Another year, another big weekend at Reading and Leeds festival. DiS sent along some of our finest scribes and asked them to scribble about their five favourites of the weekend. Here's what we got back from them...
Few of the rash of Eighties, Nineties and early Noughties bands that have recently reformed have endured quite as much vitriol for the act as Rage Against the Machine have. They've been lambasted for cynical money-grabbing, the betrayal of the anti-corporate principles the group originally espoused, and for not having any principles in the first place. However, none of it matters from the second they step on stage. From the opening chords of 'Testify', the sheer fury of their set makes you feel like you're 17 again, when things were simpler, when we were right and they were wrong. Who cares if they're just in it for the cash? It still sounds fucking awesome.
Saturday morning is, to be fair, a rather woolly-headed place on planet Leeds. Praise be for Cardiff's finest, Future of the Left, whose blistering set blow the cobwebs away with no remorse. Altogether now: 'Colin is a pussy, a very pretty pussy...'
Whatever happened to straight-up punk rock? Fucked Up know. A Ramones-esque riot that impels you to dance, jump and get your fist in the air.
Blimey. Someone's got a chip on their shoulder. Do you think Bloc Party came to Leeds expecting a fight? From Kele's sulky demeanor, it certainly seems that way. That attitude permeates the set – but if anything only makes it more edgy: first-album favourites like 'Banquet', 'This Modern Love' and 'So Here We Are' sounding better than they have for years.
Sleazy, dirty, nasty and drug-fueled: Queens of the Stone Age might be the perfect Reading/Leeds band. They're on top form tonight: it's not about individual songs, more about making a primal noise that hits you in the base of the stomach and makes you want to get naked – then strip the person next to you.
MGMT's early evening set at Leeds on Saturday night was one of those festival moments when everything came together. The band, the songs, and the crowd all worked in perfect harmony to leave us beaming from ear-to-ear. My previous MGMT live experiences have been mixed (ranging from the atrocious at Primavera Sound, to their more-than-satisfactory Glastonbury set). This time even the stuff you might call 'filler' on their otherwise excellent debut Oracular Spectacular shone through. Where once their not-infrequent forays into wig-out territory sounded a little indulgent, now the band carry them off with aplomb. If only for these forty minutes, they elevated themselves into the same league as those great psychedelic pop bands that their recorded output suggests they'd love to emulate.
MGMT by Holly Erskine
Elsewhere, much of the excitement was reserved for newer bands, with the BBC Introducing and Festival Republic stages hosting their fair share of gems, including a triple header at Leeds of **Dinosaur Pile-Up* (Foo Fighters meets Weezer), Wild Beasts (right now, nobody else does interesting pop this well) and *Pulled Apart By Horses**, who delivered the most intense, raucous, and faintly ridiculous live performance we've seen in a while. Who in their right mind crowdsurfs off the Introducing stage?
Foals trashing the stage after their set got cut short was pretty funny too. Previously, they'd reminded us of the real reason why they're hated by so many people: namely they're very, very, very good, and your band, well, probably isn't. Justice, who followed them, were pretty perky - but isn't everyone a bit sick of 'We Are Your Friends' after hearing it, ooh, fifty billion times... this week. Apparently not, as it slays the dancefloor as usual.
Finally, everybody should go on the Ferris wheel at the fairground at least once. Preferably at 3am. Wearing a stupid hat. Next year? Go on then...
Metallica are a festival's best friend. They are loud, like to blow shit up, and generally crank out a greatest hits set with a couple of surprises. But it wasn't until the setlist from Friday's show in Leeds turned up in Berkshire, that we realised we were in for a special show. New songs 'Cyanide' and 'The Day That Never Comes' sound interesting and were well received. It might not have been in a tent (circa Download Festival 2003), but it was louder than anyone else on the stage this weekend and they still rip it up like it's 1985.
Alexisonfire are a tremendous gang of growls and guitars. Dallas Green's voice is their star strike, the reason they rise above the rest of hardcore world. Despite rumours of inner-band acrimony and a raft of suitably noisy side projects, Alexisonfire tear apart the main stage.
"Here it is again, yet, it stings like the first time…", sings Alkaline Trio boss Matt Skiba. Despite the fact that one of his best friends died this week of a massive brain hemorrhage, Skiba stuck it out and spat out his second splitting stories over his Mike Ness world of power chug guitars. The Lock Up stage was a richer place for having seen the dark, eyeball rock of Agony and Irony's Calling All Skeletons and the nailgun pop punk of From Here To Infirmary's Private Eye.
There is a certain affinity for Biffy Clyro 'round these parts... they've always been a consummate DiS band; full of angles, melodies and yells, slowly increasing in size over the years while continuing to appeal to their rabid community. This has, also, been the band's year as far as festivals are concerned. Their sixth Reading appearance (although it feels like it could/should be more) sees an accomplished late afternoon mainstage show. Smashing through the start with Puzzle's 'Saturday Superhouse' and pop guzzler 'Who's Got A Match?', the band end with the pounding drums and slow growing guitars of 'Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies' and Blackened Sky's oldie '57'.
Emmy The Great has a voice that will break your heart and sew it back together within the same song. Her world of indie folk has long been ignored by the industry and masses, while anyone she has ever spent an afternoon with has been lauded as a fully employed pop star (Noah and The Whale, Dev Lightspeed Champion, Johnny Flynn etc.). But this, her first official turn at Reading, is a great moment, a beautiful run of strings and harmonies. If this year's festival will go down for its major hardcore turns, Emmy should have had the biggest circle pit of the festival.
Foals by Holly Erskine
There are some definite organisational 'issues' at this weekend's Leeds Festival. Primarily the attempt to cram an unfeasibly large number of bands into an improbably short space of time. Nonetheless, it's the bands who face a certain amount of adversity who fare the best.
Take Yeasayer, for example, whose measly 15-minute turnaround leaves them electrocuting themselves on their own kit. Or Foals, who find themselves somewhat unceremoniously banished from the stage before the end of their set as a result of a delayed start.
Yeasayer play an absolute 'blinder', never letting on that anything is amiss, their sound perfectly pitched to wake up each and every bleary-eyed festival-goer who should happen to step into the now-gargantuan Radio 1/NME tent this Friday morning.
Foals, on the other hand, tackle their difficulties in a somewhat more petulant manner. Drawing on the crowd's enraptured enthusiasm for their set thus far, they stoically refuse to leave the stage, even after organisers begin turning their equipment off. Yannis darts around, mic in hand, in an attempt to beat the sound guy to every remaining switched-on amp, whilst Jack Bevan continues to batter his drumkit right up until his forcible ejection from the stage.
Similar goings-on abound on the BBC Introducing stage where, on Thursday night, Leeds-based label Dance To The Radio open the festival with a showcase of exciting new talent. Unfortunately, the stage's top two bands - Scottish ensemble Broken Records and Grammatics - have to contend with the eleventh hour inclusion of a 20 minute surprise set from the Pigeon Detectives. A definite crowd-pleaser, certainly, but when allowed to play on undisturbed well beyond their allocated set time, the new princes of ruffian-pop leave their more sensitive counterparts with little more than a quarter of an hour apiece to play with.
Lucky, then, that both bands are more than capable of cramming a set's-worth of imagination into little more than three songs each. Indeed, Broken Records' noisy, chaotic, multi-instrumentalism and Grammatics' thoughtful, intelligent art-pop serve only to remind us just what's great about the host city's music scene.
The spirit of triumphing over adversity extends, even, to the Main Stage, where British Sea Power find themselves facing a paltry crowd mid-afternoon on Sunday, following a somewhat bizarre scheduling decision.
A band who have spent a number of years cementing their live reputation, it seems nonsensical to take them out of their comfort zone rather than having them headline one of the smaller stages - a challenge they've proved themselves more than capable of meeting over the years.
As they embark on a Do You Like Rock Music-heavy set, though, it becomes apparent how unfounded our fears that they couldn't meet the dual challenge of the Main Stage and a somewhat lacklustre times lot were. Arriving at a stunning, stripped-down rendition of 'No Lucifer', the Brighton-based quartet have no trouble reiterating just why they're one of our great live bands.
And that's the impressive thing about this weekend: in spite of the numerous technical problems overcome throughout the course of the four days, and in the face of a largely uninspiring line-up, Leeds Festival once again manages to come up with more than enough to impress.