Live At Leeds Preview: Like SXSW Before Corporations Took Over

Live at Leeds has grown into a truly unique festival, showcasing local talent alongside household names. That ethos won't be changing anytime soon...
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“The ethos”, begins the synopsis on the Live At Leeds homepage, “has always been to celebrate the best in upcoming local bands alongside more established national acts”. In fairness, you’d find it hard to disagree with that.

Yorkshire’s answer to the Edinburgh Fringe, the event truly invades every corner of the city available. With hundreds of acts playing across over twenty venues, Leeds is flooded with visitors going from gig to gig, working out who to see next and where.

The festival market in this country has become wonderfully saturated, so the ability to remain unique and individual isn't an easy task. However, with an eclectic line-up featuring both household names and those aspiring to become so, the event has solidified its place in the calendar.

With similar events such as Austin’s SXSW increasingly becoming home to industry types and corporate sponsored publicity stunts, Live At Leeds has held on to its grassroots nature with a firm clasp, giving a chance to more and more new music year-on-year.

Leeds is perhaps the perfect city to host an event of this nature. Taking place in a centre which isn’t so big that you can’t skip from venue to venue should that be your wont, the venues in question are designed to play host to live music, and the festival capitalises on that combination fantastically.

Both returning for a second successive year to the festival, I took the opportunity to speak to solo artist Marika Hackman, who is usually advertised as a ‘model turned musician’ but she told me that was “complete and utter bollocks”, and Ellie Rowsell from what BBC6 Music called ‘2013s Most Blogged About Band’ Wolf Alice about the event, and what playing it again meant to them.

Raj Baines: You’ve played the event before, happy to be going back? 

Marina Hackman: Yeah, really happy. I played the Brudenell Social Club last year, and I think I’m in a church this time, so that’s exciting - I really like playing in that sort of environment.

Wolf Alice: We had a really good time last year, we had what seemed to us like a big crowd which we weren’t really expecting at all.

RB: Is it important for an act like yourself to play an event like this that might expose you to an audience that might not have heard that much of yours before?

MH: It’s quite exciting to play to crowds that might not know me and have just wandered in. It’s quite a nice contrast to the headline shows.

WA: Completely, festivals are unique for that really. Playing to people who are new to your music is really important for newer and smaller bands. Hopefully people hear us and think “oh that sounds cool - I’ll stay”.

RB: You’ve both got new EPs floating around, what can we expect from them?

MH: It’s maybe even darker than previous things I’ve released, there’s a Lykke Li cover which is really stripped back and bleak, but there are some louder moments with the band on there too. 

WA: It’s a bit more immediate, but we’ve been together longer now so this is a natural progression. It was the first time we worked with a producer too, so she knew how to make things sound as large as possible.

RB: And you’re both working on your debut records at the moment too - when should we expect those?

MH: I’ve been in the studio through April so that should hopefully be coming out later this year with mainly new songs on it. I’m not sure if some of the material from the EPs might creep on or not, but I won’t be putting anything on that would feel out of place. 

WA: We want to record it this year so it should be out next. We’ve got most of the songs, but we just want to make sure that they’re written to the best of their ability and we’ve had enough time in the studio to make them in to what we’ve envisioned. We’re not rushing it.

RB: Who else would you suggest we should go and see playing Live At Leeds?

MH: Sivu is playing who I’ve worked with before and he’s amazing, I’d really recommend going to see that.

WA: Fuck Buttons, I really want to see them. The only other time I could have seen them was at Glastonbury, but they were playing the same time as the The Rolling Stones.

Marika Hackman is no longer playing Live at Leeds due to recording commitments. Her new ‘Deaf Heat’ EP is out now.

Wolf Alice play Live At Leeds 21:00 in The Cockpit. Their new ‘Creature Songs’ EP is out on 26/05/14.

Follow Raj on Twitter, @BainsXIII