Festival Review: Slam Dunk North, Leeds, 26/05/12

Tim Bridges rocks out at Leeds University Union for the 6th annual punk metal festival, Slam Dunk North.

Jayne Robinson

Last updated: 7th Jun 2012

Slam Dunk Festival has been going just over ten years now, and has gathered steady momentum as far as size and band billing is concerned. All the sponsors and endorsements - and more importantly, the line-up - are well selected.

This was my first time at Slam Dunk, and I think this is because for me, it was the most ‘hardcore’ line-up I had seen them confirm. On paper though, this year’s line-up appeared odd, ranging from quite old ‘emo’ bands such as Taking Back Sunday and Funeral For A Friend, to modern hardcore/metal acts such as While She Sleeps and Of Mice And Men. Whatever, it worked – the place was absolutely packed all day.

I think this was the 6th year they had used the Leeds University as the choice of venue – and it is a good choice. There are plenty of rooms to host the various stages (sweaty), plenty of bars (pricey), and it could completely piss down all day, and the festival wouldn’t be ruined, because most of the action happens inside (again, sweaty).

That being said, if you had never been to Leeds University campus before, and you had walked there from the town centre, it was difficult to find. We were wandering aimlessly around the campus, with scores of other kids, for about 15 minutes or so before we stumbled across the equipment area of the Honour Over Glory stage, and had to do a full lap of the festival area before finding the correct entrance. 

That is a minor complaint really though, and apart from some arsehole security members (which can be expected), I only have one other complaint – and that is, most of the sound was fucking shocking all day. The Honour Over Glory stage had the most consistent sound quality. Whether that was down to the room layout, the sound guys or whatever I’m not sure, but most other stages were very hit and miss…

First up, we were at the Red Bull Bedroom Jam tent to watch Dead Harts (3/5). I had been checking these out online and was looking forward to seeing them live, and they didn’t disappoint, playing a blend of fast and mid-paced hardcore, with some great breakdowns in the vein of While She Sleeps and Norma Jean. The tent was unfortunately only half full, but that didn’t put them off, and they got a couple of small pits & mosh sections going. Definitely a band to keep an eye on…

Next up, we sauntered over to the Vans stage to watch Make Do And Mend (4/5). Again, I'd been waiting to watch these for a while. Their album End Measured Mile was definitely up there as one of my favourites from last year, and the Americans didn’t disappoint. MDAM are lumped in with all those American bands that seem to have a fanatical type of following; La Dispute, Touché Amoré, Pianos Become The Teeth etc… They picked the set well, perhaps humbly underestimating how many people would have heard of them. The band started great with Unknowingly Strong, and I would say the only dip in momentum was when they played an older track that wasn’t as well known by the crowd. However, they seemed to be just hitting their stride, when they announced they were playing the last song, which was a shame – would have loved to have seen MDAM play a full set. Hopefully they plan on doing a tour sometime soon, especially with a new album on the way. They closed their short set with Night’s The Only Time Of Day, which did the job perfectly.

Motion City Soundtrack (3/5/) marked our first visit to the main stage for the day, which for me was an underwhelming performance. They weren’t bad; they have a tight sound, and clearly know what they were doing, but it just seemed quite generic. The song content doesn’t seem to have moved on much in their career, and it seems a bit done and dusted, which is perhaps why the performance was the way it was.

While She Sleeps (5/5) however, was a very different show, marking our first time at the Honour Over Glory stage in the basement of the Leeds University Union, which for me, was the best stage all day. While She Sleeps are great if you love them, it’s the metallic-hardcore-type-thing, which I can take or leave, depending on my mood. If you haven’t seen WSS yet, check them out; they are so much better live than they are on record. They kept the pace at 110% for the whole set, for me the stand out track being The North Stands For Nothing.

Back at the main stage, Funeral For A Friend (4/5) were the guilty pleasure of the day. Their set was plagued with technical difficulty, which got some of the crowd a bit lairy, although that could have been to do with an afternoon filled with sunshine, beer, copping-off and queuing up to see The Blackout at the signing tent. Despite this, FFAF came out and played a good set – with as much material as a band like this, It’s difficult to play something for everyone, but they mixed things up quite well, and I was happy to hear Damned If We Do, Dead If We Don’t from the latest album. I think FFAF succeed as being people’s guilty pleasure, because they have become such a tight-knit machine live, the welsh accent is brilliant for in-between-song banter, and when you have had 18 pints of red stripe, Juneau is still a fucking awesome song to sing along to with a few thousand other people. In other words, FFAF are perfect for events like this.

After that self-indulgent bit of nostalgia, Cancer Bats (3/5) didn’t quite cut it. They are a great band, and I have seen them play some fantastic live shows, but this didn’t seem to be one of them. They came across as a chuggy-slow-fast-slow-black-sabbath-worshipping- hardcore-playing-machine, which is fine, but not as fine if While She Sleeps were your stage predecessors.

We stayed put at the Honour Over Glory stage for our personal highlight of the day, Every Time I Die (5/5). I love this band, and I fucking love seeing them live, although I was slightly nervous. The one time I have seen them do a bad job was an event a bit like this. However, I didn’t need to worry. ETID are fucking brilliant, they are a solid unit – they like to fuck around (beer bongs) and talk lots of shit (mainly about Taking Back Sunday today), and they have rakes of songs that hint at booze, sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. But they take their craft seriously, and always put on a great show, and I think it is this that helps get the crowd into a frenzy. The fact that a room full of people get to shout the word ‘cunt’, in the song Champing At The Bit can’t hurt either. If you have never seen live, then sort it out…

However, absolute shittest set of the day, was definitely main stage act Taking Back Sunday (1/5). I have always loved Tell All Your Friends, and loads of their other output, but have never seen them live. I was warned not to expect much, but neither of us expected what we saw. It was terrible, and I’m going to lay it all at the feet of Adam Lazarra, who seemed to be absolutely hammered. His singing was bad, even forgetting the words to his own stuff, and talked utter gibberish between songs. This in turn seemed to put the rest of his band off, because they all seemed to be out of time with each other, at some points seemingly playing different songs. Drink and party all you want, don’t get me wrong… but to think they were the headliners, probably made a few grand profit, and then bands like Dead Harts had to work their arse off to get a slot, just seemed like a massive injustice. To drive it home, TBS were fucking awful, and we left after three or four songs…

We thought we would wander back to the Honour Over Glory stage to catch some of Architects (4/5), who were definitely more worthy of their headline slot. I’m not super keen on their more recent stuff, but you can’t deny their ability live. The new songs sit nicely with the old material, they never seem to put a foot wrong when playing live, and having met a couple of them earlier in the day, they are just a bunch of decent guys, who deserve to have a commanding slot on the UK heavy music scene. We didn’t see all the set, but the highlight while I was there was Numbers Count For Nothing.

All in all, Slam Dunk is a great day, although it is nearly impossible to see all the bands you would like. It is a great showcase for UK and US popular punk, hardcore, or whatever-you-wish-to-call-it. We had loads of fun, and it seemed everyone else did too!

Words: Tim Bridges

Photos: Marianne Harris

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