The Garden Party Leeds
Saturday 29th & Sunday 30th August 2015
The Tetley, Leeds
The Faversham Garden Parties were always a staple event in my clubbing calendar while at University in Leeds, so it was enough to make me feel old that this year marks the event’s tenth anniversary. Celebrating with a full-blown festival is the best way to guarantee the event would be bigger and better than ever before.
An urban festival is a rare and wonderful thing. Where there is usually be grass, there is concrete. Where there would otherwise be wellies, there are wedges. The dress code is subtly different, as is the clientele. City dwellers who might balk at the idea of trudging through churned up mud or sleeping in a tent find themselves at home here.
The line-up this year has branched out much further than any other Faversham Garden Party ever has. While the heavy house influence is still evident, there is a healthy influx of indie, hip hop, soul and funk to offer a more eclectic variety, spread across a space that eclipses that of the Faversham’s modest grounds.
Saturday morning brings with it hazy sunshine and an atmosphere of eager anticipation. The whole of Leeds is in a party mood, with the West Indian Carnival, Leeds Festival, and a whole host of other events taking place across the city this weekend. But The Garden Party is the main attraction.
A resonant bass beat can be heard as we make our way to the entrance. The Tetley garden has been decked out with the instantly recognisable colourful flags of a festival, and revellers lounge on a lawn strewn with hay bales. All the festival staples are ever present – copious amounts of glitter, flower garlands, bum bags and sunglasses, and the intoxicating joy of being outdoors listening to great music.
We head straight for Mr Scruff at the Dummy Stage. A favourite of mine and a legend in his own right, Mr Scruff has been known to take to the decks for ten hours or more, so his generous three hour set on Saturday must have breezed by. Playing a mix-up of soul, funk, house, drum and bass and hip hop, Mr Scruff is the perfect introduction to get us in the festival mood.
Chris Lorenzo and Joy Orbison transport us into the evening with a heavy dose of house, and I am particularly impressed with Red Light’s energetic set. He mixes artfully between genres, and teases the crowd further with every tune. His set peaks with a perfect meld of Whitney Houston’s It’s Not Right But It’s Ok and Jean Jacques’ 2 People, to which the crowd respond with uproarious celebration.
The festival atmosphere is now in full flow; girls tie scarves together to make a skipping rope and double-dutch on the concrete; friends lounge together in replete bliss; ice creams, wraps, burgers and cocktails are devoured eagerly; artists decorate large structures with intricate drawings.
We saunter back to the Dummy Stage to take our places in anticipation of a 90s resurgence. Soul II Soul take to the stage to sonorous applause, and begin a set of honey-dipped liquid soul. The backing singers woo the crowd with perfectly synchronised dance moves, transporting us back to Saturday nights spent watching Top of the Pops in our parents’ living rooms. Back To Life was unquestionably the sing-along song of the day, so much so that Grandmaster Flash paid homage to the moment on Sunday night.
We flitted between Saturday’s final acts, afraid to miss anything. Heidi rocked the FACT stage into new realms of excitement, her trademark blonde curls bouncing to the beat as she had as much fun as her euphoric audience.
When we arrive at Roisin Murphy, she is mid-way through performing a magic trick, and goes on to complete no less than four outfit changes, each more elaborate than the last. Her stage presence is a cross between that of Madonna, Bjork and Lady Gaga: the crowd were entranced and continually amazed.
Sunday brings another fine day of music. We make a beeline for Craig Charles, who already has the crowd in transports of excitement. He mixes effortlessly between genres, touching on anything from 80’s disco to soul to indie classics and back again. A seamless mix of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk and The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is all we need to set us off.
From there we move on to Julio Bashmore, who expertly freestyles piano melodies into house music. Taking a seat at The Skinny stage gives us a chance to refresh with delicious Indian Street Food from Rola Wala and, of course, a pint of Tetleys while Bernard and Edith entertain us with melodic and ethereal tracks. The sun sets over Leeds, illuminating the sky in a brilliant opalescent coral splashed with pink. We are generously allowed access to the roof of The Tetley to admire the spectacle.
Todd Terje brings our mood back up with a bouncy set of summery house with the imperious Inspector Norse creating another standout moment of the weekend, before Talib Kweli lets loose with a riotous set of the best in old school hip hop. Kweli raps without a glitch, and mixes things up by layering over classic songs like The Beatles’ All The Lonely People. Half way through the set he invites K’Valentine on stage. She owns the stage with sass and passion - her voice is as powerful as her lyrics.
We race to Grandmaster Flash, and weave our way inside the tent. The crowd is spilling out on all sides, all dignity forgotten as the king of hip-hop DJing himself mixes faster than a KitchenAid. Every song is a classic, every beat woven together with precision. We sing ourselves hoarse to Wild Cherry, Dead Prez, Roots Manuva and more, before tearing ourselves away to catch the end of Little Dragon.
Ritual Union is in full flow as we enter the tent, and the crowd loves every second. A fitting end to The Garden Party, Little Dragon play a hybrid of live acoustic and electronic beats to the fervour of the adoring crowd. Their ethereal music transports us to a blissful paradise, and we weave our way to the exit hoarsely singing songs we’ve heard that day.
The Garden Party may be small in comparison to the big summer festivals, but the line-up excelled where other major festivals failed this year – in female headliners. While Glastonbury’s only female headliner was pushed up to fill Dave Grohl’s spot last minute and Leeds festival is set for an all-male headlined weekend, The Garden Party featured no less than five female headliners – soloists, DJs and lead singers. The ongoing debate within the media regarding sexism in the music industry was nowhere to be heard in or around the Tetley: The Garden Party line-up championed equality.
Following the resounding success of this 10th anniversary event, we go back to life, back to reality with the anticipation of bigger and better things to come from The Garden Party.
Review by Olivia Lazenby
Images courtesy of The Garden Party