut album, ‘Vile Child’, received plenty of praise and they’ve toured relentlessly since. With a growing crowd, the quartet produce a strong, engaging showing through their melodic 90s rock-tinged sound. ‘Brain Food’ and ‘Brickwork’ are delivered with an abundance of energy. ‘Swear Jar (Again)’ and ‘Kabuki’ offers two reflective movements with their downtrodden tone. The latter also highlights Becky Blomfield’s impressive vocals. Whereas previous viewings of Milk Teeth have been lacklusture, their appearance at Leeds shows promise with the concluding pairing of ‘No Fun’ and ‘Vitamins’ solidifying a rapturous outing. (3.5/5)

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Although this may be the last time we see The Dillinger Escape Plan on these shores, we easily stroll into The Pit tent. Nevertheless, with an offering of deathly screams and doom-riddled riffs, they ideally fill the space sounding suitably scrappy. However, you wouldn’t expect anything less from Dillinger but their downfall is their style isn’t engaging enough for casual hardcore/rock fan who are more than likely killing time before tonights main stage headliners. Unhinged, destructive and intense, The Dillinger Escape Plan leave a monsterous last impression. (SR) (3/5)

If we’re really honest it was a much sparser filled Festival Republic Tent that greeted the arrival of Brian Fallon (and The Crowes) then either he, or we, were likely expecting. Especially after his high profile farewell with the Gaslight Anthem on the Main Stage last year. Still, undeterred Fallon and his backing band put on a captivating, community spirited set that managed to feel intimate and special rather than overshadowed and under attended. We were treated to the absolute best of Fallon’s tracks from both his recent solo album and the excellent Horrible Crowes album from a few years back. Magical and memorable are the sort of words bandied loosely about by festival goers trying to justify wallowing about in mud for days on end, but that’s exactly what this experience was. Every person present was completely in tune with Fallon and his band resulting in some amazing, near spiritual singalongs. In particular ’Steve McQueen’ , ’Smoke’ and opener ’Nobody Wins’ make for wonderfully evocative fare in the live setting. If all things in life were fare it would have been this performance being reverentially savoured by thousands, not the glorified jam session happening elsewhere. On this sort of form Fallon’s return to the UK for a full tour will make for undeniably must see dates. (DW) (4.5/5)

And so we come to one of the key issues that popped up time and again through Leeds Festival 2016; the inevitable clash of bands. For us, it was a case of splitting our time between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Mastodon. However with the former being allocated a 2 hour slot, it helps our predicament. The Los Angeles veterans pull in the biggest crowd of the weekend but it soon dwindles following a strong start made up of ‘Can’t Stop’, ‘Dani California’, and ‘Scar Tissue’. As they settle into newer material, it becomes apparent their set and the atmosphere amongst the large crowd was flat and lacked urgency. RHCP are no doubt a “safe” choice for a festival headliner and can still pull a crowd, but when you have Mastodon and the aforementioned Brian Fallon playing elsewhere, it’s difficult to engage with them. (SR) (3/5)

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A few weeks removed from headlining Bloodstock, Mastodon closed out The Pit stage but for many after a weekend of walking through mud, there’s a lack of movement from the low turn out. Even fans down the front struggle to engage with Mastodon’s blistering riffs, yet ‘High Road’ and ‘Oblivion’ chug along whilst ‘The Motherload’ does it best to stir up the crowd. Unfortunately, it’s not the grand finale to the weekend it could of been. Mastodon have all the traits of being a technically wonderful metal band that should be appreciated by mass crowds at every opportunity, but when the likes of Stormzy and Duke Dumont playing to packed out tents, it’s clear that Leeds Festival is evolving and is no longer the mighty rock, metal and indie gathering it once was. (SR) (2.5/5)

On paper, Leeds Festival was another success but in reflection it had its strengths and weaknesses. It achieved its purpose in being diverse along with highlighing exciting new music, yet poor scheduling and the absence of a five star showing across the weekend meant the festival limped across the finishing line with a whimper. The debate about the festivals future could go on right up to next August. We’ll (probably) see you then.


View more of Already Heard’s coverage from Leeds Festival 2016 here.

Words by Sêan Reid (SR) and Dane Wright (DW). Photos by Carrie-Anne Pollard and Jade Till.


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