Leeds Festival, Bramham Park
27th-29th August 2021
Whilst everyone is busily reporting on major names like Stormzy, Liam Gallagher, Biffy Clyro and Wolf Alice, here’s a different take on Leeds Festival and some of the other artists that might otherwise be overlooked.
Well now, after two long-ass, miserable, downright boring years of schlepping around – the festival is officially back, and this year Leeds Festival is bigger (and busier) than ever. So no more schlepping. This weekend saw the first of hopefully many festival workouts to come.
Bramham Park in Leeds welcomed around 90,00 souls this bank holiday, the last weekend of the summer…. and an absolute blast was had. With an additional main stage, it seemed there was never a moment that wasn’t filled by a massive name. The two main stages, ‘East’ and ‘West’, were graced by the likes of Liam Gallagher, Biffy Clyro, Wolf Alice, Sam Fender, Aitch, Declan McKenna, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Mabel, AJ Tracey, and Stormzy.
Manchester’s own Aitch played to an ocean of gleeful faces on Saturday. That man knows how to engage an audience. His swagger is justified. He strutted and sashayed around that main stage as though he was born for this shit. Not an ounce of arrogance, not the slightest bit of negativity – just pure good vibes, cheek, crowd interaction and grooves. This could be partly why Aitch has had such a meteoric rise in the last couple of years. Coming from a grime background, he has transferred his nonchalant and effortless rapping style easily into mainstream, radio-friendly, festival crowd-pleasers. Let’s just say, the atmosphere was joyful during his set – just what was needed on this hot Saturday afternoon.
The Festival Republic stage hosted a wonderful surprise set by Jake Bugg – announced via the Leeds app 10 minutes before the show. Ahhh, the beauty of smart phones (and having a young person who never lets go of hers with me). The set was short but ever so sweet. We were introduced to some new material and treated to Lightning Bolt to finish. Jake sounded as great as ever, but one thing to note is his aura – he was serene. Never saw myself using that word to describe Jake Bugg, but there you go. You heard it here first.
In stark contrast, we witnessed the very first live performance in front of an audience by Digga D. The Radio 1 Xtra tent filled to capacity and the crowd spilled out to the field beyond to see this long awaited show. Digga D, hailing from Ladbroke Grove, is widely considered a UK drill pioneer, despite his tender age of 21 years. He is a prime example of how creativity can lead to a way out of a certain lifestyle, as he has talked about in the documentary, Defending Digga D. He’s also a prime example of how online platforms such as Fire In The Booth and Daily Duppy can help grow an artist’s following to 15 million views without even so much as one live show. He brought with him a whole crowd to the stage – possibly for moral support, but more likely to involve as many of his crew as possible in a celebration of his success. And celebrate they did.
Other stand-out artists of the weekend included Darkoo, OFB, Millionz and Swarmz who all played the Radio 1 Xtra tent on Friday.
I had spent a good while at the Radio 1 Xtra stage – and Shaybo brought us large portions of sass, beauty. talent and naughtiness. A rapper from South London, on her track Streets she states “I don’t need a gangster, I am one” – and she is, in all the best ways. Let’s just say, she delights in owning how desirable and sexy she is and makes no apologies for it.
Next, Manchester rapper Meekz took to the stage and pretty much blew the roof off. His delivery is something to behold. Sounding very harsh, aggressive and low on patience, he can seem quite scary. Plus, he comes out and moves around the stage like an SAS madman. The crowd were pumped for this, and Meekz did not disappoint; treating us to earlier tracks such as ‘Hoods Hottest’, as well as more recent ones such as ‘Like Me’ and ‘Respect the Come Up’, and closing with ‘Can’t Stop Wont Stop’ . His unusual flow – often ever so slightly off beat, coupled with his deep, rough tone make him completely unmistakable.
Sharing the title of highlight of the whole festival with Meekz, was London grime pioneer Ghetts. I will never understand how the Radio 1 tent would overflow with spectators for certain artists but then be only half full for someone as utterly mesmerising as Ghetts, but I suspect that competing with main stage bait such as AJ Tracey and Stormzy was not Ghett’s idea of fun. This MC/rapper released his first mixtape 16 years ago under his previous name of Ghetto, and has not stopped creating music since. Well known for his intricate lyrical schemes, he delivered with such passion and obvious experience. The stand-out track for me was No Mercy which was just electrifying.
Ghetts engaged with the crowd on a personal level, not afraid to talk about his own vulnerabilities, and spun the possible negative of a smaller crowd into a positive, claiming this as a special moment to be cherished. He was astonishing and he was right – it was a very special moment, one that I will cherish, I was so happy to be there, privileged to be sharing it with him.
All words and photos by Shari Denson