“It might be too early for this” I say to a friend whilst opening a Foster’s Ladler (2% ABV, with lemon) with my keys “but I guess it’s an industry thing.”
Indeed, we are sitting inside the press area for Live at Leeds 2013, at the basement of the Leeds City Museum. This Press Room has a couple of proper journos already writing down notes and us, not proper writers, just staring at a bucket filled to the brim of two (2) types of Foster’s lager. We go for the one with lemon and apart from tasting like an evil, alcoholic Orangina, it’s a good drink.
So, Leeds, eh? A weird beast of a town. You look at any crowd of people in Leeds for more than 3 minutes and you start to see a pattern. Shiny leggings, denim jackets, lumberjack shirts, strange haircuts, wayfarers and tote bags. It becomes cyclical, like the recycled backgrounds from old cartoons.
Then again, I’ve been rocking the t-shirt and denim jeans look for 2/3rds of my life, so who am I to judge? Hairstyles are quite similar though, and the ones without a moustache are the ones who have the proper genes to grow a beard. I want to make fun of them, because I suffer a condition. This is a condition called Beard Envy ™. Así es.
Ah, music, not envious comments from a beardless Mexican. Let’s go! Live at Leeds 2013. It’s a long day ahead. Both the people from I like Press and the people from the Marriott (hmm, bacon sarnies) treat us quite nicely and after a bit of networking, a long race begins to the first venue, The Faversham, where we find out that the band that was supposed to play pulled out. We already had missed Menace Beach at Nation of Shopkeepers, so we had missed two bands we wanted to see. Selah.
Not a problem, The Stylus was just a stone’s throw away and there we catch Swimming Lessons, a one man army of ethereal music that’s both expansive and intimate. There were some visuals accompanying the lovely music, but they seemed a bit lost on the back. Nevermind, it was a good way to start the day.
The Faversham suddenly was bursting with people. After dealing with some cockend that complained about “privileged photographers”, we made it to the front just as Swiss Lips took the stage, whom started blasting a severely loud brand of pop that might not have been my cup of tea, but got the considerably packed room moving. Dance oriented and effect-happy, it was a fast set that somehow managed the venue feel like the Mexican Metro during rush hour (but with less piracy vendors.)
In stark contrast, Department M are cold and clinical, with a pretty gloomy approach to music. Bathed in blue and green lights, their set slowly gained strength. It wasn’t until lead singer, Owen Brinley, clad in a coat and wearing industrial sized earphones, grabbed a bass and started playing some fashionable notes. This is when their music really gelled. Add to that a drummer who was having a lot of fun with his kit and the seemingly morose set finally reached a mountain top, ready to scream “Drago!“.
The Mine is the evil twin of Stylus. Whereas Stylus feels almost like a coked-up den from 1990s Miami, The Mine is a strange, long venue that feels like both a Roman Circus and a 60s sci-fi ship. The best place is at the front, smack in the middle. This was the only acceptable place to be to catch the euphoric set by Fawn Spots, who performed like bloodthirsty Vikings on a berserk rage. Brutal and unforgiving, their rapid-fire tracks were delivered deftly and on target.
Stylus, again. Post War Glamour Girls got me into a strange situation. I couldn’t get to the front so I had to wedge myself by the stairs. While trying to take a couple of shots of their seedy set, the couple next to me started necking, heavily pushing back an forth. I sincerely don’t know if I look like a mattress, but once they started to use me as a support for their endeavours, I understood it was my time to hightail it. A shame, as Post War Glamour Girls were the right mix of jazz, rock and Second circle of hell antics.
It’s no secret that I love Castrovalva and I already had penciled them down for a good review. My expectations for a loud, raucous set were met and possibly surpassed. True, ‘In our prime’ wasn’t played, but once it was all done and dusted, I didn’t miss it. Their pre-show demeanour felt like a bit of an improvised stand-up routine, with some quick jokes and general effect tomfoolery. But jokes were swiftly pushed away by their sheer brutal and highly calorific set, which even managed to squeeze a “happy birthday” to a devoted fan. ‘Donut’ was the moment a couple of lucky fans got to yell “Tut! Tut! You fuckin’ donut!” and mosh around, ‘Señorita’ helped people free themselves from the super-sticky floor and ‘You better make that money’ might’ve stolen the show. Some guest vocals by Harry Johns culminated on both him and Castrovalva’s singer (Leemun Smith) grabbing the roof of Mine like Gene Hackman at the end of The Poseidon Adventure. Only less sacrificial.
Sorry, spoiler alert!
After their set, I did felt like Gene Hackman’s date with Davy Jones’ locker. A quick rest and then a quick gander at MØ, whom the cool kids seem to be getting down with. It’s a weird sort of pop, enjoyable and well-garnished, but only saw two songs, so it’d be daft to make a judgement. What I heard was good, though, but I still don’t get the whole “the next Grimes” comparison. Let a new band be themselves, yo!
Right, so Humanfly are one of those bands with an interesting trajectory. They started as a very loud band that relentlessly jackhammered its way into your tastebuds. Somewhere along the line, they got sucked by some Ancient One and after spending some turns lost in time and space, they are back on the board. With lyrics that could fit a couple of tweets and enough riffs and notes to make a tablature book the size of a phone directory (for each song, natch), their show was simply perfect.
Humanfly do have a formula and I’ll explain with an anecdote: when I was 10, I was swimming in Miramar beach, in Tampico. The sea was calm and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But it’s the Gulf of México and there are some treacherous bits, where the calm sea surface hides pits and riptides. Humanfly start like a relaxed swimming session and then turns into a riptide that pulls you under and forces you to swim along it, least ye be a permanent decoration of the bottom of the sea. Like Gene Hackman.
Sorry, lost my train of thought. Humanfly: creative, extremely entertaining and a display of how to masterfully rock out with a wah wah pedal.
If Humanfly is like a spacey trip, Maybeshewill is like a thousand sunrises rolled up into one optimistic set of tunes. Not a single lyric on sight but you can’t help feel that each song speaks to you in a “pep talk” kind of way. There are swaying, thoughtful moments that embrace that crescendo trope post rock does so well, then there are moments when it explodes loudly and quite heavily, almost like a metal or prog band. I wouldn’t put Maybeshewill in any of those genres, they’ve got their own identity and it shows on their soaring set, which sports a bass player that spins in arabesques and a guitar player tapping like there’s no tomorrow. Brilliant band.
It seems Mine was going to be the venue I was going to spend the rest of the day and this came down to two (2) reasons: a sprained ankle and the stickiest floor in Leeds. Seriously, I lost a chunk of my right sole there.
Sorry, that was irrelevant. What does belong to this ridiculous narrative is the experimental set that These Monsters played. Chaotic like the last shootout in Scarface, the brash sounds of These Monsters swerve between stoner rock and metal. A few confused looks blossomed as the set got progressively brutal, possibly the most fringe-like set of the evening, but nonetheless an entertaining one.
A return (of sorts) to normality was the riff-heavy set by Hawk Eyes. No chance to get to the front while they play, as the Mine is absolutely packed now. Still, the view from the upper level is pretty good and it means you’re safe from the heavy duty moshing that takes place. A quick duo with Blacklisters’ Billy was a sure highlight. If anyone was feeling tired before their set, this sure was a second wind.
Now, for a curveball, Sky Larkin. I love the band to bits but it struck me as odd that they headlined as the line up at Mine was mostly on the heavy side of the spectrum. Two songs in and I understood clearly. Whilst not changing into a different beast from their previous releases, Sky Larkin feels heavier than before. The music has a new set of fangs and the solos are roaring. No ‘Beeline’? No problem, as new single ‘Motto’ is certainly a keeper and ‘Newsworthy’ was pretty ace. A rocking ending to the whole day.
So, in a nutshell, what was Live at Leeds 2013 like? It had a bit of music for everyone, but the emphasis appeared to be on guitar-based music, which is fine and dandy. It’s how you get that guitar to convey your message what really sells your band and from what I can remember, they all were excellent sellers. And no Gene Hackmans had to be sacrificed.
Words & Photos: Sam J. Valdés López