Constellations Festival 2011 Review

by - Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's 2pm at Leeds University Student Union, and it appears that we have inadvertently wandered in to a hipster convention. With more dodgy facial hair, Christmas jumpers and prescription ray bans than you could shake an ironically carried walking stick at, Constellations is ready and raring to go, with a stellar line up that takes in some of the brightest new names in indie, over 5 stages.

We start off in the Riley Smith hall with local boys Hookworms, who instantly quell the school assembly atmosphere with their fuzzy, abrasive rock. It's hard to believe we're still in the early afternoon with the curtains drawn and the bands solemn faces looming out from under the eerie orbs decorating the stage, but they do a decent job of getting the crowd going despite being a little too loud for my delicate ears.

Fear Of Men
Fear of Men in the Mine room prove to be a far more enticing prospect, and obviously highly practiced. Aesthetically they make an early play for most stylish band of the day, the half boy-half girl combo coming across like the premise for a channel four sitcom, all ripped tights, blunt fringes and chunky knitwear. Their lo-fi shtick is polite, shy, and highly likeable, particularly highlight 'Doldrums.'


Fear Of Men are swiftly followed by Outfit, the musical equivalent of Everything Everything and The Young Knives coming together for a well mannered game of chess. Very precise in their sound and their onstage demeanour (anybody who can make gestures towards the sound man for more vocals look like a cool new dance move wins bonus points in my book), I found them oddly captivating viewing -so much so in fact that I made no notes throughout their set. Well worth a follow up listen, which is pretty lucky considering they are in the midst of a tour.

Big Deal

Back up to the Riley Smith for Big Deal, who attracted my attention due to the level of blog attention they seem to be courting of late. Their half hour set left me pretty cold, but in the same way as with The XX this appeared to be their intention, the contrast between their stock still stage presence and wryly amusing comments between songs rather disconcerting. Pleasant certainly, but no Big Deal just yet.

Summer Camp
The first genuinely big name of the day, Summer Camp brightened up affairs in Stylus considerably. Playing mostly tracks from this years 'Welcome To Condale', they proved to be a far more straight forward pop outfit than their trendy aesthetic suggests, gloriously accessible. 'Better Off Without You' and 'Losing My Mind' both  perfectly epitomise the retro influence that Summer Camp boast so well , allowing Elizabeth Sankey to step into proper pop star mode, clambering up scales and shooting sultry glances at the audience. Backed up by Jeremy Warmsley and his amazing technicolour shirt, they provide the first proper fan moment of the day.

Continuing the joyous theme in the midst of dour shoegazers, Givers are a band clearly having the time of their lives on tour. Marking their first ever visit to Leeds, the Polaroid perfect sunny Americans know how to work a stage and a changing time signature like pros, despite being relative newcomers this side of the Atlantic. The fact that they seem calmest during the FIFA featured chirpathon 'Up Up Up' is a testament to their impressive work ethic - bits of wood are literally flying off vocalist and percussionist Tiffany Lamson's sticks as she goes at her stand up drums like a toddler who's consumed too many blue smarties. Very, very exciting, and very, very fun.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
We return to Stylus just in time for the last ten minutes of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, and instantly wish we'd caught a little more. Although the set closing consists of little more than guitar noodling, it is highly melodic and clearly entertaining the biggest crowd of the day. The Pavement legend is obviously a massive inspiration, and that most of today's other billed bands are in evidence at the side of stage speaks volumes.

Yuck are one of the most anticipated acts of the day, but sadly for them, the first date of their UK tour is plagued by sound issues. After a false start and a near on half hour delay, the four piece eventually get going, but it is a flattened version of their normally affable set that fills the room. Highlights from their self titled debut 'Suicide Policemen', 'Georgia' and 'Milkshake' eventually save them, but both band and fans on the front row leave looking a tad disgruntled.

Tom Fleming, Wild Beasts
Following the monitor issues that have been evident in Stylus throughout the day, it's not looking good for Wild Beasts. However, the stars align at Constellations and Leeds Universities alumni take to the stage to the opening chimes of Burning, before breaking into Bed Of Nails. Many jokes have been made amongst my course mates as to my fondness for vocalist Hayden Thorpe, but I doubt I wasn't the only person left a little smitten as he breathed his way through a chilling rendition of 'Albatross', his falsetto in perfect harmony with  second vocalist Tom Fleming's deep, brooding tones. Clearly in comfortable form, Thorpe drank wine throughout and joked with the crowd, even openly admitting to the crowd that Wild Beasts was the reason he  'did so badly at this University in the first place.' It appears it may well have been the wisest act of prioritising he ever made, 'The Fun Powder Plot' and 'Hooting And Howling' displaying just how unique an offering they are, and highly deserving of the headline slot. Exiting with the apt 'End Come Too Soon', even the coolest of Hipsters were left with sweat stains down their neatly pressed charity shops sweaters, their fingers itching for their iPhones to tell all their friends of the magic they had just witnessed. Constellations 2012 can't come soon enough.

Ben Little, Wild Beasts

Hayden Thorpe, Wild Beasts

Images Courtesy of Kevin Lawson,

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