HER Fest Leeds: Setting a new standard from Yorkshire to the world

This October saw a musical first arrive at the Brudenell Social Club, as the pioneer social enterprise Come Play with Me, female-focused PR agency HER Music and creative music charity Brighter Sound came together to bring Yorkshire’s only female-focused music festival to life.

The aptly named HER Fest was inspired by the 2017 statistic that a mere 14% of acts at UK music festivals were female-fronted. With a mission to redress the gender balance and platform some of the incredible women making music in the UK today, the Festival boasted an eclectic line-up of bands – all with women at the helm, and all ready to champion equality in the music industry.

The Saturday itself was an unusually warm autumn day, denim-jacketed drinkers and music fans happily soaking up the last shards of sunlight on the Brude’s picnic benches. Entering the main room revealed an atmosphere overflowing with friendly excitement, the stage lit in anticipation of the acts to come, and an audience more than ready to pay attention.

Up first was no fixed iDENTITY, who brought powerful lyrics and bassy pop vibes to the stage in a mighty opening to the day’s music.

no fixed IDENTITY. All photographs by Emma Johnson.

Norwich punk rockers (or as they put it, ‘grrrl band’), Peach Club, were up next, igniting the room with raw energy, crashing guitars and relentless rhythms. Their sound shouts feminism and activism from the rooftops, shattering tired notions of ‘girl power’ and replacing them with strength, style and substance.

Up next, accenting the afternoon with a softer, more progressive sound, 50ft Queenie took to the stage, zipping through a set of unmistakably British tracks, including a lament to frontwoman Elizabeth Walshaw’s inability to keep her friend’s houseplants alive. These are troubling times.

Kata Rayna followed, their set bursting with emotionally-fuelled, catchy power pop that captivated the room – continuing the journey through genres, and displaying the true diversity of female musical talent on the line-up.

Kata Rayna

The festival’s very own Park Fires took to the stage after the duo, armed to the teeth with keys and melodies and ready to bring the HER Fest spirit to life. Rachel and Emma, the two halves of Park Fires, are also the founders of HER Music, which makes them pretty instrumental in the making of the Festival. It was no surprise, then, when the pair electrified the stage with a sense of pride and accomplishment at the powerful day they’d created, and the standard it sets for the future of music in Leeds, the UK and maybe even beyond.

Next up, it was Dream English Kid’s turn to fill the stage with red jumpsuits and – aptly – dreamy strains, captivating the audience with lingering chords and striking melodies that resonated throughout the venue.

Leeds’ very own all-female rock band, VENUS, took over in a blast of personality, passion and pounding rock anthems – symbolising the drive of the whole day and galvanising the room in foot-stomping positive energy. In vibrant contrast, enter stage left Dead Naked Hippies, who strutted across the stage in a stylish performance full of raw rhythm and gutsy guitars.

Brudenell’s familiar floor filled as the night went on – lighting dimming as the cold autumn air brought more of the afternoon’s sunshine chasers inside to enjoy the story of talent unfolding onstage. The Tuts – the self-described ‘three tone girl band’ hailing from West London – ignited the stage with punchy pop-punk, bringing energy and humour to the room with a spirited performance as the evening stepped up a gear ready for the headline act.

After a marathon of music, it was time for Stealing Sheep to close the night, bringing their spikey brand of electro pop to an audience floating on the positivity of what had been an incredible day.

Safe to say, Yorkshire’s first female-focused music festival was a roaring success – setting the tone for festivals of the future, and opening eyes and ears to a conversation that we just can’t get away with not having any more.

HER Fest comes to Sheffield’s Picture House Social this Saturday 3rd November, and you can get your tickets here.

Feature image is of Park Fires.

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