Reading and Leeds 2013 - The Clash Review

Reporting from the season's biggest soiree...

Clash’s coverage of the twin-site festival features words from Leeds and photography from both the Yorkshire event and Reading.

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Friday, Leeds

After five years of increasingly predictable line-ups and repeat bookings, the Leeds and Reading organisers appear to have pulled a volte-face on us. 2013 is easily the heaviest roster since 2008, and featuring some truly great indie, intriguing hip-hop artists and curveball headliners; there’s a real sense of variety on the bill this year.

Grey skies are looming menacingly above Bramham Park, but the vibrancy of Bipolar Sunshine’s warm guitars and skittering drums is enough to banish them for now. Bath siblings The Family Rain have a grittier approach though. They meet Mother Nature head-on, brandishing weaponry of taut White Stripes-like howls and garage-rock anthems in the making, like ‘Carnival’ and ‘Pushing It’.

This time last year, California sisters Haim were still too new to even appear on the bill, yet their omnipresence this year has made them feel like the most hardened and familiar of festival acts. In a packed tent, they deliver one of the most effortlessly polished performances of the weekend, basking in slinky harmonies and sunny guitars. But these gals aren’t afraid to get dirty – they jam and head-bang and not even bassist’s Este’s bass-gurn can ugly them up. Next year, second stage sets will be a laughable memory.

The sight of a mere handful of people clustered around the main stage five minutes before the appearance of the newly reformed Nine Inch Nails is enough to sicken any rock fan. But Trent Reznor doesn’t do things by halves no matter how small a crowd. ‘Wish’ sounds as demented and terrifying as it did 21 years ago, he keeps the intensity constantly at breaking point, and doesn’t speak a word for the entire set. Such machine-like delivery is reflected in the steely exterior of ‘Terrible Lie’’s bruised synths, the bludgeoning ‘Survivalism’ and grinding bile of ‘The Wretched’, while crowd members stand transfixed like dazed rabbits in headlights.

Later, while Phoenix have everyone jitterbugging to ‘Entertainment’, Biffy Clyro prove their mettle as untested headliners. And tonight is so much more than watching a band currently at the top of their commercial game: it’s about seeing them get every one of their just desserts after decades of solid slog, blood and sweat. This is Biffy’s moment and they deserve every second of it.  

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Saturday, Leeds

Saturday at Leeds Festival and Parquet Courts are playing a blistering set of shambolic punk. Yet all the Dinosaur Jr and Pavement fuzz and feedback in the world can’t bury the brilliance behind ‘Borrowed Time’ and ‘Yr No Stoner’’s hooks and riffs.

Later, FIDLAR ramp up the racket even further before a torrential downpour hits the site, turning it into a mudbath that not even Deap Valley’s sashaying swagger can sex up. A brave few solider on to watch Frank Turner deliver a strangely euphoric set in spite of the conditions with the “I will not grow oldrefrain of ‘Photosynthesis’ reading like a resounding “f*ck you” to the weather.

Deftones low-slung metal however is like a storm in itself, coming to drive that middle finger even further into the sky. The doomy yet beautiful soundscapes likes of, ‘My Own Summer (Shove It)’, ‘Change (In The House Of Flies)’ and ‘Be Quiet (And Drive Far Away)’ sound awesomely apocalyptic in the rain, and are so heavy that they actually manage to chase away the clouds, albeit for only brief respite.

To the evening, and CHVRCHES are the perfect antidote for anyone indifferent to watching Skrillex blow chunks out of the floor with histrionic electro-clash drops. The shimmering synthpop of ‘Recover’ and ‘The Mother We Share’ soar and twinkle, while new tracks whet appetites for the trio’s eagerly awaited debut album.

Then it’s on to watch Green Day wrap things up. And as though to make up for every bloated, uninspired punk-by-numbers cut they’ve peddled recently, they’re only playing 1994’s ‘Dookie’ in full to remind us of why we fell in love with them in the first place. A salvo of ‘Burnout’, ‘Having A Blast’ and ‘Chump’ are a ‘90s teenager’s wet dream, while the volume of the sing-along for ‘Basket Case’ could drown out even the most violent of thunderstorms. As they finish with ‘Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)’ we can shut our eyes and almost, almost, forget that the ‘Uno Dos Tré!’ trilogy ever happened.

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Sunday, Leeds

After another night of relentless rain, Leeds wakes up to some pretty horrific conditions. Skaters are unfazed however, and their rampant amalgamation of The Strokes and The Libertines is of the most invigorating performances of the weekend. On the main stage Tyler, The Creator and fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt are winding the crowd up under the moniker Earlwolf, and while Tyler naturally leads the trash talk, Earl outshines him with ease as the most talented wordsmith, especially on the vitriolic ‘Ass Milk’.

Later, while twosome Drenge prove you don’t need large numbers to make a racket worthy of ‘In Utero’, Swim Deep’s massively oversubscribed set of tingly retro-pop couldn’t be further from such grubby stomps. 

Over in the dance tent, Jagwar Ma are tripping their way through debut album ‘Howlin’ with a set that loops and grooves, drawing from Chicago house as much as Madchester baggy. Chance The Rapper puts in a high energy performance that meets his hype head-on, while Foals highest Leeds billing yet is so huge that three albums in it feels like they’ve finally arrived – the noodling funkiness of ‘My Number’, crushing heaviness of ‘Inhaler’, ‘Spanish Sahara’ and ‘Providence’ commanding attention.

Due to a start time just 15 minutes before Eminem is due on stage, Savages play to a painfully thin crowd. Still, opener ‘I Am Here’ rattles unsettlingly around the open space like a stalking predator, almost forcing those in attendance to move closer together for protection under singer Jehnny Beth’s formidable gaze.

But of course the organiser’s real wild card of the weekend is Eminem. Backed by the muscle of an eight-piece band and hype man Mr Porter, he zigzags through his back catalogue at an alarming rate.

Miming accusations stem from the use of a glaringly obvious backing track that’s more than a bit of a cop-out, and cartoonish moments like ‘Without Me’ and ‘The Real Slim Shady’ are an unfortunate reminder of his more cringe-worthy moments. But despite his recent diminishing critical returns, the likes of ‘The Way I Am’, ‘Criminal’ and ‘Lose Yourself’ sound every bit as dangerous and urgent as they were back in the day. Rather like the weekend as a whole, through bad weather and sludge, they shine through as bright as a new penny.

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Words: Dannii Leivers

Leeds photography: Danny Payne

Reading photography: Andy Sturmey

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