How many other UK festivals can offer up a Sunday afternoon compiling indie-poppers Blossoms, NYC rap veteran Nas, and mathcore maniacs The Dillinger Escape Plan? Trying to stay true to a rich, rock heritage while appeasing a GSCE-celebrating audience hankering for grime, R&B and dance acts is no easy task. Yet Leeds and Reading festivals are pulling off the delicate balancing act with aplomb, putting together varied line-ups that suit everyone's palette.
This isn't the first time Friday headliners Biffy Clyro have topped this bill, but bolstered by tracks ‘Howl’ and monstrous opener ‘Wolves of Winter’ from new album Ellipsis, this is the most muscular, focused and massive they've sounded in years. In keeping with Leeds and Reading’s reputation for taking risks when it comes to booking new headliners, they’re joined by co-headliners Fall Out Boy, Foals and Disclosure to share the duties on Friday and Saturday. To mark the occasion, Fall Out Boy have brought leather-clad female fire breathers and more flames and fireworks than your average Rammstein gig. Disclosure's set is a tad front-heavy but with more lasers than Blackpool illuminations and stone cold bangers like ‘Omen’, ‘F For You’ and the monolithic of ‘Latch’ up their sleeves, no-one in this ecstatic crowd is complaining.
Saturday brings a torrential downpour that turns the site into a sea of calf-high mud but nothing is going to dampen Foals’ big moment. In response, they blast their fire canons straight into Mother Nature’s face. From highlight ‘Knife In The Ocean’ to the grizzly-sized riffs of ‘Mountain At My Gates’ and ‘Inhaler’, the Oxford four-piece deliver a set packed with emotion, passion and apocalyptic drama, which render the Storm Gods completely insignificant.
Last year so many people turned up to see grime collective Boy Better Know that some were forced to clamber atop the Yorkshire pudding vans at the back for a decent view. This year’s main stage slot is no surprise, the crowd is easily one of the biggest of the whole weekend, and they go bonkers from the opening bars of Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’ to JME’s ‘Man Don’t Care’. BBK are going to headline this festival and our money is on it being sooner rather than later.
And they aren't the only acts getting a leg up to main stage. Isaac Holman, lead shouter and drummer of Slaves, dislocated his shoulder twenty minutes before the punk duo were due to appear. But that doesn’t stop him, bare-chested and spitting with anger, smashing seven hells out of his drum kit during a set that's equal parts silly and visceral.
"Get the fuck out of my way. If you see me coming towards you, move." Ex-Gallows frontman Frank Carter has abandoned the stage and is charging through the mud in a full, flower-printed suit while fans scurry hurriedly in his opposite direction. A few minutes letter he lets out a blood curdling scream signalling the start of the mighty 'Juggernaut', orchestrating the crowd to run around him in a huge circle pit. Backed by new band the Rattlesnakes, it's a set reeking with danger and vicious intent that sees the frontman order members of the crowd to “film the mayhem” with his GoPro and ends with hilariously hostile blues ballad 'I Hate You'. Hands down performance of the weekend.
Elsewhere though, across the weekend some of the best performances happen on Leeds’ smaller stages. There's gleeful indie-pop from Hinds, raging, balls-to-the-wall rock’n’roll from Mancunian's Cabbage and gorgeous, liquid R&B from Raleigh Ritchie, aka Grey Worm from Game of Thrones. Crowds for grime, rap and dance acts consistently pack out the tents, but as far as Clash are concerned, rock is thriving. Exeter trio Black Foxxes are sitting on one of the best debut albums of the year and they batter the NME tent with howling garage riffs and raw vocals. Inheaven whip up a thundercloud of grunge-meets-Britpop tinged with Jesus and Mary Chain gloom, while 90’s revivalists Milk Teeth spark mosh pits with their slacker/ screamcore racket.
A surprisingly sparse throng have gathered as Savages take to the NME stage, but by the end of bug-eyed opener 'I Need Something New', the crowd has swollen. Chanteuse Jehnny Beth prowls the stage as though stalking a kill, while the rest of the band deliver sledgehammer blows of strobe-lit and needle-sharp post punk tension.
Anyone who questioned the continuing relevance of the Red Hot Chili Peppers before tonight need only look around – it's Sunday night and for the first time of the weekend, the field is absolutely filled from front to back. The band are known for gigs that dissolve into self-indulgent, fret-wankery, but tonight the Chili’s make a strong start. Frontman Anthony Keidis sounds, and looks, ageless and new(ish) guitarist Josh Klinghoffer is a shot of vivid dynamism. Flea’s outfit looks like he’s been chopping up his mam’s curtains, but his bass is loud in the mix and ridiculously funky and he name-checks R&B/rap maestro Anderson .Paak, who played the Radio One Extra tent a few hours earlier. An opening salvo of 'Can't Stop', 'Dani California' and 'Scar Tissue' have the crowd revelling in nostalgia, but patchy pacing in the set does sap the energy levels.
Given the population of the entire site seems to be on the main stage field, the crowd gathered in The Pit for metal titans Mastodon is absurdly sparse. Unperturbed however, the prog barbarians blaze through the ornate, mind-bogglingly complex riffery of ‘Oblivion’, a brutal ‘The Wolf Is Loose’ and polychromatic ‘High Road’ with the same jaw-dropping ferocity that powered their headline set at Bloodstock Festival two weeks ago. Over on Main, the Chilis are ending the weekend with a mass sing-a-long of ‘Give It Away’, but for the lucky few in this tent we're treated to a crushing 'Blood And Thunder' as we spend the final moments of Leeds 2016 in the unexpectedly intimate presence of one of metal's biggest and most challenging bands.
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Words: Dannii Leivers