Live at Slam Dunk 2012 on Saturday, 26th May 2012
Leeds is certainly no stranger to 'alternative' music. In fact, Leeds is positively teeming with club nights that cater to an 'alternative' audience (I hate that label, don't you?) at a variety of different venues across the city. From the extremely popular 'Fuel' at Leeds Met to the DIY approach at 'Hello Bastards' at Santiago Bar and the gothic and industrial darkness at Wendy House to the multiple quality club nights that run at The Cockpit, almost every night of the week there's something to satisfy alternative music lovers' ears whatever their particular genre preference.
One of the aforementioned club nights that run at The Cockpit is 'Slam Dunk.' Slam Dunk has been a successful Tuesday night staple for 11 years and through its immense popularity has spawned its own music label that has launched the careers of such acts as You Me At Six and Decade. Additionally, it is safe to say that without Slam Dunk's popular playlist of Pop Punk, Metal, Ska, Emo, Hardcore and Pop that various similar clubnights would not have cropped up nationwide. Such is the success of the club night that in 2006, Slam Dunk set up their own music festival. While initially set in Millennium Square, subsequent festivals have taken place around Leeds University Student Union at the various live event venues available in the establishment. In 2010, the festival expanded and established a secondary site at London's Hatfield University. Slam Dunk Festival is a shining star amongst the various festivals held in Leeds including Live at Leeds, Ghostfest and the big one, Leeds Festival.
The 2012 edition of the daylong extravaganza featured a stellar line up of notable as well as lesser-known acts. To the credit of the promoters, the organisation of the festival layout gets better and better every year, yet, the stage management this year seemed somewhat off. Traditionally, bands in similar genres are grouped together; however, this year saw many time clashes and bands with seemingly odd placement on the bill. Perhaps this is Slam Dunk Festival's biggest problem. There are so many great bands on across the day that it is a little disappointing when the realisation settles in that you're only going to see a few of them. Of course, I'm only one man and therefore can only review the bands I saw and what happened across my day.
As a huge fan of all things Pop Punk, my festival consisted of a variety of bands in the genre covering different stages of the festival. My first port of call was the Macbeth Stage in Mine to catch the love child of Transit's Tim Landers and This Time Next Year's Brad Wiseman, Misser. The band attracted quite the crowd who seemed eager to check the band out rather than one that was familiar with the set list. Nevertheless, for a band who have only played a handful of shows together they demonstrated their veteran instincts by playing a tight set highlighted by the infectious 'Time Capsule.'
The crowd rather disappointedly dissipated for the high-octane energy of Heartsounds. Armed with an irresistible female/male vocal combo this is the band's first trip across to the UK and they are clearly here to have a good time. Their anthemic, fast and melodic tracks are perfect for the weather experienced on the festival weekend and the harmonies between Ben Murray and Laura Nichol are delectable. It's just a shame more people weren't around to check the band out.
Shimmying through the sea of people, through the vast merchandise area and into the Refectory (or as it is renamed today The Atticus Stage) Say Anything launch into their set. Singer Max Bemis leads the crew with all the pomp and theatrics that accompany the group's unique brand of music. Bemis' traditional heart on sleeve lyrics leave the room momentarily as the semi-comedy song 'Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too' is given a run out before we are treated to a barnstorming rendition of 'Alive With The Glory of Love' to close the set.
The heat is immense as Motion City Soundtrack take to the stage to deliver a near perfect set of synth laden Pop - Punk. One feature that has always set Motion City Soundtrack apart is the consistent quality of their music. Justin Pierre's incredibly witty lyrics fill the air as the band storm through a nice varied set of singles and songs that you thought perhaps wouldn't be played. An entertaining feature of Motion City Soundtracks live set is what I like to call 'synth-alongs' whereby the crowd mimic the synth riffs played in the song and this was particularly poignant here during 'My Favourite Accident.' While a few technical difficulties marred the fluidity of the set slightly, the band recovered well and produced the set of the day so far.
Back to the Macbeth Stage for Save Your Breath. The Welsh outfit have been through a lot but they never lack for enthusiasm. Singer Kristian Richards proclaims "we've been down but not out" before introducing two new members of the line up and launching into their brand of spiky pop punk. The band storm through the intricate 'Vices,' the poignant 'Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy' as well as some old favourites before being joined onstage by The Blackouts Sean Smith for an epic version of 'Stay Young.' After multiple setbacks, it is fantastic to see the band still on top form and keeping their dream alive.
Speaking of dreams, it seemed as if The Story So Far were realising theirs over the duration of their set. By far one of the most intensely passionate and vocal crowds I have ever been a part of, it was truly an experience to behold. The lyrical content and delivery from Parker Cannon (singer and excellent name, by the way) seems to not only come from his heart but also his gut. It's a feeling that resonates with the audience in attendance who are at fever pitch. From the opening cries of 'States and Minds' to the passion of 'Swords and Pens' every vocal is yelled so loud that often times the entire band is drowned out. It's a testament to the buzz that The Story So Far have created off the back of a DIY attitude and a raw passion that the room is packed out and the band can't quite believe it. A fantastic set.
To round off the day, the Red Bull Bedroom Jam stage was my destination. The outside tent is horribly dark but Mayday Parade do their best to bring a bit of spark to proceedings. Mayday Parade's set meandered from the stale to sublime as lulls in the show were matched with dynamic performances of 'Jamie All Over' and a haunting solo rendition of the ballad 'Miserable at Best.' While the crowd lapped up the singles, it was the album tracks that were met with somewhat of an indifference. Despite this, the tent was packed and Mayday Parade ended the day if not on a high note then at least a satisfying one.
Slam Dunk Festival North 2012 can be chalked up as another success. The festival continues to go from strength to strength and looks to expand every year. With Leeds being the home of Slam Dunk, it is great for the city to host a festival that features genres of music that don't often have a prominent festival to call their own. As a result, Slam Dunk Festival sells out every year to an enthusiastic audience and produces a line up that genuinely enjoys playing. It's just a shame you can't be in two places at once. Roll on Slam Dunk 2013.