Leeds is a relatively small city when compared with the giants of London and Manchester. It’s also not one people normally celebrate for its musical past; it doesn’t have Queen or Sex Pistols like London does, Black Sabbath like Birmingham does, or Oasis like Manchester does. But what it does have is something certainly worth shouting about. For someone like myself who moved to Leeds specifically for its underground music scene – I cannot praise it enough.
Let’s kick things off with arguably the most well-known rock band to come out of Leeds – Kaiser Chiefs (not quite Black Sabbath, admittedly, but the point still stands). Almost everyone knows Kaiser Chiefs, right? The infamous alt-rock quartet met at a venue in Leeds, played their first gig in a run-down pub in Leeds, and regularly return to the city for one-off intimate shows. More recently, the band returned to open up the city’s biggest venue, First Direct Arena, with support from other West Yorkshire lads, Pulled Apart By Horses. PABH were one of the many second wave grunge bands to spawn out of Leeds in the late 2000’s, alongside the likes of Dinosaur Pile Up and Hawk Eyes. It was this surge of bands that seemed to pinpoint the sound of the city; a sound of deep frustration that festers into harsh riffs and pummeling drums with an underlying melody that’s hard to place into one genre. Take Blacklister’s second album, for example, it’s a brutal assault of riffs, drums and shouts that’s not heavy enough to be metal, yet not pop enough to be considered alternative rock – it’s a perfect definition of Leeds’ rock.
Since then, the standard of rock bands that continue to come from Leeds is exceptionally high. Narcs, a noisy four-piece, have recently released a belter of a track with a cracking video to go along with it – proving that not only is the music top-notch, but every aspect is given the same attention to detail to ensure it gets noticed in amongst all the other talent in the area. Another band that continue to release top quality rock is newcomers, Fizzy Blood – a rock n roll band that are on the brink of something special. We also can’t mention rock and Leeds in the same sentence without talking about Allusondrugs; a phenomenal live band that keep churning out masterpiece after masterpiece. With a debut album underway and a Scuzz tour under their belt already this year, it’s difficult not to get excited about the rock coming from Leeds this year.
On top of that, there seem to be no limitations to rock in Leeds – you just need to take a quick glance at the bands that use or have previously played Chunk, (a venue & rehearsal space) for proof of that. Like math-rock? There’s Bearfoot Beware. Want a one-man-fuzzy-punk band? Black Gorgon. Some noise-rock? Irk. Or they’re the incredible Cattle that consists of two drummers, howling vocals and sinister riffs – what’s not to love? And if you’re after something a bit more accessible, punk-rockers Brawlers are always milling about, or there’s power pop rock newcomers, Black Surf. And these are just a few, shiny examples of some of the bands coming out of the city. Convinced that Leeds is the best city for underground rock yet?
Moving swiftly on, one of the main reasons these bands are able to reach the potential they do is due to the huge amount of venues and promoters in the area that thrive off supporting the local talent – even some bars on the notorious Call Lane double up as a nightclub and venue. When thinking about venues, though, Brudenell Social Club is easily the landmark in Leeds. Almost every time you take a trip to Brudenell, there will be a gig on. And whether it’s a band from just down the road or a band from all the way on the other side of the world; it will always be spectacular. Often giving support slots to local talent, it’s a perfect platform for emerging acts to gain confidence and support. For example, less than a month ago, a fresh-faced grunge two-piece Night Owls supported Tigercub and Dilly Dally, and will soon go on to support another band at the Brude in March. On top of that, if you look into the history of the Brudenell too, huge bands like The Cribs, Kaiser Chiefs and other well-known bands from surrounding areas have all made their mark in this venue, and still continue to support it.
The Cockpit was another venue that held the respect of many musos before its closure in 2014. It was a beacon for underground acts in Leeds, what with it often showcasing local talent and its weekly Slam Dunk club night. Since the closure the Slam Dunk organisation opened a venue called The Key Club – somewhere that’s been purposefully built to promote every aspect of rock. Just this month the venue kicked off a night called The Key Club Presents: Locals Only, a night that focuses on showcasing local rock bands from across Yorkshire and the North. And if that wasn’t enough, rock and metal bar, Bad Apples regularly puts gigs on in their basement with bands from the local area.
As fore-mentioned, Slam Dunk already has a huge influence on the rock in Leeds – partially because this is the city where the record label first formed way back in 2007. However, the record label is better known for its annual festival that takes place in different locations all around the country. This festival has become a staple event on the calendar each year for moshers in Leeds, as well as attracting people from out-of-town. Taking place every May Bank Holiday, the event focuses on bringing established and unknown acts together to create a podium for new bands to build a fan-base. If that wasn’t enough, then there are plenty of DIY festivals dotted throughout the year with this year seeing the launch of a new event; Raw Meat All Dayer. Headlined by Leeds’ legends, Dinosaur Pile Up and with support coming from undiscovered Leeds rock bands Treason Kings, Keeper, Chambers and Brawlers, it’s clear that this event is just another opportunity for local bands to get their foot in the door. Then there’s National Dirty Otter Day too, that’ll bring together a bunch of incredible live bands to Brudenell for a day of noisy rock. And of course, StrangeForms Festival too – perhaps the most DIY event of all that has a heavy emphasis on the more nitty-gritty rock.
There is so much to love about the music community in Leeds, and far too many promoters, bands, venues and festivals that all deserve a mention. It’s a city that seems to create the feel of a tight-knit family, despite it being a city. The compassion and comradery between bands, managers and fans are what makes Leeds such a special and supporting environment to be in. Leeds really is the best place to be for rock.