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9th June 2024

Live at Leeds in the Park: New discoveries and festival favourites

Was it the indie mainstays or the peppering of pop that stole the show at 2024’s Live at Leeds? Find out what went down here
Live at Leeds in the Park: New discoveries and festival favourites
Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Live at Leeds has always been a brilliant place to discover new music. Launching in 2007 as a metropolitan, one-day festival, the organisers have since established an ‘in the Park edition’, which combines the upcoming artists they have previously been known to exhibit with popular headline acts to form a line-up which impresses year after year. For 2024, Live at Leeds in the Park returned to Temple Newsam to ring in the north’s festival season, seeing performances from music’s most promising acts alongside already successful stars.

Opening the CLASH Big Top was Courting, Liverpool’s post-punk darlings who were given the difficult job of warming up the crowd for a long day of music. As the tent filled up, lead singer Sean Murphy-O’Neill arrested the attention of the audience by leaping off the stage and joining the front row before interacting with the stage’s security staff. At the end of the set, the band thanked the crowd for taking the time to attend their performance, despite there being “no one else on” during their 12pm slot.

First up on the main stage was Edinburgh’s Vistas, who have been a mainstay on the festival circuit since their emergence in 2016. Early into their performance, vocalist Prentice Robertson informed the crowd that the set would comprise “a mix of old and new,” a statement that materialised in the form of cuts from all three of the band’s albums. ‘Back of the Car’, a single taken from their 2023 EP The Beautiful Nothing, was a definite highlight of the set, painting a vivid picture of youthful adventure and the complexities of love. Set closer ‘Retrospect’ was a testament to Vistas’ ability to craft flawless, infectious, summery indie rock, and proved a perfectly apt way to start the day, and festival season as a whole.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Radio Free Alice, an upcoming Australian alternative band, were the unexpected discovery of the day, performing before Lucia & The Best Boys on DORK Magazine’s Hype Stage. Led by the mesmerising Lucia Fearfull, model and singer-songwriter, Lucia & The Best Boys themselves performed songs from their debut album Burning Castles alongside material from previous EPs, packing out the tent and providing a taste of what’s to come on their autumn tour supporting The Last Dinner Party later this year.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Overcoming technical difficulties back over on the DIY stage, Nieve Ella was greeted by a crowd of devoted, enthusiastic teenage fans. Unreleased cut ‘Ganni Top’, in particular, was received well, with its Wet Leg meets Wolf Alice sound and Nieve’s mid-song scream being greeted with resounding cheers. Nieve herself seemed astounded at the crowd’s reaction, stating that “this is the most amount of people we’ve ever had at a festival set” before finishing her performance with an electrifying guitar solo accompanied by band member Fran Larkin.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

The stand-out act of the day was undoubtedly Melanie C, Sporty Spice herself, who performed a range of solo material, covers, and Spice Girls hits. Her infectious energy enraptured the early evening crowd from the beginning as she opened with Version of Me single ‘Anymore’ before launching into a cover of Crystal Waters’ house classic ‘Gypsy Woman’. The set’s selection of Spice Girls tracks included ‘Spice Up Your Life’, ‘2 Become 1’, and ‘Who Do You Think You Are’: all of the above were, needless to say, recognised by every member of the crowd, and accordingly met by an audience willing to reciprocate the star’s energy.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Irish export The Academic provided a performance filled with fan favourites from their two albums, Sitting Pretty and Tales from the Backseat, opening with ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?’, an infectious, vibrant indie rock anthem which had their comparatively large crowd bouncing from the start. Although lead singer Craig Fitzgerald’s vocals were scratchy and off-kilter in places, the band displayed their close-knit bond throughout their performance and captured the audience’s attention, leading them in a recitation of their 2018 track ‘Girlfriends’ towards the end of their set.

For an act like Declan McKenna, it must be difficult to fit so many festival season favourites amongst new material, yet the Londoner managed to find a balance in his setlist which seemed to thoroughly please his audience. Opener ‘Why Do You Feel So Down?’ began his set with a passionate energy from both artist and crowd which was to be carried through to the end of the hour.

Following this was ‘Sympathy’, the undeniably catchy lead single from McKenna’s third album What Happened to the Beach?, and glam-rock inspired ‘The Key to Life on Earth’, a song taken from sophomore album Zeros which was received by an eager audience full of enthusiasm. Declan then took the opportunity to perform recent releases including the soft-toned, introspective ‘Elevator Hum’, ‘Mezzanine’, and ‘Mullholand’s Dinner and Wine’, the latter of which is a sure-fire candidate for future indie classic.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

‘Brazil’ was unsurprisingly received well as the crowd transformed into a sea of flags and football shirts atop shoulders from the song’s first note. ‘Mullholand’ may well become a future indie classic, but it is indubitable that ‘Brazil’ is already one: officially released in 2015 as Declan McKenna’s first-ever single, it had already begun gaining traction on Bandcamp in the previous year after being submitted as a final piece of GCSE coursework. Originally written in protest of the effects of the FIFA World Cup on Brazil’s favela population, the song has since experienced various resurgences online, cementing itself as McKenna’s most popular track and thrilling live audiences in the process.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

Following ‘Brazil’ was ‘British Bombs’, another politically charged protest song which closed the Londoner’s set: the indie-rock star displayed statistics exposing British involvement in Yemen as the standalone single’s driving guitar and percussion enveloped the Live at Leeds crowd in a moment of pure energy and intensity. Despite the track being released five years ago, McKenna remained as assertive and impassioned as ever, reminding the audience of the urgency of his message as he bounded across the stage belting out impactful lyrics such as “ammo from home soil, set sail for wherever the fuck got oil this time”.

This performance began a long run of performances in a typically busy festival season for the indie-rock singer-songwriter: recently wrapping up a tour of the UK and Europe, Declan McKenna was set to play BBC Radio One’s Big Weekend the following day, before appearing at festivals across the world including Glastonbury, Belgium’s Rock Werchter, and Oxfordshire’s Truck Festival and embarking on yet another mini summer tour of his own.

Opening with ‘Never Going Under’, the title track of their latest album, Circa Waves’ set was similarly filled to the brim with fan favourites and newer material. Following What’s It Like Over There? cut ‘Movies’, singer Kieran Shudall informed the audience that his band would be playing “a bit of everything” in the next 50 minutes, a statement similar to one given by Declan McKenna. ‘Sad Happy’ and ‘Do You Wanna Talk?’ witnessed the Liverpool indie-rock titans’ crowd joining them in chants of catchy hooks, while ‘T-Shirt Weather’ was met with the day’s first proper mosh pits, leading many audience members to fall into the mud in a domino effect of punters.

Credit: Ailish O’Leary Austin @ The Mancunion

After The Cribs enchanted an audience of all ages with their raw, garage-rock-inspired discography, The Kooks ended the night on a high with their main stage headline performance. Proving themselves worthy of their slot from start to finish, the Brighton band opened the set with an array of Inside In / Inside Out cuts. By the time they left the stage, many attendees had also departed, retiring to warm beds rather than remaining in the rain, but those who decided to stay prevailed until the end. Hits such as ‘She Moves in Her Own Way’ and ‘Naïve’ were received with rapturous, energetic reactions as their lyrics were dutifully recited.

Despite some painful clashes leading to a lot of decision-making and prioritisation (Billy Nomates, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Future Islands were all sacrificed), Live at Leeds in the Park was a brilliant day of music. The festival may be known as indie-dominated, but pop acts such as Melanie C stood out from the crowd, bringing a spatter of fun and nostalgia to the festival. Overall, Live at Leeds in the Park once again proved itself as the perfect place to begin the year’s festival season, with plenty of new discoveries, old favourites, and certainly something for everyone.

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