There’s a plug socket in the ceiling at CHUNK. It’s right above where the bands play, staring down at the stacks of speakers and haphazard pedals on the ground below. Tonight, its three holes are obscured by multi-coloured bunting, strings of glowing fairy lights, and a cloud of positivity. It’s time for Girl Gang Leeds to celebrate one year on the scene, and there’s a whole army of bobble hats, denim and Dr Martens gathered to help them do it.
Girl Gang is a collective of creatives, artists and musicians promoting positivity and general fun times in Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and beyond. Born in Sheffield in 2015, the Gang welcomes people of all genders, ages, races, sexualities and backgrounds, championing community and welcoming vibrant new perspectives. They put on parties and cinema screenings, host gigs and discussions, platform talent and workshops, and they’ve been a powerful voice for hope, change and creativity in Leeds for 12 months – and counting.
CHUNK is the perfect space for tonight’s shenanigans. As the epitome of a venue that does exactly what it says on the tin, CHUNK is a bold slice of raw energy – operating on a love of music and talent, with punchy capital letters that say everyone’s welcome, as long as you get stuck in.
There are eight bands on the line up to celebrate 365 days of Girl Gang Leeds, and the evening promises a fix of feminism, punk, birthday cake and cheap booze. A room packed with the kind of people who smile broadly at you as you head back from the bar with your two-quid lager and your pocket full of change.
We arrive just as queer lo-fi rock band, Velodrome, take to the stage to blast their unique strains of politically fuelled melodies through the air. Next up is Crushing, an indie-punk trio hailing from Brighton, who chatter away with the room’s infectious energy, delivering an upbeat, pop-inspired performance.
After a short break, it’s time for Esper Scout, members of whom play a key role in running Bomb the Twist, the label responsible for much of tonight’s festivities. Bomb the Twist is a Leeds-based ‘community of character’, a DIY label putting on shows, publishing zines and supporting fresh talent and music in the City. Their Bandcamp page features Esper Scout’s latest single, Compass, as well as a compilation of Delta 5 covers, with tracks from Autobodies, Witching Waves and The Expelaires.
Tonight is Esper Scout’s last ever gig, which gives an emotional resonance to the performance – adding power and personality to their already passionate sound. Whether it’s right or wrong, we still live in an age in which seeing four women playing music together on stage with style, substance and skill is unusual enough to feel empowering. And that’s exactly what Esper Scout do, getting to the centre of the room with a dynamic combination of intense riffs, heartfelt vocals and driving drums and guitar. By the end of their 30-minute set, I’m left feeling like we’ve reached the end of an era.
Smother are up next, and it’s time to get lost in gothic-tinged vocal melodies and thickly grunged up riffs. The five-piece Manchester band have the honour of announcing the blowing out of Girl Gang’s birthday candles, which triggers enough applause and cheering to fill in for the night’s absence of central heating. As we dig into sugary slabs of icing-covered sponge, the set continues with tracks from the band’s upcoming EP, set to land soon.
With a celebratory, inclusive atmosphere practically dripping from the rafters, the evening continues with music from screampop heroines Kermes, who blast the room with a sparkling display of powerful lyrics and colourful, energetic punk beats. The Leicester four-piece is followed by pop-inspired sounds from Bloom, who conjure the room into movement with syncopated synths and light, catchy harmonies. Describing their music as ‘life-affirming wizard pop’, Bloom encapsulate the happy, aspirational atmosphere – on a night where the dreams and magic of people’s private spaces start to become reality.
Girl Gang’s 1st birthday party comes to an end with Glaswegian DIY punk trio, Breakfast Muff, who style out the final set of the night with the sounds of feminism and fun. Bandmates Eilidh, Simone and Cal take to the stage to deliver ferociously dynamic pop-rooted punk, switching between instruments and radiating the raw vibrancy of the whole night.
It’s an exciting time for Girl Gang, and an exciting time for Leeds thanks to their growing presence here. As welcoming spaces like CHUNK cement their position at the roots of talent and creativity, we need passionate people to uphold safe spaces and advocate change. And with an outspoken voice and an army of kindness behind it, Girl Gang Leeds is doing just that. Happy birthday.
Photograph by Kate Ryrie.