Leeds Festival 2008 – Rated!

Characters at Leeds Festival 2004 by Sara Bowrey
Characters at Leeds Festival 2004 by Sara Bowrey

Leeds Festival may have seen the last of Carling as its sponsor but it hasn't seen the last of the rain, or tens of thousands of fans packing its fields to watch the best bands in the world.

Overall – 7/10

Forever second only to the North Manchester Beer Festival as the most sodden outdoor event of the year, Leeds Festival 2008 brushed off the Carling tag for its best swhowing for a number of years. Boasting a better line-up than 2007, scoring aces from the likes of Rage Against The Machine and The Last Shadow Puppets, the newly un-branded event proved all the better for its lack of commercialism. However, the push towards more environmental and social awareness, as commendable as it is, still feels as surface as Paris Hilton's commitment to US politics. With Festival Republic still a little wobbly on its renamed feet, Leeds comes across as a festival still searching for an identity, but full of punters who know exactly who they are.

Getting There And Back – 6/10

The larger provision of parking spaces at the drop off point compared to previous years meant this year's Leeds Festival was well equipped to deal with the increase in traffic brought by the rain. Unfortunately the majority of stewards Virtual Festivals spoke to weren't, some being unsure about the location of key parts of the site mere metres away even as late as Monday morning. With regular shuttle buses to and from the centre of Leeds until the small hours, Leeds crowning glory, however, has always been the bus route put on specifically to take people to and from the local Tesco. God bless you, Festival Republic.

The Site – 8/10

If it's not broke, don't fix it. Some minor changes aside, Leeds Festival's layout remains similar to previous years, with the gradual sweep down to the Main Stage ensuring most people had at least a chance at a view of the headliners (that is, assuming you're at least 5'10"). The biggest change this year involves the NME/Radio 1 Stage. The move towards the main gates makes it both more and less convenient, particularly for the main stage dash at the end of the day. However, on the plus side, festival-goers unable to get into the tent itself at the end of the night now no longer block the main route away from the Main Stage field, giving them real space to enjoy the bigger crowd-pullers such as, um, Babyshambles. This year's victim of the tent spot at the far side of the Main Stage was the Dance Tent/Lock Up, meaning punk and hardcore fans had a trek to the likes of Henry Rollins over on the other side of the site, but gave punters less of an excuse to miss bands on the smaller stages. All in all, the same old problems with the same old solutions.

Atmosphere – 7/10

Leeds Festival atmosphere has always had that particular quality that can be summed up in one word – "Yorkshire!" If Leeds Festival were a man, he'd be sunburnt, dressed in a big muddy Bananaman costume that failed to cover his sunburnt belly, and gently marinading in a paddling pool full of beer. In essence, it's Glastonbury with fewer middle managers, more fires, and less of that hippy nonsense. While Leeds will never match the independent flair of the likes of Bestival, the lack of a Carling stamp on every single surface has softened that taste of over-consumerism the 'Carling Weekender' title always brought. Now the only problem is those people walking right in front of the screen in the Cinema Tent and giving away the ending. Twats.

Music – 8/10


Rage Against The Machine – The return of Los Angeles finest to Leeds on their only UK appearance, and 8 years after their last trip up North, was always going to be an unmissable experience. Quite how unmissable we could not have known. Zack de la Rocha and co ran through 90 minutes of classic RATM, with 'Vietnow', their classic cover of 'Renegades of Funk' and a slightly reworked version of 'Killing In The Name' causing chaos at the barrier. After the previous night's more subdued reaction to Metallica, it was a performance that, a mere two songs in, resulted in the most ferocious moshpit of the weekend – one that almost halted the show altogether. A set that Leeds will remember for a long time to come.

Mindless Self Indulgence – Always set to be a divisive choice, the band more famous for their bassist's husband (Lyn-Z is the wife of My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way) were determined their main stage slot would be remembered for more than just nepotism. Jimmy Urine strutted about onstage waving his cane like the demented lovechild of Freddie Mercury and Ian Watkins (Lostprophets, not Steps), spouting dry comments about the festival and alcoholism to the tune of the band's electro-rock candy. "You think this is annoying? Wait until you see Plain White T's", he sneered, closing with a mime along to 'There's No Business Like Showbusiness'. I think I'm in love.

Henry Rollins – The former Black Flag frontman is now almost as famous for his reputation as a public speaker as he is as a frontman, and with good reason. His effervescent spoken word slot on the Alternative set was stuffed with anecdotes from touring and men from Laos screaming "What's your life?", but combined with some genuinely motivational and life-affirming stories, it made for the most uplifting set of Saturday.

Dizzee Rascal – Just a few years ago, the idea of not just a rap artists, but a BRITISH rap artist playing the main stage and not being bottled into submission by the end of the first song wouldn't have even been a remote possibility. That's without reckoning the infectious beats of 'Fix Up Look Sharp' or the squelching bass of 'Dance Wiv Me'. A diamond in the rough.

Bloc Party – The closest run fight of the weekend was between Bloc Party and The Killers for best band of the Sunday night line-up, making it a difficult choice for the last of this year's Uppers. Bloc Party just tip it for the improvement since last year's lacklustre set. 'Flux' sparkled with a new vibrancy, while 'Mercury''s anthemic hook was echoed back right across the field. Even Kele Okereke, in the understatement of the night, had to admit "I don't normally enjoy Leeds this much".


Metallica – The Devil has all the best tunes, and as Tenacious D found out during their set, diss Metallica and incur the wrath of a man dressed as Satan. Metallica are the Gods of smooth and brutal festival sets, from the thundering 'Enter Sandman' to the brooding yet affirming 'Nothing Else Matters', even excusing frontman James Hetfield's annoying tendency to talk in the third person about his band. However, it wasn't the music that puts Metallica in the Downers section this year. No, what brought their entire set down was Hetfield's barely concealed disappointment at the size of the crowd for this year's set: "Are there enough Metallica fans out there?" he boomed, before hastily adding. "Even if there aren't, you guys are loud enough". Erm, cheers big guy.

Alkaline Trio – Alkaline Trio have a rightly deserved position as one of punks greatest latter-day songwriters. The dark punk pop of 'Private Eye' and recent single 'In Vein' showcased a delicious dryness to the wit of a band who believe in giving their all to their muse. Their set at this year's Leeds Festival was no exception, with even rareity 'Blue Carolina' pulled out of the hat. However, when it comes to live performances, Alkaline Trio are legendarily – and I mean legendarily – dull. Three men who barely move behind their mic stands, apart from the occasional wander to stare, stoney-faced, at their adoring crowd, do not make a decent festival set. We've never missed Slipknot more.

Editors – Kudos to Editors for having such dedication to their Northern fans that, rather than cancel their Leeds slot to support REM in Manchester, they moved their set down the bill. However, to say Editors are good time festival fun is like saying Gary Glitter is a quality children's entertainer. 'An End Has A Start' may have a live precision that shows their fame is no fluke, but standing in a field in the middle of rain watching a man behind a mic stand drone like a cross between Ian Curtis and Stephen Hawking? If I want to feel depressed I'll go home and watch Jeremy Kyle, thank you very much.

Dirty Pretty Things – Yes, it's been a good many years since The Libertines split, but it's worth emphasising that while it seems Pete Doherty left with the headlines, the electric stage performance and the enigmatic artistic muse, Carl Barat took… well, what, exactly? Dirty Pretty Things' set was an exercise in exclusivity for those wishing to relive The Libertines without the cancellations, erratic stageshow and, well, the fun. Their rock royalty claim is rapidly starting to fade and when your drums sound like a three year old cousin playing with the kitchen pans with half the youthful energy, it's hard to explain what artistic impulse fueled your performance. Apart from sadism.

Bring Me The Horizon – The press release went out at 10am on Thursday morning – Slipknot's cancellation would be compensated for by a special last minute booking of Sheffield's metalcore buzz band Bring Me The Horizon as Main Stage openers. 12pm on Friday afternoon and the band were nowhere to be seen. At the time of going to press, no reason has yet emerged for their non-appearance. Bad show, lads.

Random stuff

1) The sight of a limousine pulling up at what used to be the Red 1 Car Parking Field, but now ressembles a sunny day at the Battle of the Somme in 1917, attempting to turn and then park.

2) The ingenuity of Leeds festival punters never ceases to amaze (see above), in particular, one man's novel solution to limited washing facilities on the campsite – a shower, complete with a curtain and rail circling his head, attached to his back. Genius.

3) Meet Matt, a cousin of one of the local residents and 2008 backstage ligger. It's Friday night in the Guest Area, and our somewhat worse for wear hero is being asked by people at the bar about his ginger hair.
"Are you a natural ginger?"
"No, I'm a blonde."
"Do you dye your pubes as well?" asks another punter.
"Yeah, they're bright blue."
It's not until an hour later that Matt realises he's just been interrogated about his pubic hair by Jack Black.