Live at Leeds Festival 2016 on Saturday, 27th August 2016
Saturday rolls around and I make my way down an almost hidden path to the left of the main stage, where I find The Mexanines setting up on the 'Jack Rocks/This Feeling' stage. It's new to Leeds, but has closely rivalled the BBC Introducing Stage at many festivals earlier in the summer, for some great under the radar acts. Unfortunately the sound engineer hasn't managed to iron out the kinks in the new set up, as during opening tune, 'Rocket', the Bradford 3 piece have to fight over screeches of feedback and some interesting guitar levels in order to be heard.
Things calm down and 'Ex Girl' gives the crowd a more honest reflection of the band's ability. Kings Of Leon style snare rolls, meet bluesy guitars, which are underpinned by subtle synths spiralling downwards throughout the interesting timing of the verse. A snare crack, a dead stop and suddenly everything straightens out. It's here where the band really come to life and falsetto vocals are held aloft above the direct, driving chorus. As with a lot of modern guitar bands, The Mexanines choose to blend backing track electronics with live and loud instruments, to create their unique approach to guitar music, but aren't slaves to the click as next song, 'Shimmer' presents us with a classic rock band approach to big riffs played in unison across just three instruments. 'I Wanna Be Insane' sways the other way, leaning more on atmospheric, widescreen electronics to set the scene for some excellent lyricism, delivered with real honesty.
We are then treated to a welcomed change in pace, as 'Wonderland' offers the tightly swung grooves of jazz, voiced by a band not afraid to explore other outlets for their crunchy, guitar lead rock. Finally 'Fires' plays us out, bringing with it the most impressive vocal of the set. Some real pain can be heard in the final repeated lyric 'I need a lover, you see', demonstrating a realness to the writing which makes the crowd cheer loudly as the band leave the stage.
STRONG ASIAN MOTHERS
I head over to the BBC Introducing Stage for some more up and coming music, this time in the form of Strong Asian Mothers, a truly unique electronic band from London with the best name I've ever heard in my life. They start their set with a cover of Queen's 'Fat Bottomed Girls', complete with triggered vocal samples, live, hip hop-lead drums and subtle changes to the original chords that give the song a new lease of life. There is even a trumpet solo to really confuse the crowd, in the best way possible.
The familiarity of the opener has pricked up the ears of passers by and by the time the band announce 'Stay Down' there are lots of new faces taking in the vibes. The song starts with an almost Monk-like low chant before extending each vocal into a lush harmony, whilst introducing layers of complex electronics. Keyboardist/vocalist/sample-ist/laptop-ist, Amer is a whirlwind to watch as he bounces between each of his assigned duties, occasionally smashing a cymbal which is positioned slightly out of reach, high above his head. He draws laughs from the crowd when he pulls out a sparkler, claiming they've brought their pyrotechnics to the show, placing it between his teeth whilst he plays his keyboard.
The band play 'Out Of Love', from their equally well named, 'Lynx Africa E.P' before announcing that they will close with a treat for the audience that they don't normally do. They fly through a hip-hop medley blurring the lines between live performance and DJ set before leaving the stage. My only criticism of an otherwise excellent performance, is that each band member takes on slightly too many musical tasks, occasionally looking slightly panicked and unable to interact with the audience at key points in their songs.
LUH (Lost Under Heaven)
As night falls, Lost Under Heaven, or LUH (dependent on your preference) are about to make their Leeds Festival debut on the Festival Republic Stage. The band, however, are no strangers to the world of festivals. Fronted by Ellery James Roberts, formerly of Wu Lyf, LUH manage to attract quite a large audience, despite clashing in part with CHVRCHES on the main stage. Their music has been described as 'Gothic Pop', which certainly begins to ring true as atmospheric, sub bass cuts through scratchy cellos and twinkling pianos during the opening track. It's pretty eerie, and all the while both Roberts, and his partner Ebony Hoom stand side by side in tops as low cut as each other, delivering their very unique respective vocal styles.
The visual aspect of the performance is again important in setting the scene for the songs LUH have written, and having directed their only music video themselves there is a very coherent synergy between sound and image during the set. In parts the collection of songs is slightly one dimensional, but towards the end of the set, both performers come to life, charging forwards, off stage and towards the crowd, then back to the drum kit one at at a time like they are connected by a bungee chord to the stage. They end up as silhouettes, Hoom stood tall on the bass drum with Roberts out in front of the crowd who have clearly enjoyed watching how the long awaited music of Lost Under Heaven, translates in a live scenario.
Foals have been a stalagmite of Leeds and Reading festivals since they released their first record back in 2008. They have built from the ground up, slowly but surely growing, moving to bigger and bigger stages, in sync with the progression of their music and their ever building commercial success. Finally the band stand tall, ready to co headline the Main Stage along with Disclosure on a rainy Saturday evening in August.
Strobe lights cut through the torrential downpour, accompanied by sounds that seem to have been borrowed from Michael Bay's 'Transformers' films, and robotic synth lines morph into the intro of 'Snake Oil', with it's pounding industrial drums. We are treated to first album track 'Olympic Airways', encouraging a sing along of repeated line 'reappear' before an accelerating outro drops straight into 'My Number', complete with the first hint of pyrotechnics. 'Providence' is easily one of Foals' heaviest songs, and they do not disappoint in their delivery, the break down at the end made even dirtier with dissonant guitars and piercing red light.
We then find ourselves bathed in the wash of reverb (as well as rain water), 'Spanish Sahara' offers breathing space, and an excellent atmospheric build. Three screens hang above the band and projected onto them are images of the sea, casting blue light across the stage. The tempo rises briefly through 'Red Socks Pugie', but is brought back down to earth with 'Late Night' played back to back with 'A Knife In The Ocean'. Guitarist, Jimmy moves to his Fender Rhodes Piano, and the two songs demonstrate the progression in Foals music, from the jarring, angular Math-Rock that got them their first slot at the festival, to the wide screen, crooning ballads that have seen them to really evolve as a band.
'Are You Ready?' is the cry from front man, Yannis before the ping-pong delayed guitars of 'Inhaler' burst into life. Filter sweeps help to add excitement to the intro before that unmistakable drum fill kicks the song into overdrive. Flames lick the sky ass Jack Bevan stands a-top his drum stool and instigates an extended outro, allowing Yannis to leave the stage and indulge in high fives with the front row. Foals' mastery of the build up is on show in full force and they leave the stage to cries of 'We want more'.
After a minute or so, the organs of 'What Went Down' creep out of the darkness, and the band do the same. Yannis seems to struggle a bit with his voice during the beginning, but soon enough the adrenaline takes over and he's back on top of the world, screeching his way through the chorus, with as much gravel in his voice as an episode of Ground Force. 'Cassius' follows, a song that hasn't been in their set lists for quite some time, but a song which the band owe a lot to for their initial success. Set closer for the evening is 'Two Steps Twice', which was to be expected considering that it has, and probably always will be the last song in a Foals set. There is at least 5 minutes of build up, crowd invading and clapping before confetti cannons and catastrophically loud guitars tear a whole in the clouds.
Indie/alternative 3 piece.