You know how when you visit your old school, it seems much smaller than you remember, and you wonder why you found the whole business so daunting? That was pretty much my first impression of Leeds Festival 2012. I was last there in 2003 to see Blur headline on the Sunday, and I remember how the main arena seemed endless, and full of bizarre shopping possibilities that I would never be able to fully explore. Not so this year – I’m nine years older and wiser – but Leeds’ sudden lack of mystique is its strongest selling point. You could walk the length of the arena in just under 15 minutes – good if you were rushing to see different bands, and brilliant if you were tired. Which I frequently was.
My second (and third) impressions were how young everyone seemed – and how friendly they appeared to be. I kept my eye out all weekend for the odd teenage row, but the nastiest thing I saw was a drunk man sit in a pile of sick, and smilingly remark how warm his bottom was. I got the impression that the reason people were so jovial was the amount of drugs they were ingesting, and to their credit, nobody was bragging about it. At Reading, most people will endlessly boast about how much MDMA they’ve done to anyone who’ll listen, so to watch the people of Leeds quietly and discreetly get wasted was a pleasure in itself. As a rule, most people (especially the younger ones) were remarkably well-dressed – but I lost count of the number of unfortunate bottoms squeezed into short shorts. The result was akin to a sausage wrapped in bacon.
The one thing that you can never fault with at either Reading or Leeds is the line-up on offer, and this year was no different. It’s fairly obvious that the organisers pay rapt attention to what people are listening to each year, as each band I saw (with the exception of the uninspiring Niki & The Dove) had a large, enthusiastic following. My fellow festival goers always raced around with enough energy to heat a house for a week (that’ll be all that youth), and as a result, it was impossible not to get excited about the music. Leeds has no pretentions – it’s a large field full of burger vans, bars and stages. People are there for the music, which means it’s far better value for money than boutique festivals that offer eight different types of falafel and edgy artwork, but rubbish music that nobody’s heard of.
The beginning of the festival was wonderfully relaxed (we had good weather all weekend, apart from Sunday’s brief downpour) and people were content to buy novelty glasses, drink copious amounts of cider and get drunk. As Friday night approached, my companion and myself met a marvellous young woman called Pam, dressed as a bloodied nurse, replete with fake intestines attached to her white dress. Weirdly enough, I didn’t spot a goth all weekend – even when The Cure were playing. We all enjoyed the Kaiser Chiefs, then went our separate ways as I was desperate to see Justice, and Pam wanted a toilet.
I was right to get so excited about Justice – they were the best band of the weekend, with Sunday’s Miike Snow coming a close second. Even bands I wasn’t terrifically keen on thrilled me (Foster the People and Jaguar Skills were highlights), but the big names, such as Florence and the Machine, didn’t seem to deserve their loyal following. Florence Welch has developed a lilting, overly-flouncy stage manner that is as self-obsessed and predictable as it is patronising. Being told that we were ‘so good at being a crowd’ was the final straw; even now, I am surprised that nobody tried to arrest her afterwards in the name of taste and decency.
However, my rage at Florence’s nonsensical ramblings is overshadowed by the fact we managed to blag our way into the hospitality area. Luckily for my friend and I, the guest bar was open late, and they allowed horrible dancing. My Sunday was punctuated by flashbacks of gyrating with a large potted plant to ‘Gold Digger’, which seemed just fine at the time.
I’m not going to say that Leeds is ‘hardcore’ or ‘intense’ – it’s not got the mammoth reputation that Glastonbury offers, and it doesn’t have the faraway holiday excitement of Benicàssim. Leeds is just about seeing bands, and after dark you’re expected to make your own entertainment, which can be a bit of a pain if want to carry the party on. A few times in a lull between bands, I felt suddenly panicked about what to do with myself – would I be tempted into yet another overpriced army surplus shop? – but just letting go, getting a beer and sitting on the ground is the only thing that you can and should do. There is no artwork here, no ‘hidden’ wooded places to explore and no games of sock wrestling to partake in, so you’re forced to make music and booze your only entertainment. The result? I’ve come home with an aversion to cider but a new-found love for hundreds of new artists. I’d definitely go again, but next time, I won’t be flirting with any disinterested pot plants.