In 2011, I attended Leeds Festival for the first time ever. I was 17 at the time and had no idea what to expect. The headliners that year were Muse, My Chemical Romance, The Strokes and Pulp. Seven years later, I am there once again for Leeds Festival 2018, older and I like to think wiser but this time, the line up is drastically different. This year sees what is probably the most varied line up in its history. The usual suspects such as The Vaccines and Courteeners are there but this time the festival features a line up filled heavily with pop and rap which is normally dominated by rock/metal. When the line up was first announced earlier this year, there was a large amount of vitriol amongst punters who would normally go because of the acts that had appeared on the line up. Having expected to wake up to a line up featuring artists like Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and Royal Blood, they were met with a line up that featured Post Malone, Travis Scott and Dua Lipa. While these aren’t the kind of acts you would expect to see on the Leeds line up, it is very reflective of its time and the audience this year showed that. It was by far the youngest crowd I’d ever seen at the festival. However, the secret acts seemed to bring the festival back to its roots, with metal outfit Bring Me The Horizon and Frank Carter & The Rattlensnakes, pulling in decent sized crowds, with everyone one hanging on every word of both frontmen. Those who had never heard of them and had come to hide from the rain or stumbled by, probably experienced something of a radical and totally unexpected culture shock.
Back in 2011, smartphones weren’t as essential to people’s lives back then so ‘back in my young festival days’ you either got pictures on rubbish camera phones or disposable cameras or …and here’s a thought… you just simply lived in the moment; immersed in the magic of the presence, vitality, vim and verve of whomever you were watching, fully engaged, enthralled and associated. However, this year, it seemed that every audience member possessed an iPhone (or do I mean they were possessed by their device?). As the strains of a popular song commenced, a sea of iPhones would loom and shine with each punter desperate to capture every single minute of what they were watching. This resulted in most of the crowd peering at the show through a tiny screen rather than appreciating and experiencing what was live right there in front of them. An evident difference in age was demonstrated by the crowds when headline acts finished their main sets. Having watched Fall Out Boy deliver a greatest hits packed set, they went off before coming back on for their encore. By the time they’d returned on stage, half the crowd had left, leaving huge gaps in the crowd. Having been to many gigs over the years, I was stunned to see this happening, especially during Kendrick Lamar, who was arguably the biggest name playing that weekend, with many audience members leaving before witnessing a triumphant rendition of his hit; HUMBLE. I felt strongly that the newbie festival going generation have a lot to still to learn about end of set festival etiquette! Because of this, the sense of occasion was lost, as what should have been Lamar’s crowning performance of headlining this iconic festival just ended up feeling like a normal show.
What was interesting to see this year, was that a band like Kings of Leon who made their name in the 2000s struggled to pull a crowd with their headline set this year, whereas emo giants Panic! At The Disco, who also became popular in 2006, had a fairly huge crowd. To me this was because P!ATD have adapted their music to a more pop like sound, which would appeal to newer audiences. Kings of Leon however, have never changed their sound.
When I was 17 years old I remember spending the whole weekend drinking and staying up until 4am taking in everything that the festival had to offer. This year proved a very different story. Instead of squeezing my way nearer the front which was totally de rigeur for any self respecting Leeds Festivaller in the past, I opted to stand nearer the back drinking tea instead of cider and watch without having any problems of not being able to see and being shoved into an unruly mosh pit. I then ambled leisurely back to my tent to read my book and thaw out, curled up into my sleeping bag trying to get warm. I’m failry convinced that out of nearly 80,000 punters, I was probably the only person to do this.
One of the most surreal parts of attending this year was that I was there as a guest reporter for BBC Radio 6 Music, interviewing bands. Because of this, I had access to WiFi, charging points, showers and flushing toilets, none of which I’d have access to in the normal camping areas. I also was able to lounge around in the guest area, which was even more surreal, seeing bands and artists alike walking around and milling about with guest punters in the bar. This was interesting on several levels. Observing these rare species in this informal and relatively tranquil environment was exciting from the standpoint of the perpetual fan I will aways be and being awed by their presence is a splendid thing. However, the converse was that seeing them, as it were without their musical superhero trappings and ostentation was surprisingly heartwarming and enjoyable. Being in the Guest areas gave me the opportunity to see them as musical people rather than as stage icons. Here they are really set apart from their stage personas and this afforded me a privileged and welcome glimpse into their ‘real’ life characters. Seeing musical elite behaving in down to earth and exhibiting normal human habits was not a let down in any way. It was a different view of the festival cosmos and I enjoyed all of it very much – albeit in a different way from the heady days of 2011!