Leeds Festival, in many ways, is the most important event every year in the lives of thousands of local adolescents. A handful of years ago, before writing about music for a living was even a consideration for me, I attended my first Leeds Festival with a group of friends.
Aged between 15-17, as many kids are when they attend for the first time, most of us had never been to a festival before, and even if we had, it definitely wasn’t without parental supervision. Early bird tickets in hand, hastily written lists of bands and times pocketed, the Wednesday to Monday that followed was one that opened many an eye.
There comes a time in most teenagers lives that are interested in music where two things are certain: a weekly copy of the NME will be bought and passed around your group of friends, and most weeknights will be spent avoiding homework listening to Zane Lowe between the hours of seven to nine pm. A musical identity will be slowly formed, ill-informed judgements on bands from the past will be adopted and nothing else will seem at all important while all of that is taking place.
As the slow accent toward adulthood takes hold, there’s nothing kids want more than to be seen as independent. Leeds Festival, no more than a 20/30min drive away from most major suburbs in the city, is the perfect opportunity for parents to extend the leash on their children ever so slightly.
In many ways, the first festival experience is a case of who can sink and who and swim. Some will vow to never enter a muddy field again as long as they live, so many others, again much like myself, will want to do nothing more all summer long.
Where this festival thrives in particular is in the artist booked. Year after year, the line-up will be a near perfect representation of music more likely to be seen written about on the aforementioned pages of the NME, or played loud and interrupted by Zane Lowe in the evenings, than found atop the singles chart. In recent years, as Radio 1Xtra and dance music have grown in prominence, the festival has reacted fantastically, opening dedicated stages and boldly backing electronic music in a way that they never had previously.
Leeds Festival, then, is an opportunity for teenagers from a region previously without an alternative music event the perfect the place to attend, with the music to match their ever changing tastes. However, the key to the festival is the atmosphere. With the large percentage of attendees of a similar age, well oiled and in the mood for a good time, the event becomes a party around the clock.
For many of the more sheltered kids going, it’s the first time they’ll really experience excess. Excess drinking, excess drug taking, excess sexual tension…that many teenage hormones in one place leads to more than the odd first tent-based fumble to dissect the following morning around a camp with your friends. Leeds Festival provides the spark to a ready and waiting touch paper - a gateway drug in its own regard, it’s an experience that many will find invaluable.
Still, with as many adults frequenting the arena during the day to watch massive acts such as the Arctic Monkeys, Queens Of The Stone Age and Disclosure, as well as smaller acts like Indiana, MØ and Jungle, the event is a double edged sword. Once you’ve outgrown the camp-based adventures, the festival is still appealing enough based on the quality of the music alone.
Years on from my first Leeds Festival, I still regard the group of friends I was with that week as my closest. A week where we bonded over warm beer, stories of girls falling in to vats of shit (true story, see: Leeds Fest ‘poo girl’) and amazing music made us friends for life. The antics our teenage selves partook in are now favourite stories to reminisce over, and we’ve gone on to attend further festivals across the country and abroad together on the back of the friendship and trust cemented all of those years ago.
This year, like every other, as many of us a possible will be heading back to that field in Leeds as a group to enjoy some of the finest live music available, as well as each others company. Somewhere else in that field, most likely hungover and holed up in a tent, will be another group of friends, ready to welcome the day with a lukewarm pot noodle and discuss the events of the night before, entirely oblivious as to how important that experience might one day end up being to them.
As an adult, you should go to Leeds Festival because it’ll give you the chance to see some of the finest live acts in the world at close quarters. As a teenager, you should go to Leeds Festival because it might just give you the friends you’ll still be going back with when you’re an adult yourself. Just trust me on this one.