This is mainly an ode to Foals.
Unlike my last two visits to Reading and Leeds, during which I was lucky enough to enjoy gorgeous temperatures and glorious sunshine, Bramham Park this year looked more like an anorak and poncho convention than a summer festival. Just entering the arena proved quite the workout, with mud so thick, deep and sticky that every poor festival-goer found themselves grabbing onto the nearest available hand/arm/stranger/bin in order to avoid a painful face-plant. Welcome to Leeds, one of the best music festivals Britain has to offer!
I start my day at the Main Stage with South-African rave duo Die Antwoord. They’re one of those groups that are like Marmite – you either love them or hate them. I consider myself more towards the latter end of the spectrum, but even so, you can’t help but be hypnotised by the wacky, grotesque and down-right bizarre elements of their live performance. Think Pikachu onesies, UV colour, anime infographics, hideous images of worms in their mouths, and an unneeded amount of cursing. They represent everything that is against the norm, and I suspect that is why people love them. An electric crowd, however, failed to get this reviewer behind their morbid fetishisation.
With it practically raining cats and dogs, we sought refuge under the canopy of the Alternative Stage to catch a gig from Russell Howard, one of the brightest stars on the comedy circuit. Howard’s a delight watch, as illustrated by his sheer popularity: the tent’s size proved wholly inadequate for the number of damp revellers trying to catch a glimpse of his set. Howard reels off gags about his mum continually f**king him over, his brothers’ ‘Wetherspoons’ sense of humour (as opposed to ‘dinner party’ sense of humour), before some idiot then reveals a banner with ‘get your d*ck out for Harambe’ written on it. Howard closes the set off with a ‘cheers to one of the weirdest gigs of my life’, but he’s already won the crowd over with ease.
Next up, quirky-spellers Chvrches bring the beauty back to the Main Stage. Lauren Mayberry is on top form. Staring straight into the audience as she sings, it’s like every word was meant for the individual. Opener ‘Never Ending Circles’ ignites the wild side in everyone, and ‘Clearest Blue’ sees that energy run rampant. Throughout their performance, Lauren twirls around the stage in dizzying delight, whilst ‘Under The Tide’ sees Martin Doherty with limbs flailing frenetically as he prowls the stage front. By set closer ‘The Mother We Share’ everyone from sixteen to thirty-six is climbing onto friends’ shoulders to make the most of the moment they’re in. Beaming from ear to ear, it’s impossible to tell who enjoyed the experience more.
Before I get on to actually reviewing Oxford rockers Foals – Saturday’s co-headliners – I need to forewarn readers of my positive bias. Having waited to see the five-piece live for the best part of three years, and having managed to go to the wrong stage for their R+L secret set last year, it would be an understatement to say that I was fairly thrilled to finally see Yannis Philippakis and co. rip a stage up.
The pits immediately opened as the recorded percussion to ‘Snake Oil’ started playing, and once the live drums were layered over this, the angst and attitude you’d expect from Foals, as well as the crowd, had already reached tipping point. The transition between the dazzling ‘Olympic Airways’ to radio-ready ‘My Number’, and ‘Spanish Sahara’ to ‘Red Socks Pugie’ were seamless, perfect even; with Jack Bevan integrating fragments of percussion, unique to the live performance aspect, which impressively aided in building and sustaining the pressure. As a side note, witnessing ‘Spanish Sahara’ performed live is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a religious experience, with the accompanying light-show glittering and glistening over the stage and audience.
Think Pikachu onesies, UV colour, anime infographics, hideous images of worms in their mouths, and an unneeded amount of cursing.
By this point it’s pretty apparent that the torrential rain, which hasn’t stopped since about 11am that morning, isn’t going away anytime soon. The mud is ankle deep, three rows from the front of the crowd. My poncho has become shredded plastic hanging from my shoulders, and I’m resembling more of a panda and less of a human with all sorts of ambiguous substances running down my face. But that’s not a problem – Foals more than compensate.
The special effects are ramped up towards the latter end of the set. Think ferocious jets of fire streaming – almost exploding – out of the stage floor for the choruses of ‘Inhaler’ and ‘What Went Down’ with a striking aggression that’s seen the band really come into their own since the release of their fourth album. “There’s so much parafinalia down there it’s like going through fucking laser quest” jokes Yannis. He’s not wrong, I’d lost count of the number of flares raging down on the floor by this point.
The set-list remained closely aligned to their Glastonbury performance earlier this summer, except that ‘Total Life Forever’ was replaced with an old classic for their penultimate track. “Cassius, it’s over! You’re second best!” scream the crowd at deafening levels.
For the finale, one of the Disclosure boys hops on stage to help out with the drums to ‘Two Steps, Twice’ whilst Foals work on extending an interlude that on record lasts about eighty seconds, to a hefty seven minutes. Yannis dives into the crowd for a surf and, whilst the fear of getting crushed becomes a very real worry at this point, being approximately one meter away from the man himself makes it totally worth the risk of getting hospitalized. Finally, the pinging, prickly riffs erupt into a cloud-bursting crescendo and a multitude of confetti bombs burst above us, and it’s cemented: Foals truly are one of the best live bands around.
Closing a very damp Saturday are electronic-dance duo, brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, better known as Disclosure. Launching into ‘White Noise’, the bass reverberates throughout the field. This is complemented by the articulate electronic melodies, hypnotising strobing and digital imagery, and a technicolour light-show on a mammoth scale. The constant build-ups and intense drops kept the audience enthralled, contributing to the general frenzy and increasing adrenaline enormously. The very catchy hooks of each song ensured that revellers became involved with clapping and singing, which was reinforced with a never-ending sequence of powerful music. Disclosure certainly stepped up to headline level, and their set proved a triumph.