Leeds can be argued the best city in the UK for music. With Manchester or London, the sheer size and intensity of the scenes render them difficult to keep on top of; one must specialise, keeping specific promoters, acts, or venues in mind. The bustling musical climate of Leeds, however, is much more penetrable, and it is feasible (if exhausting and costly) to keep up a comprehensive involvement.
To kick off with the increasingly marginalised “mainstream”: the relatively young O2 Academy is first port of call for ultra-super-mega-popstars passing through the city – usually unit-shifters like The Cribs or Paolo Nutini, but the occasional treat turns up e.g. Morrissey or Public Image Ltd.. In addition, the University Union’s Refectory has been drawing huge acts since the ’60s, from Zeppelin to Bloc Party, all presumably impressed with the canteen.
The Cockpit, a converted air-raid shelter near the train station, will not leave you hungering for faux- alternative touring acts, and if you’re lucky you can glimpse Generation MySpace in their natural habitat as dyed black bangs flail around the dark vodka-and-coke-stickied dancefloor to repeat plays of Rage Against The Machine’s Christmas #1. The Faversham will see medium-profile names come through on occasion, but you will have to put up with a piss-rubbish acoustic and two ill-positioned pillars that bands insist on playing directly behind. It’s also possible to have a good night out at the Fav, so long as you get so drunk that you forget you didn’t have a good night out.
LS6-ward is the Brudenell Social Club, a must-frequent venue that puts on exquisitely selected touring acts and presents as a nice old man’s pub simultaneously. £1.75 pints for the win. The house promoter is 100% on the ball with local and global breakthrough acts, the sound crew are super, and you can kill the inter-band duration or questionable support act in the games room, equipped with cheap table football, pool, snooker, darts, dominoes and novelty pinball.
Entering Nation of Shopkeepers can often be like walking into an issue of Vice, but it regularly plays host to hip blog-hyped acts, and these gigs are often inexplicably free entry (although you do occasionally pay the price of being surrounded by Nathan Barley extras). In the daytime you can flick through a discarded copy of Stool Pigeon and eat nice, pretentious food: hello, brie and avocado burger for £7.50.
The Well (formerly ‘Joseph’s Well’) is on the up, with recent visits from British Sea Power and Keane, as well as its regular solid local bills. Homegrown talent (and often homegrown lack of talent) can be witnessed in smaller live spaces upstairs in the Library and Packhorse pubs, which also provide potential starting points for any budding DIY promoters out there. Royal Park Cellars and The Fenton are regular hotbeds of noisy metal, in suitably small, sweaty rooms. Carpe Diem is fine if you like quantity over quality – they put on bills indiscriminately and without much thought, as well as having circa nine hundred open mic nights per second.
Independent promoters well worth being spammed by include: Brew, British Wildlife, Default This, Dirty Otter, Fancy Claps, Forest of Sound, Futuresound, Good Folk, Melting Vinyl, Room 237, Royal Park Cellars, Tiger Trap, and you can scout the net for many more.
When it comes to nightlife the biggest-bannered establishments are, of course, shiny chain-dives like Oceana, Gatecrasher, Tiger Tiger etc. but since you are reading this I can assume you’re not one to spend the witching hour lying in jock-vomit, with an unfamiliar oompa loopma doll trying to do sex on you. Fab Cafe is a well-located alternative to the above twat-sties, albeit a little too self-conscious in its geekiness, and Santiago now houses many of the alternative clubnights of The Subculture, following its recent tragic demise. Vegan-freegan-queergan-feministarian types should know about the “autonomous, radical social centre” that is The Common Place, a glimpse of whose highly varied events can be seen on their website.
The dwindling proportion of musos wondering “where’s the classical music at, dawg?” should start with the Town Hall, Grand Theatre, and the university’s Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, for both period and contemporary programmes.