With its convivial landscapes, strong cultural heritage and notoriously good weather (ahem), the proud idyll of Yorkshire seems like the perfect place to stage a large music festival. Yet the ‘Great British Summer Tradition’ has evaded God’s Own County, usually preferring to rest its wellies closer to London, often in the balmy climes of the Home Counties or the Isle of Wight. That is, apart from Leeds Festival, which as any previous attendee will be able to tell you is less of a music festival and more of a social experiment designed to see how long it takes 70,000 teenagers to regress into tent-burning animalism.
This sorry state of affairs was only compounded when last year’s Beacons Festival was woefully cancelled due to flash floods on the estate. Indeed, it was beginning to look like all attempts at staging a weekend with a decent line-up in the area were cursed. Consequently, it was difficult to get too excited about the event, lest some disastrous occurrence should make its mark on Skipton moor. But with careful planning – including moving the festival site to higher ground – along with a boatload of nervous hopefulness, the inaugural festival was a stunning success, well worth the bated breath.
So who better to kick off the festival than a home-grown new band? Granted, southern accents may betray Antibang’s individual origins, but having formed at Leeds University seems qualification enough for them to be claimed under the banner of the White Rose. And claimed they were, wide-eyed in disbelief at the vast turnout for their percussive grooves (not to mention their hilarious get-ups) so early in the day.
It’s always going to be difficult to follow a group that displays such captivating exuberance, and there was a remarkable dip when Veronica Falls failed to deliver anything nearing comparable enthusiasm, instead disinterestedly going through the motions of their C86-indebted set with frowns on their faces. It wasn’t until Submotion Orchestra’s rousing live dubstep (yes, that sounds like it has the potential to be the worst thing ever, but have faith, it works – kind of) that the proceedings acquired a feeling of impetus.
After a brief foray to sample the delights the festival site had on offer (Giant Theremins! Neon Song lyrics! YouTube videos!), the Stool Pigeon stage’s evening entertainments beckoned. Factory Floor brought industrial back to its Yorkshire roots, mesmerising the audience with some spectacular interplay between the synths and the drumming, all aided by a prolific smoke machine. Later on, the heavens opened and Mount Kimbie took to the stage. That is not to say they are celestial beings, but they did display divine qualities to a otherwise sodden, but profoundly entertained crowd. Their contemplative, bass-driven textures proved as clever as they are danceable, and as they got the crowd moving, they performed the miraculous feat of turning rainwater into, er, sweat. A decent preparation for the rest of the evening, as sweat would prove to be unavoidable.
After enduring a relentless and brilliant half hour of Roots Manuva, it’s over to Savages, whose paranoid, black and white punk concludes the evening with a shot in the arm. Performing with a white-of-their-eyes intensity, most present found it impossible to resist giving their immediate neighbour a shove for the first moshpit of the weekend. Disappointingly, Julio Bashmore was forced to cancel his performance at the last minute due to an ear infection, but L-Vis 1990 very competently took his place, allowing people to continue dancing into the wee small hours.
The award for nicest performer of the festival weekend must surely go to Kwes, whose early afternoon set was littered with pleases, sorrys and thankyous. But while he displayed an apologetic on-stage demeanour usually reserved for only the twee-est of indie bands, his compositions leapt forward with quiet confidence as he showed us why he is one of the most promising producers and songwriters around at the moment. Picking up on Kwes’s personally sedate nature, Still Corners hazily continue the afternoon with a reverb-soaked set that sounds like The Cocteau Twins soundtracking Twin Peaks.
Ambling over to catch Grass House’s set was no mean feat given that the remarkably small festival site had already turned into a mudbath by this point, any misgivings to do with the heavy rain must pale in comparison to the disappointment felt upon last year’s cancellation. Grass House were nonetheless worth the trip (if only for their sharp outfits), though their widescreen wild west arrangements were slightly marred by the lack of audible vocals.
Elsewhere, Ghostpoet brings out an energy from the songs off of last year’s Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam that weren’t immediately apparent on record. As he came out to sing in the front row, it was clear that this energy was more than welcome, and provided a worthy precursor to Junior Boys’ raucous electronica.
Nervously excited, sweaty palmed, awkward skin contact – though these overwrought pre-coital allusions may seem like appropriate descriptions of the wait for Wild Beasts’ sensitively sordid set, the chants of ‘Yorkshire’ that rang through the tent as they took to the stage weren’t. Yet it’s certainly to be expected, given that this is very close to a homecoming gig for Wild Beasts, having cut their teeth in the nearby Kendal and Leeds, and now triumphantly dominating the stage with a confident presence. Their love of texture so well encapsulated on last year’s Smother never belies their ability to craft a decent pop hook, meaning their set was ever-engrossing. Quite simply, it was a sound you could bathe in.
Sundays at music festivals are often let down by the mass fatigue of every punter present. It seems that Beacons combated this by saving some of their heaviest-hitting acts for the final day. Willis Earl Beal took to the stage looking like the quintessential outsider in cape, leather gloves and blue jeans. Sure enough, his set did not let this image down. Kicking off a capella, he made us wonder why he didn’t do better on the American X Factor. As his set went on, he was accompanied by his tape machine band playing his own lo-fi soundscapes, though it was at times difficult to tell due to his ferociously powerful voice. Yes, his music did verge towards the side of outright difficult music – but isn’t that part of the charm of lo-fi performers?
Following such an intense performance so early in the day was never going to be an easy task, but Willy Mason handled the situation charmingly enough, and his songs were elegantly accompanied by viola and autoharp. There was a surly undercurrent to his performance, perhaps a reaction to the disappointingly short allotted stage time. Still, hopefully he imparted a tender moment for those that only came out to hear ‘Oxygen’.
Cranking the day up a notch from acoustic balladry to cacophonic metal were Hawkeyes. It must be noted that I am something of a metal plebeian, and I am pleased to say that one of my virginal metal experiences was such a good one. Ludicrous but exciting, Hawkeyes bled every eardrum in the room dry, with lead singer Paul Astick even coming out to play in the crowd towards the end of the set. Following them were That Fucking Tank, who managed to produce a sound that was as fierce as anything else that was on all weekend, despite their ranks comprising only two members.
So if Sunday was the line-up that was all about lifting sodden, tired spirits, then Toots & Maytals were the perfect headliners. Proving to many members of the audience that they actually knew more of their repertoire than they had previously, they played the audience as well as they did their instruments. And this communal experience, rejoicing in ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Pressure Drop’ with Toots, gave a satisfying sense of conclusion, and allowed the organisers to breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief that everything came off so well.