Live At Leeds truly was a huge melting pot of pretty much every genre you could ever want to listen to. The variety of artists was huge. From headline act The Vaccines, who are straightforward indie/rock, to local Leeds band Snicklefritz, who don’t even give their music a genre, the festival had the extremes as well as everything in between.
Music has so many strings to its bow, so many varieties of genres that it’s almost coming full circle. Head onto any artist’s Spotify page these days and you’ll see their self-described genre: “soul / ambient / electronica / jazz / dub”, “dark eclectic pop / punk”, “rnb / alternative / soul.”
Some pages even go as far as not putting their music under any genre whatsoever. Perhaps one day in the near future we won’t have genres, and music will just be called….music.
First of all, what a name! Live from the BBC Introducing Stage @ Oporto, Snicklefritz – a 5-piece band heralding from Leeds – entertained us for a half hour with their future-music-that-also-has-a-mix-of-80s-pop-and-90s-hip-hop music. The name definitely matches the music style, that’s for sure. Their first track Thai Stick was my first taste of their genreless sound. Beginning with a modern day rnb interlude, the track then brought in one of hip-hop’s signature drum beats; a hi hat and snare combo that had that sort of muffled, untouched sound to it. The distorted keys that accompanied were typical of the 90s hip-hop era. And then out came this killer Noel Gallagher-type vocal. A pop/rock singer performing to a hip-hop back beat? Surely that can’t work? With Snicklefritz, it seemed a perfect fit. Despite the fact that this up-and-coming British band could be seen as just being undecided about their sound, that in fact is not true once you see them live. Snicklefritz make their own genres, and they do it extremely well. There’s no sense of confusion with this band; their music is an explosion of fun, depth, and feeling. And it works.
Jaz Karis brought her soulful vocals to The Chapel stage, just outside of the University. With a crowd of no more than 40 people, this gig was intimate but also one of my favourites of the day. On the face of it, she sounds like a typical soulful rob singer. However, I got the chance to speak to her after the show about how she doesn’t like her music to be labelled as one genre. “I grew up on gospel, and my mother listened to funk around the house a lot,” she says, which matches up with her performance so far. Her vocals were full of riffs and delicate falsettos, similar to the likes of Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. She went to the Brit School as a teenager – a school that has been attended by the likes of Adele and Amy Winehouse – but felt they didn’t allow her to be influenced by a wide variety of music. “Music is all about originality and how you can be different to everyone else. The last thing I wanted was to be put in a box.” When she left the Brit School, she took it upon herself to go and find new influences: John Mayer, Amy Winehouse, Afro Beatz. Now looking back on her performance, I can hear all of these influences that I hadn’t noticed before. From her jazz cover of Back To Black by Amy Winehouse, to her John Mayer-esque guitar player, Jaz Karis’s set brimmed with originality. She proved me wrong and showed me just how many different styles come into play with her music.
The London-born singer-songwriter attracted quite a following during her set at The Chapel. She’s well known amongst the underground world of the music industry as a rising star to watch, and that was obvious in the 50+ crowd she brought with her. Surprisingly this was her first ever live gig. Abi Ocia described herself to me before her set as “Alternative/Indie”. Mentally, I was preparing for something close to pop rock. But what I heard was very different. If you could describe her style of music in one word, it would be ‘layers’. Her set had so many i n t r i c a t e l i t t l e a d d i t i o n s of atmosphere. It was honestly a pleasure to watch. There were jazz influences interspersed with borderline cinematic textures. There were beautifully unexpected extended chords, a ton of dreamy reverb guitar melodies, and a whole load of soul in her vocals. Similarly to rnb start H.E.R, Abi Ocia has built her music on textures and layers. That is her sonic signature, and it’s a signature that proudly doesn’t fit in any genre box whatsoever.
There was a warm atmosphere full of anticipation to match the hot weather over at Northern Guitars as Scottish singer-songwriter Tamzene stepped up to the stage. The guitar hub was full to the brim with locals, attentively waiting to hear this talented girl sing. Moving through her own set of original songs, she showcased her lyrical writing abilities throughout and left the room silent, with each person listening intently. It was a rare sight to see at a festival known for its animated fans and its reputation of attracting such lively crowds. In contrast to this article, Tamzene is an out-and-out pop singer. Her songs are catchy and would not sound out of place in the UK charts. Her vocals were emotional and full of feeling in the way she glided up and down her range. So what is it about her music that crosses genre borders? Whilst she is a pop singer on the outside, she talked to me offstage about how she has been so influenced by other genres that it has, in some way, changed who she fundamentally is as a musician. So whilst she creates pop music, there are tens of other genre references that run through her music that may not be audible to her crowds. “I grew up listening to soul and rnb with my mum, and this was pretty much all the time…I just think that music is so accessible and musicians these days, including myself, have such eclectic tastes. You can go and see a rock artist and they can be right up your street.”
I actually stumbled upon this particular gig. I had arrived at Belgrave Music Hall an hour early and was able to see Keir in action. Coincidentally, he actually became my favourite act of the entire day. Keir is an incredible performer, and it’s that aspect of his music that puts him on this list of artists at Live At Leeds who blur the lines of musical genres. During his most recent release, Sadboy, he wraps his mic cord around his fingers and, with his hair flopping down over one side of his face, theatrically writhes up and down on the Belgrave stage in front a few clear fan girls. I’m reluctant to compare to such a legend, but Keir’s performance reminded me of one of the great performers of the 20th century, Freddie Mercury. It’s in contradiction to Keir’s music itself. He lists the following as being his main influences when writing music: Shirley Bassey, Aretha Franklin, Frida Kahlo and Patti Smith – 4 incredible artists in music history. This mix of alternative rock music interspersed with influences of old school soul and jazz, combined with the energy of a legend like Freddie Mercury is what puts Keir on this list.