Words by Emma Louise and Erin Moore
If you weren’t at Slam Dunk last weekend, then you probably should have been. It’s the second year that the festival has taken place in Leeds city centre, causing Millennium Square and its surrounding roads to all be shut off in aid of the proceedings. From the square to Leeds Beckett University, with many a stage in between, Slam Dunk went down spectacularly- disregarding some problems with the main stage sound and queues for some of the venues, it was helped along incredibly by the excellent weather (which let’s face it, definitely wasn’t guaranteed in Leeds, no matter what time of year it is).
The second band on the main stage today are British rockers Young Guns. Beginning their set with Daughter Of The Sea from EP Mirrors, the band seem a little disengaged with the audience. No matter though because as the band smash through newer tracks from 2015 album Ones And Zeros including Rising Up and Daylight, the energy from both band and audience increases. No band will ever be able to drop a new song without blank faces staring back at them and unfortunately during new track Bulletproof, things are no different. The track is the first taster of their new album; the first without original drummer Ben Joliffe who recently quit the band. However, much to the crowd’s delight, YG manage to finish their set on a high, with anthem Bones and pop-rock belter I Want Out. (Erin Moore)Bringing some Florida cool to the Main Stage are Mayday Parade. Three Cheers for Five Years is a great pop-rock ditty and frontman Derek Sanders bounces around the stage like a puppy, lapping up the audience’s energy. Oh Well is one of the highlights but the closing song, fan favourite and cult emo classic Jersey, echoes around the centre of Leeds and is a perfect end to the American rockers’ set. (Erin Moore)Australia’s Northlane perform on the outdoor stage mid-afternoon, in the street right outside Leeds’ O2 Academy. The energy is palpable from the minute they take to the stage; all snarling and full-force, Dispossession instantly whips the crowd into a frenzy, made ever cooler by the fact that on any other day of the week this is just another public street in Leeds. Rot enjoys some soaring moments right before it drops and the street descends into carnage once again, flowing right back to the ordinate calm not seconds later. Vocalist Marcus Bridge displays absolutely seamless transitions between his screams and clean vocals. Masquerade has some unequivocally desolate moments, while Leech is as fierce as it is enchanting- this set from Northlane could possibly be one of the best the Atlas stage has seen all day. (Emma Louise)It’s up to Leeds Beckett University Union 2 now, for Cane Hill on Kerrang!’s Fresh Blood stage- a band who deserve a far bigger crowd than they ended up with. This doesn’t seem to deter them even in the slightest however, as they are all systems go for their first ever performance on UK shores. Even though there are an incredible amount of influences to be heard in Cane Hill’s music, the culminating result is something quite unique, which makes them genuinely one of the most exciting new bands on the Fresh Blood stage today. ‘I wanna see some violence in this tiny room tonight!’ vocalist Witt yells, as they launch into Sunday School which is raw and violent, causing the appropriate pits to erupt in the room despite the lack of people present, proving that the band got their wish (sort of). The newer songs are filled with far more energy than the older stuff- perhaps this is through the anticipation of their impending debut album release in a couple of months’ time. Gemini is a highlight, even taking into consideration the fact that ordinarily the track is ominously intense with a heavily eerie air to it, yet today it feels like it hasn’t quite met its full potential. The New Jesus begins with so many nods to the likes of Marilyn Manson and Motionless In White, before the anthemic chorus kicks in and the entire crowd are hard pressed to not even get a little movement going on. Closing their set with Time Bomb, this track gives its spectators one final visceral rinsing before Cane Hill are done on the Leeds leg of Slam Dunk. (Emma Louise)I Bring The Weather With Me is a perfect opener to The Amity Affliction’s set. Even though once again, it’s the Atlas stage in the middle of the street, this doesn’t affect anything. Amity perform a blistering set with crowd surfers appearing as early as the second song- the Leeds crowd are hungry for this band. There are massive breakdowns that wouldn’t struggle to make your Grandmother headbang. “It’s been a minute since we’ve been back here, but fuck this is amazing” front man Joel Birch exclaims. Anthem Pittsburgh is pulverising and a definite highlight of their set. (Erin Moore)
At a festival, at least one band has to suffer with technical difficulties and unfortunately for Creeper, it was their turn. After a delayed start, VCR smashes through a room so full that the doormen have to operate a 1 in 1 out policy. Black Mass is incredible, the pop-punk/ goth sound to the track oozes through the dense crowd and calls for huge sing-a-longs. Dedicating the next couple of songs to different bands performing at the festival, the band begin a crowd surfing competition. Whoever wins the contest gets a free piece of merchandise from the band, which is a great initiative for the majority to join in. New emo anthem Misery (which would’ve been more suited as a closer for the set) soars- the last line of the chorus; “Misery never goes out of style” rings through the room and one thing is for sure, Creeper are nowhere near going out of style any time soon. Take our word for it, they’re going to be huge. (Erin Moore)
The confidence of Cancer Bats is overwhelmingly welcoming. The fact that they were able to drop huge anthem Hail Destroyer and their cover of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage within the first couple of songs of the set shows how developed they are as a band. Frontman Liam Cormier (now bald since the charity head shave for a Canadian cancer charity) controls the stage with ease, demanding pits and movement from the surprisingly sparse crowd. Cancer Bats should’ve played to a bigger audience today; this was most likely down to clashes with different bands on the bigger stages. However the band are unfazed, and the rest of their set is blistering. A brief appearance from While She Sleeps frontman Loz Taylor was a pleasant surprise for the fans during the set. (Erin Moore)Word on the streets of Slam Dunk is that the main stage has been plagued with sound problems throughout the day, and most noticeable victims of this are New Found Glory– usually nothing less than an all out party to see live. Today however their set feels a little lacklustre; whether it’s that they know they’re not being heard as well as they should be, or that they genuinely have no energy to put into the show, everything music-wise seems like they’re just going through the motions. This aside, All Downhill From Here adds some colour to their set, while Ready Aim Fire has the kind of perky, jaunty beat that is perfect for the early evening of a festival. Kiss Me, being an age-old favourite track from New Found Glory, provides an absolutely perfect moment that spurs impassioned crowd participation for perhaps the first time in their set. Head On Collision, Sonny and Forget My Name all have the same kind of pace, which makes them seem uninspiring when played back to back here in Millenium Square today. Their presence nearing the end of the setlist starts to raise questions about whether this is just what people should start to expect from an aging pop-punk band; there is definitely need for a track that packs way more of a punch before the final song. In true New Found Glory fashion though, My Friends Over You pulls it out of the bag, and finally gives the majority of the crowd what they have been waiting for throughout the whole show. (Emma Louise)Unfazed by the technical issues that hit the previous band (Creeper), New Years Day storm the stage and smash immediately into Kill Or Be Killed. NYD are intriguing and are both technically and visually on point; furthermore Ash Costello, frontwoman and icon for the band is powerful and dominant. Chugging straight into the title track from new album Malevolence, this band are showing no signs of slowing down. Highlight of the set, Angel Eyes sweeps through the crowd. No matter what sexual preference the crowd members have, everyone has fallen in love with Ash Costello this evening. It’s refreshing to see an all-round excellent female fronted band in the heavily male dominated rock scene, NYD are pioneers for the goth-rock scene and long may that continue. (Erin Moore)
Whatever has gone on throughout the day though, Panic! At The Disco are another other level entirely. There’s no band around at the moment that deserve to be headlining such a festival more: their vocalist, the only original band member left, is a man who has channeled all of his talents into taking to the helm of the Panic! ship, and who has had the pleasure of witnessing his efforts take off and maintain the upward trajectory they so rightly deserve. Yet after all of this, they are nothing less than humbled by the entire affair. ‘I just want to say what a massive honour it is to be here, I grew up listening to these bands, and now I’m backstage pretending like I’m friends with them’, vocalist Brendon Urie shares with the crowd, showing an attitude that makes his performance tonight all the more impressive. While Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time is an absolutely massive opener which brings the dance moves instantly, it isn’t until old-time favourite Time To Dance that the true euphoria erupts- an absolutely bona-fide emo classic, there is undoubtedly not a still pair of feet in the whole of Millennium Square. You’d be hard pressed to find a song that isn’t a hit with Panic At The Disco, and as they drop numbers like Vegas Lights and LA Devotee, this only becomes more apparent. While The Ballad Of Mona Lisa and Hallelujah feel slightly lacking and way slower than usual, Victorious brings back anything that was lost, probably because it’s almost too much of an anthem- Urie’s vocal hollering at the beginning is undoubtedly a way to showcase his incredible vocal range, but that makes it nonetheless welcomed by a myriad of goosebumps because his voice is just that good. This, coupled with a barrage of pyro and it’s close to being too much to handle.This is only the third time Panic! have ever played Golden Days live, however it’s executed impeccably, with an explosive rendition of Crazy=Genius following not far behind. One of the highlights of the entire set (and probably most Panic! At The Disco sets) is Miss Jackson, a witty, catching track about a girl Urie dated back in his youth in his hometown of Las Vegas- a girl one can only assume was pretty ‘nasty’; he most definitely has the last laugh though as the entirety of Leeds are in agreement with him on this chilly Saturday night.
Taking a seat at the piano, Urie treats the crowd to another old timer Nine In The Afternoon, which is followed by a joyous run through of Bohemian Rhaposdy- ‘we just wrote this backstage before the show’ Urie jokes, before carrying out the cleverest of covers choices. The atmosphere is something else entirely and the band are clearly thriving off the energy. When will I Write Sins… not be a classic? That’s the question on everyone’s lips as the crowd is going several shades of crazy for the ultimate Panic! track, imagining pacing the pews in a church corridor, and so on. Ending the set with Positive Hardcore (where Urie drops some heavy vocals while actually talking about some pretty positive themes), keeps and even builds on the crowd’s hype, despite the fact the festival is drawing to a close. Finally, Emperor’s New Clothes brings things to an end in a fashion no-one else could quite manage, complete with slick vocals, unrelenting vigour and undeniably addictive hooks. The whole set from this band is nearing impeccable, complete with a set of lungs that are seemingly second to none, a fair amount of pyrotechnics and a few cheeky backflips thrown into the mix, where could anybody have possibly gone wrong in choosing this as the way to spend their Saturday night? (Emma Louise)