The Garden Party Leeds – The Lowdown

As the sun set on the last bank holiday weekend of the summer, we headed to The Garden Party in Leeds, this year hosted at new venue the Tetley, to see what all the fuss was about.

There’s no doubt that The Garden Party had one of the best line ups Leeds has seen in a while, after it’s humble beginnings at the Faversham over the years, it was surprising to turn up at the gates at what was quite a large occasion. We arrived late on Saturday afternoon to a distant thump in the distance, luckily missing the queues which meant walking straight in. The scale of the festival is difficult to describe, its much smaller than a festival like Field Day or Parklife, however when compared to the Faversham it eclipses that of previous years. There were three main tents and then various other outdoor spots with DJ’s dotted around the arena. As with any inner city music festival, its always a great feeling walking in and enjoying the music against a backdrop of the city centre skyline, not forgetting the grand building at the entrance, the Tetley itself.

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Inside the Tetley building was a VIP area reserved for extremely important artists, press folk and those of the calibre who wanted to splash out a little. I felt slightly sorry for the people who had been lured into the VIP ticket treatment, as in return was only a small bar and a somewhat underwhelming beer garden. Unfortunately this was to be a theme of the weekend. The Garden Party is a celebration of all things music and culture within Leeds, however with only four food stalls and a limited choice of drinks on offer it felt as though they had dropped the ball on this front… lets move on to the music.

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If there’s one thing that promotors like the Warehouse Project, Canal Mills, Eat Your Own Ears and Metropolis know how to do, its book some great DJ’s and artists. This weekend was no exception, Saturday saw the likes of Joy Orbison, Mr Scruff and Leeds local Bambooman, to name a few. The highlight of the day however was to be taken by former Moloko front woman Roisin Murphy and her band, who’s synth infused pop, complete with ‘Bring it back’ cover and multiple elaborate outfit changes, went down a treat to close the main stage.

On to Sunday, which was set to be our first full day at The Garden Party. Its easy to forget you’re in the centre of Leeds walking through the festival in between the live art, the towering stages and beer tents. Its only when you look down and see concrete you realise you’ve been lied to, this isn’t a garden at all.

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Craig Charles set the afternoon off with a typically energetic and sweaty DJ set, serving a slice of funk and soul straight from his usual 6 Music slot. Todd Terje drew in one of the largest crowds to the main stage with a slightly more understated live set than usual, this time without the burlesque dancers and backing band. Feather headdresses or not, he always seems to get it right putting his own spin on synth-inspired-disco, blurring the lines between tracks and ending with ‘Inspector Norse’ in typical fashion.

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Evening came and the Fact stage was packed out for Kerri Chandler. It was fitting that his slot was right after Bicep, a pair who has played a large role in bringing House music, in it’s modern era, to where it is today – not only through their releases but through the famous ‘Feel My Bicep’ blog as well. It made sense then for Kerri Chandler to bridge the gap between styles and generations of fans, with a 101 of House music.

With such a strong line up and great DJ’s its difficult to come away from The Garden Party disappointed. However with expansion and the involvement of more promotors than you can fit on one poster, its no wonder that some of the integrity is lost. As with any night or festival, once money becomes a focus, it dilutes the spirit of why it was started in the first place. Its difficult to overlook the slightly imposing feeling of the security staff, the drink prices, the overpriced entrance fees, even the after party isn’t included in the ticket price. When compared pound for pound with say Tramlines, which until recently only even started charging a fee, what is on offer here can start to look slim.

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That’s not to suggest that this kind of festival could be run for free, nor should it be, but I would like to see next year’s Garden Party focus back on it’s Faversham roots. However, when it comes to the music line up The Garden Party hit the nail on the head this year. There wasn’t many times where you weren’t torn between DJ’s, or found yourself flitting between two stages. The music on offer was every bit as diverse as it was packed, the house influence of past Faversham parties continues, however there was a mix of indie, disco, funk, hip hop and live music, offering an eclectic mix across the weekend.

Inner city music festivals like The Garden party are a great opportunity to showcase the best of a city’s culture, especially in a place such as Leeds which is overflowing with great music, art and culture. This year offered a great line up of music and maybe we can look past some of the flaws, but I’d like to see next years Garden Party encompass the real culture and spirit of Leeds from it’s roots at the Faversham.

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