The all-day event provided an excellent choice of diverse musical talent, marking the return of live indie music to Yorkshire on a large scale.
I attended Live At Leeds 2021 on 16th October. I was really excited for it following the cancellation of the 2020 edition and this year’s rescheduling from its usual early May slot. The festival first began in 2007 and has been a fruitful platform for upcoming artists to breakthrough ever since.
I had attended my first Live At Leeds in 2019, watching the likes of Sam Fender, Sundara Karma, Ed The Dog and more. It was a chance to watch a few acts that I already liked as well as explore new bands. This maiden experience was so good that I vowed to buy tickets for it as often as I could going forward, not least as it is my most local festival.
Obviously, this piece can’t really be a review of the festival as a whole as, frustratingly, you can only be in one place at any given time.
When there are hundreds of acts performing during one day across an entire city, it’s impossible to see everyone you are interested in. Still, it’s a nice headache to have. You pick the most suitable sets for you musically and/or logistically at each checkpoint.
We started by basing ourselves at Leeds Beckett University’s stage 2 - a small open-plan section of a bigger multi-functional venue - as the start of their bill interested my group the most. The Clause kicked things off well for us at 12pm with a pretty assured performance. Their closer ‘In My Element’ proved to be an earworm for the rest of the day.
Michael Aldag was extremely impressive for someone so young. The teenager introduced himself to his audience with ‘Arrogance’, showing his stage presence was going to be anything but timid. His vocals proved versatile across his half-hour display, most often reminding me of the lead singer of Bastille.
‘Conversation’ was my favourite song of his during my pre-festival listens and it was great live, Aldag belting out the title of the track in the chorus emphatically. He describes being in a one-sided relationship but still wanting to make things work, even if it means him changing himself: “Could we be more than what we think we are? I could be everything you want me to.”
Baba Ali put me in a slight hypnotic trance with his follow-up offering, his single ‘Black Wagon’ being a highlight. My friends weren’t too fussed by his fairly one-paced show but it was strangely up my street, although I was admittedly open-minded by being a few pints deep by this point.
Just a short walk across the venue hallway brought us to the main stage of the Leeds Beckett Student Union for its opening slot at 3:30pm. In terms of ease, this was a no-brainer. But the act we were going to see was my main priority for the day anyway, so I would have Uber’d across the city in a heartbeat if that was required. Why? Because it was Jack Garratt!
As one of the most well-known names on the entire bill - and more of an established, critically-acclaimed artist than we are used to seeing at LAL – he may have felt the weight of expectancy. He channelled his apparent nervous energy into making a show that felt like one of his own tour gigs. The crowd was supportive and Garratt very honest about the fact he was excited and rusty after not performing live much recently.
Famed for playing multiple instruments whilst singing, he chose to outsource most of the instrumentation this time to two other band members so he could focus on
being a proper lead-singer. The first song ‘Better’, from his 2020 album of Love, Death & Dancing, opened the set brilliantly and forced a few loose dance moves from me. What followed was a mixture of captivating vocals and tender moments in between his classics like ‘Don’t Worry’. ‘Time’ was kept back to closed things out, a song I really cherish and seeing this one live actually made me a little emotional.
Vistas put in a really solid performance at O2 Academy. The Scottish outfit bled confidence and flew through their repertoire effortlessly. Marsicans played a similar slot in this venue in 2019 and the rowdy, jumping atmosphere towards the front for Vistas did give me a bit of déjà vu from this one.
After this early evening performance we went to get some well-needed food. This was a wise decision, as we were all starving, and given there was a gap in play where we wouldn’t be missing any standout names whilst scranning. With our bellys now full, we headed to Sports Team for the first part of their set, the lead singer is a good watch in fairness. We left their set prematurely to make it in time for another act, so we unfortunately didn’t hang around long enough to watch them smash their hit single ‘Here’s The Thing’ out the park.
We left Sports Team as my friends were keen to watch a pretty mysterious artist under the name of Police Car Collective. I’d listened to a few songs of theirs and found them interesting so was on board for this decision. The lead singer came out in a red balaclava and created an underground vibe from minute one. A few of their songs strayed into Post Malone-esque territory with clever use of autotune. I have to admit I really enjoyed them, not least due to their commitment to their craft. They have since released the single ‘Famous’, one of their best songs on the day, with a film style music video. In the chorus he begs: “I made a bunch of sad s*** and put it on the internet. Dopamine, give me f***ing dopamine, make me feel good.”
As the night drew in, we went to see Irish indie band The Academic at 8:30pm. They played the stage that Jack Garratt had made his own only hours previously. I knew a few of their main songs heading into it but my friends knew a few more and had an increased excitement for these. Their hour-long set was very good. The lead singer, fuelled by alcohol, worked the crowd better as it went on. ‘Anything Could Happen’ is one of their biggest songs and it sounded on point live. It’s an extremely moreish indie favourite.
There was still time for one more surprise package before our experience came to an end in the form of The K’s. We entered a few songs into their casual-but-rowdy set at The Wardrobe, a small basement place that strikes a great balance between roomy but personal.
The North West hailing outfit were very good. It was a laid-back, jovial performance from them. The band members were frequently joking between themselves and having fun interaction with the audience. The lead singer has a crisp voice that I was guilty of underrating early doors. The front rows were loving the guitar-heavy tunes so much that there was even a crowd surf at once stage, a cool thing to witness in a smaller venue. On first listen, the lyrics didn’t seem too deep or meaningful on the surface but it was the stage performance that really impressed.
It was so good to have live music in my life again. And to have an endless choice of diverse artists to choose from was an absolute treat. Music, all day, what a time. So much talent shone across the city, despite the grey overhead. It marked the return
of live music being normal again for me. Here’s to more festivals and more live music. Cheers.
Here’s a playlist of my personal favourite songs from the acts I saw at the festival, as well as some bangers from other artists who appeared that I couldn’t see due to limitations of having one body. I’ve created one on Apple Music as well as Spotify.