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Festival Coverage: Leeds Festival 2016

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Where Leeds was once a bastion for a more alternative North, recent years have seen the festival diversify to such an extent that it now feels like a very different event from that of a few years ago. This isn't to the festivals detriment of course, times and tastes change and companies (such as Festival Republic) have to adapt.


With adaptation however, comes the risk of alienation, and while Leeds Festival embraced the populist shift towards more electronically driven acts, much of the core fan-base, those that once decorated Bramham Park with their multitudes of sick, discarded beer cans and pierced, prostrate bodies with an almost religious zeal, have headed for the different (though arguably no greener) pastures of Download or further afield.


Of course, some of that are that faithful contingent still make their annual pilgrimage, joining the new guard of punters whose tastes might not be as alternative, but still manage to ornament the site in much the same way. And though the festival's larger stages do seem to have taken on a more mainstream approach, those looking for a little weight with their cider black need only look to the smaller stages further down the bill to find some pleasant surprises, allowing for both generations this year to have their cake and eat it, providing they didn't mind a little mud alongside.


Such was this year's diversity, that the only stages harbouring any distinct personality were the Lock Up/Pit and the BBC 1xtra tent (a recent addition which embodies just how diverse the festival has become). The once indie-centric NME Stage saw the likes of Blossoms precede the liquid sounds of Netsky, while post-punks Basement took to the stage before Manchester's Spring King. Elsewhere it was much the same. Saturday saw grime crew Boy Better Know warm-up a wet Main Stage for an even wetter Chvrches.


That said, while it did mean a fair amount of walking through ankle deep mud to go from stage to stage (resulting in many a skipped meal for fear of dropping an £8 burger in to a cocktail of straw, sludge and cider) it did mean much of the main crowd was more eclectic than usual, preferring to stay in front of the of the dry-by-comparison stage.


Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls drew their usual wide range of fans for a recording breaking tenth consecutive year, opening the Main Stage on Saturday morning with an uplifting and emotionally charged hour long set. It was Die Antwoord however, that drew the most diverse crowd. And it was clear from the look on many people's faces that phallic imagery and South African Rap Rave aren't quite to everyone's tastes.


It was however, to ours. Just a couple of rows from the front, the band's anarchic set was easily a weekend highlight. The trio segue through tracks old and new with a chaotic and wilful abandon that easily marks them as future headliners; the deft dichotomy of Yolandi Visser's imp-like falsetto and Ninja's aggressively nasal bars, playing out against a backdrop of hard-hitting electronica dropped furiously by the deity-cum-producer known only as GOD, proves an impossible act to follow.


As far as headliners go, this year saw organisers booking co-headliners for the Main Stage on both Friday and Saturday. The former offering both Fall Out Boy and Biffy Clyro while Saturday gave us Foals and Disclosure who, showing our age, we forgo in favour of gin and Maximo Park. Both Biffy Clyro, and to a lesser extent Fall Out Boy, are Leeds veterans by now, something was immediately apparent in their sets. But while Biffy still retain a certain air of rock and roll danger, Fall Out Boy are far too polished, mechanical even. And though an impressive stage show involving pyrotechnics and burlesque dancers suggests the band are well and truly in the realms of rock royalty these days, it does just seem like just another show. For someone who remembers them as a fresh-faced pop-punk band even before they were an emo band, it's all a bit much to take in.


Unfortunately, however, the only real, and arguably biggest, disappointment of the weekend comes from easily the biggest band there. Headlining Sunday night, Red Hot Chilli Peppers drew a monster crowd, stretching from the barrier right back to the food stands. From in the middle and off to the left, it was clear from about three songs in that they weren't exactly meeting people's expectations. At first it was just teenagers, saucer-like eyes seeming to swivel in search of a higher BPM. Then it wasn't. It was families and couples; a large amount of people for less than half way through their set.


In terms of set-list you couldn't ask for more. But early sound problems plagued the likes of 'Dani California', 'Scar Tissue' and 'Can't Stop' (the back end all but drowning out everything else), and though seemingly sorted by the half way point and 'Snow (Hey Oh)' the band still lacked the energy they're famous for, instead spending what felt like hours lazily noodling as if they were the house band at a jazz bar. We know you're a funk band at your core, but get the fuck on with it!


Despite feeling like a very different festival to the one I first walked through as a teenager, Leeds still manages stay relevant by moving with the times and adapting to suit it's demographic(s). For almost 20 years it's been a playground for beautifully delinquent northerners who once a year can lose their inhibitions, and if this year is anything to go by for some people: shoes, sleeping bags, sense of self respect. It's loud, tiring and messy, but will I be back next year? Too right.  

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