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Virtual Reality, Frank Bruno and Sex Talks – Leeds International Festival is Back & You Won’t Want to Miss It

· Joseph Sheerin · Culture

Leeds International Festival promises 30+ events across 11 days.

Leeds Needs Help, Leeds International Festival

Leeds International Festival is the UK’s leading metropolitan festival of new ideas and innovation. Expect compelling speakers, original performances and interesting discussions across 11 days. Find out more…

From inspiring talks to gigs, exhibitions and virtual reality, Leeds International Festival promises a real smorgasbord of events.

Leeds International Festival is one of the biggest events on the city’s jam-packed calendar and it returns this May with an incredible line-up of events. We’re talking inspiring conferences, world-class art, one-off theatre performances and more – it’s no wonder it’s the UK’s leading metropolitan festival of ideas and innovation.


Frank Bruno, Leeds International Festival

The ‘CORE’ programme of Leeds International Festival brings together creators, innovators and pioneers from around the world to talk about new ideas and the world of tomorrow. A large part of this year’s line-up is the What Does it Mean to Be Human? series, which is curated by Leeds Beckett University. Acclaimed author Matt Haig will be discussing Notes on a Nervous Planet, Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten will examine Staying Human in a Busy World, evolutionary biologist Professor Alice Roberts looks at The Incredible Human Journey and policy advisor Simon Anholt asks How Good Should a Country Be?

One of the standout events in 2019 is BlaqueXplosion, a day of discussion and DJs that celebrates the black community in Leeds and the UK through music. Frank Bruno and Jermain Jackman will talk through their own experiences, which is a must-see, but there will also be a crafts market and DJs until late. Alternatively, you can join Facing Brave, a touching panel discussion that focusses on the women taking on the rise of acid-based violent attacks through plastic surgery, acid-proof makeup and politics.



You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to technology-based events. All Day Hey! will look at emerging web technologies with an all-star line-up of leading tech minds like Sarah Drasner of Microsoft and Remy Sharp of Left Logic. You can also head to The Northernlands Data and Start Up Summit to learn about the latest innovations in the data economy or attend Automation and Me, three days of public talks and workshops, with a hackathon from the North Sound Collective. The whole thing revolves around the body and automation.

You can see how new tech affects the games we love in Sport 2.0, with panelists like endurance athlete Sam Boatwright, Olympic Gold medalist Amy Williams and football referee David Elleray. Fancy an insight into The Changing Face of the UK Film and TV Industry? John Thompson, Nicci Topping and Adam Morse will tackle everything from the growth of video on demand to the future of independent film. Or you can find out where marketing and branding will go next in What the F*ture? by Elmwood and Contagious.

If you want to learn more about food justice, head to What’s Eating Reality? It looks at the issue of inequality in the global food system and how digital or creative projects can have a positive impact. Rewire Leeds is back for the second year with a brand new interactive spy thriller game from machina eX and Transform – you’ll set out on a mission to protect the city by solving a series of puzzles around the city. Or you can head to Falling Light, an immersive light and sound installation from Flat-e that runs throughout the festival and forces you to contemplate the idea of light emerging from the darkness. It comes complete with a soundtrack from acclaimed producer Daniel Avery.


All That Lives, Leeds International Festival

The ‘OFF’ programme promises live music, performance, comedy and more in venues across the city. One of the highlights is Conductor, a virtual reality experience from Interplay Theatre that’s completely unique to you. You’ll enter the world of The Conductor and bring the forest to life by interacting with the music and visuals around you.

If you’re a music fan, there are loads of quality events to choose from. You’ve got a rare chance to see iconic dance group Crazy P with support from DJs like Ralph Lawson, Brudenell Groove and Pleasure Connection. Cult-queer art club night Juicebox returns with a line-up of the most progressive and transgressive musicians around as Tommy Cash and Yves Tumor take to the stage. Or you can check out the UK’s only full charanga orchestra as Charanga del Norte play Cuban rhythms to a backdrop of animations from Guillermo Davis. And if you want an insight into the music industry, get down to The Unconference, where DJs, executives and artist will take part in a host of talks.

There are more talks elsewhere. Get Into Gaming promises a series of discussions and workshops from industry experts. Or you can listen in on Sex Tapes, a night of specially selected spoken word performances that will have you on the edge of your seat with their tantalising tales of sex-positive encounters, alone and with others.

John Cooper Clarke, City Varieties

For a more artistic experience at Leeds International Festival, you can experience the For Oluwale II exhibition through creative spoken description and sign language. Or why not head to All That Lives, Feasts? It promises a Day of the Dead celebration with an exhibition of brightly coloured sculptures and a Leeds and Mexico themed banquet. If you fancy taking the kids to Leeds International Festival, head to the Family Day for dancing, science experiments and creative workshops.

Fancy a few laughs? You can join Leeds Needs Help: A Council in Session where self-styled self-help comedians Jessica Brooks and Harry May-Bedell will try to ‘fix’ Leeds and its unsuspecting citizens. Alternatively, enjoy a night with legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke as he recites classics like ‘Evidently Chickentown’ and ‘Beasley Street’. There’s a unique drama experience from Rachel Mars and Greg Wohead too, as they create a grim yet honest drama in Story #1. And you can see older people talk about what it’s like to be them in Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation.

The Sunday Practise will highlight the North’s prolific creative outlets through a series of film, performance and art workshops. There’s a trio of major dance shows too. Page 127 sees Maria Popova blend sculpture and movement to transform temporal space, Tender Balance follows Annabel Taylor Munt as she explores the impact of illness and disability on identity and The Mountain and Other Tales of She Transformed will see Hannah Buckley perform a piece that centres around the female command of space.

Leeds International Festival takes place across the city from Thursday 2nd to Sunday 12th May 2019. Tickets for all events are available now.