Leeds Festival 2009: Rated!

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Ruth Booth | 02 September 2009

Overall  - 7/10
In 2008 we said that Leeds seemed to be still searching for an identity since dropping the Carling part of its moniker. This year has felt less like a re-branding, more a tightening up of procedure. A lot of effort has been put into focusing on regaining its reputation for a well-balanced rock line-up; as a result, the line-up had the perfect mix of homegrown talent from the likes of Radiohead and Kaiser Chiefs, overseas favourites like Kings Of Leon and Fall Out Boy, and scoops such as Deftones, Faith No More and of course Them Crooked Vultures -  although there were few lazy additions to the bill from last year (Bloc Party and Eagles Of Death Metal occupying roughly the same slots).

The larger scale NME tent was a welcome relief from the crush of previous years, meaning that it no longer feels like a very much poorer relation of the Main. With security tightening up this year, some of the imposed changes to movement into and around the site had mixed success, and evidently there is still some fine-tuning to be done.

However, the effort they've put in has been worth it. Their reward? A festival that deservedly sold out - but for its line-up, not necessarily for its organisation.

Getting There and Back - 6/10

Located just off the A1 (M), Leeds festival has always been relatively easy to travel to for drivers. Public transport to and from the event has always been a strong point of the event, and the regularly scheduled shuttle buses made it very easy for punters to get to and from the festival and Leeds itself into the small hours - very handy with this year's changeable weather.

However, the way to the site itself is still hampered by the clarity of the festival's own signs. Added to changes to the junction numbers on the A1 (M) in the weeks leading up to the festival, the new pick up point, a separate route around the site on Thursday, and some stewards unclear on directions (or even where the pick up point was in some cases), there was some confusion both before and after the festival.

While any festival can expect problems the morning after an event, it doesn't seem unreasonable to believe that more could have been done to lessen the strain, particularly with so many of these problems anticipated, judging from literature on the site. Must try harder.

The Site - 6/10

No huge change from last year's general layout, with the arena itself split between the main stage, with the Lockup still stuck as an afterthought in the far corner, and the stall area that housed the rest of the tent stages.

On the plus side, the increased size of the NME tent this year, along with its large-scale screens, was an extremely welcome addition. While some, bands and punters alike, moaned about it making the tent seen more empty, the fact that going to hear and see high profile bands no longer meant pitching up several hours early more than compensated for this - especially for the likes of the badly-kept-secret set from supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the other minor tweak. Imposing a one-way system into the arena during the evening bands worked well at the end of the night. Initially this only had a negative impact on the more eclectic souls moving between the NME and Lockup stages later on in the evening. However, this turned from an inconvenience into a nightmare during Kings Of Leon's set when a jam of thousands of people developed at the back of the main stage area. Some even resorted to climbing over ice cream vans in order to reach the other side, and it took security around 20 minutes to get the situation under control. While its commendable that Leeds are at least attempting to solve the problem of the post-headliner rush, this obviously isn't quite it.

Atmosphere - 7/10
While it will always come second to festivals such as Glastonbury and Bestival, Leeds has its own Yorkshire charm that many prefer to its Southern counterpart. Thankfully, organisers appear to have focussed their attention elsewhere this year, rather than retooling an atmosphere which, frankly, has never needed fixing, simply the room to breathe.  

Leeds virgins Vicki and Rachel, 18, Staffordshire remarked "we like how relaxed it is - we went to V last weekend, and this is more chilled out. Everyone's been really nice, we've had people walk through our little campsite and everyone said hello. It's great how friendly everyone is."

However, while spirits remain the same, it can't be denied that there was a security crackdown this year, with more bag searches, and more and bigger barriers appearing in various places, not always to the desired effect (see above). In the past we've described Leeds as man who is  "dressed in a big muddy Bananaman costume that failed to cover his sunburnt belly, and gently marinading in a paddling pool full of beer". This year we'd add a pair of wellies and a man in a suit gently prodding him with a stick.

Music - 8/10
Main Stage: top ten bands

Radio 1/NME Stage: top ten bands

Lock Up Stage: top ten bands

There seems to have been a consensus this year that a few things needed tweaking in terms of band choices, and certainly this year Leeds has retained some of the justification for its Top Two UK festival slot. Following last year's more US-centred line-up, the choice of headliners and main stage bands gave a greater balance between UK and US bands; the return of more local heroes like Kaiser Chiefs and Arctic Monkeys was an excellent choice in particular.

The NME stage provided fine foils in the form of The Gossip and Jamie T, as well as AFI and Lostprophets on breaks from the studio, and that Them Crooked Vultures set. The festival seemed to be tightening up its policy, with metal restricted to just a few alternative choices - but then with both the return of Faith No More and one of Deftones' first dates since Chi Cheng's car accident, very solid ones.

Only Municipal Waste a little out of place on the Lockup/Dance tent, which also boasted some odd headliner selections, where bands further down the bill would have fulfilled the role a little better. The news is more positive for the other two stages; the Festival Republic Stage felt less like the dumping heap for leftover bands this year, the evening line-ups in particular boasting some particularly good choices like La Roux and Marmaduke Duke.

Meanwhile The BBC Introducing Stage also seemed to be taking itself more seriously this year, with a fine selection of underground up-and-comers. For once it really was difficult to say that there wasn't something for everyone across the weekend.

Random Events
Some of this year's highlights included the following...

Cane No More

Relayed to us backstage is the story of how Faith No More have a restriction that no photographer must stand in front of Mike Patton during their allocated slot. So the PR liaison for the festival says to the band's manager, "well, shall I get a barrier put into the photo pit? Would that help?" "No," says the band's manager, " don't worry about it. If they get too close, he'll just whack 'em with his cane."

Ice Creams Of Leon
The sight of 20 people climbing over an ice cream van to beat the crush at Kings Of Leon.

Standing In The Way Of Hobo
Ben from DJ combo Hypnocops, who played the Piccadilly Place DJ booth in the campsite twice this weekend, explained to us about their pet mashup project - splicing the theme tune to 80s TV show 'The Littlest Hobo' into as many songs as possible. So far successful mixes have included tracks by Rage Against the Machine - it seems only The Gossip's 'Standing In The Way Of Control' is resistant.

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