Leeds Festival 2023

In keeping with tradition, Bramham Park burst to life last month on the back of GCSE results day to bring a memorable close to the festival season; with this year’s Leeds Festival featuring some of the biggest names in music.

Friday kicked off with Billie Eilish’s most-hardcore fans surging through the arena gates at an early start of 10am, vying to secure their coveted front-row spots for the day’s headliner far over on the eastern Main Stage.

However the day was only just getting started; with Leeds-formed English Teacher opening the Festival Republic Stage to a busy tent who were eager to catch the up-and-coming band.

Meanwhile, TWST, another emerging talent, marked their festival debut on the BBC Introducing stage with a refreshing take on alt/hyper-pop.

However, one of the most anticipated bands of the day for rock-fans were Don Broco, with a short, but fiery (literally) set handpicked with songs to ensure non-stop moshing from the thousands strong crowd.

Over on the Main Stage East the fields were lined with fans awaiting indie/pop-prodigy Declan McKenna, who entered the stage equipped with a metal detector. While his new single ‘Sympathy’ was a standout moment in his set, it was closer ‘Brazil’ which saw the crowd at their loudest, with everyone screaming the lyrics to a song McKenna penned at just 15, fittingly as part of his music GCSE. However this wasn’t the last that festival-goers would see McKenna, as just a few hours later there were whispers of a secret second set, albeit this time on a much smaller stage. Sure enough, diehard fans were overjoyed to find Declan over on the BBC Introducing stage, where he showcased deep-cut tracks that weren’t found on his main stage-slot.

In the run up to their anticipated third album ‘Is This All We Are?’, indie trio Vistas hit the Festival Republic tent, with a slew of summer-ready indie anthems perfect for the warm weather. It’s a confident set, with the band now honing their formula of catchy, feel-good tracks down to a fine craft.

Exactly four years after drawing a huge afternoon crowd at 2019’s festival, Billie Eilish returned to Leeds this year to claim her long-overdue headline slot.

Eilish takes the record as the festival’s youngest ever headliner at just 21 (a record she also holds for Glastonbury), and yet is arguably the biggest name on the lineup.

Flanked by brother/co-writer Finneas, and drummer Andrew Marshall, Eilish delivered a phenomenal performance which demonstrated her incredible versatility as an artist.

From mellow, heartfelt hits such as ‘What Was I Made For?’ (from the recent Barbie movie soundtrack), ‘TV’ and ‘ocean eyes’, to more sinister alt-pop tracks including smash-hit ‘bad guy’, ‘bury a friend’ and ‘Oxytocin’, Eilish took the audience on a journey through her diverse discography. Expectedly, the set is wrapped with an impressive production value, that culminates with a firework display soundtracked by the cathartic emo-tinged title-track ‘Happier Than Ever’.

Saturday kicked off on the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage, with a band you wouldn’t expect on a stage of this name; The Murder Capital. The Dublin post-punk quintet brought their intense set to Leeds, with vocalist James McGovern often engaging with the crowd. As the band wrapped up their performance with fan-favourite tracks ‘Ethel’ and ‘Don’t Cling To Life,’ art-rock quintet The Last Dinner Party commenced their debut at Leeds Festival over on the adjacent Festival Republic Stage.

This set follows a relentless six months of non-stop shows for the band, including appearances at many other UK festivals. As usual, they deliver a stunningly ethereal stage show, which culminates in a mesmerising rendition of breakout single ‘Nothing Matters’, absolutely proving themselves as one of the country’s most exciting emerging acts.

On the eastern Main Stage, Wet Leg play to a huge crowd, affirming their meteoric popularity, undoubtedly bolstered in-part by their recent stint supporting Harry Styles’ Love On Tour across the globe. They play essentially their entire debut album, saving Tik-Tok hit ‘Chaise Longue’ till last, with the entire crowd seeming to have every lyric committed to memory. They’re easily one of the most fun bands of the weekend, and it’s difficult for even the uninitiated to leave without a smile on their face.

Shifting gears, the Festival Republic Stage next played host to American hardcore titans Knocked Loose. Renowned for their electrifying live shows and extraordinary ability to create frenetic circle pits, Knocked Loose serve as a testament to the expansive musical diversity that Reading & Leeds lineups can offer in terms of genres, and it would be great to see more bands of a similar vein in future lineups. After all, where else but here can you go from the hazy, lo-fi melodies of Wet Leg, to the crushing hardcore onslaught of Knocked Loose all within the space of an hour?!

Saturday’s second-headliners came in the form of indie-rock band FOALS, who delivered a solid performance, complete with sleek indie guitar lines, an impressive light show and stunning pyrotechnics. However, it wasn’t long until a sea of Newcastle United shirts lined the festival fields for headliner Sam Fender.

As chants of ‘toon’ echoed across the arena, Fender burst onto the stage with unexpected deep-cut ‘The Kitchen’, immediately affirming to any doubters through sax-led anthemic choruses that Fender is more than capable and deserving of a headline slot, with a production to almost rival Billie Eilish’s the day prior. During the set, Fender reminisces of visiting Leeds Festival as a teenager with his guitarist and brother, Deano.

Displaying a genuine concern for the well-being of his fans, Fender paused several times throughout his performance to ensure their safety, while showing appreciation to the festival’s hard working crew for their efforts in maintaining a secure environment for festival-goers. Fender closed out his triumphant set with a one-two punch of hits ‘Seventeen Going Under’ and ‘Hypersonic Missiles’, ending with an impressive firework display.

However, unlike its sister festival Reading, the night was far from over for Leeds’ campers, with DJ’s spinning everything from EDM to indie anthems until the early hours of the morning over several stages. A highlight of which being DJ Eddie Kerr, accompanied by Danny Oliver, who kept the Piccadily Party crowds entertained with a well balanced mix of rock, indie, and mainstream pop late into the night.

Sunday morning broke up the nice weather with some heavy rain, yet the crowd remained eager for two of the biggest headliners of the weekend. After packing up the tents, it was time for the first of these headliners; The 1975, who were added to the lineup just a month prior, following Lewis Capaldi’s cancellation of all shows due to mental health reasons. Of course, they’re no stranger to filling in at Reading & Leeds, after replacing Rage Against The Machine just a year prior, however this time; the band promised a set brimming with nostalgia, due to the upcoming 10 year milestone of their debut self-titled album.

And nostalgia they delivered, complete with the iconic box backlight, black leather-clad outfits straight out of 2013, and a faithful front-to-back rendition of their self-titled album. The band then brought the audience back to the modern day, with a handful of recent hits, such as ‘It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)’, ‘Somebody Else’ and ‘The Sound’. For any fans of The 1975 in attendance, this crowd-pleasing set is certain to have earned a spot at the very top of their gig rankings.

Finally, The Killers closed out Leeds 2023, coining themselves as ‘purveyors of some of the finest rock and roll on earth’; and on this they delivered, with huge crowd pleasers such as ‘When You Were Young’, ‘Somebody Told Me’, ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’, ‘Human’, and of course, the unofficial national anthem of the UK; ‘Mr. Brightside’. It’s a set stacked with hit after hit, and the perfect end to a fantastic weekend of music, from upcoming acts to watch, such as The Last Dinner Party and TWST, to household names such as Billie Eilish, The 1975, and of course, The Killers.

Words and Pics by Jacob Swetmore


Philip Goddard

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