The annual Slam Dunk Festival makes its first stop in Leeds City centre, sprawling from Millennium Square to the Leeds Beckett University and all the way to the First Direct Arena. Which is quite the distance to cover in such favourable bank holiday weekend weather. However, everyone is in high spirits as they pour into Millenium Square ready to start a day full of great live music, featuring rock veterans and newly discovered talent to boot.
Up first is The Dangerous Summer who recently released a brand new album this year, they’re in a prime slot to play as everyone is still sober and can truly enjoy them. Though there are moments of their set that grow slightly tedious, with it seeming a little hard to decipher where one song ends and another begins, it all culminates with a beloved classic The Permanent Rain which makes everything a little better. They are, however, followed by The Audition who reunited for the festival. Slam Dunk boasts their first performance together in around 6 years and, boy were they missed. It’s a wonder why they ever went away as they dive into their back catalogue, playing high energy tracks like ‘My Temperature’s Rising’ and ‘Approach The Bench’. Vocalist Danny Stevens owns the stage with an unparalleled energy and despite being gone so long, they sound better than ever. Truly, it can only be hoped that they stick around.
One of the more underrated bands in the pop punk genre, and probably of the festival overall, are Broadside who take to the Signature Brew Stage. Their optimistic summer vibes go over quite well under the sun and despite a hiatus, the band seem to move in synchronicity with such an ease. “I can’t wait to take a photo of this home,” vocalist Oliver Baxxter announces between songs, “I can show my mom and say; ‘look! That’s my band, look at how many people came out for my band’.” It’s a sweet moment, to see how proud the band are to see how far they’ve come half way across the world.
Whilst the Jagermeister stage, situated in the Leeds First Direct Arena is shaded from all the glorious weather, Creeper’s punk rock ethics are about to heat things up inside an arena as dark as their clothing. Their debut album ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ gave them the ability to platforms such as Slam Dunk and even earned them a slot on the main stage at Reading and Leeds Festival later this year. Skipping from one peppy track to another, Poison Pens and Suzanne especially prompted the crowd into a sea bedlam. The set grinded to a slightly more emotional halt when pianist Hannah Greenwood took centre stage for the acoustic track ‘Crickets’. However, picked back up with singer Will Gould asked for the biggest circle pit the festival will see at only 4pm on a Saturday afternoon would be quite the feat but a courteous effort was made.
State Champs’ audience however rammed Leeds Arena from front to back, their presence even had fans queueing up on the stairs of the seating area just to see a little better. And of course, you can’t play a show this big without showcases a new track, Dead and Gone fit seamlessly into the set as if a household name in the State Champs catalogue of pop-punk deliciousness. Though, nothing could hold a candle to the sheer mass of moving bodies during Elevated at only 5 o’clock in the afternoon, overall turning out to be one of the must see sets of the festival.
Sleeping With Sirens manage to hold the crowd’s attention throughout the set even though the numbers have depleted since the vacation of State Champs from the stage. But it’s not until older tracks like If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn and If You Can’t Hang start when the audience gets a bit more involved, vocalist Kellin Quinn wasn’t lying when he said, “We’ve left the best three songs till’ last.”
Frank Carter has never played Slam Dunk Festival before, until now with his quote “favourite and best band” Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. Their strobe light set-up makes for a moody and intense set, opener Fangs is just as hostile as on record and it doesn’t take long for Carter to make his way into the crowd during next track Juggernaut, standing atop the crowd yelling for them to hold his legs up in a patient break before the breakdown, waiting for what felt like a lifetime for him to restart the track and start surfing over everybody’s heads. It’s not only Carter’s charisma that makes the band one of the most sought out to see live, it’s also the specifics they do in certain tracks. Take Wild Flowers for example, hosting a woman only crowdsurf in Carter’s attempt to make it a safe space for everyone. Carter asked for the biggest circle pit the people in the seat have ever seen, “They payed to sit down to see a show.” Technically they didn’t pay any differently but nonetheless, a show they got indeed, a pit stretching the same width of the stage lasting the entirely of Devil Inside Me.
PVRIS latest album ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’ continued an ethereal sound that is synonymous to them. However, vocalist Lynn Gunn’s is clearly feeling the wear and tear of their jam packed touring schedule when tracks like Heaven seem strained and forced. Yet, tracks like You & I and St. Patrick can easily remind everyone of the stunning sounds this band have carried with them thus far.
Festival favorites and kings of the nostalgic, Taking Back Sunday, are the penultimate band over on Millenium Square. It’s honestly surprising that they haven’t taken the headline spot, while they don’t have the same spectacular set up as the guys that follow them, it needs to be said that Taking Back Sunday really don’t need it. Taking Back Sunday are a treat to watch, Lazzara’s erratic movements and signature mic swings – that have been adopted by many of the other bands performing – make for a stellar watch. Their songs have stood the test of time and thrown into a mix with newer tracks as ‘What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost?’ follows ‘Death Wolf’ and ‘Tidal Wave’ precedes ‘Cute Without The E’. It isn’t any wonder why Taking Back Sunday have lasted as long as they have, with their dynamic performances and killer back catalogue and at Slam Dunk it’s no different. A sure highlight for the day.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the arena, the fairly intimate Signature Brew Stage hosts headliners As It Is and there’s nothing like a little late night emo to round out the festival, and As It Is’ new look certainly hits the spot. Their new black, white and red tones completed with vocalist Patty Walters’ and Ben Langford-Biss’ throwback emo guyliner, it’s certainly a drastic look compared to their casual wear of snapbacks and checked shirts. Pulling the whole new vibe together is their new track The Wounded World that’s a layered and aggressive track about society’s own downfall. Tracks from their debut album, ‘Never Happy, Ever After’, Dial Tones and Cheap Shots and Setbacks feel immediately different with their new look but they all have the liveliness and loveable joy as normal.
The sheer number of genres on show at Slam Dunk Festival makes it a clash of all kinds of alternative fans of young and old. Whilst some bands tend to gather similar types of audiences, others entice those looking for new music. Whilst this is only the first city stop of three for the festival, it only gets bigger every year with more space, more bands and more excitement for an inner-city festival of this genre. So here’s to Slam Dunk Festival, hopefully it stays a date to mark in the diary every year.