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Slam Dunk Festival North – A Quick Summary

May 29, 2012

Slam Dunk Festival is one of my favourites in terms of the kind of bands that they get. When I first went in 2010, New Found Glory, Set Your Goals and Four Year Strong, some of my favourite bands at the time, were among the headliners. This year, the headliners conjured up a much more nostalgic excitement. Taking Back Sunday and Funeral for a Friend are bands that take me right back to my years of teenage angst, enormous jeans, tiny vest tops and more eyeliner on one eye than I’d wear in a month now. They were good times, and for those two bands and their fellow headliner The Blackout alone, Slam Dunk had proven yet again that it can compete with the big guns like Download and Leeds and Reading.

Queuing up outside the Leeds Student Union in the baking heat, though, I began to feel a slither of dread creep into my mind. Leeds Student Union is made up of small club rooms on many, mostly basement, levels. Saturday in Leeds was an absolute scorcher. Even before the day had started, I could tell we were in for an unpleasantly warm experience. In the end, it turned out to be borderline unbearable. It was too warm to stay in one room long enough to hear a whole band’s set and both my partner and I were both ill because of the oppressive heat. However, it isn’t fair to hold this against the festival – they can’t control the weather – and with the union at what definitely felt like full capacity, it may not be too long before they venture towards the great outdoors just to keep up with demand. The outside of the building was remarkably better organised than 2010 – maps were handed out, queuing was a less tedious experience than previously and installing portaloos between the Atticus tent and the Sinstar bus/van was an inspired idea. Organisationally, it was fantastic and much improved on previous years.

Onto the music, then, for that is what we were there for. When we got inside, despite the already uncomfortable heat, we beelined straight for the basement and Upon a Burning Body at the Honor Over Glory stage. In a room shaped quite like an amphitheatre with the stage at the base and the room ascending around it gradually on three sides, the acoustics were incredible and frankly, better than anywhere else around the venue. Upon a Burning Body played a storming set; they got the crowd going to the point where I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single person standing still in the room and if they were swelteringly hot underneath their very smart three piece suits and ties, you couldn’t tell. When we saw them afterwards, manning their own merch stall, they turned out to be really nice guys as well – mocking our beautiful British currency and inviting us to a barbecue in Texas next time we happen to be over there!

Next, we popped next door to the Punktastic acoustic stage, where Portia Conn (and friends) were about to start. In spite of the few technical hitches she had at the beginning getting the sound balance right, she proved, as can only be done with an acoustic set, exactly how talented she is. Her lyrics are mature, poetic and flow beautifully, and her voice is just divine. We ran into her after her set (trying to find her way out through the labyrinth!) and she was so sweet and humble when we told her how much we’d enjoyed her music – a true star.

Due to the by that time completely unbearable heat, we had to take a pretty major break for some fresh air and the next band we saw wasLower Than Atlantison the Atticus Jagermeister stage. Last time I was in that room, which is the university’s refectory transformed for the occasion, I didn’t think too highly of it as a venue for live music. It’s quite clear that it’s not designed for that purpose – the tills and fridges behind the shutters sort of give it away – and even though its size makes it appealing for housing the followings of bands the sort of size ofLower Than Atlantis and the headliners, the acoustics are pretty lousy. While I actually quite likeLower Than Atlantis, their set at Slam Dunk wouldn’t really have sold me on them if I was a new listener. I’m putting it down to the acoustics in the room, but it seemed like all the different elements were intermittently out of time – the drumming was erratic, and Mike Duce’s vocals were rarely right. I can’t help but wonder if it sounded different nearer the front without the length of the room and the echoes to distort it. It was a real shame.

After another break for fresh air and what turned out to be a bit of a delay inside, Funeral for a Friend took to the Atticus Jagermeister stage. Despite having been a fan since “Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation” came out, this was the first time I’d seen them live (I missed them at Download last summer because they clashed with System of a Down – it was gutting). They didn’t seem to suffer from the acoustics problems as badly as Lower Than Atlantis had, and blasted through their set with an energy I could hear, but unfortunately couldn’t see a shred of. One of the main disadvantages of being 5ft 2in is that at gigs, tall people are everywhere and mostly right in front of me. At the time, it felt like they were playing a lot of their new stuff from “Welcome Home Armageddon” and less of the old favourites but now I look back on the setlist, they did actually play a good mixture with at least one song from all their studio releases featuring in this short set, which is sort of posthumously pleasing to realise. If I’d been able to see much/anything, then I’d be able to cast a judgement as to the kind of show they put on but I really don’t have a clue. They sounded good though.

Finally, the band I’d most been looking forward to over the day came on stage. Taking Back Sunday, who rarely tour any more let alone come across the pond and play in the UK, have featured in my “most played” lists since before Apple invented iTunes. There was a lot of anticipation around this set, and they did not disappoint. Despite the delay to FFAF‘s set earlier in the evening, Taking Back Sunday came on stage more or less on time and played through a great selection of songs from all their albums including loads of my personal favourites like “Cute Without the ‘E'”, “Liar (It Takes One to Know One)” and “What’s It Feel Like To Be A Ghost” (all the older ones, but TBS are a band of my youth!). At the after party, the band were out and about chatting with the fans before they jetted off presumably to travel down south ready for the Hatfield counterpart of Slam Dunk the following day, and by all accounts seemed like decent, down to earth guys. Lets just hope they come over to the UK a bit more often now they’ve seen that we can give them some decent weather and a good crowd!

Overall, Slam Dunk was a brilliant day/night out. I’ve already said that it’s one of my favourite festivals, and I’m really pleased to see it going from strength to strength. This year in addition to the traditional North and South events, they’ve also held Slam Dunk Scotland and Slam Dunk Wales, and I even heard that after a few grumbly fans made a fuss about time clashes, some of the bands have put together an impromptu tour to cheer them up (Hit the Lights and The Story So Far have definitely been back on the road since the weekend). I was gutted to miss some of the other big names like Mayday Parade, Architects and Gallows, all of whom I really, really like, but you have to prioritise at these things and I think I chose the right bands to see. I just hope the festival continues to grow and look forward to the year I can buy my first weekend camping tickets for Slam Dunk Festival UK.

You can check out all the bands and artists I’ve mentioned in this review by visiting their facebook pages.

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