Leviathan summer festival is in a state of transition...
The Libertines

More than any of the other major UK festivals, Leeds and Reading have been, and still are, evolving. Hip-hop and dance have been making casual appearances on the traditionally rock line-up for over a decade, although in the last two years dance, grime and rap have been given their own dedicated platforms. In 2015 rock still dominates, but it seems more obvious than ever that sole focus is moving away from guitars.

Rather, this will go down as the year when an energised The Libertines, a quintessential Leeds headline act if there ever was one, still sweaty off the back of their recent, rabid reunion performances actually struggled to keep an aloof and flat crowd interested, even during their biggest hits. “You’re making us feel really unloved,” moaned Pate Doherty at one point. At the same time, so many people flocked to see grime collective Boy Better Know headlining the dance stage that they spilled in their hundreds out of the tent, scaling the poles to get a better view of MC’s Skepta, JME, Jammer and Shorty and echoing every word of ‘Too Many Men’, ‘Serious’ and ‘That’s Not Me’.

Only hours earlier, hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar had incited moshpits with a fired up, funky set, full of confrontational social observations to a massive crowd on the main stage. If ever there was an indication of how the future main stage line-ups at Leeds and Reading might look, this was probably it.

So the face of Leeds and Reading is changing, or at least being tweaked, but rock in all its guises, guitars and screaming riffs remain firmly at its beating heart. Foals’ played a secret set on Sunday, airing brilliantly noodle-y and noisy new album track ‘Mountain At My Gates’. Catfish and the Bottlemen pulled one of the weekend’s biggest crowds leaving things a little sparse upfront for an on-fire Bring Me the Horizon. And across the weekend there was pummelling metal from Cancer Bats, woozy psychedelia from Blossoms and bright, dreamy pop and jangling melodies from Alvvays. Duo HO9909 intimidated with sordid and savage Death Grips-esque punk (they also have a massive roadie who stalks the audience in a boiler suit and balaclava) while Black Honey have an absolute gem in the surf-infused, bubblegum-sweet grunge banger ‘Madonna’.

The number of people who turn up to watch Limp Bizkit “party like it’s 1999” – Fred Durst’s words not ours – bring Clash to the conclusion that there isn’t a soul on this planet who doesn’t secretly love Limp Bizkit. Meanwhile, promoted to main stage, thumping miserabilists Drenge sound completely at ease with their new elevated status, thrashing out bleak, Nirvana nastiness with barely controlled rage.

Eyeing their spot keenly, there’s a ton of bands on the line-up primed for a main stage leap next year. 90s revivalists Peace seem the most likely candidates. They have the balls (and chops) to start their set with an eight-minute cover of a trance anthem, and mass singalongs to their baggy and free spirited guitar pop, especially ‘Lovesick’ and ‘I’m A Girl’, ensure they’re quickly outgrowing the second stage. It’s a similar situation for duo Slaves who this time last year were playing an early slot to a half full Lock Up tent. Now Isaac Holman and guitarist Laurie Vincent find themselves firing out the filthy, distorted riffs of their aggressive and silly punk songs to alarmingly sized crowds.

Things are brought crashing to a riff-heavy apex. Metallica shows are known for their ‘greatest hits’ predictability but tonight you really feel like the band are trying to mix things up. Lesser played tracks are thrown out: ‘King Nothing’, a melodic, bluesy cover of Bob Segar‘s ‘Turn the Page’ and ‘The Frayed Ends of Sanity’ – it’s first ever airing in the UK. Vocalist James Hetfield’s growls about the “Metallica family” usually sound comical, especially coming from a band who once tried to sue their own fans.

But tonight they strike a chord given there’s about 50 members of their fan club onstage for the duration of the performance. The band shred among them, they mosh with them and someone even gets a go on Lars Ulrich’s drum kit. As well as power, there’s a real sense of fun tonight, which is infectious even if some of Hetfield’s wisecracks are woefully cheesy.

As so the festival ends on what feels like a traditionally Leeds, almost intimate performance from one of the world’s heaviest, biggest bands on one of the world’s biggest stages.

Words: Dannii Leivers

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