After a few years of astounding success, the people behind Handmade Festival thought it was time to take things to another level. And the Leicester-based festival certainly blew all expectations out of the water.
Everything about the festival is bigger this year, from the line-up to the extra commodities floating about. More of the O2 Academy was opened up this year which was welcoming, it helped spread the festival out and just gave a much bigger feel to it.
Day one was a riot, bands like The Magic Gang and Pretty Vicious took to the stage in the Scholar Bar and put on some exhilarating sets, the former with some pop-infused guitar melodies whilst the latter unleashed a torrent of heavy riffs upon their avid observers. Pretty Vicious have got an aura of a young Arctic Monkeys about them and only time will tell whether they’ll fill such boots.
Her Name Is Calla provided some twisted experimental rock during their hour-strong set on the Main Stage. The church-like room provided the most fitting backdrop for one of the day’s most captivating performances. 65daysofstatic did more than just warm the stage up for headliners, We Are Scientists, with a powerfully driven set that set the tone for the evening.
The two standouts from the day were undoubtedly headliners We Are Scientists and the utterly mesmerising Black Honey, whose glitz and splendour captivated the crowd with every note they played. We Are Scientists drove a subtle reminder as to what great indie-rock is. Black Honey were terrific, with frontwoman Izzy Baxter controlling the crowd with her hypnotic presence, which beautifully compliments her Courtney Love-like voice. A real highlight from a band that I expect to go very far.
Day two kicked off on a strong note with Speaking In Italics first up on the Main Stage, who conjured a truly rousing set. Crowds flocked to see rockers Cleft in one of their final performances before they break up, with some eager fans soaking in the last of their musical brilliance. There was a real diverse range of music on show, with it being near impossible to find something you wouldn’t enjoy from the Foals-like Clubs, to the floaty Dayflower.
Kagoule on the Main Stage were brilliant, pumping out layered guitar with some undeniably catchy hooks. The aforementioned Clubs were billed as headliners for the BBC Introducing stage and the Leicester locals provided another raucous set, highlighting their rapid growth as a band. Lonely The Brave and Deaf Havana were the Main Stage headliners, and both bands certainly know how to work a crowd delivering ferocious sets that cause the capacity audience to explode.
The final day of Handmade was always going to be a big one, with Swim Deep being tasked with closing the festival. Before we got there though, ex-Tribes frontman Johnny Lloyd and his new band were utterly fantastic, with his personalised brand of grunge-rock looking set to burst onto the music scene. Undoubtedly one of the best acts of the weekend, as he roared through previously released demos Happy Humans, Pilgrims etc along with some upcoming releases. Definitely big things to come from him. Big Deal were next up on the Main Stage playing some loud almost-made-for-festivals rock. Their new material sounding very different to previous releases but it packs a punch.
Elsewhere, Waking Aida and Narcs provided some thunderous sets in the Scholar, whilst Weikie provided a relaxed session in the Union Square. Handmade wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the comedy, so I delved straight into it and left with a hearty grin plastered across my face. Time well spent.
Swim Deep certainly know how to put on a show. Racing through their now large set of songs, including crowd-favourite King City, the Birmingham-based quintet sounded ethereal in the hall. The outro was incredible, a perfectly sculpted end to three days of some of the freshest and enrapturing music available right now.
The work that John Helps and co. have been doing with Handmade Festival is nothing short of astonishing. A city that has long fought for its own identity now finds itself knocking about with some of the biggest names in the festival industry and as things promise to grow, who knows what the future has in store. Handmade Festival 2016 was a blast. Make space in your diary for 2017’s event.
Earlybird tickets for Handmade 2017 are already available for £25.00 (+ booking fees).