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FESTIVAL REVIEW: Slam Dunk Festival North, Leeds Millennium Square, 28/05/2018

Most consider the festival season a bit of a none starter if they didn’t get the chance to make it to Slam Dunk. Travelling through three major UK locations each year during the May bank holiday music lovers in their hordes religiously flock to the event, with the sole intention of seeing as many of their favourite bands as possible in just one day. With a few big changes to the stage arrangements this year, along with a duel headline setup, we took a trip down to this year’s event in Leeds to see what all of the fuss was about.

This year we made it our mission to check out more bands than ever before, and it wasn’t long before the festival gates opened that we were making the crazy dash to our first set of the day. First up on the agenda was the dark and dingy Leeds O2 Academy, this year’s home to the Impericon Stage. Opening up the location were Welsh lads Astroid Boys bringing their unique brand of punk, hardcore and grime all fused into one perfectly formed treat for the senses. With a minor delay to their stage time they appear with all of the energy and showmanship we have come to expect from them. Frontman Benji Wild is on top form today and spits rhymes like his life depends on it. 8/10

Before long we check our watches and realise that it’s time to once again grab our running shoes and get a move on to the next set on the agenda. The festival this year has two main stages and at Slam Dunk North organisers made the decision to put one of those, the Jägermeister Stage inside the Leeds First Direct Arena. Last year was the first time including this venue and it was complete and utter chaos trying to get both in and out of the venue, so this year we are apprehensive.

Upon arrival it seems they have definitely ironed out that first year insanity and the whole place is running a thousand times more efficiently. As we make it just in time for Chicago pop punkers Knuckle Puck we notice the sheer scale of this place, it’s enormous. As a group the band make their way onto the stage for a high octane set. The band give it their all putting on an incredible set but appear bewildered with how to work such a large crowd whilst effectively making use of such a huge and open stage. 5/10

As we return to Millennium Square, the spiritual hub of the day’s festivities we are lucky enough to walk straight into the second half of The Dangerous Summer’s opening set on the Monster Energy Stage. These guys are a pretty powerful opening presence and do an impeccable job of kicking things off. Not only that, they draw in a pretty impressive crowd for so early in the day. Their performance comes across effortless, they aren’t the most energetic bunch of guys on stage but alas they were more than than skilled in their delivery of tracks such as Northern Lights and Permanent Rain. 6/10

Can’t Swim are the next band on our itinerary. Rushing over to another location, The Signature Brew Stage, a large group is already beginning to envelop the stage. Having released their debut studio album just last year this is a band that are very much a part of the hype train right now making ‘One’s to Watch’ lists all over the joint (including ours!). Opening their set with All The Moves We Make Are Dark they put on a high octane show that doesn’t really let up for the duration. They really work the crowd living up to what so far seems to be an exceptional reputation. 8/10

The most anticipated band of the day for many attendees is none other than emo rockers The Audition. Announcing to the whole of Millennium Square how they were asked to reunite especially to play Slam Dunk Festival they beam with excitement. In front of us a very different Danny Stevens paces the stage. Face covered by glasses, a cap, a slightly bedraggled beard and hair way past the shoulders, it’s apparent that the little emo kid we all remember has definitely grown up. Picking straight up where they left off some years ago, Stevens makes it his mission to prove that he is still one of the most energetic and charismatic frontmen in rock and roll. It’s safe to say that collectively they absolutely smash it, providing one of the biggest highlights of the day so far. Closing their set with smash hits such as You’ve Made Us Conscious and Don’t Be So Hard the crowd are absolutely elated in the moment. 10/10

On our way past we make the time to drop in on King Prawn. With their set just beginning over on the Fireball Stage how could we say no to a glimpse of these veteran ska punks in action. Their whole performance is absolutely effortless, yet they maintain an easy standing as one of the most powerful and record perfect performances of the whole day. Everyone in the the vicinity is collectively losing it to their set and it’s an incredible site to behold. Al Rumjen, the band’s vocalist, pulls everything he does off so easily. It’s a rarity to see such a naturally gifted performer grace the stage.  9/10

Southampton based horror punks Creeper waste no time absolutely decimating the Jäger stage. Frontman Wil Gould and co are on top of their game and seem to take the whole experience in their stride. It’s easy to see in their performance style and their image that they are massively influenced by the likes of the Misfits, and it shows in their music style too. They collectively tear Leeds a new one, ripping through tracks such as Black Rain, Misery and Suzanne it’s easy to see how they’ve come so far in such a short period of time. 7/10

Twin Atlantic do their best to bring a little bit of suave and class to the festival. Taking to the Monster Stage frontman Sam McTrusty steps out in a bright red suit that most would be scared to wear in public. Opening their stage time with Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator they have a lot of competition from other stages and ultimately don’t draw as many fans in as was probably expected. Nevertheless they don’t allow it to scupper the quality of their show and go all out. Despite not being the kind of band with the ability to really work the stage, they pull it all off without a hitch. Closing their set with Heart & Soul from 2014 outing Great Divide it seems they pulled off a successful but unremarkable performance. 4/10

It’s starting to become tradition that if ska punk pioneers Capdown don’t appear on the Slam Dunk line up then something major is definitely wrong. Making sure not a single person goes into a meltdown they stick to tradition and make another huge appearance on the Fireball Stage. It’s been eighteen years since they dropped iconic album Civil Disobedients and they undeniably just get better and better as the years pass. As the band go all in playing legendary tracks such as Cousin Cleotis and Ska Wars, the packed out arena is either drunk, high or skanking. It is a beautiful little moment of unity and nostalgia that many will never forget. 10/10

We are sure to make an effort not to miss hardcore legends Comeback Kid performing to a more intimate crowd over on the Impericon Stage. The venue is packed and claustrophobic, which weirdly enough seems only right for them. They bring their signature brand of aggression to the stage and it’s not long until the whole room erupts into a hive of movement to their multitude of breakdowns. They perform an extensive twelve track set which features a whole anthology of some of their most notorious tracks. It wouldn’t be a Comeback Kid show if they didn’t close with Wake the Dead. The whole room descends into pure and unadulterated anarchy, it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if the emergency teams ended up having to work overtime following the chaos. 6/10

It’s encouraging to see bands like Sleeping With Sirens playing over at the Jäger stage this year. Their place on the running order seems to prove that Slam Dunk are still on top of their game when it comes to booking the right kind of acts to sell masses of tickets. Again, quite incredibly, the floor space in the arena is packed out; an incredible feat for any band so early in the day. Having been on the touring circuit as far back as 2009 it’s great to see the shrill vocals of Kellin Quinn absolutely smashing such a huge venue, easily proving to everyone that they could have been much higher on today’s bill. They predominantly play tracks from last year’s studio release Gossip, but make every effort to squeeze in fan favourites. 8/10

By seven in the evening all of the outdoor stages appear to become almost abandoned and people in their masses begin to descend on the Jäger Stage. Frank Carter has almost a cult like following with many looking up to him as one of the modern saviours of punk. Many people appear to flock to the venue simply to get just a glimpse of the icon. The security teams work overtime to get everyone into the arena on time and it finally fills as Carter and his band The Rattlesnakes take to the stage. The place is chaos and the pit teams have a serious struggle dealing with the sheer volume of people surfing over the barriers. Opening with Fangs it doesn’t even take one whole song for the frontman to keep with tradition, jumping from the stage and over the barriers where he remains suspended on the shoulders of adoring fans for a large portion of the set, before being dragged back in by security. 8/10

Making their return to the stage in Millennium Square it’s a deja vu inducing moment for Adam Lazarra and the rest of Taking Back Sunday, who performed in this exact same spot just a few years previous. It doesn’t take long for that fabled Adam Lazarra mischief to rear its head, and following their opening track You Know How I Do we are treated to one of the frontman’s famous ramblings, this time telling everyone about he wishes that he had golden owl statues in his town like the ones on the Leeds Civic Hall, which overhangs the stage. You would think people would tire of his bizarre outbursts, but its clear that it just comes across as being endearing. Along with newer tracks they play the usual mix of classics, ensuring that everyone walks away completely satisfied with the experience. 8/10

Before we know it the day is drawing to its finale, and while we mentally debate the dilemma of which headliners will get our attention at the close of this year’s festivities we decide to draw straws, with Jimmy Eat World coming out as the victors. As stage time hits it’s apparent there is a small delay but we aren’t kept waiting for too long, and the lights go down on the Monster Energy Stage for the last time in 2018. Fronted by Jim Adkins these Arizona natives prove once again why their career has been lucky enough to sustain such longevity. The tracks they perform are anthems, and that’s what really engages their fans more than anything. They open with Bleed American, famously one of the songs that bought the affection of many of their admirers right from the early days of their musical journey. A Praise Chorus is an incredibly emotive moment in the set and is followed by an encore of Sweetness and The Middle; two tracks that should never ever be absent from a Jimmy Eat World set. The only downside is the band’s tendency to be very static in their stage performance and not particularly working their audience. They do a great job doing what they do, but we cant deny that the headline spot should have belonged to Taking Back Sunday. 5/10

We really didn’t want the festival to end and so made a manic dash over to the Fireball Stage, not wanting to miss out on the mighty Reel Big Fish who had the honour of hosting the stage’s headline spot. We get there with the second half of their stage time still ahead of them. Upon realising their biggest hits had not yet being played excitement ensues. We catch an epic cover Toots & The Maytals classic Monkey Man. The track is immediately followed by Sell Out which is a huge sing along moment for everyone watching. They never cease to play up to being hyper animated versions of themselves on stage, and work as one hugely synchronised and comedic unit. In true Reel Big Fish style they close their set with an encore of Where Have You Been and Take On Me. 9/10

As the festival comes to a close we ponder over the fact that each year’s lineup seems to beat the previous very easily, and we can only imagine what next year’s event will bring us. What is certain is that we wont want to break tradition by missing another fantastic event that truly launches a summer of festivities.

Words and Photos by: Pat Gleeson

Pat Gleeson
Passionate photographer and music critic from Kingston Upon Hull. Coffee connoisseur and an avid Whovian.