Bank holiday Saturday, crowds flock to Leeds for a night of debauchery and regret. Myself and Danny Peart (Photography) on the other hand travel to attend the annual festival running since 2006. A festival derived from “alternative punk/emo/ska night held weekly at the city’s Cockpit music venue” (that’s no longer open. BOOOOOOO!).
The sun is shining and the city is buzzing as Slam Dunk descends into Millennium square. The main stage in all its glory being over looked by the Town Hall, Civic Hall, Leeds City Museum and many more historical buildings. A setting filled with history and grandeur that prepares to home some of the biggest sounds from across the world, up and coming and established alike.
Set It Off (7) grace the stage with electric energy that, despite my having very little knowledge of them grabbed my attention like a magnet. Immediately I get hints of Fall Out Boy, fitting considering they headlined the first Slam Dunk festival. To leave that as the description of them would be unfair. The guys blast through songs that couldn’t be more polished and entertaining. It’s all well and good bring a set to a festival but these guys backed it with the show to boot. Their popularity is confirmed with a number of the crowd throwing up hand signs of the bands logo. A truly fantastic start to the festival that, in all honesty, I wasn’t expecting to write about.
With the midday sun setting a positive scene for Lowell, MA based PVRIS (9) are set to take the stage. A band that is being buzzed around so heavily at the moment. They float onto the stage with their enigmatic presence filling the square, all black everything adding to the image. As they kick in with ‘St. Patrick’ I begin to notice around the stage a number of members of other bands watching with sheer admiration for the show that is coming to life in front of them. Max and Matt of You Me At Six and Adam Lazzara of Taking Back Sunday to name a few. The hype is real and more than warranted. PVRIS do their thing, sending the crowd crazy, whether it’s the fact that PVRIS are an outrageously good looking collective, or the fan girl nature Lynn Gunn garners from her fans there’s a certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’ that hasn’t quite identified itself about them.
I can’t help but feel a sense of fate within what I’m witnessing. A band on the brink of exploding into the forefront of the popular rock scene, flanked by members of bands that have paved the way for festivals like Slam Dunk to be a reality and surrounded by buildings of history. Lyndsey Gunnulfsen (Vocals and Guitar), a polarising figure with a well constructed image, leads PVRIS with her hair resembling a lions mane and a voice to boot. She roars with power you wouldn’t expect from a lady of her stature and fronts Alex Babinski (guitar) and Brian MacDonald (bass) and touring drummer Justin Nace. Although very new to the UK every hand is in the air from the crowd blessing and welcoming the Lowellian’s to the scene. A pleasure as always to see PVRIS as they close their set with Lynn asking that same question “Who’s house is this?!”. I think everyone would happily hand their keys over to you and the guys.
We Are The Ocean (7.5) follow PVRIS, a familiar site having just toured with them alongside Lower Than Atlantis. I spoke briefly with Alfie earlier in the day and could tell he and the guys were excited for what they had to offer in today’s show. With ‘ARK’, the bands most recent studio album, now released and available to the masses. You can tell there is an extra element of excitement within the WATO camp. ‘Machines’ opens the set in resounding fashion and sets the tone for an incredible set. With incredible city filling songs like ‘Do It Together’ that screams with conviction and attitude and ‘ARK’ that I always find a funny site to watch a crowd bewildered by the quality they are seeing. No one ever expects a song like ‘ARK’ to come from WATO and it often leaves people not quite sure how respond other that adulation and admiration. A fantastic set for a band that should be headlining a festival like this in the coming future.
I catch a brief look at Neck Deep via the windows of the press area in a building adjacent to the main stage. All I can say was it looked savage and the security handled a lot of bodies flying over the crowd.
Lower Than Atlantis (7) storm the stage to a raucous applause from a hardy crowd that has already sang, screamed, danced and moved through 4 hours of festival. LTA’s energy feeds the crowd as the sun begins to set and the festivals descends into the evening. A band that has a little something for everyone at the festival dragging crowds from every stage to witness their performance. Mike Duce (vocals and guitar) greets Leeds with an unorthodox “Hi Leeds, you little fuckers!” that’s lapped up by the adoring crowd. They crash through a mixed set of old and new, even incorporating ‘Another Sad Song’ that turns the crowd into a solemn choir. Despite the dip in energy LTA fuel the fire once more with ‘English Kids in America’ and ‘Here We Go’ that leave Leeds begging for more.
As always the almost cult style following Don Broco (8) garner is in full force in the Millennium Square ready for the Bedford based lads to hit the stage. They burst on only to be muffled by a small technical difficulty. Rob Damiani (lead vocals) asks the crowd if they could react just like they did when they came out once the first tune kicks in, a jovial tone to his voice. Unfortunately for the Broco boys, this is the tone for the show. They battle through technical difficulties, an extremely unfortunate trouser tear for Si Delaney (guitar) and dips and issues with the sound throughout. All this being said, Don Broco showed nothing but class and put on an incredible show. I briefly spoke with Si at the after party before he had to run to catch his ‘Uber’ and he said it could well have been the worst show he’s ever played. This just shows the standard the band expects of themselves. If through trials and tribulations they experienced they can still craft a memorable show, then a lot has to be said about the sheer quality Broco possess.
They chew through DB classics like Priorities and Whole Truth to an eruption of dancing and singing from the Leeds contingent. They throw in crowd and “push-up squad” favourite ‘Thug Workout’, a song that is a mixture of Nu Metal and post-harcorde to an insane response including an old-school “wall of death”. There’s nothing but fun to be had during their show, chock full of personality and sass. The set is now bolstered with new songs ‘Automatic’, ‘Fire’, ‘You Wanna Know’, ‘Superlove’ and live debut of ‘What You Do To Me’. All with the Broco buzz but a throwback feel of the 70’s. Picture neon, tight white trousers and Martinis everywhere. It’s setting the album up to be game changing for the 4 D’s. Damiani, Delaney, Doyle and Donnely.
Taking Back Sunday (7) are a band that are hugely appreciated by many musicians who are playing across all stages at todays festival, so it’s little surprise to see quite the gathering at the back of the stage. However at the other side of the barrier the Millennium Square is only half full, leading us to believe the majority of people had decided to get involved with the likes of While She Sleeps over on the Monster stage who are today more of a current band with a lot of hype around them. But the attendees who are a little older than most of the teenage crowd gathered here throughout the day, will remember Taking Back Sunday in their prime with the likes of the 2006 monster album ‘Louder Now’ which has definitely inspired many bands across the bill.
Adam Lazzara staggers on stage with his trademark swag grinning from ear to ear as they tear into a mixed set of songs both old and new. The likes of opener ‘Flicker, Flicker, Fade’ and ‘Stood A Chance’ from 2014’s ‘Happiness Is’ get a fantastic response and are delivered confidently by a band who have been owning the likes of a festival like this for quite a few years now. However the response from the crowd was electric for the likes of ‘Liar’ and ‘Make Dam Sure’ which still remain favorites almost 10 years later.
With a fantastic set by a tight band fronted by someone such as Adam Lazzara, you can’t take your eyes off the stage as the frontman ponders around truly lost in the music, dancing across the stage and swinging his microphone around like a propeller showing some unbelievably outrageous moves making everything that little more entertaining. By the end of the set TBS have pulled quite the crowd, who are scratching their heads wondering why they missed the full set.
20 years of touring helps show the experienced bands like Taking Back Sunday can still compete with the chart toppers when it comes down to energetic live performances, setting the bar high for tonight’s headliners.
After taking a breather before You Me At Six (10), the sun has well and truly began to set. The air is crisp and the mood perfect to welcome to the stage a band that has played this festival numerous times and boasts a 10 year history, just like the festival itself. The Surrey based guys have an unbelievable catalogue along with a #1 UK Album in the form of ‘Cavalier Youth’.
Rumours were wide-spread that YMA6 were to play debut album from 2008 ‘Take Off Your Colours, this album was released through Slam Dunk Records and would have been a fitting tribute to the festival. These were quashed by front-man Josh Franceschi in a number of interviews stating “However, this being the 10th year of Slam Dunk as well as You Me At Six’s 10th year – and it being the home of where things really started for us – we will be extensively paying homage to that with songs from our first record!”.
Josh letting fans know a good portion of what they plan to do is very thoughtful and allows us to see just how much they care about informing their fans and not misleading them.
The band storm the stage to an eruption of noise from the crowd that have eagerly awaited this moment. They kick into the ‘Take Off Your Colours’ portion of the set with a song that hasn’t been played live since 2010 in the form of ‘The Truth Is A Terrible Thing’. First track on a name-making album, first track played on an iconic night in Leeds. I think just about everybody in the crowd could appreciate the sentiment.
Journeying through 10 years and 4 albums worth of anthems, You Me At Six put on an unforgettable night including songs from each album and leaving no face without a smile. Millennium Square has turned into an absolute party, filled with moving bodies and singing voices. The atmosphere remains buoyant throughout an incredible production. The boys are backed by a gargantuan screen that partners each tune with a visual blessing that does everything to add more flavour to the platter being devoured by the Leeds crowd. Videos of the band from the early days looking fresh face and wide eyed fill the screens and throw back to the bands infant years. It’s incredible to think that for a band with a decade of history the average age is 25 with Josh as the youngest at 24. A group of veteran musicians, with a wealth of experience and the widest and most open road ahead. Their performance cements them as one of the best live bands walking the earth. They close the set and the festival with 3 of their finest in the shape of ‘Room To Breath’, ‘Bite My Tounge’ and ‘Underdog’. Letting the whole crowd know something the rest of the world needs to realise “North of the wall is the place to f*****g be!”. The final chorus of ‘Underdog’ explodes into anarchy and the festival draws to an end.
An incredible day, my thanks go to all those involved and will 100% plan to attend next year. I have nothing but positive things to say about the staff, the venues and the overall organisation of the event. 10/10
Words: Will Paddison
Photography: Danny Peart