New Leeds based festival

The buzz around Constellations festival started a couple of days before its official announcement, and with a line up taking in alt legends Les Savy Fav, dance funk courtesy of Four Tet and Gold Panda, forces of nature Local Natives and emotionally turbulent Broken Social Scene - not to mention new kids on the block The Vaccines, Chickenhawk and Sleigh Bells - that buzz doesn’t seem to have taken a rest.

Constellations, a new one-day festival set at Leeds University across their three-venue student union, kicked off with Leeds’ own musical most recent godfather Whiskas and his band Honour Before Glory, sounding gritty and angsty as a full six-piece. iLiKETRAiNS continue to fly the flag for Leeds with material from their new album really breathing light and power into their set. Dare I say it, ‘We Saw The Deep’ even borders on the danceable, although in a Biffy Clyro-esque kind of a way. If you were in search of ‘actual’ dancing though, you could have done worse than head to the second room and the likes of Breton_ (a very enjoyable mini-Delphic) and the refreshingly animated ambience of Dam Mantle. Gold Panda was a definite highlight of the day here too, his chickenheaded nodding keeping beat with his filthy and funky grooves, although Four Tet’s poetic dreams and chunky beats were a close contender too.

This wasn’t the only big performances of the day. They just kept coming from all over, a sign of thoughtful curation and a well-balanced line-up. Liars delighted with atmospheric drums contrasting exhilaratingly with Angus Andrew’s yelping yells, and the aptly-named Esben and the Witch huddled round their single tom and cymbal as if really in a coven, all three members playing at once with a desperate haunting energy and a pleading, almost violent rhythm to singer Rachel’s vocals, but it was Local Natives who mesmerised the crowd in the main room, with spectacularly harmonious and gorgeously lush melodies, the power of their four voices turning their guitar indie into a must-see experience.

Even the smallest and third room at Constellations had its fair share of talked about sets. Chickenhawk lost no time in getting into the crowd and assaulting them with their fresh and crisply executed raw metal, and Sleigh Bells, despite singer Alexis having had to rest her voice the previous evening, have an even more marked effect on the fans - infectious, fuzzy sampler-laden guitar-thick rasping anger is fired at grasping hands and ears, in darkness only punctuated by strobelike white light pulses, and as Alexis works the crowd like an Alice Glass / Madonna hybrid, she transports us to a frenzied secret underground basement gig in her native Brooklyn.

Performance of the festival has to be from the band that helped start the vibe that Constellations was going to be something special, with a prematurely announced date cropping up on their site - Les Savy Fav, certainly not newcomers, but at the forefront of reinventing of live musical performance. True to form, Tim Harrington’s incongruously energetic persona wastes no time in finding the bizarre and astounding in his surroundings, while delivering his by turns intense, thoughtful, shock provoking, but always totally absorbing narrative, against a tireless and perfect soundtrack to his antics from the rest of the band. Worthy of the frenetic pit even without their inimitable front man, Harrington’s jaw dropping mischievousness make the Les Savy Fav live experience unforgettable. From swinging from a gantry across the crowd suspending his not insubstantial self with nothing more than a mic lead, to lying in the mass of heaving bodies to flirt coquettishly with the photographers, and from lip to lip donations of used chewing gum to bearded fans, to foot rubs and piggy backs for crowd surfers, his vocals not once stopping, Les Savy Fav are always going to be hard to beat.

For Constellations festival this is an apt triumph. If Constellations aimed to bring us the best in exciting, imaginative, passionate and creative performances, and if it wanted to enthuse fans and get them talking about a must-see band - whether it was one or several performances, and whether it was a band they expected to be blown away by or one that took them completely by surprise - then the team behind this intelligently compiled festival can safely say job done. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Words by Elly Oracle
Photo by Danny Payne

View an accompanying photo gallery from the Constellations Festival HERE

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