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The Leeds Sound

Dexter Burningham tells us more about The Leeds Sound...

For decades people have been able to define the sound and character of the music scene within the big cities across the UK. People will always recognise the ‘Manchester sound’, from indie staples such as The Smiths, to the hypnotic thumping of the Hacienda and penultimately the rock and roll mantra of Oasis. As it continues to echo through new acts, engraving their own mark upon the city's sonic timeline. However, I’m not interested in writing about the Manchester scene. I want to know how us, the listener, are able to define the current music scene in Leeds, the same way people trademark the sound of other major cities.

The 5th of November marked the anniversary of Leeds-based independent label ‘Clue Records’. Hosted within the walls of the infamous Brudenell Social Club, the occasion celebrated 10 years of local artists, ranging across a diverse spectrum of genres. During the course of the evening eight bands, all signed to Clue, each played a half an hour set, displaying their own unique and stylistic performance as an ode to the label, and more specifically to the man behind it all - Scott Lewis.

After witnessing such a dynamic line up of artists, I felt compelled to ask Scott, what constitutes the identity of Leeds compared to other cities?

‘I think Manchester has big connotations of Oasis and Joy Division etc, whereas I don’t think Leeds has that. Although the city has had big acts, there isn’t the same expectation for bands as there is in cities like Manchester’.

Although Leeds is home to the likes of Gang of Four and The Kaiser Chiefs, it became clear that there is an absence of ‘expectation’, as Scott puts it, for local bands right now. This perhaps provides an advantage for Leeds artists, as they can creatively pursue any direction without feeling the need to live up to past trends. Evidently, Clue Records recognises the versatile nature of the scene. Scott tried to express that what he looks for in bands is ‘hard to put into words really, but mainly it’s what impacts me from the start’. It appears impossible to pin-point the character of the Leeds sound, instead we must listen for the energy and feel the ‘impact’ that makes these bands alike.

Van Houten are one of Clue Records newer signings, characterised with a silky dream pop wall of sound, built through a layering of three electric guitars which gel underneath the floaty lead vocals. When speaking about Clue, the lead guitarist told me ‘Scott is the most important thing to happen to Leeds, he filled a hole within the scene, giving time and attention to bands that deserved it’. The rest of the band who were sitting around the bench in the Brudenell smoking area nodded their heads in unified agreement. Interestingly the lead singer made a strong effort to state that the band has ‘expectation from the label, to do what we believe as people’, this being important as it makes the music real and meaningful.

Although I was unable to attain a definition of the Leeds sound, I discovered something bigger. The absence of expectation for bands, enables a focus on what each artist believes as unique and meaningful to themselves. Clue Records embodies this logic, by looking for a quality that doesn’t fit into a specific genre or musical connotation- they look for an essence that is ‘hard to put into words’. Being Leeds’s first major independent label, Clue has achieved a lot in the last 10 years and no doubt has much more to come.


Words: Dexter Burningham

Photo credit: @charliehunter_film


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