It’s absolutely bloody roasting. And it’s only 11am. It’s May bank holiday Saturday, so it’s doubly unusual. Equally unusual is the queue around the block outside The Wardrobe. All-dayers usually get off to a fairly slow, quiet start, but putting Idles on at midday at a venue a hundred yards round the corner from the wristband exchange was a genius piece of scheduling for getting punters down for early doors. It means that the venue’s at capacity by 11:45, and that the day starts with a headlining set. Entering in a squall of feedback before erupting with manic energy, I’m wondering how any band could sustain it for 4 to 5 minutes, let alone 45. But they do – as do the pumped-up crowd. The band are in the crowd, the crowd are on the stage, and the vibe is superb: there’s something uniquely uplifting about a band so fiery and so angry, and yet so sensitive and warm. And there’s something ultimately compelling about their thunderous, tom-heavy rolling drums and sinewy guitars, the low-sung driving bass and spit-soaked rawness of it all. The banter and endless antics never for a second detract from the music, relentlessly raw, gritty, and visceral. Band of the day.
It means that The Blinders , up next at The Wardrobe have a hell of a challenge. Turns out the punkadelic B-movie horror three-piece are up to it, too. The crowd actually stick around, and are enveloped in swathes of echo upon echo. Nick Care-alike bassist Charlie McGough grinds out thumping, raw bottom end while Thomas Haywood comes on like Alan Vega as he hollers, shrieks, yelps and whoops through a mesh of fucked-up surf-goth guitar.
Remaining at The Wardrobe for local lads Sounds Like a Storm (who I’d planned to see, but was enthusiastically recommended by a woman who’d squeezed into a space down the front near me for Idles) proved to be a sound decision: they look like a rock band: the singer rocks an androgynous look and a suit that positively screams rock star, and the band crank out swaggering songs that hark back to the kind of vintage 60s garage psych found on the ‘Pebbles’ and ‘Nuggets’ compilations. Like The Blinders, it’s all about the reverb and the treble. After that, it’s all about the presentation, and they’ve definitely got that down.
Why I thought I could make it from The Wardrobe to Hyde Park Book Club in 20 minutes, I’ve no idea, and that was before it was forecast to be warm. Walking out into the sun after three-and-a-bit hours in a dark basement room proved to be quite disorientating, and the brick walk exhausting, but it was worth it for Dream Nails . Marking a distinct change of style from the day’s previous bands, the fiery energy of their shouty, bouncy, poppy punk tunes is utterly contagious. Cutesy but fierce (and knowingly so), the delivery may border on bubblegum as Janey Starling bounces, bounds, jogs and crazy dances non-stop, but the packaging merely makes their serious feminist politics accessible, proving that making a statement can still be entertaining and enjoyable. ‘Nobody cares if your dick’s on fire!’ they sing with glee on closer ‘Deep Heat’, and I can’t help but walk back out into the blazing sun with a smile on my face.
Scratchy, lo-fi, retro-futurism? Or two guys completely out of step with the world? Sons of Raphael are nothing if not interesting. Their on-stage dynamic, as they collide frequently is as unusual as the set-up of two guitarists playing in front of a mini wall of Fender amps with a reel-to-reel tape player spinning motoric drum tracks.
The beauty and joy of Live at Leeds is rarely in the big names: many years (this being no exception) I’ve found myself shrugging at the early headline announcements. But combing through the listings for acts I’ve never heard of who could prove to be a major revelation invariable yields rich rewards. An unknown quantity, The Ninth Wave may have been a bit of a punt but more than rewarded packing into the tiny space that is Oporto. Image-wise – and it’s front man Haydn who provides an obvious focal point – there are elements of Phil Oakey and Marilyn Mansun, as well as a young Jim Kerr. Sound-wise, they slot into the field of post-millennial post-punk flavoured indie (marked by some super-low bass frequencies), while fitting into a distinctly Scottish lineage that extends from early Simple Minds via Cinematics to the present. That is to say, there’s quite a strong 80s flavour to what they do, and with their dual vocals and sturdy, hook laden tunes with dark undercurrents, they balance edge and accessibility. I’d also wager they’ve got a fair few Cure albums between them. They deliver a remarkably accomplished and assured performance, and it’s small wonder they’re starting to make waves (sorry) nationally and beyond right now.
Variety is the spice of life, and there’s more than guitar bands on the menu. Lydmor is a whole lot more than electropop with neon body paint, although her visual presentation does add hugely to the appeal of her performance, which is visually stunning. Sonically, it’s pretty good, too: building vocal layers and loops live and in real-time bring a real dynamic and immediacy, there are some dense bass frequencies and stuttering beats, and there’s a certain spontaneity about her delivery, too, as she ventures into the audience and chats naturally between songs about the inspiration behind some of the songs. She speaks of the difficult journey she’s had, and there’s a clear sense that her music is a channelling of experience into art. As a lyricist, she has a real knack for narrative. She’s got some cracking tunes, too.
Down at the Key Club – an overtly ‘rock’ venue – I arrive in time for the last couple of songs by all-girl punk-pop act Hey Charlie (a rare overrun for the day) and they seem energetic and entertaining, even if the matching cheerleader kit seems a bit gimmicky. But there’s nothing gimmicky about Leeds grungers Fizzy Blood , who’ve clearly been working hard. From the get-go, the crowd go ballistic and pogo like maniacs to high-octane, rabble-rousing grungy racket. Their performance is faultless, and their energy is impressive as they slam in riff after riff. I’m grateful for both my steel toe-caps and ear plugs by the end of their immensely enjoyable and endlessly engaging set.
After them, Forever Cult ’s middling indie-rock stylings over on the second stage at The Beckett seems a bit average – proficient enough, but average – so I treated myself to a short rest ahead of the last band of the day.
With so many venues, clashed toward the end of the night were inevitable. But this year, the choices were varied and numerous, with Pulled Apart by Horses, Cabbage, Yak, Her’s, The Vaccines, The Xcerts, British Sea Power and Circa Waves all straddling the same couple of hours. Having never seen The Horrors , Church seemed like a good place to end the night. Despite the competition, it’s busy.
Opening with the Depeche Mode-y industrial-edged dark electro-tinged ‘Hologram’, they radiate atmospherics and cultivate a theatrical distance from the audience as they peer out through a veil of smog and reverb. In fact, we could almost be watching The Sisters of Mercy circa 1983, down to Faris Badwan’s lank mop of hair, biker jacket, and gloves, as he curls himself around the mic stand and throws moves that are pure Andrew Eldritch. The sound’s almost as bad, too: the band are playing fine, but out front, the mix is as muddy as hell. It’s not just the bass or the cavernous echo: it’s everything. That said, it’s simply a detraction, and frustrating, but not so bad as to ruin it.
The set’s weighted very much toward the most recent album, ‘V’, which accounts for 50% of the material. But the older tracks mesh in well, and they delve back as far as 2009’s ‘Primary Colours’ for ‘Who Can Say’, ‘Mirror’s Image’, and ‘Sea Within a Sea’. The driving rhythm section, with particular emphasis on the thudding bass, is a constant throughout the set as it’s been through their career. They may revel in certain goth clichés, but The Horrors have the songs and the style to carry it and it makes for an exhilarating finale.
And if you’re not completely exhausted and your legs aren’t killing you by the end of Live at Leeds, you’ve clearly not made the most of the day. Yet again, Live at Leeds delivered – and venturing away from the obvious choices as ever yields the greatest rewards.