FestivalsLive Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Leeds Festival 2021

Photo Credit: Abbi Draper – @abbidraperphoto (Photos from Reading Festival)

The UK’s biggest party was welcomed back to Bramham Park on the 27th – 29th August 2021. This year the festival had sold-out in record time, and had been sold-out for months, so to say people were hyped would be the understatement of the year. This year, Festival Republic had announced that there would be a huge six headliners bracing the now two main stages in order to make up for the missing year, and with there being a whopping 89,999 people in capacity, this year promised to be the best Leeds Fest yet. But did the festival make up for the missing year?


After a heavy Thursday night, with the brand-new Relentless stage, Silent Disco, and Piccadilly DJ sets truly welcoming the Leeds massive back in style – everybody was ready for some bands. Opening up the weekend, Manchester duo Hot Milk opened up the Main Stage West at midday. In the minutes before the set, it was a pretty chilly, rainy morning, and with nasty hangovers clearly on the faces of a lot of people, it was going to be a tough slot for Hot Milk, or so you’d expect. Han Mee and Jim Shaw’s energy and stage presence is truly unrivalled. Although the crowd was not necessarily sold at the start, 30mins later, the crowd was really into it from the front all the way to the back. A particular highlight was Shaw managing to get a huge circle pit going despite all the odds being against him – fair play. 8/10

The next group seemed almost designed for the Leeds Festival crowd, and that is of course the aptly named Bradford rap group Bad Boy Chiller Crew. Their brand of unapologetically Yorkshire rap and early noughties dance beats combine to create a brilliant live show. Gareth Kelly (GK), Kane Welsh and Sam (Clive) Robinson’s stage presence and delivery is brilliant, with their boisterous personalities clearly shining through their live performance. This set really felt like a set that will be remembered in a few years when the BBCC are playing much bigger venues than a 14:15 slot on the BBC Radio One Dance Stage. 9/10

Next up on the Main Stage East was YouTube rapper phenomenon KSI. Arriving at the stage 15 minutes early and still barely squeezing in the front area truly speaks to how big of an influence Olajide “JJ” Olatunji has and is having on this generation. He brought in a bigger crowd than was present at some of the headline slots at the weekend, and considering he was playing a 3 o’clock, that is one hell of a feat. In his half hour slot, KSI played songs both old and new – bringing out the likes of fellow rappers Randolph and S-X, and the crowd were truly eating out of the palm of his hand. It was a set that has had multiple viral clips on social media and could very well set KSI up for a headline slot at Leeds festival in the near future if his music continues to improve and gain the numbers that are making him undeniably one of the biggest artists in the UK. 9/10

One of the features on KSI’s show – S-X was also playing Leeds later that day at 16:30 on the Radio 1xtra stage, and KSI decided to kindly return the favour for their track Down Like That which saw the crowd go ballistic. A lot of S-X’s following will have come from him appearing in KSI’s videos, and people discovering his music from their collabs, so naturally this was going to be a big moment for the couple hundred people that braced the stage. Aside from the obvious highlight being KSI’s appearance, S-X’s show was going down really well with the crowd, tracks such as Too Soon and Feels So Good had people bouncing, singing, and just having a great time, and that was all the more improved by S-X’s stage presence as he clearly wanted to put on a great live show, and he did just that. 8/10

As we approach the business end of day one, Wolf Alice were taking on the Main Stage East. Coming off a huge headline set at Latitude Festival, and a Mercury Prize, as well as another Mercury nomination for this year, the four-piece really are building up the credentials of a band that could very well be headlining Reading and Leeds in the near future. However, these hopes are likely to be dented a bit after this show. Musically, the band were fantastic, and sounded great, with Ellie Rowsell’s vocals being as beautiful as they sound on record, but it just seemed as if they failed to connect with the crowd. People throughout the day who had been using any excuse to mosh had seemingly gone off the idea, and the band seemed to lack any kind of stage presence. During some of their gentler songs, it would be tough to hear the band because of people around me losing interest – with a lot of people seemingly sitting through Wolf Alice because they wanted to see Gerry Cinnamon on the same stage an hour later in a good spot. It’s a shame because having seen them live multiple times, the band can be brilliant and breath-taking live, but sadly the Leeds crowd just didn’t seem to warm to them. 5/10

What followed next was the first of the six headline slots for the weekend – Biffy Fuckin’ Clyro. As soon as Simon Neil stuttered down the stairs after opener North of No South to play fan favourite That Golden Rule, you knew the boy’s meant business. It felt like a massive ‘rock n roll’ gig at times, whilst also a gentler contrast in songs such as Many of Horror and Machines providing fans with the best of both worlds. Huge mosh pits were everywhere you looked at the front, and it felt brilliant to have a true British rock band headline Leeds Festival once again. The stage production was fantastic, a particular highlight was everyone getting blasted with huge strains of red confetti as the first drop for Wolves of Winter kicked in. The whole vibe of the Biffy gig where it felt like everyone knew every word and was on the same level of love for the band – especially when it came to the “Fuck Liam” chants. Overall, Biffy produced a fantastic headline slot and proved to people why they keep getting booked for huge festival headline slots despite not necessarily having the numbers to compete with the likes of Post Malone – it was a brilliant performance to get everyone in the mood for a huge Friday night. 9/10

Finishing the first day was a whopping 1hr 40minute set from former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who was returning to headline the festival for the first time since 2000 when Oasis headlined the Sunday night. If anything, this set proved that people still really really love Oasis, whether that be younger generations who weren’t even born during Liam’s last headline slot or older generations who had probably been around to see Oasis multiple times live, he really defines a crowd-pleaser. As a result of this, it did very much feel like an Oasis gig and a Liam Gallagher gig with the former being far more popular than the latter. Although songs like For What it’s Worth and Wall of Glass went down fairly well, the audience reception was incomparable compared to the timeless tracks such as the Charlie Watts dedicated Live Forever, Rock n Roll Star, and of course, Wonderwall (which was played on a second encore, much to a lot of the audience’s surprise). Gallagher sounded pretty solid vocally although it’s hard not to smirk that during the high tones in the Live Forever chorus, he chooses to step back and let someone press a space bar for that one. What we learned from this set is that Liam Gallagher is very much like marmite personified and that comes across in the live show with half the set, the audience lacking interest, and half the set, the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. 7/10


So, after what was a pretty fitting first day back at Leeds Festival, Saturday promised to be just as good. Early in the day, we awoke to find a notification on our phone about a Don Broco secret set happening in the Lock-Up just before 3pm, which of course, immediately cured any lasting effects of the night before. Arriving at The Pit stage, it was packed. It’s easy to look at Don Broco’s stream statistics and see nothing hugely impressive for a band that have played arenas multiple times to massive crowds, but from song one you can see the passion of their dedicated fanbase. The moment the first “8 days a week” of Pretty hit, you knew it was go-time. It was a complete riot in The Pit Stage – easily the most raucous set of the weekend. New songs Manchester Super Reds No.1 Fan and Gumshield from their upcoming record Amazing Things were also debuted live to great reception. All in all, it was an absolute classic secret set, where the only bad thing we can say about it was we wish it was longer! 10/10

Staying at The Pit stage, arguably one of the most exciting new metal bands were set to grace the stage… before absolutely demolishing it. Wargasm announced their first Leeds show in the only way they know how; you can probably guess it was a lively one. Vocalists/guitarists Sam Matlock and Milkie Way both worked the crowd fantastically and really emphasised just how much potential they have and how the sky really is the limit for them. Debuting the new Prodigy-inspired Salma Hayek live had people moving, Your Patron Saints had people jumping, and Spit had what seemed like every single person at that stage in a mosh pit – it was an unmissable set. 9/10

The fact that we didn’t have to move from The Pit stage for hours really spoke to the quality of the young bands that had been booked for that day. Nova Twins are a band who have been making absolute waves in the scene – especially in the last 6 months announcing huge tours with Bring Me the Horizon and Enter Shikari. With such a busy upcoming live schedule, we were fascinated to see what they would be like live – and let me tell you, they did not disappoint. Amy Love and Georgia South’s energy is unmatched, seeing South shred bass live would make anyone want to pick up the instrument, and Love’s bad bitch energy is quite simply unparalleled. They got everyone bouncing, and the fact that so many girls were comfortable to participate in the mosh pits and crowd surf only added to the great atmosphere that surrounds a Nova Twins gig. 9/10

Later that day, YONAKA hit the stage with bags of energy. Singer Theresa Jarvis’s energy was brilliant throughout and it really felt like you were watching a rockstar in action as she struts around the stage completely owning the place. Having released a new mixtape this summer, the EP had really boosted the band’s status as tracks like the huge Seize the Power had done really well for the band – however, the band are yet to get the track sounding how it does on record perfected live as of yet. Other calmer tracks from this EP such as Ordinary also went down well with both new and old fans. Mixed in with some fan favourites from their debut record, the band played a great show, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. 8/10

Moving on to the first of the night’s headliners – Catfish and The Bottlemen were making their headline debut at Leeds and probably playing the biggest show of their careers. Although, it would be hard to tell that looking at their stage presence. Having gone from seeing all these young passionate artists on The Pit stage to Van McCann standing there singing pretty lifelessly was a bit of a downgrade to say the least. Musically, the band sounded great, but the show really lacked a lot of imagination. The stage production of filming the band in black and white for the whole show was just a bit average, and it didn’t feel like a headline slot at all. The band seemed to lose the more casual members of the crowd halfway through when they were playing lesser-known songs in a similar way to Liam Gallagher, and it was times like these where you really felt the band’s stage presence needed to be felt, and it simply wasn’t. Underwhelming is a generous way to describe the gig. 3/10

Moving on from that calamity, Stormzy was who the crowd swarmed to as you could see fireworks going off at the Main Stage East before the majority of the crowd had even had time to get close to the stage, which was a slight error of the organisers because 5 minutes simply was not enough time to get from one stage to the other throughout the festival. However, the tedious walk was more than worth it, because Stormzy put on one of the sets of the summer. He absolutely smashed it. Having a seemingly infinite amounts of dancers, fireworks, and lighting at his disposal, it was a proper headline set. Performing the hits from his first two records such as Cold, Big For Your Boots, Shut Up, and Vossi Bop, they all feel like classics that have been around forever, and they were going down brilliantly with the Leeds crowd. Despite standing fairly far back because of how packed it was, people were shouting every word of every song and the ‘energy crew’ was in full swing. Stormzy told the crowd he wanted a party and he got one. This party atmosphere was only improved when he brought on special guests YouTuber Chunkz and the £100 million footballer Jack Grealish. Naturally, Stormzy’s show caters to younger people and doesn’t leave a lot for the older generations to enjoy, but that is the majority of the Leeds crowd. On Saturday night, it felt like we’d all seen someone who’s headlined Glastonbury before and despite still being young in the game, is a real master of his craft. 9/10


After that huge Saturday, everyone was still on a high (metaphorically and let’s be honest – probably literally) going into the first bands on Sunday afternoon. Californian rock band Dead Poet Society were one of the first bands to open The Pit stage. Naturally, playing at 1pm on a Sunday is always a tricky slot for a band with a lot of people not being bothered to leave their tent likely due to unforeseen circumstances. The band attracted a small crowd and managed to get a mosh pit going to their credit, and people were digging them. You could tell a lot of people didn’t know the band and were just passing by and poking in out of pure curiosity, and then ending up getting hooked which Dead Poet Society will be more than contempt with. Tracks from their debut record .intoodeep. and .CoDa. were particularly impressive when played live. The only thing we’d say against the band is the lack of audience engagement – there was one particular instance of about a 30 second silence between tracks where the band were tuning their instruments, which felt a bit awkward which is a feeling no one wants to feel at a gig, although all in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable show. 8/10

A complete change up in the bands we’d seen all weekend came up next in the form of pop star Becky Hill. To summarise her sound, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Love Island or listened to Capital FM, you’ve probably heard at least ten of her songs. Having very little previous experience seeing that type of music live, there was a genuine element of curiosity we had going into her performance. As the show went on, Becky was increasingly emotional about the return of live music when chatting to the crowd, and she was completely oblivious to the chants of “fuck Reading” that echoed through the air, to be totally honest we’re not sure if Hill is made for Leeds festival, but we think that’s what also made her a lot of fun to see live. Everyone was just having a laugh and not taking any of her songs too seriously. Tracks like Afterglow, Back & Forth, and Better Off Without You got people jumping and pitting so you really can’t fault her. 8/10

A couple hours passed, and Sunday night was set to be an absolute banger, with The Wombats, Two Door Cinema Club, Disclosure, and Post Malone all playing back-to-back of each other. Beginning the four was The Wombats. The Wombats seem to have a knack on getting on every Leeds Festival line-up in a similar way to Post Malone, but you can see why with the scousers being clear fan favourites, however their performance left much to be desired. Grown men and women dancing around in Wombat costumes was evidently the most the band’s budget could stretch to. That only added to the literally effortless presence of lead singer Matthew Murphy who looked like he was just sick of singing the same old songs, despite not playing these said songs for a good chunk of the last two years. The only positives you can take from this performance was that the band sounded pretty good, they just failed to back it up with any sort of attempted desire to show they want to be there. 3/10

Interestingly, the very next band had the same problem except it seemed that the whole of Two Door Cinema Club had lost the will to live. Thankfully, this didn’t affect their musical performance as they sounded brilliant and based on the pure quality of their discography, they had the crowd at their fingertips from start to finish. It was almost funny how little the band seemed to want to be there – what really made the gig was the crowd as everyone who knew every word would shout those words right at the top of their lungs. Chances are a lot of this crowd grew up listening to Two Door Cinema Club, and it showed. To Two Door’s credit, their setlist was pretty much perfect, and finisher What You Know was one of the highlights of the festival because you don’t get many better summer bangers than that. So, despite Two Door not enjoying themselves, it seemed that everyone else did. 8/10

Next up was the fifth of the sixth headliners – Disclosure, who were coming back to headline Leeds once again. It was an interesting booking having Disclosure on while it was still light as with a lot of these DJ sets as well as dance music as a whole, they rely on the stage production a hell of a lot for the live show – and they work so much better in the dark which was evident from the start. However, as the sun started to set, club bangers such as F For You, White Noise, When A Fire Starts To Burn, and Latch had everyone dancing. The production was pretty faultless and added to the chilled atmosphere the duo’s mix had produced. Their newer lesser-known songs were also popular with people who were having a dance with some questionable dance moves on full display – it definitely seemed like people were enjoying themselves from start to finish in the set. 8/10

Closing out the festival was the huge global phenomenon Post Malone who put on a hell of a show. He had by far the best stage production of the weekend, and considering it’s just him up there, it was a great way to finish the festival. His firework displays would seemingly never end, he was hilarious in between songs, and just came across as a really likeable, relatable guy. His vocal performance was exceptional despite being egged into drinking and necking a pint (courtesy of Dennis) by the Leeds crowd. Take What You Want’s (featuring a giant on-screen Ozzy Osbourne) stage production was like nothing you’ll ever see live with the insane pyro and timing of the fireworks. His massive global songs like rockstar, Sunflower, Circles, and Wow. had everyone having the time of their lives. However, he saved the best until last and a song like Congratulations is a stupendous way to end Leeds festival. Accompanied by a breath-taking firework display, it was quite an emotional moment as everyone was coming to the terms that this was the end of what had been an absolutely fantastic weekend. Leeds Festival 2021 was unstoppable. 10/10

Written by: Joe Loughran

Photos by: Abbi Draper – @abbidraperphoto (Photos from Reading Festival)