If you’d never been to Leicester before Handmade Festival, like I hadn’t, then you’d have quite the good impression of the city after this weekend. It was, in part, due to the glorious sunshine, dappling light onto the tree-lined streets and onto cheerful-looking people holding pints of amber cider, but it was also due to Handmade Festival.
The independent gathering - the largest of its kind in the city of Leicester - entered its sixth year this early May Bank Holiday weekend with a new app, new line-up and brand new stage within the University’s student union.
Idles and comeback kings Drenge create the biggest buzz of the weekend, though the line-up was a bumper success for fans of contemporary music - particularly of the guitar variety.
Guitar-popsters Anteros kicked off proceedings at lunchtime on the Saturday with a spectacular set chivvied onwards, as always, by the keen brilliance of singer Laura Hayden. The sparkling irresistibility of summer hits 'The Beat' and 'Bonnie' were the perfect start to a weekend in the sun.
Glaswegian indie heroes Rascalton, who’s blazing post-punk track ‘Police’ was premiered here on Gigwise, bowled on stage, played a blistering half-hour set, and then moved off again (to play Live at Leeds) all in what I can only imagine, is the only speed they come in: fast.
Over at next door’s O2 Academy, ears were screwed with plugs and pupils saucer-like in the sudden darkness for Crosa Rosa, the infectious Nottingham trio who chucked melody after melody into the crowd from beneath curtains of hair and hands blurred with a musicians’ expertise.
Geowulf, whose dream pop-laden chill-out tunes were perhaps better saved for a grassy hillock than the reception of a students union, nevertheless drew a small crowd of wide-eyed fans new and old, poutine clutched in their hands.
Ah, the food. Though some local traders pulled out at the last minute, the remaining stalls hit the spot. Sheffield’s PT Gravy Train, strung with Canadian flags and a “WTF is Poutine” blackboard explainer, was particularly popular, and was served with fakon instead of cheese for the vegan punters.
The rest of the day swept attendees into the headliner’s open arms, with a danceable, addictive set from Spector passing the baton to a dark, weird-out for The Wytches in the Academy before the duo (Drenge) many had bought weekend tickets to see played their roster (plus new track ‘This Dance’) to a sun-drunk, pint-soaked congregation.
Day two started after lunch - no doubt to allow for those hungover hotel breakfasts - with Fling, an eclectic quintet bent on putting smiles back on grey faces blotched by the sun. For the brave few who turned out, they succeeded, bringing joyful, catchy tunes to the hall from under top hats and skeleton onesies.
Next at Union Square, were dark, scuffed doom rockers Phobophobes whose haunting tenor was received well by the tentatively expanding crowd.
For The Orielles, the Academy packed out with hundreds of people irresistibly bouncing on the balls of their feet to the pure meandering brilliance of the Halifax trio. The crowd lap up guitarist Henry’s spacey, deadpan humour, and their set, which ends with extraordinary opus 'Sugar Tastes Like Salt', gets one of the biggest cheers of the weekend.
Circa Waves (who fail to see any bands themselves, instead playing Fifa for hours outside their enormous tour van) bring their punchy crowd-pleasers to the Academy, while political punk-maniacs Idles steal the show in a sweat-drenched mosh-pit filled with devotees wearing the band’s tongue-in-cheek merch from tours past and present.
It’s clear that Handmade’s booking powers are powerful and on the nose, particularly when it comes to headliners. Motoring onwards from vibrant young band to vibrant young band, the festival is a militarily-organised success that allows - and indeed aims - for its attendees to go away with a handful of new favourites.
And for those who hadn’t visited Leicester before, no doubt they found a great reason to visit again: a wonderfully-intimate dream in music and food, held in the loving embrace of the hottest early May Bank Holiday on record. Handmade Festival: an independent city festival to put in the calendar on annual repeat.