It’s really hot in the UK at the moment. Like, sweltering. It was with some trepidation, then, that I headed to Leeds to stand indoors for nine hours with a couple of thousand of fans and the odd awesome band or twenty. Here’s what happened. Spoiler: it gets sweaty.
After kicking off the day checking out a couple of very promising Red Bull Bedroom Jam winners in Strangle Kojak and Mechanical Smile, the day kicked off in earnest on the Vans Off The Wall stage with a typically ferocious set from Hildamay. It might’ve been the effect of the heat, but it took a while for both crowd and band to get into gear. When they finally did, this young band proved just why they’re one of the most promising bands in the UK with an unrelenting aural assault. New material like “The Light” in particular reeks of bigger and better things to come.
Over on the main stage, Straight Lines were busy blasting through a set of searing pop-rock. While a little rough around the edges, new single “Commitments” proved just as urgent on a big stage as it is on record and the Welsh upstarts will have gained a fair few new fans by the time last track “Antics” drew to a close.
It speaks volumes that the sheer number of people wanting to see Misser at the ungodly hour 3 o’clock in the afternoon meant we couldn’t get anywhere near the stage to take any photos on Saturday. You’ll have to take out word for it, then, that shimmering jaunts through “Weightless” and “I’m Really Starting To Hope The World Ends In 2012” ensure that recent album Every Day I Tell Myself I’m Going To Be A Better Person is more than backed up by an assured live show. It seems 3 o’clock was the perfect time for pop-punk.
The end of Misser signalled that it was time to take a relative breather in the form of singer-songwriter Rob Lynch on the acoustic stage. With songs like “Hawking” and “Sleeping” in his armoury, his set was triumphant, defiant and bucketloads of fun – everything that one man and his guitar should be. Wonderful.
Say Anything were up next on the main stage and started as they meant to go on with a huge stomp through “Belt”. Max Bemis was everywhere; frenetic, candid and (somehow) sultry all at once as he strutted around the stage. A closing duo of “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too” and “Alive With The Glory Of Love” brought a crowd so loud the entire band could’ve downed tools and wandered off without making a jot of difference and proved that 10 years from their formation, SA remain at the very top of their game.
Maybe it was the weather talking, but a sweltering Red Bull Bedroom Jam tent didn’t seem up for Canterbury today. Nevertheless, the Hampshire lads delivered a professional half-hour of dramatic pop-rock. New tracks “Saviour” and “More Than Know” in particular hint that July album Heavy In The Day will be amongst the very best of a great crop of British releases this year.
With twenty minutes to kill, I caught the band end of an energetic Decade set and a bonecrushing one from noise-merchants Of Mice & Men, who many people named as their band of the day.
Before heading off to Funeral For A Friend I also saw the first half of While She Sleeps, who brought their abrasive metal fare to Leeds. In a word: unforgiving. In two words: very unforgiving. Huge tracks like “The North Stands For Nothing” proved that – if I may shoehorn in an incredibly hackneyed pun – on Saturday at Slam Dunk North, The North stood for everything.
Then came a big moment for post-hardcore stalwarts Funeral For A Friendin the form of new drummer Pat Lundy’s second ever show following the departure of longstanding drummer and backing vocalist Ryan Richards last week. Whilst a sluggish start could probably have been expected and even forgiven, technical problems cut short a set where the band looked uncomfortable for the large majority. However, the outfit seem as tight as ever in parts with Lundy behind the kit – he really is a phenomenal drummer – and with guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts lending his more than able voice to Richards’ vocals, the band were able to draw on their sublime back catalogue and hit their stride in a big way with a massive “Roses For The Dead”. All technical woes were forgotten as “Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t” segued into final track “Juneau” for what was probably the biggest singalong of the day. As for a Richards-less FFAF? The jury’s still out, but early signs are that they’ll be more than alright.
Meanwhile, Sharks were busy tearing the Vans Off The Wall Stage a new one with a set that was made for sunshine. Tracks like “The Joys Of Living” and “Arcane Effigies” were just made for sunshine and early afternoon drinking.
I’m not even going to attempt to talk about The Story So Far’s set on the Macbeth stage. Our mates at Property Of Zack collated a few videos from Saturday which show a slew of clench fists and stage dives. Click here to see what a shoebox-sized room going ABSOLUTELY INSANE looks like.
An admission: I’d forgotten quite how good a band Every Time I Die are. I’m sorry, but luckily the band didn’t hesitate to remind me. From the moment the band sauntered onstage and fairly ripped into “Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space” to the mother of all stage invasions at the end of their set, they just slayed. Thanks in no small part to frontman and resident AP.net columnist Keith Buckley being pressured into downing a full fishbowl of what can only be described as “shitmix”, the band got loose in the best possible way. Clear set and festival highlight was an inexorable romp through “We’rewolf”, during which I counted (I didn’t really) the entire room going twelve different shades of batshit crazy. Supreme.
Then came the end of the day and a glut of headliners to choose from. I didn’t go for Architects, Hit The Lights, Charlie Simpson, Mayday Parade of Taking Back Sunday (sorry, most of AP.net) but instead headed to the Vans stage once again to catch one of Gallows’ first UK shows with new vocalist Wade MacNeil. Surprisingly, the biggest change doesn’t seem to have been with the band but with MacNeil. At Slam Dunk he showed the full extent of his transformation from a relatively mild-mannered singer to a snarling, gurning beast of a man; from spending half of his time in the middle of a monstrous circle pit to preaching to the crowd atop a speaker stack, it’s clear that MacNeil is getting very good at this frontman business. Set highlights included an immaculately unhinged “In The Belly Of A Shark” and “Mondo Chaos”, complete with a suitably bonkers guest appearance from Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier.
Whilst the irony of a big Canadian bloke singing “London Is The Reason” will never really fade, it's clear that MacNeil has almost seamlessly become the focal point of Gallows’ chaotic live show. What’s even clearer is that a revitalised Gallows were on show on Saturday. Every word and every chord seems to mean more than ever before, which can only be a good thing for the future of the band and symbolises the importance of Slam Dunk as one of the only festivals in the UK that gives a vehicle to music that means something.
Slam Dunk Stats 93 – times Wade MacNeil called the crowd “motherfuckers” during Gallows’ set 12 – average pints of sweat lost by punters in the boiling Red Bull Bedroom Jam tent 5.6 – what Every Time I Die’s set measured on the Richter scale 3,000,000 – stage dives during The Story So Far’s set 0 – people that said “Slam Dunk was good, I just wish it was a little warmer”