An exploration of Leeds’ Fiercely Underground Music Scene

2nd February 2023

Leeds loves music. It’s travelling through open fields, beating against indoor walls, and bursting through the tips of our fingers. We’re talking about renowned festivals, unique venues, phenomenal talent, and you – our local, our visitor, our music lover. But we think it’s just about time that we dig below the surface and unearth some of the musical gems that make Leeds the rock and roll rival of any city in the UK, or the world for that matter!


One of our own.

 It’s no surprise that a huge number of bands and artists kicked things off in Leeds, either as born-and-bred Leodiensians or through the melting pots of our cultural scene and university campuses.

It’s well-known that Leeds lays claim to the anthemic Kaiser Chiefs and anarcho-punks Chumbawamba. But did you know that pop icons Soft Cell and art rockers Alt-J met whilst studying here? And for those with more underground music tastes – post-punk icons Gang of Four and The Mekons call our city home.

A little-known fact is that legendary American punk rocker Henry Rollins, of Black Flag, once lived on Harold Mount in Hyde Park, in what is one of Leeds’ most eclectic and bohemian neighbourhoods. And you might have heard one of Leeds’ biggest electronic exports recently with Kate Bush hitting the mainstream again – Utah Saints scored a top 10 hit sampling Cloudbusting in 1992.


Talent spotting.

Because our music scene keeps things casual, it’s full to the brim with local talent. There’s a reason that EMI chose Leeds as the location for the first ever major record label headquarters based outside of London for EMI North. The new label fronted by music legend Clive Cawley (who has worked with everyone from Paul McCartney to Taylor Swift) opens at Duke Studios in March 2023, and will recognise the very best musical talent locally and across the North of England.

Throughout our city, you’ll find blossoming communities of up and coming bands and artists, grassroots venues, practice spaces and studios supporting the next generation of superstars. The obvious place to start is at Leeds music scene’s very own centrepiece: Brudenell Social Club. Dating back to 1913, Brudenell has been making music history for over 100 years and has been host to legends from Franz Ferdinand to Tom Jones. Still welcoming big international names to perform to this very day – it’s always a regular fixture for cult indie and alternative music acts when on tour. Bigger names sell out fast, but you’ll find live music and events at The Brudenell most nights of the week with fresh talent taking to the stage – often in support of renowned indie artists. Another underground hub is community venue, Wharf Chambers – you need to be a member to visit, but don’t worry it only costs a couple of quid. Or head out to smaller venues like Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton for grassroots jazz and soul.



Quirky and quintessential.

Venues? We’ve got ‘em. And not just your regular mid-size O2 Academies or big Arenas either. Leeds is a city where you can catch a great gig almost anywhere! So, in no particular order, you can…

Find jazz hidden behind a barber shop at the infamous speakeasy Domino Club or enjoy a slice of jazz history at Sela Bar. Hang with the hipsters at Belgrave Social Club. Find late night funk at Oporto. Boogie down with street food under a railway arch at Chow Down. Celebrate grassroots at an old dry cleaners at Hyde Park Book Club. Experience the alternative side of a historic venue with music from artists like Doric String Quartet and The Delines at Howard Assembly Rooms. Party in the pews at Trinity Church. Sit back in Victorian splendour at the Guinness World Record holder for the nation’s longest running music hall, City Varieties. Watch bands whilst you shop for records at Jumbo Records, Vinyl Whistle and Crash Records. Enjoy an eclectic range of live music at The Wardrobe. Enjoy live jazz with your Sunday roast at Hifi Club. Or visit Left Bank Leeds for creativity, culture and community in a beautiful Grade II* listed former church.

There’s a place for everyone in Leeds’ vibrant and diverse music scene, with a thriving LGBTQ+ culture running through everything from bars and bands to theatre and drag. For a night out to remember, head to Call Lane and Lower Briggate, where you’ll find Queen’s Court, Fibre and The New Penny all ready to welcome you with open arms. Fancy something spectacular? The drag show at Viaduct Showbar brings in revellers from all over the UK! With Eurovision coming up this summer, there’s no better time to plan a watch party night out in the city centre – even if we were just pipped to the host post by Liverpool!


We’ve got history.

Leeds has been putting music on the map for quite some time, so we’ve got more than our fair share of history and heritage. Perhaps the most famous is the West Indian Carnival, held in Chapeltown and Harehills every August. The sound systems and steel pans have been starting parties since 1967, making it Europe’s longest running carnival.

We’ve seen huge gigs in Roundhay Park too, one of Europe’s biggest city parks. Bruce Springsteen drew 80,000 fans in 1985, with Robbie Williams topping out at 100,000 in 2006. 300,000 ravers descended for Loveparade in 2000, marking Leeds’ biggest party to date. Recently, Ed Sheeran brought music back to the park with a sell-out 2019 set that felt like all of Leeds came out to watch – despite the rain.

Historically, the famous rock album by The Who, ‘Live at Leeds’ was recorded at University of Leeds Student Union. But lesser known is that David Bowie once performed at a former roller skating rink in Kirkstall to huge crowds.

It’s not all about big gigs. Leeds’ legacy is famous amongst UK clubbers, with Ralph Lawson and friends’ iconic Back to Basics laying a claim to being Europe’s longest running club night after three decades on the dancefloor. The raucous noughties indie scene found its home at Brighton Beach, which began in 1994 at the Cockpit, and the Kaiser Chiefs’ anthem ‘I Predict A Riot’ was actually inspired by their own PIGS club night at Hi-Fi Club!



Talking about iconic gigs, 2023 is set to host some of the biggest hitters around! Across a bevvy of festivals, outdoor concerts and arena dates, Leeds music fans will be spoilt for choice. We’ve got pop. We’ve got rock. We’ve got oldies. We’ve got new-ies. Basically, an enormous playlist’s worth of musical fun to be had.

Leeds Festival (25-27 August) will see Billie Eilish, The Killers and Sam Fender headline, supported by the likes of Lewis Capaldi and Imagine Dragons. Then there’s retro gettogether Let’s Rock Leeds (17 June) – a homecoming for Leeds legends Soft Cell, alongside The Farm and Midge Ure. Live at Leeds (27 May) is all about bringing the brightest new acts. If you haven’t heard of The Lathams, Tom Walker or The Big Moon you soon will have!

Don’t fancy the full festival experience? The Millennium Square summer series will host some amazing acts too, but without the need for a tent and wellies. McFly, Kasabian, Nile Rodgers, Bastille, The Wombats, Shed Seven… there’s a groove for one and all. Then at the first direct Arena there’s George Ezra, Florence + The Machine, Duran Duran, Michael Buble, and even Elton John for those who didn’t get Glastonbury tickets!


Making music happen.

It’s no good just expecting great bands to get out there and play. Truly great music cities work hard to support their talent, providing the infrastructure, venues, support and promotion that young artists need to move from the back bedroom to the main stage. And yet again, Leeds delivers.

Take MUSIC:LEEDS, for example. The not-for-profit org provides a centralised point of contact to support, promote, develop and grow music in the city, and the wider region. Any genre, and medium, any ambition. Their projects, networking opportunities, events and workshops are well worth investigating.

Another Leeds music scene mainstay is Futuresound, who run a collection of forward-thinking music venues, live events, festivals, ticketing, management and record labels. Basically, a whole music infrastructure! Their Live at Leeds festival was one of the UK’s first inner city, multi-venue offerings – and it still brings tens of thousands of fans to Leeds every year to enjoy the best up and comping music around.

Not only do we make music happen, but we inspire its growth. Home to the UK’s only live events production university centre, Backstage Academy in West Yorkshire excels in behind-the-scenes education and advances the youth of our generation into a music career they love. From production to management, Backstage Academy is located in Europe’s number one live events production destination, Production Park, which has welcomed big names from Coldplay to Little Mix to rehearse in their technologically advanced spaces. Musical inspiration doesn’t stop there, as Leeds Conservatoire delivers education to over 1200 students right in the heart of Leeds’ cultural quarter. Having produced talent including European-based saxophonist, Andy Schofield, and Composer, Performer and Music Therapist, Adrian Snell, Leeds is a city that not only grows talent, but helps it.



Time for a headphones moment.

 Feeling inspired by Leeds’ fiercely underground music scene? Check out our Spotify Playlist – available to download here. And to experience all of this music, culture and more, then why not consider a trip to Leeds in 2023? This is an exciting year for the city, and there’s so much to do in the year ahead. Come join us.