The Leeds Sound: 20 tracks that reflect the city’s musical spirit
Forward Russia Band

Live At Leeds has just announced even more acts to its already bulging festival schedule, celebrating ten years – and the Leeds scene in general.

Here we attempt a brief history of Leeds music, highlighting some of the bands, places and events that have all gone into making it the place it is today.

The 80s and 90s

Leeds’ musical history has been long and storied, and to dive into the rich tapestry of the ’80s and ’90s headlong is a daunting task.

Among the wide ranging acts and scenes, there are a few notable examples, all adding together to give Yorkshire’s capital an ever shifting musical image which continues to morph and develop to this day.

Influential post-punkers Gang of Four rose to success in the late ’70s, before a large goth scene sprang up in the mid-80s consisting of bands like Sisters of Mercy and The March Violets.

The DIY ethic that the city would go on to be known for began to spring up in the early-80s with the avant-garde art scene that centered on the then Leeds Polytechnic, and in particular the Fine Art course which threw up electronic pioneers Soft Cell among others.

Bands like The Wedding Present and Cud kept the guitar band dream alive, becoming regular favourites of John Peel’s late night Radio 1 show.

‘New Yorkshire’

The mid-00s saw a number of fairly high-profile ‘scenes’ across the country having umbrella terms slapped across them by the NME in a vague attempt to sell more copies. Down in London there was Thamesbeat, with bands like the Mystery Jets and Larrikin Love, and most people will remember the day-glo revival of nu-rave (Klaxons et al).

But up North, Leeds formed the central hub of ‘New Yorkshire’, a movement that lumped together bands like the Kaiser Chiefs, The Cribs, ¡Forward, Russia!, and The Sunshine Underground, praised for their crossing over of genres and building a fervent buzz similar to that found down in the capital.

The New Noise

Barreling into the 2010s, Leeds spawned a number of brasher, noisier guitar bands that would go on to carve a healthy path of resurgence for heavier music.

Utilising guitars in way that suggested an equal love of Black Sabbath and Nirvana, bands like Pulled Apart By Horses, Dinosaur Pile-Up and Holy State eschewed the taut guitar lines of the indie music that had flooded the city a few years earlier, and heralded the emergence of another string to Leeds’ musical bow.

The ‘scene’ today

Of course, it’s much harder to pinpoint a particular movement or ‘scene’ within Leeds these days. You might take that as a negative, but it’s meant entirely as a positive, with just about every kind of music under the sun represented in some way across the city’s bustling venues and rehearsal spaces.

People help each other out, and it’s not uncommon to hear bands you’d never usually put together on the basis of their music working together to create something unique.

In recent years, acts like Menace Beach and Hookworms have flown the flag for Leeds, and collectives like label Clue Records’ triple threat of Allusondrugs, NARCS and Forever Cult have promoted Leeds music to new heights.

It’s not just the bands that keep Leeds fans happy – every music community needs people working behind-the-scenes to allow those bands the opportunity to play.

Perhaps behind-the-scenes isn’t the best choice of words, because amazing venues like the Brudenell Social Club and Nation of Shopkeepers are just as much in the limelight as some of the bands on their stages.

brudenell-social-club
Sam Saunders / Flickr / CC

Leeds also hosts its fair share of high profile events, with everything from independent all-dayers like the Gold Sounds festival at the Brudenell to the ever expanding Live At Leeds, and the mega weekenders like Leeds Festival just up the road. There’s always something for the bands of the city to aspire to.

And with peripheral towns like Wakefield, Huddersfield and Bradford (and Manchester a fairly short train journey away if you’re brave enough to go ‘cross county’), a steady stream of outlying imports keeps Leeds musically fresh.

Listen to our Leeds playlist:

More Leeds music tips:

15 bizarre things you won’t believe ever happened in Leeds

9 incredible stories from the Leeds music scene

10 essential tips for surviving a day busking in Leeds

10 legendary Leeds music venues of the past

An introduction to the Leeds music scene

10 of the best live music bars in Leeds