My first experience of a major music festival was in 2006 – and as you may have guessed, it was at Leeds Festival. Despite being gutted that we couldn’t get weekend tickets, my brother, my sister and I all resolved to go to the festival for the day anyway. We ended up plumping for the Sunday, enticed by the prospect of Arctic Monkeys (who, lest we forget, only had one album and an EP to their name at this point) as well as a headline set from Muse. And, amongst the many bands I saw that day – including now sadly defunct acts such as Be Your Own Pet, Dirty Pretty Things, GoodBooks and Dead Disco – it was the two big names that provided the most memorable moments. I recall somehow ending up at the front for Jet’s performance in the Radio 1/NME tent – upon realising that Arctic Monkeys were due on stage any minute, the only sensible thing to do was clamber over the barrier, whereupon security hurriedly shooed us out of the tent. Of course, that was exactly where we wanted to be, and we rushed across the festival site to catch a landmark performance from the Sheffield four-piece. They may not have had the stage presence or fancy light show that Muse would later dazzle us with, but from start to finish Arctic Monkeys had the audience in the palms of their hands.
Of course, Muse’s performance was equally as memorable, and not just for the music. Having stayed fine all day, the weather decided to absolutely piss it down throughout the band’s set, but that did nothing to deter an already chaotic crowd – and I can honestly say that being battered around that rain-drenched mass of people was one of the most thrilling experiences I’d had up to that point. The band were arguably at the height of their powers too, having just released fourth album Black Holes & Revelations that summer. For this show, they flipped the tracklisting on its head by opening with the spectacularly deranged ‘Knights Of Cydonia’, and closing with bombastic album-opener ‘Take A Bow’ – as well as packing in heavy-hitters like ‘New Born’, ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. After staggering through the sodden campsite, we sat in the car, soaking wet, for what seemed like an age until we could finally leave – but looking back, it was worth it for Muse alone, never mind all the other great bands we’d seen that day.
We quickly resolved to buy weekend tickets for the next year as soon as possible, despite any announcement regarding the lineup being months away – luckily, 2007 didn’t disappoint. On Friday, Late Of The Pier’s early performance left everyone else with a tough act to follow, LCD Soundsystem played a delayed set that was definitely worth the extra wait, and Klaxons rounded off the night with a rapturously received show. Saturday allowed me to continue my minor obsession with The Horrors (who were still in shrieking, psych-punk mode at the time), as well as giving me my first chance to see the wonderful Patrick Wolf play live. And, while I saw many great acts on the Sunday, one band in particularly blew me away – that band was NYC math-rock quartet Battles, whose insane, infectious single ‘Atlas’ was my favourite song of the entire weekend.
2008 brought with it a new challenge – though we’d once again got tickets in advance, I was faced with the task of finding an additional ticket for my Swiss girlfriend (well, ex-girlfriend now, but we’re still good friends). Scouring the internet in the months beforehand, I eventually managed to get hold of one for face value thanks to a kindly person on Scarletmist.com – and so, with the extra ticket in hand, I was thrilled to be able to take her to her first UK festival. It gave us the chance to spend a great weekend together watching some of our favourite bands – Johnny Foreigner, Foals, Late Of The Pier, Los Campesinos!, Editors, The Kills, Bloc Party, These New Puritans, Blood Red Shoes and the first full UK festival performance from The Last Shadow Puppets being among the many highlights. 2008 in particular highlighted one of the great things about Leeds Festival – the fact that there’s always something of interest happening on one of the stages. On the last night, neither of us particularly wanted to see Main Stage headliners The Killers, so we spent the end of the night watching Hot Club de Paris and The Young Knives on the Alternative Stage – and we loved every minute of it.
If all of the above is a bit too tl;dr, allow me to give you a quick list of reasons why I love Leeds Festival:
- There’s always something of interest going on somewhere – even if you don’t care for what’s on the Main Stage, there’s enough variety on the bill to ensure that there’s always at least one band you’ll want to check out at any given time.
- On the other hand, the number of stages isn’t totally overwhelming, and they’re all within about 5 minutes walk of each other. While clashes are inevitable, this helps to mitigate that problem more often than not.
- It’s a great chance to experience music with other people – introducing friends to bands that you love, or simply sharing the moment with both your friends, and hundreds of other like-minded people.
- Also, it’s generally better than Reading because there are more bands playing. Ok, we’ve lost Odd Future this year because Tyler would rather collect awards than play a show, but thanks to Dance To The Radio’s Thursday showcase and Transgressive Records hosting the Alternative Stage on Saturday and Sunday, we’ve got the likes of Three Trapped Tigers, Gold Panda, Pete & The Pirates and The Young Knives playing – and you won’t find any of them on the Reading lineup.
- It’s ridiculously convenient for me, being less than an hour’s drive away from York. Having such a major festival so close by always makes it a tempting prospect.