Returning to its original home for the tenth edition of the festival, this year’s Slam Dunk North was always set to be one of the event’s biggest occasions yet. Luckily, the bill backs up that theory, providing sets from some familiar old favourites as well as showcasing some of the brightest new talents in rock right now. Even the sunshine shows up in Leeds to greet punters.
There’s hype, and then there’s PVRIS. Since dropping their debut album at the back end of last year, the buzz around the US trio has been threatening to overspill. Even among the annual touring jamboree of Slam Dunk, there’s a special frisson of excitement in the air. For a band who admit they want to be one of the biggest in the world, they do a remarkable job of suggesting that might not be such a ridiculous statement. Definitely still at home on a bill of rock, punk, metalcore and a myriad of louder genres, they manage to pull in other influences without ever feeling like it’s a bad fit. From ‘White Noise’ and ‘St Patrick’, to ‘My House’, they’re outsiders that could conquer the mainstream. Before too long, they probably will.
It’s a bittersweet occasion that has brought Cartel over to the UK for their latest live stint. While the band are winding down their recent ‘Chroma’ anniversary tour celebrating ten years since the release of their debut, they’ve also already admitted that this looks like their final time playing our side of the Atlantic. Unsurprisingly, the crowd gathering at the Macbeth stage are that little bit older but nevertheless dedicated. Blasting through a set made mostly up of tracks from their first full-length – lead single ‘Say Anything (Else)’ sounds glorious in today’s sunshine - the excitement in the air is palpable as the audience since along with every word. Even when frontman Will Pugh’s mic cuts out for a few moments, the fans just sing louder. If this really is the last time they’ll visit the UK, no one can say they didn’t go out on a high.
For anyone unaware of the pulling power of Wrexham-based five-piece Neck Deep, their mid-afternoon set leaves no room for doubt. Just minutes into their time on stage, the crowd amassed has engulfed Leeds' Millennium Square, with the first few rows of the crowd already throwing themselves towards the barricade. Fresh from completing work on their second album and about to head out on the Warped Tour over in the US, they're in a fine position right now; if their blasts of muscular pop punk are anything to judge by, their fans are in complete agreement.
Adam Lazzara can still swing a mic like it's nobody's business. Appearing as the penultimate act on today's Main Stage, Taking Back Sunday are as sharp as ever. Lazzara is mesmerising throughout, with his long hair whipping in the breeze as he bounds across the stage and into the crowd, still proving himself to be an insatiable frontman. It's during the guitar intro of 'What's It Feel Like To Be A Ghost' and the gang vocal-like chorus of 'Timberwolves of New Jersey' that the crowd roar with approval. The new offerings they slide into the set provide an interesting change of pace, with 'Better Homes and Gardens' standing as an intense highlight, but there's no denying the power that the likes of 'Cute Without The E' and 'MakeDamnSure' possess. There's a reason this band are still able to draw such massive crowds and tonight shows it perfectly.
With the sun finally starting to go down, it's one-in, one-out over at the Macbeth stage by the time Fireworks take to the stage. Another band to have recently announced that this may be one of their last performances in the UK, there's no lack of love for them as the dive headfirst into the insatiable 'Arrows'. It's with debut album cut 'When We Stand On Each Other We Block Out The Sun' that things explode into life, with frontman Dave Mackinder giving the pop punk number a particularly gruff edge this time around. Blasting through a selection of tracks from their career, their set's brought to the perfect close with the anthemic 'Detroit'; its closing refrain of 'It's still enough for me; I love this place unconditionally' having never sounded as sweet.
Tonight is a huge occasion for You Me At Six. Not only are they headlining, but they're helping to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Needless to say, the sentiment isn't lost. After denying many-a-rumour that they could well be bringing out their debut album 'Take Off Your Colours' for a full run-through – it was, after all, released through Slam Dunk Records back in 2008 – they've managed to score the perfect hand when it comes to their closing setlist.
Delving in and out of their back catalogue – from 'The Rumour' to 'Lived A Lie' - the five-piece provide enough nostalgia for anyone who may have seen them back in the days of support slots at the Cockpit, while still showcasing the flair of their newer work. The result is incredible, with each and every turn stoking a different set of memories for both band and crowd. More than anything though, it's great to realise how far the band have come since their first time performing at Slam Dunk nine years ago. Their recent shows across the arenas of the UK may have seemed premature to some naysayers, but their headlining set this evening proves anything but; chances are, they could be at the top of a festival bill not all too far away very soon.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett
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