I got back from Leeds Festival a couple of weeks ago. It was my first experience of a “proper” camping-on-site festival, so I thought I’d write down a few recollections and thoughts I picked up during the weekend.
If you’re going to go, go volunteer
I went to the festival as a volunteer for Anti-Slavery International. Staffing for the bars is organised by the Workers Beer Company, and volunteers work a six-hour shift each day, with their salary being paid back to the charity they volunteer for. In return, you get free entry to the festival, access to a staff campsite with its own beer tent, and meal vouchers. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough – you bond with your fellow volunteers, you get to experience a festival without paying £150-plus for a ticket, and raise a bit of money for a good cause.
Meeting people is easy
Over the weekend, I worked with just about the nicest people you could hope to meet. Everyone was more or less in the same boat, and people who had volunteered before had advice and anecdotes to share. When my shift was over, I’d wander around with the friends I’d made and see bands, chat, have a few drinks and relax.
Afternoon shift is fine…
I was lucky enough to serve my shifts at a bar directly across from the main stage. My two 11am-5pm shifts took in some relaxing times, when the flow of customers wasn’t too hectic, and you could listen to the bands playing the main stage as you worked.
Unfortunately, the sound mixing for the main stage started out pretty bad each day, so if you were a band playing the first few slots, any high notes or vocals would get lost in a muddy sludge of bass and feedback. The only afternoon set I heard with decent sound was Noah And The Whale (who aren’t very hard-rocking, so that may have been it).
…Evening shift is where Shit Gets Real
My Saturday shift was from 5pm to 11pm. From a music standpoint, this couldn’t have been better – I got to watch Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bloc Party and Radiohead playing the main stage in front of me. But of course I had to work, and encountering the great British public in varying states of drunkenness is pretty hairy at the best of times, but mildly terrifying when you have to take their money and provide them with more alcohol.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
I didn’t have much time to look at the schedule before I went, but I’d seen a line-up, and had a fair idea of bands I really wanted to see. Beyond that, I was open to suggestions. And exploring the festival with friends exposed me to some cool stuff I wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise.
On the Saturday afternoon I went with them to the Radio 1 stage to see … Lethal Bizzle! Definitely not someone I’d go see of my own accord, but he put on a great show. That, to me, is what a festival is all about; not just a laundry list of Bands You Want To See, but taking the time for something that comes out of left field and surprises you.
Scheduling can let you down
I’m not just talking about when an awesome band you really want to see is playing another stage while you’re on shift (The Gaslight Anthem … sniff). There were some odd decisions in the scheduling of bands, which led to sets that could have been better.
For example, Friday night’s headliners were Arctic Monkeys, preceded by the Prodigy. I’m not a huge fan of the Prodigy, but they tore the place up – their lighting show alone looked like the end of the world. Following that, the Monkeys couldn’t help but seem a little subdued. They’re a small-venues band (which I mean in the absolute best way possible) that have grown to stadium size, and their live shows reflect that.
Similarly, on Saturday night Bloc Party’s muscular, dance-tinged set, heavy on tracks from their third album Intimacy (I was one of the three people who actually liked Intimacy, so that was great for me) segued into Radiohead’s headliner slot. It was Radiohead, so of course it was amazing, but the lead up of three mainstream indie/rock acts didn’t quite lay the ground for their daring, slightly experimental live experience – almost more of an art installation than a traditional rowdy singalong festival headliner. This isn’t to say anything against rowdy singalongs, though…
This is an irony-free zone
I made friends with another volunteer who wanted to see Kings of Leon play the headline slot on Sunday. Not being greatly invested in the band, I tagged along, and was treated to an INCREDIBLE set. In between songs the lead singer would address the crowd, telling us that they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for us. Usually, such sentiments would come across as calculated, or just a little embarrassing. But standing in the middle of a huge crowd, singing along to their songs, it was impossible to take that kind of sincerity at anything but face value. Normal rules don’t apply at a festival. Which leads nicely into my final bit of advice…
Go with the flow
Head along to see a band you haven’t heard before – they might be really good. Or they might be a complete mess, but at least you’ll have something to talk about afterwards. Talk to people – you’ll have an interesting conversation, even if it does vary between “lovely-interesting” and “terrifying-interesting”. And never conclude that you’re done for the night. Because while walking across the deserted main arena after the headliners have finished, you might just come across a tent containing Future Of The Left, playing what must be the very last gig of the festival, and end your weekend on the best note possible. Roll on, next year’s festival season!
Here are the bands I saw:
Eagles of Death Metal
White Lies (partial set)
The Prodigy (partial set)
Noah And The Whale
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Sonic Boom Six
New Found Glory
Funeral For A Friend
Kings Of Leon
Future Of The Left