Slam Dunk Festival Leeds 2015 – REVIEW

We really couldn’t have asked for a better day for a music festival, bright and sunny weather in Leeds city centre. We’d made the journey from Glasgow after a trip to see the mighty Gallows play the night before. After a nightmare getting here with the trains (I was genuinely crushed to miss Trash Talk’s set, thanks Cross Country service!) we finally arrived on site just as We Are The Ocean were ending their set.

Gallows - Leeds Slam Dunk North - May 2015

Gallows – Leeds Slam Dunk North – May 2015

The audience seemed rather static and uninterested in the band, more focused on drinking beer in the sun. The band tried in vain to prompt a sing during ‘The Waiting Room’ along but the crowd reaction was a bit deflating. ‘Let go and then lose control’. I was hoping that this wasn’t a sign of things to come for the rest of the day. But perhaps it’s down the sheer size of the main stage, WATO are great in an intimate setting (as we witnessed at Newcastle Riverside last month) but here the magic seemed absent. Judging my some close up photos singer Liam looked a little under the weather, perhaps that could explain it?

Comeback Kid - Slam Dunk Festival 2015

Comeback Kid – Slam Dunk Festival 2015

With so many bands on the bill and just one day, it was simply impossible to see them all but you can’t help feeling like an overwhelmed child at Christmas with this much to choose from. So whatever your personal musical preferences are there is something for everyone here.

I had set myself the task of documenting the smaller stages, as those naturally seemed more appealing to my tastes and I adore hardcore punk! It proved pretty damn tough to drag myself away from Beckett University which was the home for the Impericon and Fresh Blood stages. The Macbeth stage was instantly ruled out as being home to pop punk, heavily frowned upon by this reviewer (sorry/not sorry!). Then main stage, whilst with some great bands didn’t really entice us away from the alternatives and to be fair we’ve covered the majority of them extensively in the past. So off to the Uni we go, with a couple of pit stops along the way…

Neck Deep – Main Stage

Neck Deep - Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

Neck Deep – Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

We stuck around the main stage to catch a few songs by Neck Deep before venturing off elsewhere. A band I’d heard about on the grapevine and I was interested to see if they lived up to the hype. And we noticed a sizeable army of young fans around the festival, all wearing Neck Deep t-shirts. Compared to We Are The Ocean’s crowd there was a noticeably huge difference in reaction, the crowd are positively buzzing with excitement hands pumping in the air.

It wasn’t what I was expecting. Then the penny dropped! I’d mistaken them for another band with the word ‘Deep’ in their title, I’ll not say which one but as a hint it’s a bit of a rude name!

Vocalist Ben Barlow expressed his disappointment at the barriers in place and no crowd surfing rules. A grumble many other acts would echo throughout the day. The audience energy and participation are a big factor in these types of shows, with bands feeding off that energy exponentially. But sheer volume of people here could be potentially dangerous, so health and safety came before rock n roll exuberance this time.

This young band seemed to be the ignition the festival needed, throwing themselves around the stage with youthful abandon, all smiles, they’re an act with plenty of charisma.

And with cheerful that note we headed off to investigate the smaller stages!

Mariachi El Bronx – Desperado Stage

Mariachi El Bronx - Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

Mariachi El Bronx – Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

Desperado Red was my saviour and probably the reason for such a bad hangover the day after the festival (and the day after that oops! But it’s a music festival so what they hey!) Staff at the Desperado Stage were giving away some free samples, so we dutifully obliged.

So here’s my oddball band choice of the day and the only non-punk band I would see. Hardcore LA legends The Bronx go Mexicano. What an incredible concept, I love these guys! Vocalist Matt walks on stage ‘Isn’t this something special?’ he asks. Yes sir, it really is.

I was charmed by the fact one of them had a cowhide patterned guitar. along with their Mariachi band attire and blazing sunshine, I slipped into the moment and completely forgot where I was. As did the gentleman standing near me, head banging away as if he were at an actual Bronx gig, that’ll come later pal!

With a big smile on our faces we headed for a walk around the site, with the end goal being Beckett University which is also one of my favourite venues in the city. The lights are good, the bar is reasonable, the sound is amazing and the food is cheap there are REAL toilets! Might be a coincidence we ended up staying there for the rest of the day? Or maybe it was the amazing bands…

Bane – Impericon Stage

Bane - Leeds Slam Dunk 2015

Bane – Leeds Slam Dunk 2015

Hailing from Boston, here’s a band I hadn’t encountered before (and they’re nothing to do with that movie character, you know the one!). I’m kinda kicking myself for that, but that is the cool thing about festivals when you discover a band you didn’t know existing and they turn out to be fantastic. They are veterans of the scene and have been busy grinding out hardcore classics for the last 20 years.

As we arrived the crowd looked a little sparse, that didn’t last long as punters returned from the bar and the place began to fill. Vocalist Aaron Bedard stalks the stage with energetic intent, his microphone barely visible for his huge long sleeved t-shirt. It doesn’t take him long to grow tired of the barriers and dive into the crowd, screaming lyrics in the faces of happy fans, who scream them back word for word. The first circle pit of the day begins to form and Aaron whips up the crowd into a frenzy. I stood there taking it all in, ‘damn these are good!’ I thought to myself.

Comeback Kid – Impericon Stage

 

Comeback Kid - Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

Comeback Kid – Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

Continuing my Impericon binge are another band who’d been tipped as a must see by many in my circles. Seems good enough to me, we decided stick around and see what they’ve got. Wade from Gallows took up a position next to my co-writer to watch them. So they must be very good then! Canada has some pretty decent punk bands and Comeback Kid are no exception.

They storm into a frantic version of ‘Wasted Arrows’ from their 2014 album and the crowd chant the song title back at the band, with fists in the air, this quickly erupts into a full blown circle pit.

Lots of interest from other press at the festival, which is cool to see. It’s a shame most of them didn’t stick around for the whole set. They really missed a treat!

H₂O – Impericon Stage

H2O - Leeds Slam Dunk 2015

H2O – Leeds Slam Dunk 2015

 

This is the American H₂O, not to be confused with the synth pop Scottish band by the same name. Original NYC hardcore punks, who’ve been going for over 20 years and show no signs of slowing down. They enter the stage and with one huge guitar riff the crowd is already out of control with excitement.

I’d missed them in Newcastle Think Tank they night before, reports from that show were in all very very positive. So made sure I was here for their set. They have a unique melodic punk sound, which makes them very accessible and commercial. Don’t get me wrong they’re still VERY hardcore even more so in a live setting.

They cover ‘Waiting Room’ by Fugazi which resulted in myself getting carried away and having a bit of a good old mosh. Fantastic!

Gallows – Impericon Stage

Gallows - Leeds Slam Dunk North - May 2015

Gallows – Leeds Slam Dunk North – May 2015

Now here’s a band that have been with me for quite sometime, they bring back a lot of memories (good and bad) and have a special place in my heart and record collection. This would be my first time photographing them so I was somewhat excited, something that rarely happens these days! As I said earlier we’d travelled up to Glasgow the night before to watch them at The Cathouse, which was a remarkable show and was also the first time I’d seen them with their new 4 piece lineup, more on that coming up.

There’s a slight air of tension, something I didn’t notice last night. Something seems different. Their first huge show in a while, in fact the Glasgow show was their first in over a year so they’re just warming up.

Wade is quite the frontman, powerful, intimidating and mesmerising. He’d been floating around for some of the afternoon watching other bands from the side of the stage, which is always great to see. For me the band took on a whole new exciting persona when he joined the band. They seemed to have lost a lot of the initial ‘fans’ between their mega hyped debut and 2nd album ‘Grey Britain’. They surprised many with their comeback, and I think their strongest record to date. But the damage was done and Frank leaving led to his brother Steph departing after touring the third record. Undeterred they forged on as a four piece. I wasn’t sure if it would work as a four piece, the guitar lines are written as intertwining and complementary pieces which work with each other and against them to great effect. That kind of intuitive playing is rare and can take years to cultivate. So that was a concern. My verdict: it was noticeable, certainly there’s a gap in the full sound that I was used to. However they’ve pulled it off, the songs seem streamlined, yet still 100% Gallows.

’Outsider Art’, from their third album provided the crowd with a singalong moment “Our lives they collide…” which they obliged. ‘In the Belly of A Shark’ still excites me now as much as it did 8 or 9 years ago.

It’s a great set featuring a mix of songs from throughout their four album career, mainly focusing on new material. Opening with the brilliant ‘Mystic Death’. I have to admit as much as I love Gallows the second half of their recent album is a bit off the beaten track, maybe it’s just a new direction with age, but it lacks the venom of classic Gallows. Slower more mature anthems ‘Bonfire’ and ‘Chains’ make the setlist and the crowd enjoys screaming along to them.

To quote Wade ‘I don’t need to tell you what to do, this is a fucking Gallows show, you guys know what to do. Respect!’.

Things got a little rowdy and at one point an overeager crowd surfer landed on Wade, mid verse, and proceeded to be a nuisance in the photo-pit, Wade wasn’t best pleased, security moved the surfer on swiftly, but not swiftly enough.

Never, ever, ever write this band off. Simply magnificent.

The Bronx- Impericon Stage

The Bronx - Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

The Bronx – Slam Dunk Leeds 2015

 

Following from their amazing Mariachi band set earlier in the afternoon, The Bronx returned for a headline slot on the Impericon Stage. There was a really great turn out despite the clashes and the venue appeared close to capacity. Gallows dedicated a song to The Bronx tonight and there’s good reason for that. Here we have punk rock royalty all the way from LA. A band that regular feature on similar festivals for the genre. My first time seeing them and they were simply a must see.

Matt appears on stage with a big smile to greet the fans. “What’s up motherfuckers we’re The Bronx from Los Angeles’. They seem like down to earth people, and then the music starts. They launch into ‘The Unholy Hand’ Wow! He doesn’t last long and continues the trend of the day by diving into the crowd and disappearing, the only hint of where he is comes from the fans and security who are helping hold his mic lead aloft. He reappears surfing and appears back on stage as if it were rehearsed. That almost with other antics (back flips off the balcony into the crow for one) make their reputation for great live shows more than justifiable.

Their short set they still manage to get through over a dozen songs, ending the night on ‘History’s Stranglers’.

By this point we’re both feeling overwhelmed and a little tired and a bit tipsy from the Desperado! We head back to the main stage to catch the finale.

You Me At Six – Main Stage

I have to admit I found the main stage is a bit too commercial (maybe that’s my old school punk ideologies in action, I naturally rebel against popular bands), but hey they’ve got to bring the crowds in. So I happily avoided the big name acts in favour of more interesting ‘smaller’ acts. After a day of hardcore punk we headed to the main stage to take in You Me At Six. Safe to say they weren’t really my cup of tea, far too slick and pop for my tastes. I just couldn’t connect to the music, it seemed a world away from the experience I had on the day.

The crowds had swarmed to view them and the set up was really impressive. Perhaps I was flagging as it’s a really tight schedule for a 1 day festival. After seeing Gallows and The Bronx, this just doesn’t have any impact for me. However, the large crowd were really enjoying the show.

Overall it was an impeccably run festival and the expanded layout worked really well. Security were brilliant all day and access to photo-pits were handled smoothly which makes my life much easier and more enjoyable. Thank you!

Despite few calamities; missing Trash Talk (that one will haunt me), missing Baby Godzilla (best live band in the universe), not being able to get near the Fresh Blood stage or Academy, and the fact that they’d sold out of burgers by the time The Bronx had finished when we were just at the point in the day when we really needed some dirty burgers from a van! It was an utterly fantastic day, see you next year!

Reviewers: Graeme Baty and Ashley Shephard

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