Across the world there are many famous music cities. From Nashville to Ibiza, and closer to home in Liverpool and Manchester, these places are synonymous with their sounds. Here in Leeds, our specific sound is less identifiable, and that’s exactly what makes the Leeds music scene so interesting.
For many years the city has spun an eclectic web of genres, and has been at the forefront of many music movements. Having spawned the 80s goth scene, led 90s dance clubbing, exported noughties New Yorkshire bands, and elevated the recent jazz evolution, Leeds has a vital role in a variety of music stories across the decades.
All of which has made Leeds a city for lovers of all genres of music. There is such a breadth and depth to all the great stuff going on here that it can require a helping hand and a listening ear to explore. So, with that in mind, here is our music lover’s guide around Leeds.
Brudenell Social Club
This working men’s club in Hyde Park was transformed into one of the country’s best music venues. There are gigs every night that range from local artists and next big things to legendary musicians and famous bands, all playing to a cosy capacity of 400.
Nearby, Hyde Park Book Club attracts in-the-know gig-goers with an equally inclusive atmosphere and even more intimate space, whilst in the city centre you’ll find further venues in which to watch upcoming acts. Oportohas been a long-standing Leeds bar favourite, whilst Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen and Headrow House both host the coolest shows in their multifunctional spaces.
First Direct Arena
Despite having a thriving live music scene, it was only relatively recently that Leeds gained a venue fit for the biggest performers. Since opening in 2013, the 13000 capacity First Direct Arena has successfully brought the world’s most famous music stars to the people of Leeds in its award winning theatre.
Before then, O2 Academy was as big as it got for the city, and the 2300 capacity venue continues to stage a strong line up of favourite bands and artists throughout the year. Both Leeds University and Leeds Beckett also occasionally host gigs in their student unions to crowds of a thousand.
Leeds has helped to produce an impressive output of trained musicians, largely thanks to Leeds Conservatoire and Opera North. The higher education music specialist and arts organisation respectively are hugely respected, have created a talented alumni of musicians, and made Leeds a hub for their genres.
The city has had an increasingly impressive jazz scene, and for these and others to play in, there are now several super jazz clubs. Notably, The Domino Club, Sela Bar, The HiFi Club and The Wardrobe are all suitably underground and provide timeless atmospheres to soak up the sounds in.
Northern Guitars Cafe Bar
As much as Leeds evolves and develops as a music city, so too does it keep its soul and tradition. One place that typifies both sides of this same musical coin is this classic guitar shop which has been here for over 30 years, and in the last few has added a cafe bar which puts on gigs just right for a guitar shop.
Other places to visit for traditional music are traditional pubs The Duck & Drake, who have entertainment from regular blues and rock bands playing classic covers, and The Grove Inn, who have an excellent long-running folk club with both concerts and open mic nights.
Alongside the city’s live music scene, Leeds has somehow kept hold of a handful of amazing record stores. Crash Records oozes everything everyone loves about a record shop, with knowledge, character and of course great vinyl.
At 40 years, a decade older than Crash, Jumbo Records is another Leeds institution which the city still supports due to its unwavering quality. These originals are joined by newer openings such as the excellent Released Records and the aptly named Vinyl Whistle.
Back to Basics
This legendary club night is the longest running in Europe, over 30 years since it began. At the time it heralded a new wave of dance music with a punk ethos and attracted serious clubbers from near and far. B2B both toured the world and brought the world to Leeds.
The night remained exciting and relevant at still great city venues including The Warehouse and Mint Warehouse, and Leeds’ place as a clubbing capital is emphasised today by spaces such as Beaver Works and the massive annual event Mint Festival.
Live at Leeds
The long reach of Leeds music excels at the increasingly popular annual event Live at Leeds. This showcase for live music sprawls across the cities’ venues with acts on all over town all day long. From big and small, near and far, genre to genre, it is a true reflection of Leeds as a music city.
Of course, the most well known music event here is Leeds Festival, a three day extravaganza which brings big name bands and 90000 revellers to the fields of Brahman Park. It’s fun, no doubt, but like the festival itself, look beyond the city’s headliner and you’ll find an array of music gems waiting to be discovered all around Leeds.
Images: Northern Guitars, Headrow House, The Domino Club, Crash Records