On Sunday evening at Leeds Festival, there was a stampede of vest top-clad festivalgoers bolting for the Main Stage as if escaping a raging forest fire. They were, instead, running to see Chase & Status perform. Reading and Leeds may be the home of rock music, but this year dance music and hip hop laid fair challenge to the title deeds. All weekend, the dance tents spilled out at the sides. Grime artists such as Wiley packed them in at the 1Xtra stage – despite keeping the crowd waiting. Disclosure, Major Lazer and Skrillex ruled on Saturday, the latter performing atop a giant stage construction that looked like a killing machine from Starship Troopers. Meanwhile, rock and indie buzz bands were met with a whispy ‘meh’ of indifference. Parquet Courts, The Family Rain, Savages and even the brilliant Merchandise played to limp or listless crowds in their respective tents. There were guitar-wielding victors too – Swim Deep, Jake Bugg and more drew healthy audiences – but even they didn’t whip up the kind of feverish excitement that saw members of Skrillex’s crowd tearing their shirts off and climbing the tent rigging in a fit of bro-dude bonhomie and wub-fuelled mania. For the first couple of days of the festival, watching indie bands at Leeds was like the feeling of sitting at home alone while a house party rages on next door. So it was best just to get stuck in.
Meanwhile, the dance artists were turning the knife. “Dear every indie band,” wrote Major Lazer man Diplo in a tweet. “U don’t have to cover disclosure in ur set to be relevant. Stay calm and keep rocking.” Peace – who do (quite brilliantly) cover Disclosure’s ‘White Noise’ – took umbrage, tweeting in response: “Come 2 catering. Ill bang u out u clown”.
Reading and Leeds promoter Melvin Benn spoke earlier this year about his plans to include “more music” at the festivals, especially for ravers, and installing extra arenas such as the 1Xtra stage to accommodate shifting tastes. “There was a little bit of nervousness when I announced them, and I think that was a nervousness that somehow we’re going to become a different festival,” he told NME. “I never had that intention at all, but what was really clear to me was that there’s an absolute passion for festivals and the big bands, but there’s an increasing interest in non-guitar music.” Judging by the response on the ground, it looks like he had a damn good point.
Though Benn told us backstage that rock music will always be “the heart” of Reading and Leeds, the upshot of 2012’s shifting tide is that we surely should expect to see a different kind of headliner in future. Benn may have bumped Biffy Clyro up to the top of the bill this year (and said after they proved they are “every bit a headline band”) but he also quite rightly said that Chase & Status “could absolutely headline” in future years.
This isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing – music tastes change, and it’s healthy that they do. It also isn’t another proclamation of the death of guitar music, because 2013 has already seen more than its fair share of brilliant guitar-based releases, and Arctic Monkeys are just about to blow everyone else out of the water with ‘AM’. But if Reading and Leeds had a lesson to teach, it’s that people are sick of standing around watching half-arsed indie boys boshing through lumpen songs with no concern for whether the audience are enjoying themselves. If the indie bands want to keep the big slots, they should consider this: the gauntlet has been thrown down. Up your game, put some effort in and make it exciting – because there’ll be no place for indie deadbeats at the festivals of the future.