Friday 2 September 2016

leeds 2016: sweat, cider, and a distinct lack of sun

it's highly likely that at this exact time last weekend, i and probably hundreds of other sweaty, damp and downright dirty individuals were crammed into the NME tent at leeds festival, poised and ready to watch the 1975. it's safe to say i wasn't feeling my best; having already been at the campsite for two days, i'd already been through several traumatic experiences, including having to queue, both in a taxi and on foot, for four hours just to get into the festival, and some of the worst weather i've ever had the misfortune of experiencing. long story short; it rained a lot. 

so by the time we'd trudged through the already impossibly thick mud to watch our first act of the weekend, the vaccines, my spirits were decidedly low. the west london four piece did an excellent job at getting the crowd going though, even coaxing the sun out from behind its blanket of thick grey cloud for their set, which was disappointingly short. highlights included wetsuit, all in white, 20/20 and of course, their breakout hit, post break-up sex. 

it was over in a flash, then we made our way to the NME tent for the wombats, where my spirits quickly dissipated once again. my friends were notably more intoxicated than i was, and as a result decided they wanted to be slap bang in the middle of the mosh pit once the band took to the stage. this was fine when i was between the ages of 14-16, but i found it unbearable this time round, and the beginnings of what i imagine was a panic attack started to overtake me. luckily we made it out of the main pit after a song or two, and i was able to properly enjoy their set. 

again, it was pretty short, but given that they only had ten songs to get the crowd excited, they picked a good selection. the alarmingly on-the-nose lyrics of be your shadow provided a sucker-punch to my chest again, still as intense as the first time i saw it live at alexandra palace last october, while let's dance to joy division, the show's closing track, certainly got everyone dancing, and the crowd parted slightly, allowing me a glimpse of the band for the first time all night. 

then it was back outside for a breather before we made our way into the tent once again for what was arguably my highlight of the weekend, the 1975, which brings me back to where this post started. as i said, i wasn't in the best mood, having sweat half my make-up off and somehow managing to be freezing and incredibly hot at the same time, but all of that was forgotten once matty and co. took to the stage. it was so packed that even from where we stood near the back of the tent, i could hardly see the screen, never mind the stage, but nevertheless, the excitement and anticipation travelled in waves from the front of the stage all the way to the back where i stood, desperately trying to see the screen, which was helpfully blocked by a legion of seven foot tall boys. i just about managed to find a good place to stand as the ostentatious opening riff of love me heralded the arrival of the manchester misfits. 

from then on, despite the pushing and shoving of the crowd around me, and the somewhat disparaging remarks about the band from a few of my friends, i found myself in a trance, barely looking at anyone or anything but the screen (and occasionally stage) all night. this same feeling happened today when i listened to somebody else; it felt like i was hearing the song for the first time and falling in love with it, and the band, all over again. though some of my friends might not be the biggest 1975 fans, instead preferring grime or dance music, i couldn't stay annoyed with them for long because they'll simply never understand what it's like to feel alone, to find an escape, to find a home in music when you have nothing else. their comments washed over me, and i stood enraptured for the entire gig as they played tracks including a change of heart, she's american, loving someone and the devastatingly beautiful if i believe you. they closed the set with sex, and it was at that point i found myself heading back to reality, and my incredibly damp tent. nevertheless, i now find myself missing the experience and wishing i was back there, singing every word. 

saturday arrived and the weather showed no signs of letting up as we trudged back through the mud to see CHVRCHES, a band i've been desperate to see ever since i heard the mother we share back in 2012, and the trio certainly didn't disappoint. standing further back from the stage allowed us a pretty good view without having to be crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people who hadn't showered for nearly five days (me included). the rain was merciless, meaning the crowd for the show was remarkably small given their huge following, but i don't blame people for wanting to take shelter elsewhere. not me, though. i'd waited years for this moment and i wasn't about to let a torrential downpour get in the way. 

singer lauren mayberry bounded onto the stage, incredibly light on her feet given the huge platform shoes she was sporting. from afar, she looked like an angel as the lights of the stage illuminated the white tulle skirt she teamed them with, and i only wish more people had been there to appreciate the excellence of their set. they too only had ten songs to work with, but managed to strike a good balance between old and new. i'd struggle to pick a highlight as i was overcome with emotion the minute i heard the opening to never ending circles, the first song from their set, and found myself fighting back tears throughout the whole thing. i just about managed to hold it together through bury it, leave a trace, and closing track, the mother we share. the set was over way too quickly, and despite the rain, i would've gladly stood there for another half hour or more watching them. the next time CHVRCHES tour, i'll definitely be buying a ticket. 

next up was foals, a band i've always liked but probably not enough to actually buy a ticket to a gig of theirs. however, after NME crowned them "best live band" a few years ago, i was definitely interested in seeing whether they'd live up to the hype. i wasn't overly familiar with most of the tracks, except my number, mountain at my gates and the beautiful spanish sahara, which was definitely my favourite track they performed. on a technical level, there's no faulting their ability, but i personally felt the set went on far too long; just when i thought it was over and i could make the perilous journey back to my tent (how i managed to survive the whole weekend without falling up/down the hill to our camp and back/losing a welly in the mud is a mystery to me), out they'd come again. i'm sure if the weather had been better and i'd had more alcohol in my system, i wouldn't have been complaining, but it was near on impossible to enjoy what was going on when i was soaked to the skin and on the brink of hypothermia. 

the set eventually came to a close and i made it back to the safety of my tent, where i remained for the rest of the night while the majority of my friends braved the downpour to go and watch disclosure and drink themselves into oblivion, something i wish i'd been able to do more of throughout the weekend, but the weather conditions put me in such an awful mood that the thought of having to brave that hill and the muddy conditions was just too much to even contemplate. 

luckily the sun came out on sunday, the final day of the festival, and definitely my favourite. my friends, who had been out every night, were now feeling the effects, while i was more than ready to embrace festival life and the fact that i smelt like a waste disposal truck. it stayed dry all day, and after making a trip down the distinctly less muddy hill to charge my phone, my friends and i sat outside for most of the day, talking to the boys from the neighbouring tents, something i wish we'd been able to do all weekend. i also had several ciders waiting to be drunk, and drink them i did. 

my friends being hungover and wanting to go home meant they weren't getting drunk with me, but not to be deterred, i carried on myself and acquired a nice level of tipsiness by the time my friend and i went down to watch two door cinema club, the final band i saw at the festival. i'm still annoyed that i didn't manage to see the courteeners; it was only when i heard them playing their new song the 17th on my way to the toilets (the smell of which will haunt me forever) that i realised i'd missed them, though i had such a good time actually socialising with people outside that i wasn't too bothered. i did actually hear most of the set from where we were in the (orange) campsite, so i'm kind of counting it as my seventh time seeing (hearing?) them. 

two door certainly didn't disappoint though, and long-time fans will have been delighted with the amount of older songs they played, all of which took me on a nostalgic trip back to 2010 when i first heard crowd favourites such as undercover martyn, something good can work, and the show's closing song what you know. all were excellent, but i was most excited to hear the new tracks, bad decisions and are we ready? as well as sun and next year from 2012's beacon. the new tracks were certainly worth the wait, and it was the best end to a somewhat tumultuous weekend. we then made our way back to the camp for one last night with our new friends and after a disastrous attempt at making a fire and several hours of laughing so hard i couldn't breathe, we retired back to our tents for the final time.

overall i'm not sure it was worth the £220 i paid to sleep in a damp tent for five days, but leeds was certainly an experience i won't forget in a hurry. obviously the weather didn't help, and i definitely would have been more sociable had the sun stayed out, though i did take some pleasure in not having a hangover at any point all weekend. i'm not sure i'd be willing to camp again and run the risk of another weekend of terrible weather though, so i think next year i'll stick to watching the highlights of the festival on BBC iplayer. 

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