LeeFest 2014

[First Published at The Girls Are…, July 18, 2014]
MO at Leefest 2014. Photo by Alex Robert Ross.

MO at Leefest 2014. Photo by Alex Robert Ross.

It is supposed to rain. Every weather app shouts THUNDERSTORMS, and TGA has turned up with a heavy raincoat thinking that everyone else will be jealous when the heavens open. Instead, it’s 5pm and everyone else has developed a solid tan from playing Frisbee in the sun whilst TGA walks round looking like a cheap Batman knock-off with a makeshift cape.

All this works out pretty well for LeeFest. Having started out as a house party nine years ago, the not-for-profit has grown into a full-blown, mid-sized festival with major headliners. Held half an hour south of Croydon, the festival now attracts a combination of locals, stoked that bands like The Cribs will come to their doorstep and Londoners with enough money and free time to take a weekend off. And, in the sunshine, everyone seems to be getting on.

TGA still looks out of place though, which is brought home by We Were Evergreen, a band so Parisian that lead singer Michael Liot is actually wearing a pastel blue suit and a hooped t-shirt. It’s all very charming and polite and 5pm-festival-in-the-sunshine-with-a-cold-cider, with the exception of Fabienne Debarre whose voice, when given even a little space to work, is more than that of the competent backing singer heard on the band’s studio output. Just occasionally she’s able to make the pedestrian seem beautiful with a soft falsetto. Other than that, though, ukuleles are plucked, xylophones tapped, charm spread, and nobody gets hurt.

’s Karen Marie Orsted, by contrast, seems genuinely dangerous. The sun retreats the moment she saunters on stage and the rain starts to come down hard (take THAT, Frisbee-hurling optimists). In this setting, tracks like “Maiden” punch and pop rather than fizzle, partially due to the presence of her factory-made Swedish backing band, but mostly due to the physical energy that she puts into her every thrust and vocal contortion. Her sultry cover of The Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” is a long way from the purely ironic procession that TGA expects when she announces that the quintet are her favourite British band ever, too.

LeeFest is as good as sold out this year, but there’s still space at every stage and there’s no wait for a beer, meaning the arena’s centrepiece – a beach demarcated by haystacks – is able to show off how weird it really is without anyone having to queue. Instead one can just walk straight in, stand in the middle of it, and stare at stuff, contemplating the clusterfuck of ideas that has created everything in sight.

On the Main Stage, fast-rising London trio Juce stride through thirty minutes of funk and get a lethargic crowd to spontaneously dance in perfect tandem. Frontwoman Chalin Barton channels Chaka Khan and wrings every last drop of sunshine from much-hyped recent single “Call You Out,” a tight but breezy slice of Prince-like pop that’s more than worthy of any summer playlist, but won’t shift from your head when the sun’s gone in.

Iyes Leefest

Blessa at LeeFest 2014. Photo by Alex Robert Ross.

None of this – sun, funk, dancing – is a good scene-setter for Iyes in the dark and humid confines of the Lava Lounge. Melis Soyaslanova’s voice is gorgeous and breathy, and it interacts with it’s synthetic surroundings perfectly at times, but Josh Christopher occasionally disrupts things too forcefully and his vocals waver too often for the band to operate with the coherence that such shimmering artifice demands.

On stage immediately afterwards, Blessa toy with a similar aesthetic, but their cooing choruses rely on a more jangling, treble-led foundation to make an impact. It’s successful, for the most part, with Liv Neller’s withdrawn demeanour belying a voice with genuine depth. There are even occasional drops into shoegazey instrumentals for good measure. Plenty to suggest that, whilst theirs is not a unique sound, they could offer a great deal in the coming year.

Fifty paces to the front, The Cribs are playing a greatest hits set to about 500 people; fifty paces behind, people are watching the World Cup Final on a projector. It’s like the best village fete ever and probably the least shitty public place to be in during the football.

It’s an odd time for Blackpool’s Rae Morris to take to the Lava Lounge stage as the last act of the weekend. As the rest of the arena begins to erupt with the sound of dubstep and extra time, Morris and her band quietly take to the stage and she sets herself to drift through her ethereal set with a delicacy that’s completely arresting. “Grow” is a stunning song, honest to the point of discomfort, only relieved by the combination of Morris’ exceptional voice and the smile she wears whilst singing it. Much the same can be said for “Don’t Go” which swells and breathes and builds with grace. The attention that Morris has started to gain may soon cross over into the mainstream and even still, there’s little suggestion that the intimacy will be lost.



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