Constellations Festival Lights Up Leeds

I have no idea how the promoters pulled it off, but the line-up for the inaugural Constellations Festival was ridiculously good – so good that it was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to see everyone I wanted to. But more on that later.

After getting slightly lost in the rabbit warren that is Leeds University’s union, I find my way to the Refectory, just in time to catch the first band. The band in question is Honour Before Glory, the new project of former ¡Forward, Russia! guitarist Whiskas. Don’t expect a re-hash of his old band though – Honour Before Glory have a more fleshed-out, widescreen post-rock sound, and it’s promising stuff. Next up are iLIKETRAiNS, and despite the fact that they’ve been around for what seems like an age, this is actually the first time I’ve ever seen them live. Well, I finally found out what I’ve been missing – stately, brooding rock, typified by epic set-closer ‘Sea Of Regrets’. I was impressed enough that I intended to pick up their new album before I left but their merch table had gone by the time I decided to commit to doing so. Fail.

Next up are Sky Larkin, whose upbeat indie-pop is as brilliant and always – the band are also full of praise for the festival, their label – Wichita records have eight bands playing today(!) –  and the city of Leeds itself. Following them are Esben And The Witch – the Brighton three-piece are suitably apocalyptic, with the likes of ‘Marching Song’ showcasing their foreboding, ominous sound.

After that, I head over to Stylus to watch Liars rip the place apart with their chaotic, vicious brand of experimental rock. ‘Scissor’ takes loud/quiet dynamics to their logical extreme, while punchy set-closer ‘Scarecrows On A Killer Slant’ gets the crowd moving and even sees Tim from Les Savy Fav rocking out at the side of the stage. Speaking of Les Savy Fav, I would’ve liked to have seen them but unfortunately they clash with Los Campesinos! – and my shameless fanboyism must come first.

However, it soon turns out that I have chosen somewhat poorly – Los Campesinos! start fifteen minutes late because they’ve got about a billion pieces of equipment to soundcheck, so it turns out I could have caught a bit of Les Savy Fav after all. Happily, any ill-will I have towards them for being late has evaporated by the time they’re halfway through ‘Death To Los Campesinos!’ – and that’s only two songs in, so I can spend the rest of the set getting slightly emotional and teary-eyed without any nagging doubts. They’re even given a generous time extension courtesy of Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, which means that ‘…And We Exhale And Roll Our Eyes In Unison’ can get a rare live outing. Happy days!

Unfortunately, after that things start to go a bit pear-shaped. A combination of Drew’s earlier generosity and a ridiculously drawn-out soundcheck sees Broken Social Scene take to the stage half an hour late. By this point I’m kicking myself for not going to see Four Tet – especially as I should have probably seen the delay coming. The combination of their lateness, my own flagging spirits, and my unfamiliarity with most of their material means that they’ve got a mountain to climb to really impress me. And while their big, upbeat indie rock sound is in no way bad, I find myself not really getting into the show. I imagine if I was a massive Broken Social Scene fan then this would probably be a life-affirming experience for me – but I’m not, so it isn’t.

After half an hour I finally give up and do what I probably should have done in the first place – go see Four Tet. Unfortunately, by this time Stylus is only sparsely crowded, and those who are present are barely moving. This feels like the wrong time and the wrong atmosphere for his music – his electronic sounds feel like the kind of thing that wants to be heard (and danced to) late at night in a festival tent. I’m only there for about ten minutes before he decides to call it a night, thus compounding my poor decision-making.

There is a silver lining to my headliner-related cloud, however – on a whim, I decide to head to Mine to catch a bit of Sleigh Bells. If you’ve ever wondered what an unholy fusion of Crystal Castles and Test Icicles would sound like, then this is pretty much it – their insane noise pop turns out to be pretty entertaining, and I probably did enjoy the two or three tracks I saw more than I enjoyed watching Broken Social Scene. I’m not really sure what it says about my musical tastes… I do, however, decide to give BSS one last shot. But there is no epiphany for me, and I leave feeling a little underwhelmed. However, that shouldn’t take the shine off what has otherwise been an awesome day. Let’s hope the promoters behind Constellations can pull off some similarly stellar events in the future.

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