Slam Dunk Festival – The Review

Slam Dunk Festival – The Review

As I queue up to collect my wristband outside Leeds Art Gallery on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I can barely contain my excitement. I am in one of my favourite cities in the north of England, well away from the mundane repetitiveness that comes with working on a weekend, about to see as many great bands as I possibly can. I stand in the line, going over my day plan for who I want to see, and where they are all playing.

As I head through into the festival, me and the group of friends I am with part ways. Three of them go off to see pop punk tinged alt-rockers Moose Blood, while the other member of our group goes off to see Bethan Leadley for some reason. I however, have a different plan. I start off towards Leeds Beckett SU, which is housing the Impericon Stage this year, and the first band of the day, is The One Hundred. In terms of genre, this band are so hard to pin down, mixing elements of rap, electronica, punk and metalcore to create an incredibly unique sound. As I make my way through to the stage, I notice that the room is much fuller than I had anticipated, with well over 400 people in attendance, far more than you would expect for a relatively small, unsigned band from London at 13.30 in the afternoon.

I first saw this band supporting Hacktivist (who we will talk about later) at the tiny venue that is Sheffield Corporation, and they are just as electrifying as they were then. They open with ‘Downfall’ and then go into fan favourite ‘Breed’, which gets the pits going and everybody jumping. Their set is only 7 songs long, but they put everything they have into it, with vocalist Jacob Field displaying his expert showmanship all while going through every vocal style imaginable (bar Mongolian throat singing, which he can probably do) without ever missing a beat.

7/10

I walk out of Leeds Beckett SU and head towards the Atlas Stage, hoping for more of the quality of performance I have just seen from The One Hundred, and I was not disappointed. By the time I get to the stage, I have missed the first two songs of The Word Alive’s set, however I was not missing out too much, as they launched into ‘Trapped’ off latest album Dark Matter. Telle Smith’s vocals have certainly improved in the last couple of years, and on record they really do not do themselves justice, because live they are INSANE. Smith broke his back and fractured several of his ribs in November last year, but as he leaps around on stage the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. The delivery of his clean vocals is quite astounding, as is his stage presence, which is absolutely riveting.

7.5/10

As the crowds disperse, I realise I have no bands planned for the next hour or so, and one of my group suggests we go and see Astroid Boys, a Welsh Rap Collective from Cardiff, who are playing on the Uprawr Stage, which is being held in an underground car park.You know that scene in Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift where that guy who isn’t Paul Walker or Vin Diesel (So you don’t really care, let’s be honest) drives down into that underground car park and everyone is dancing and revving their Supras and Evos? throw in a few hundred pissed up northerners, some MDMA and a lot of strobe lights and it was kinda like that. But without the cars. Astroid Boys start their set, their blend of grime and rap mixed with a bit of hardcore goes down a treat, one minute you are skanking with the best of them, next you are throwing down in the pits. Tracks ‘Dusted’ and ‘Minging’ are played as a bit of fan service after much chanting and clapping, and they go down a treat, followed by another fan favourite ‘Taylor Swift’. Astroid Boys entire shtick is chaotic music with very few boundaries, and that is exactly how the entire experience can be described. And it was one of the most entertaining performances I have ever witnessed, be sure to check them out if you can.

7.5/10

After a slight break from it all, we headed over to see what would turn out to be the best performance of the festival: Northlane. Some bands are best suited to record, others to playing live. And then there are some you think would be better on record, then you see them live and they hit you like a juggernaut and completely melt your face and destroy your eardrums. Northlane are one of those bands. I entered the stage with some trepidation, as I had preferred their work while former vocalist Adrian Fitipaldes was a member, and while new vocalist Marcus Bridge had the voice of an angel, His unclean vocals were no match for the raw power possessed by Fitipaldes, at least on record. As I settled in for an enjoyable yet fairly tame performance, I was immediately (and pleasantly) proven wrong. They open with my favourite track, ‘Dispossession’ and I am immediately on board. Marcus Bridge’ unclean vocals have come on leaps and bounds, and I instantly forget all preconceptions and enjoy the ride. Their live performance injects new life into tracks ‘Rot’ and ‘Obelisk’ while ‘Quantum Flux’ has all the crushing power it does on record. Certainly the best band of the day, and I will not hesitate to go see them again.

9/10

Next on our list is Hacktivist, a band I hold near and dear. Their curious blend of djent and grime gets everyone moving as they open with ‘Hate’ before going into the slightly more melodic ‘False Idols’. Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari makes an appearance on ‘Taken’ while guitarist Timfy James’ former bandmate Jamie Graham takes to the stage during ‘Deceive and Defy’, which certainly gives the set some colour, however over all I am slightly disappointed. While Hacktivist are a great band, this time around, there seems to be something missing. Jay Hurley is not in time on occasion and Timfy seems to forget that Rou doesn’t come into the song until the second chorus. This really took me out of the performance, and these small yet noticeable mistakes slightly tarnish it. A good set, but could be a lot better.

6.5/10

We stick around for Cancer Bats, who deliver their own brand of hardcore punk in spectacular fashion, with ‘Hail Destroyer’ and their strange mashup of ‘Sabotage’ by the Beastie Boys and ‘Children of the Grave’ by Black Sabbath being the highlights of the set. Liam Cormier is his usual crazy self and jumps and leaps around like a man possessed, and his banterous remarks between songs are always sure to induce at least a mild chuckle. His impression of a Yorkshire accent was both hilarious and dreadful, and it all added to the show. Despite being a bit older than most of the bands we see, they prove they are just as young and crazy at heart, if not more so.

8/10

We make our final pilgrimage back to the Atlas Stage to see the headliners: Of Mice & Men. This is the band we had been waiting for. They open with ‘Bones Exposed’ which no doubt will cause many sore necks in the morning, as will next track ‘Feels Like Forever’. Sadly, the band are plagued by sound issues, the speakers cutting out constantly. But they power through it, and when the issues are eventually resolved, they absolutely tear the place down. Old fan faves ‘Second & Sebring’ and ‘The Depths’ go down as you would imagine, with thunderous applause and the sound of several thousand people singing along. Vocalist Austin Carlisle goes from intimidating presence to smiley singer in seconds, showing that as well as a fantastic vocalist and lyricist, he has the showmanship to go with it.

8/10