The sun is out in the beautiful city of Leeds, and it’s time for another edition of the ever-growing Slam Dunk Festival. Taking place in the surrounding areas of the city’s Millennium Square, the day provides six stages of alternative music, from pop punk to metalcore. In its 10th year, the day promises to be a mass of surprises and top-notch performances from some of the biggest names in the scene.
Since I am only one man, I was only able to catch around six bands throughout the day, a few of which were only snap decisions due to certain circumstances (time constraints, long lines and alcohol being the main three).
First up were the rapidly growing PVRIS on the festival’s Main Stage. Make no mistake, this band is poised to go stratospheric, and this show was just a taste of the Massachusetts three-piece’s sound to come. For a band on so early in the day, the crowd was simply huge, with nearly every word sung by vocalist Lyndsey Gunnulfsen being yelled back at her with pin-point precision. The band were tight and came with a level of professionalism you would usually only see from bands much higher up a bill of this calibre. However, whilst the set was a resounding success, there were several drawbacks that kept the set from being truly special, with the main possibly being the most integral: sound. Don’t get me wrong, the band sounded great, but unfortunately for them, kinks were still being worked out at this point in the day in regards to the area’s sound mix. The band’s overuse of bass drum boom triggers (you know what I mean) led to a set that sounded almost drowned in itself, making it difficult to pick out some songs and making it unclear just what was being played until the choruses hit. An incredibly strong performance marred by technical issues and questionable choices, PVRIS are still one that everybody needs to keep their eye on. 6.8/10
Speaking of keeping your eye on a band, there aren’t enough eyes in the world to keep track of the frightening progress Neck Deep are currently making. Smashing into their set, the Welsh five piece crushed the crowd in the palm of their hand the moment they hit the stage. For a performance at 4pm, this felt like a headline set. If PVRIS had a huge crowd, Neck Deep had at least five times that. Sing-a-longs, breakneck pace and fantastic stage banter from the band, the set was arguably the best of the whole day, packing enough action into 40 minutes to satisfy anyone in attendance. The band didn’t seem to suffer from the aforementioned sound issues that had been plaguing the stage thus far, and breezed through their stunning set with ease. However, despite the band’s precision, it still doesn’t feel like ‘just another gig’. Looking closely on every single one of their faces, the grins we can see are massive, and entirely justified. Bravo, Neck Deep, you just mopped the floor with Slam Dunk North. I can only imagine how well they went down in Hatfield the next day. 9.3/10
Next on the main stage, Lower Than Atlantis. Smashing into their set with a monumental sounding Criminal from their latest self-titled album, it’s clear that LTA aren’t here to fuck around. With 45 minutes, the band manage to hit on every single right note, with a set spanning both plenty of new material and fan favourite classics such as Deadliest Catch and Beech Like The Tree. Despite the upbeat setlist, the truly magical moment of the set comes from Another Sad Song, prompting the biggest song along I heard all day long. Even now, vocalist Mike Duce continues to impress with his flawless performances on stage, and the rest of the band are just as proficient. Its gigs like this that destroy any worries I have that LTA might be slipping off the map, cementing them as not only one of the strongest British live bands on the circuit, but one of the best bands to come out of our country for quite some time. 8.5/10
After a brief food break (Hog Roast, heavenly), it’s off to the Kerrang! Fresh Blood stage to catch one of the most exciting hardcore bands on the scene right now, the frighteningly volatile Baby Godzilla. Now, I first saw Baby Godzilla back at Takedown Festival in March, and since my commissioned review is yet to be published, I will simply say what I said then: Baby Godzilla are absolutely, categorically, the most ridiculously entertaining live band I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Starting their Slam Dunk set in true BG fashion, it’s mere moments before at least one of the band’s guitarists has sprinted across the room to climb the nearest bar table. As any of you who have seen this band before might know, music takes a bit of a back seat when you see these guys, as your eyes are just too focused to even acknowledge any of the disparate noise emanating from the speakers. However, I must admit that this time the music was much more present than usual, and for the record, sounded great. Baby Godzilla not only proved that they can still destroy a room in an instant, but they can sound pretty damn good whilst doing so. 8/10
Heading over to the Impericon Stage to catch my last two bands of the night, I was forced to leave Baby Godzilla a little early to catch the wonderful Gallows. Starting their set with the crushingly heavy Mystic Death, Gallows are here for one purpose tonight: play you a fucking Gallows show. Wade makes a point of confessing he won’t be telling the audience what to do, and it’s eminently clear he doesn’t need to. Rushing through a set heavy on new material, it’s not hard to want for one or two more tracks from the band’s seminal Grey Britain. However, Gallows are an entirely new band in 2015. Heavier, more precise, and in many ways perhaps, a better band. The new songs sound incredible, and no one would know the band hadn’t played together since summer of last year. The performance flashes past, ending on a crowd destroying rendition of the classic Orchestra Of Wolves, with nearly everyone in the room ending up in the crowd at some point or another. Gallows proved tonight that not only are they back with a cutting vengeance, but that nobody should ever doubt the musical abilities and drive of this internationally spanning four piece death machine. 8.5/10
Closing the day, The Bronx. This is the first time I’ve ever seen The Bronx and well, wow. Matching Baby Godzilla for intensity and managing to sound absolutely air-tight at the same time, each carefully selected hit speaks for itself as the band absolutely destroy the set and crowd alike. If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that vocalist Matt Caughthran will not sit still. Like, at all. If that’s not enough, he kept using yours truly as a diving board to get back onto the stage! But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most captivating performance of the day. The southern tinged punk raging from the stage was an absolute pleasure to experience, and the career spanning set left no album untouched. Not only this, but the onstage banter on display here was nothing short of hilarious. Managing to meld a stunning performance, hectic antics and incredibly entertaining stage presence together isn’t an easy feat to accomplish. I think it’s fair to say that I can attribute several of the bruises I found the next day to The Bronx, and that’s exactly the way I want to end my Slam Dunk experience for the year. Same again next year then, Leeds? 9/10