Live At Leeds 2021: up-and-comers showcase their post-pandemic potential

Various venues, Leeds, Oct 16: Exciting sets from promising newcomers make up for patchier booking in the bigger slots

Having made significant strides towards gender and genre diversity in recent years, the top slots for 2021’s edition of Live At Leeds are unfortunately occupied almost entirely by all-male trad-indie acts. And besides this, there are also some notable omissions – Squid, Holly Humberstone, Beabadoobee, Baby Queen, Self Esteem – that would have otherwise felt decidedly LAL. One of the country’s largest multi-venue, inner-city festivals, the pandemic seems to have not only affected Live At Leeds’ usual May timing, but the calibre of its booking. The top-of-the-billing bloke-fest feels like a shame, but nonetheless, Yorkshire folk are a stoic bunch. With the opportunity for all-you-can-eat gig-hopping on a crisp Autumn day, it quickly becomes a question of how quickly you can hotfoot it around the city buffet.

The chilly weather makes for a quietish start at Hyde Park Book Club, but local newcomers Eades quickly transform shivery coffee-drinking into approving nods. At the end of a touring cycle, vocalist Harry Jordan’s apology for sounding lethargic couldn’t be further from the truth; for such a young band they are alarmingly tight, boasting the same vibrant, racing melodies that have made stars of Spring King and Parquet Courts. With an album coming in March, they’re a band that will easily fill larger rooms next year.

Over in Headrow House, an elongated soundcheck breaks down any mystery that might have otherwise greeted Londoner Kay Young’s set, but she seems to like it that way. In this setting the upbeat RnB of ‘White Teeth’ takes on a deliciously jazzy quality, while other tracks are interspersed with chatty anecdotes about the joys and hardships of the Black- British experience. It’s a slick, intimate set that is maybe better designed for a more committed audience than Headrow’s casual brunch crowd, but there’s every chance that she may have converted a few to her cause.

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A band you can always rely on to please a room are The Big Moon, who know exactly what they are doing when they drop a mid-set cover of Fatboy Slim‘s ‘Praise You’ to a 3pm-and-now-gently-pissed audience at Leeds Union Stylus. A solid run-through of their greatest hits, they prove how many indisputable bangers they now have in the locker – the chugging ABBA-meets-Fleetwood Mac riff of ‘Don’t Think’, the post-grunge of ‘Cupid’, and the jubilant closer of ‘Your Light’, boasting about four separate hooks that get chanted by the crowd long after they leave the venue. If the cheer that goes up when bassist Celia Archer reveals that Live At Leeds is the first festival they ever played is anything to go by, they have been fully welcomed as one of the city’s own.

The Big Moon perform at Live At Leeds 2021 (Credit: Wondergirl)

To contain Lynks in a venue as small as Key Club feels nothing short of a travesty. Pitched somewhere between daytime rave and late-night pay-per-view Pelaton content, the energy levels are akin to nothing else we see all day: a PVC-Mask clad Lynks bunny-hopping around between the ‘Lynks Shower Gel’ duo, and delivering lines of gloriously self-satirising pith (“I still think about my ex when I masturbate/ I’ve got no plans for when I graduate”). A cover of Courtney Barnett’s ‘Pedestrian At Best’ with a Donna Summer-esque beat is inspired, as is a romp through Wet Leg’s ‘Chaise Lounge’, perfectly befitting of Lynks’ NSFW nursery-rhyme appeal. “I’m gay by the way” they wink by way of a closer, before leaping into ‘Str8 Acting’, a rousing ode to the thrill of living outside of societal gender norms. For a first-ever show in Leeds, you couldn’t ask for much more.

The Brudenell Social Club’s capacity seems to have lost out in the battle against Sports Team back in the city centre, but it looks like it would take a lot to ruffle the feathers of L’Objectif’s frontman Saul Kane, whose particular brand of deadpan nonchalance and snappy dressing more than recalls a young Alex Turner. Luckily, bassist Ezra Glennon is the Hammond Jr to his Casablancas, guiding the group through a raucous set of retro-NYC-indie that whips a multi-generational audience into a pint-toting frenzy. By the time ‘Drive In Mind’ reaches its crescendo, Glennon has sacked off the bass entirely and dived into the loving arms of their eager school-friends, clearly moved by the exuberant thrill of being back on stage. It’s no wonder that Chess Club Records have come a-knocking – this is the sort of breakthrough show that people will boast about having attended.

Willow Kanye has clearly never known the meaning of the word introversion, greeting The Lending Room as if it’s Wembley rather than a room containing a maximum of 20 people. ‘This Is My Film’, ‘Trash’ and the newly-FIFA-soundtracking ‘Two Seater’ all showcase the 19-year-old’s impeccable flow, setting a 90s meeting point between Hip-Hop, Drum’N’Bass and Prodigy-style rave punk. Much like Lynks, her audition for bigger rooms is passed with flying colours.

Over at Leeds O2 Academy, meanwhile, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes are in the thick of entertaining, with Radio 1’s Jack Saunders conducting a circle pit for a thumping ‘Devil Inside Me’. Each track that follows is a wrestler’s ring-walk of riffs with Frank as the consummate title-holder, but unless you’re a die-hard, something feels a little off — a few too many rambling asides between songs, and a few too many dynamic similarities between each track. Carter is clearly just thrilled to be back in the land of sharing, but alongside an admittedly very accurate cover of ‘Ace Of Spades’, it all conspires to feel a little too familiar, a homage to decades past rather than a blueprint for the future.

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With the most thrilling shows of the day confined to tucked-away rooms, Live At Leeds could perhaps stand to use its showcasing potential to take a few more chances at the top. With an audience this open-minded, why not nail the new music flags to your highest masts?

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