Our Luca went down to check out the underground action at everyone's favourite mid October stomp-fest.
On October 14, Leeds' most cherished grassroots music festival, Live at Leeds in the City, returned for its 15th year. At its heart, LAL’s focus is showcasing new music across all genres, and there is genuinely no better place for this than the vibrant city that is Leeds and its eclectic selection of unique venues. 2023’s roster comprised household names in live music like the Brudenell Social Club, The Wardrobe and Leeds University’s Stylus, alongside the intimate throws of Sela Bar, Hyde Park Book Club and Mill Hill Chapel.
It might come as a surprise to many that this year’s festival did not feature Leeds’s O2 Academy, a historical stalwart of the festival. In previous years, the 2,300-capacity venue had been LAL’s biggest. LAL has once welcomed now esteemed global superstars including Stormzy, Sam Fender and The 1975. So, despite the Academy’s absence, this year’s lineup, which was dominated by lesser-known artists beginning to rise from the underground, meant there was a certain magic this year in wondering whether the act you hadn’t heard of a week ago, playing their hearts out in a 100-capacity basement, might one day dominate Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage.
Kicking off proceedings in The Key Club at noon with an intense 30-minute session of post-punk angst, Leeds own The 113 set the standard for what was to come. A band rising through the ranks of Yorkshire’s exciting rock scene, The 113’s powerful basslines and aggressive vocals unapologetically reminded the crowd of what rock music should sound like – dark, punchy and full of memorable hooks. Perhaps the most memorable moment of this set was the performance of their latest single, Conscience. As its chorus echoed around the room, their singer relentlessly proclaimed ‘I am not quite sure where my conscience lies’. However, our conscience was very clear – that we are very excited to hear their new music.
(Photo of Lucky Iris by Natalie Argent)
Shortly after, Oporto hosted another jewel in the crown of the Leeds scene: Lucky Iris. It is safe to say that this performance was a notable change of pace from our festival openers, but the dreamy synth-driven pop sounds and down-to-earth lyrics from this local two-piece were enough to draw you in. This was clear from the crowd who had already packed out the BBC Introducing room so well that the band struggled to make it to the stage. Lucky Iris’ claim to Love Island fame, ‘Blowing Kisses’, spelt out the definition of a feel-good love song, whilst longstanding single ‘Coffee Shop’ provided an opportunity for the crowd to dance along to a synthesiser sugar rush and reflect on life during lockdown.
Live at Leeds is perhaps the best way to both learn your way around the city and acquaint yourself with its academic institutions. In this vein, a quick dash from Oporto to Leeds Beckett’s Student’s Union was in order to make sure we enjoyed some of the hardcore sounds of Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs who made clear that they were pleased to be back in Leeds Leeds Leeds Leeds Leeds Leeds Leeds Leeds.
Arguably one of the festival’s most anticipated acts was another band currently surging out of the Leeds scene, namely Conservatoire graduates, English Teacher. English Teacher’s unique selling point is undoubtedly their tight, interlocking riffs resplendent of 2000s math-rock, underscored by largely calm, soft and almost innocent sounding vocals, perfectly offsetting the angst of the instrumentals. Both their latest single, ‘Nearly Daffodils’ and 2022 release ‘A55’, demonstrated this best, as even in these track’s heaviest moments, frontwoman Lily’s vocals never felt strained or forced. Also notable here was this crowd’s demographic as people of all ages came out to enjoy this exciting new prospect. In particular the (increasingly popularised) ‘Radio 6 Music Dads’ were swaying in approval and maybe that the biggest signal of approval in 2023 rock music? Remarking that The Wardrobe had once been the venue of their university assessments, we can safely assume that this crowd would have awarded English Teacher a First Class.
(Photo of English Teacher by Samantha Corcoran)
Providing a personification of charisma, enthusiasm and love was another local rising star, Saffii Koii. Saffii’s genre defying set was the embodiment of sing your heart out, feel good tunes and vibes. Saffii took a packed-out Sela Bar on a passion-fuelled tour of her diverse sound, which draws upon so many different musical styles and influences. Whatever the track, though, Saffii’s soulful voice and contagious smile, coupled with the funky tracks laid down by her clearly very tight-knit band, consistently filled the room with an overwhelming feeling of love and made you want to dance.
Quietly perfect is probably the best phrase to describe the beautiful sounds of Tinyumbrellas, who is currently celebrating the release of their EP ‘Somewhere to fall asleep’. Hyde Park Book Club was definitely the ideal venue for this incredibly intimate and heart-warming performance, from another up-and-coming phenomenon from Leeds. Tinyumbrellas makes you feel like you are up on a cloud with their poetic lyrics and dreamy backing instrumentals. Tracks like ‘A Small Village’, which are already remarkably delicate and emotive, took on a whole new dimension when heard sung by the voice that wrote them. The addition of ‘fun hats’ during the final song of the set completely confirmed the overall down-to-earthiness of Tinyumbrellas and their band. This set definitely left you with an incentive to get down to a headline show as soon as possible.
Bringing the festival full circle and closing out Live at Leeds in the City 2023 with a huge celebration of Post Punk guitars was Shame’s unapologetically brazen headline set at Leeds University Union’s Stylus. Now well established within the UK indie-rock scene, a very much in-form Shame brought the now established sound of their latest record Food For Worms along with their seminal indie stalwarts ‘One Rizla’ and ‘Gold Hole’ to their deserved top-of-the-bill slot.
As Shame frontman, Charlie Steen, described Leeds as ‘home’ on account of his mother being born in the city, it became unquestionable that this was the perfect set to close LAL 2023. Having risen through the British ‘rock-and-roll ranks’ organically themselves, Shame were the ideal act to inspire the next generation of up-and-coming artists and celebrate Leeds’s thriving rock music scene. Upon reflection, you can really understand why it must feel like ‘home’ not just to Shame, but to any of these acts.
Words by Luca Chadwick (@lucachadwick)