Featured image: Georgina Hurdsfield / Festival Republic
After incredible performances from the likes of Lime Garden and Cassia on the Festival Republic stage on Thursday evening, it wasn’t long before Friday was set to kick off. With Halsey and The 1975 headlining, as well as a whole host of exciting new talent taking to various stages on the site, there was so much to look forward to.
Willow – 13:10 @ Main Stage East
Making her away from across the pond, Willow AKA Willow Camille Reign Smith was ready to make her main stage debut on Main Stage East. She might be the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, but the rising pop-punk artist has more than enough talent to be recognised as an artist in her own right.
The 21-year-old’s self-described “rock opera” track ‘Lipstick’ saw her connecting with her fans as she made her way to the barrier: “I’m glad we can have fun though.”
Gearing up for her album CopingMechanism, we heard a few tracks that were unreleased, but were immediately well-received by the crowd.
Her new track ‘Hover Like A Goddess’ had the crowd singing lines word for word. Her strong connection with her fans is apparent throughout, professing her love to each and everyone of them and asking them to meet her at their spot – before playing the fan-favourite.
TikTok famous track ‘Wait a minute!’ saw the crowd waving along and kicked back for a heavier section with atmospheric flashing red lights. Ending with her track ‘<maybe> it’s my fault’ only emphasised what an expressive artist she is, crouched on the stage while singing, showing her vulnerabilities and therefore, her strength.
Her artistic style of belting it all out and leaving it on stage with her fans is a hallmark of a true performer. Heavy riffs which contrast with her softer vocals and complement her screaming vocals, worked perfectly together during her set.
Around 12 years ago, she made waves with her catchy track ‘Whip My Hair’ and while that phase is long gone, it’s clear that it set the seeds for her energetic performance for years to come.
Abby Roberts – 13:30 @ The FR Stage
After growing a fanbase on TikTok, 17.0M to be exact – Abby Roberts has not only dominated the makeup sector but is quickly rising in the music industry at 21 years of age. Her Instagram bio reads, ‘i do artsy stuff’, and her live performance reflected this. Covering ‘The Cardigans’ ‘Love Me’, it was a soft and emotional take on the track, more than proving her talent.
Her track ‘Band aid’ was written after taking inspiration from a conversation with her friend about mental health. Telling the audience that it’s important to talk about, it’s a positive sign that the stigma surrounding mental health is decreasing. Treating the crowd to an unreleased track ‘Embrace The Change’, it incited jumping in the crowd and was wonderfully uplifting with a catchy chorus.
Someone who knows about the perils of social media all too well, her final track ‘Video Girl’ was described as “about how shit social media is”. With the crowd singing along, it was clear how much her music resonates with her fans. It was a triumphant set and it’s no doubt she’ll be returning soon.
DMA’S – 16:30 @ Main Stage West
Despite travelling over 16,929 km from Sydney to Leeds, DMA’S might have been performing at a hometown show. Their frontman Tommy O’Dell’s father was originally from Liverpool, which would perhaps explain this and their heavy brit-pop influence. Their opening track ‘The Glow’ was very well-received and for most it was their first time hearing it live, due to its lockdown release. Their older favourites also made their way into the set, with the crowd cheering before the strumming could continue from Took in ‘Feels Like 37’.
Their songs are known for being heart wrenchingly honest and while performed live this was felt tenfold, with O’Dell seen singing with eyes closed. They might have only been a few songs deep but O’Dell was already waving at the camera projecting on the screen and grinning after swigging a Carlsberg.
‘In The Air’ channeled more of an acoustic tone and sounded even more emotional in person, while ‘Silver’ was coloured with a blue flare and everyone was on each other’s shoulders. Deciding to play their cover of Cher’s iconic track ‘Believe’ as they were in Leeds was the perfect decision. The crowd were cheering as soon as the strumming started and with O’Dell’s vocals, it sounded truly ethereal. The world might keep on turning but it might’ve just been us, but time seemed to slow for a few minutes while they performed, ‘Play It out’.
The crowd and band putting everything into ‘Lay Down’ together, a member of the crowd waving a bucket hat in the air certainly summed up their combined energy. With Took playing the guitar while holding it upright while O’Dell left the stage early for the band to jam it out, it had been a rollercoaster. They’re back on tour in Manchester at the end of October. It’s currently sold-out, so if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, then look forward to playing it out with them.
Halsey – 19:50 @ Main Stage West
Gracing the stage as a headliner is no mean feat, however, Halsey more than proved why they were chosen and defied all expectations even while having food poisoning. When they were announced they were subject to criticism with people questioning their rock credentials. Little did the critics probably know that their latest album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power was produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails – or that even with food poisoning they could give a memorable performance without giving up.
Exploding onto the stage with ‘Nightmare’, the words “No, I won’t smile, but I’ll show you my teeth, and I’ma let you speak if you just let me breathe”, rang out around the festival site. Keeping the empowering momentum with ‘Castle’, the fans were being given exactly what they wanted.
Whether it be a high-powered heavier number or a country-fuelled ballad with ‘You Should Be Sad’, Halsey can do it all – with an exceptional finesse we might add. Literally bending over backwards while belting out her notes, dancing to her own beat, or while accompanied by a firework curtain, she can do it all.
Surrounded by flames while singing ‘The Lighthouse’, it does feel like an intimate conversation despite the size of the stage. Revealing mid-way how nervous they were, due to the expectations and the throwing up due to food poisoning – however, the tweets from fans helped them through their anxieties about performing.
Recognising that people came into their career at different times and are attached to a different version of them, proved their acute self-awareness. Going back in time for ‘Colors’, you can see the overflowing emotion they pour into every track, no matter how long ago it was written and released.
Flames added to the explosive nature of their show in ‘Graveyard’ and the crowd followed the tradition to go on each others shoulders during the track. They remained in place for ‘Bad At Love’, which featured a call-and-response section with the crowd finishing the sentence with ‘dinner plate’.
Despite having to leave during the first half of ‘honey’ due to being on the verge of being sick, they still carried on with the show. Their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’, more than did Bush justice.
Finishing with ‘Without Me’ and then ‘I’m Not A Woman, I’m a God’, Halsey had more than proved that they are a God. Any artist that can pull through a headline slot whilst ill, that most artists can only dream of – should be viewed as such. Summing the evening up perfectly with the words, “What a time to be alive”, it was a privilege to attend and look forward to attending a show with Halsey at full health.
The 1975 @ 21:20 @ Main Stage East
Reminding us of who was originally on the bill but had to pull out due to Zack De La Rocha’s leg injury, Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ echoed around the arena before The 1975 could step on the stage. Making reference to their last minute addition, their frontman Matty Healy was heard stating, “I’m sorry we’re not Rage Against The Machine but who’s Rage Against The Machine?”
He quickly added: “Being literally in Rage Against The Machine and having a gammy leg is quite funny though,” after receiving some boos from the crowd. The irony is heightened when you remember that Healy took to the stage armed with crutches when they headlined the AO Arena in 2020. It’s a venue they’ll soon be visiting after first announcing their January 2023 tour at Leeds Festival with the incoming new album. In light of this, the band did a set of their favourite hits making it a night to remember.
Setting the tone of the show by the band wearing black tie attire and the screens matching them, was an interesting juxtaposition of old Hollywood glamour and modern hits. It matches how Healy references the Tumblr era to this festival’s headliners, as it’s something which may have passed but still has a strong following.
Beginning their set with ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’, the crowd immediately knew every word. Jazzed up for the live show with an exquisite brass section and Healy’s unmistakable laugh at the end, it was every 1975 fan’s dream.
Listing classic hits from ‘Love Me’ to doing his typical call and response in ‘Chocolate’, asking the crowds, “Why’s that, Leeds?”, with them responding, “she smells like chocolate”. ‘It’s Not Living If It’s Not With You’ saw the crowd shaking their hips. Performing ‘I’m In Love With You’, their third single from their forthcoming album Being Funny in a Foreign Language, it’s potentially the mature older sister of ‘Love Me’ – proving their obvious maturity and progression.
Don’t get us wrong though, as the band performed bestselling track after track, even those who weren’t the biggest 1975 stan in the room couldn’t resist the band’s talent or Healy’s undeniable charisma. Healy’s addition of multiple ‘comedy-sized’ drinks and calling everyone “baby” made their live performance even more memorable for their close to home show. Healy noted how they’d been Leeds Fest 17 or 20 times. Joking about his ego and the irony about how he tripped up on a platform that Healy requested himself, it was actually a very modest set.
Replacing moshing with dancing, ‘Robbers’ was dedicated to the fans as their humility was in the air, reminiscing how they used to go to the festival thinking they were going to headline one day. Healy added: “We’re in a position where we can play songs that are special to me and special to you guys.”
The crowd did hear a swift gear change with ‘People’, which certainly ensured the crowd was awake for the finale. Their final track could only be ‘The Sound’ which saw the crowd ordered to jump on the count on three. Healy announcing, “Give it up for your favourite band”, would almost sound pretentious coming from any other band – however, as Healy picked up and dropped the mic down twice at the end to an endless round of applause, it’s certainly warranted. No doubt they’ll receive the same admiration on their January tour, which will see them unveil a whole new era. According to Healy their latest album is “fucking mint”, we’ll take his word for it.