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The New Festival That’s Going to Put Leeds on the Map, Internationally

· Ali Turner · Culture

Propelling the city to new heights, Leeds International Festival is a sign of great things to come.

Live at Leeds LIF

Leeds International Festival is the latest project from Leeds BID, in their endeavour to support the city's businesses by attracting more visitors and improving the city experience. Find out more...

2017 will see the launch of brand new event, as Leeds International Festival brings together music, moving image and tech across 9 days.

April is going to be an exciting month for Leeds, because it will mark the launch of Leeds International Festival, a new event that aims to propel Leeds to new heights, by spreading the word of everything we do well. From 22nd to 30th April 2017, it will bring together iconic artists, industry experts and inspiring organisations for a series of events you won’t want to miss. The three main streams span music, moving image and tech, but the fringe events will cover everything from food and drink to fashion, so there really is something for everyone.

The event is being championed and partially funded by Leeds BID, the biggest Business Improvement District in the UK, and they’re using it as a platform to spread the word about this great city of ours. “It’s about Leeds, it’s about showcasing all that is great about Leeds, both nationally and internationally,” Andrew Cooper, Chief Executive at Leeds BID told us. “We know that events can really shape a place, they can really put a place on a map, and that’s what we want to do.”

Music: festivals, gigs & conversations

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Credit: Deans Chalkley

The first strand of the Leeds International Festival is music and it’s being headed up by one of the driving forces in the city’s music scene – Futuresound. They’re the brains behind Live at Leeds, and they organise many of the gigs that take place in the city, so who better to curate a calendar of must-do music events?

“Leeds has a reputation for having an excellent music scene. It’s been voted the fifth best city for attendees of live music events in the UK, alongside London, Manchester, Bristol & Glasgow, beating cities like Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield,” Amy Dewsnap, Head of Projects and Business Development at Futuresound, told us. “Our vision is simple for the music strand – showcase and develop Leeds as a vital centre for music and culture. Our programme aims to celebrate what already exists, create new legacies for music, and cement Leeds as an important stop on the touring map for international artists of any genre.”

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Credit: Andy Hughs

Leeds International Festival will celebrate what we already have, as well as encouraging people to launch pioneering new events that attract more people to the city and engage more people in the music industry – so this year, Live at Leeds will become part of the festival.

As a result, the inaugural Leeds International Festival will boast the likes of Rag’n’Bone Man, Slaves, White Lies, Wild Beasts and Nothing But Thieves – all of which will perform at Live at Leeds on 29th April 2017. One wristband and you can see them all, time allowing of course – you’ll have to hot-foot it between some of the city’s finest music venues to create your own personal Live at Leeds line-up.

Live at Leeds LIF Brewdenell

Credit: Andy Hughs

Ahead of the main event, there’s the Live at Leeds Launch Party on 28th April 2017, as well as Soul Rebels Presents Nubiyan Twist and Skwid Ink and The Unconference, a special event for industry bods that promises a day of panels, workshops, presentations and networking – and this is something you’ll see running throughout Leeds International Festival, it’s not just entertainment, it also opens the doors to the city’s most successful industries.

However, Live at Leeds is just one of the music events taking place as part of Leeds International Festival this year. The music stream kicks off with Drill Festival on 22nd April 2017 – curated and headlined by post-punk band Wire, it brings together a slew of left-field artists, taking you from classic to brand new with the likes of Bilge Pump, Nanna and Richard Formby.

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Credit: Ben Bentley

Finally, the festival will close with an all-out party on Briggate, as the the World Music Stage brings a day of free music to masses. Expect a diverse array of music, with special collaborations with South Asian Arts and Leeds West Indian Carnival.

It’s an impressive line-up for the launch, but it’s still just a glimpse of the festival’s future potential, as Amy explained, “For 2018, we will continue to develop this programme, and attract show-stopping names from around the world, to come and form part of the music strand, alongside the world class music creatives here in Leeds.”

Moving image: film premieres, BAFTA winning directors & industry talks

Vinnie Jones Leeds International Festival

Leeds and motion pictures are intricately intwined – it was here, after all, that Louis Le Prince created the first ever moving image in 1888. Over a century later, we’ll be celebrating that fact with a series of events that pay homage to his creation, be it films, documentaries or even games.

“From day one, we knew Leeds International Festival needed to have a big focus on moving image to drive the industry forward, commission new work and help inspire the next generation of talent,” Lee Hicken, CEO of The City Talking and Director of the Moving Image strand of Leeds International Festival told us. “There are wonderful things going on in moving image in the city, and we want to celebrate it, and grow it further, particularly as the festival moves forward.”

The event everyone’s talking about is ‘Do You Want to Win?’ It’s a feature-length documentary film that tracks Leeds United’s move from a bottom rung Division Two team to the last winners of Division One before it became the Premier League in 1992. New manager Howard Wilkinson asked one question of the players and the city as a whole – do you want to win? This new film will tell the story of that unforgettable four year period in the club’s history when it premieres on 24th April 2017.

And that’s not the only film that will premiere at the festival – The City Talking’s Music in Leeds Vol. 3 will be screened on 28th April 2017, telling the untold stories of the city’s music scene – and they’ve saved one of the best for last, because the latest instalment will feature one-hit wonders Chumbawumba.

Leeds International Festival

If you’d prefer fiction to fact, you can catch a screening of the award-winning Tyrannosaur on 26th April 2017, with an exclusive Q&A – you’ll be able to ask Executive Producer Diarmid Scrimshaw those burning questions, as well as watching the film itself, which is a gritty, harrowing tale of washed-up widower on journey of self-destruction. Screenwriter Francis Lee, who worked with Scrimshaw on God’s Own Country, will also be there to answer questions.

Gaming has an important role to play in Leeds International Festival too, with two innovative new events that are well worth checking out. On 25th April 2017, you can see the LIF Orchestra performing iconic music from the gaming world, including Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, developed by The Chinese Room. And two days later, there’s A Day of Game, where you can join 250 digital companies and game creators for a day of networking, talks, and of course, gaming.

Tech: empowerment, tech offs & the next generation

Lauren Laverne LIF

Lauren Laverne

The technology stream is a little different to the ones that have come before, if only because they’re both seen as a mode of entertainment – but you don’t have to be a techie or geek to enjoy the events they have lined up for us this April. Part of the joy of Leeds International Festival is that it creates new ways for us to experience the things we do really well.

“Leeds is at the forefront of technology right now, from fintech to medical, Leeds is where it’s at for cutting edge technologies, and I think it is absolutely no shocker, that businesses and start-ups alike are relocating to the region, to capture and be part of this movement that’s happening here,” Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Head of Technology at Sky and Director of the Tech Strand, told us. “I think that is one of the things that I wanted to expose with the technology strand. I wanted to shine a spotlight on how exciting technology is right now, and for techies and non-techies alike, open a door into this industry.”

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The headline event is Empowering Women With Tech – a one-day conference on 26th April 2017 that brings together female leaders in tech from across the country. Just 17% of the workforce in the tech industry are female, and that number drops to 10% when you move up to leadership roles, so events like this are really important to help inspire women to go into the industry and give the guys a run for their money.

You can hear from broadcaster Lauren Laverne, fashion blogger Susanna Lau (aka Susie Bubble), co-founder of Stemettes.org, Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE and VP of Digital for Warner Music Group, Emmy Lovell. And of course, Natasha will be there too, “We are incredibly proud to be bringing lots of local, national and international speakers to the region, to talk about females’ journeys into technology and empowered by using technology.” If you’re inspired by the event, head along to Leeds Digital Job Fair on 28th April 2017 to meet tech start-ups and leaders, with plenty of job opportunities to help you get into the industry.

Tech LIF

To go alongside that, there’s an eye-opening hacking and bio-hacking event that will see you have a micro-chip embedded in your hand, which you can then programme – are you game? If not, you can choose from a series of events that are a little more tame, like the Hey Conference, a dedicated one-day event on web technologies, curated by Harry Roberts and Josh Nesbitt.

On 27th April 2017, TED talks and WWE collide as the city’s creative leaders go head-to-head with series of 5-minute talks on a diverse array of topics – you choose who will walk away with The Tech Off Wrestling Belt. The next day, Mike Butcher, Editor-at-large of Tech Crunch, will be in Leeds to talk about the Future of Technology, while interaction designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino takes on the Internet of Things. Then on 29th April 2017, you can ease the next generation of technophiles into the industry with Make Believe – Inventing the Future of Tech, a day of tinkering, hacking and play at Leeds City Museum.

Fringe: food festivals, fashion shows & inspiring talks

Simon Eeles Studio LIF

As well as the three main streams, there will be a series of fringe events, which will give you an idea of how Leeds International Festival could expand and grow in the future. Leeds Indie Food will be offering up a taste of what they have planned for their third festival in May, but the main focus of the fringe is fashion.

The highlight is likely to be the Leeds Fashion Show, which will take place on Briggate on 22nd and 23rd April 2017. It brings together high street brands, independent retailers and fashion students to create a capsule collection of the city’s fashion scene, with shows every half hour.

On April 24th 2017, Fashion in Leeds will present a screening of the Director’s Cut of Sole Searching in South America – the documentary film follows Gary Aspden, as he rounds up a team of Adidas fanatics and heads out to Buenos Aires in search of a store filled with vintage Adidas trainers. He’ll be there to talk about the film, his work and the sportswear industry in an exclusive Q&A after the event.

That will be followed by a series of fashion talks from industry experts. British designer Christopher Ræburn will talk sustainability at a special Q&A with key industry experts on 25th April 2017 – he’s famed for creating on-trend pieces using military fabrics and decommissioned parachutes, so there’s no one better to talk on the subject. And the next day, Claudia Croft, Head of Fashion at Style Magazine, and John Vial, the Global Influencer for Revlon, will join forces to discuss the changing face of fashion.

This is just a taster of the events that will be taking place for Leeds International Festival, there’s much more to come – so you can bet your bottom dollar that something will float your boat, across the 9 days and 35 events they have lined up us.