Ali Ryland checks out the Leeds leg of Slam Dunk festival...
Overall - 8/10
Hosts of the last day of Slam Dunk and its originators, Leeds, is an ideal place to get out your party hat, dreadlocks and mohawk. With its influx of students, variety of shops and heritage as the bedrock of indie and alternative, the home of the Kaiser Chiefs is, throughout Slam Dunk, the home of thousands of voracious punk rockers.
The one-day festival offers up hardcore, metal and punk; not for the jelly-knees or even those who believe they are à la mode, as this time round the slamming, whamming heavy explosion contains something a bit more alternative than usual.
Getting there and back - 8/10
The hub of rock is well situated; while its licentious cousin Leeds Festival falls well over the hilly Yorkshire plain, Leeds University is a 20-minute walk away from the station. An hour away from Manchester, 40 minutes from Sheffield and with fast trains running through West Yorkshire every 15 minutes to the site, Slam Dunk North certainly has nothing to worry about.
Site - 6/10
While the squash may make you feel more uncomfortable than a hypochondriac in Glasto’s famous toilet cubicles (and strictly speaking you are not allowed in or out once the festival starts - of Slam Dunk, that is, not the toilets) there are some plusses. You may not be allowed to bring alcohol into the Vans stage but you are allowed to stage dive off it or nick a drum stick as the roadies don’t come out until the night. The Atticus stage may have made a mess of the schedule but its cool balconies and platforms allowed We Are The Ocean to make a mess of the crowd, as vocalist Dan barely spent a song on the actual main stage. As for outside, the sweaty pockets that are the university’s slimy underbelly, there isn’t much to do: two merch stalls, sunshine and no bands or beer just tease rockers looking for respite from the crowds.
The Old Bar serves pub food and has an acoustic stage, but it’s the Babycakes bar that’s the gem of the festival; with the DJ set and bar inside and the array of benches out on the roof terrace, complete with a BBQ (that stocks veggie burgers, no less!), it’s the place to cool off.
Atmosphere - 8/10
There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing Leeds Fest punters scurrying around on the floor like cockroaches after the end of a set, looking for the odd dropped mobile to keep or sell, the atmosphere ripe with the smell of camp fires, crusty loos and upset and skint festival-goers. But at Slam Dunk, it’s more easy-going: polite punkers and delighted drunkards all-round. Lost keys are thrown onto the stage at Me Vs Hero (if they’re yours, they have them!) and items are routinely handed in. Yours truly found an army-coloured wallet during Capdown and threw it onto the stage - look to lost property if it’s yours! The reggae and ska-fuelled event must be the reason for the sunshine, the smiles and the sympathy.
The Skints - 9/10
The Skints have been getting a whole lotta love recently, not least by fellow members of the ambiguous modern ska/reggae/punk scene. The crowd wolf whistle the appearance of multi-instrumentalist Marcia Richards with a raucous, “She’s in the band I like!”, Sonic Boom Six rave about the ragged bunch and Minter (of Capdown, one of the bands that first influenced the East-Londoners) sports Skints merch. Even Random Hand’s Robin Leitch, of stout Keighley origin, shouts out for “Nuff respect for the Skints” because when “you think about the skints, you gotta talk like them, blud!” These aren’t just empty and intoxicated words: their feel-good bop and sway reg-core gives you a better buzz than a McVitie's Go Ahead! break.
Random Hand - 10/10
Proprietors of what Sonic Boom Six called the biggest circle pit they’ve seen in quite a while, these Yorkshire hardmen have a friendly disposition with their politically-charged skacore and stage banter (not like the kind you get from the gap yahs down at Leeds uni students’ local) despite the utter ferocity of frontman Robin’s triumphant trombone and the lyric, “I’m a pacifist but I hope their heads explode!” A must see.
Sean Smith - 6/10
The bubbly Babycakes bar may have DJ sets going on all day long, but it’s Sean Smith that brings in the shrieking all-girl audience - a sight Fightstar would struggle to contend with. The Blackout frontman certainly is a heartbreaker since he lost his puppy fat.
Set Your Goals/ Four Year Strong/New Found Glory - 7/10
Why am I lumping them all together, you may ask? Because they all provide the same bopilicious, happy-go-lucky pop-punk that makes some violently sick and others violently aroused. All have as much charisma as Blink 182 on hyper caffeine, as suited and booted Set Your Goals ask the crowd, “Do you feel as good as we look?”, Four Year Strong frontman Dan announces that his sweat makes him look like he’s “peed his pants” and New Found Glory’s golden oldie Jordan jobs off the microphone. The music is energetically sweaty, the only problem being the heaving masses. Yeuch!
Skindred - 9/10
It is a chargeable offence to stop moving during Skindred’s set as the dreadlocks fly and the soundmen cry - especially the poor guy who has to drape himself around the big speaker for a whole song after a stage diver nearly toppled it. This doesn’t stop the rabid Welshmen, who coerce the crowd into shouting “cunt” and then to whisper it, before having a good old sea shanty as they make everyone scream “Yarrrr!” The pirate crew Skindred are some scurvy dogs…
Capdown - 9/10
Is the man of the moment, Mr. Shakey Jake, showing his age? He talks of having “let himself go a bit,” being a “creature of habit” and tells the crowds that they’ll “show you youngsters how it’s done!” And they do. They may have had a hiatus of three years but the influential ska-punkers still thrum out a crazily good tune, as the Vans stage is the wildest it’s been all night. But there is an inherent sadness present, too, as they near the end and Jake talks of a last circle pit “for fun, not pain! Pick people up and give them a cheeky pat on the bum!” The last number, ‘An A-Political Stand of Reasons’, is apt: it was their last stand of reasons up on stage as Capdown (for now) and if you missed it, you missed quite a raucous farewell.
Deaf Havana - 5/10
With hoarse and heavy vocalist Ryan Mellor gone, Deaf Havana haven’t given up the ghost or lost their pizazz. However, with the quality of the sound over at the Kerrang! Introducing stage and the restless audience waiting to turn around for Four Years Strong, they may have lost this battle. And being lumped behind Futures is a form of insult. While they were ‘alright’, the loss of Ryan isn’t lessened by a guest screamer for ‘Friends Like These’.
Sonic Boom Six - 4/10
Gah! What a good run the Vans stage had seen until the tinny sound quality of Laila’s usually victorious voice falls on deaf ears - the vibrancy just isn’t there. However, while the field may be lost, all is not, as Random Hand’s Robin helps to alleviate the dampness with his big trombone and guitarist Nick Horne later accompanies the mellow Chas Palmer Williams on the acoustic stage, to the pleasure of the fans.
Young Guns - 4/10
We can’t really blame the Young Guns for playing a 15-minute set due to sound problems causing Rolo Tomassi to start when they should have finished, but we can blame them for not apologising! However, closer ‘Daughters of the Sea’ may have dragged them out of the depths, as with the lyric “we’re going overboard”, everyone did!
The Jager experience
Vendors started to pop-up everywhere, thrusting two quid test tubes and Hawaiian leis at you, while wearing strangely flattering Jagermeister dresses that looked like they’d been made out of orange curtains. What’s weirder is coming home, draped in the tickly Hawaiian leis, to your mother thinking that (thanks to the symbol of the cross and the deer) you have joined some sort of cult.
Have you seen the Chicken Man? Well, if you haven’t, it’s because you’re not where it’s at: the Vans stage for a best in punked-up reggae/ska bonanza. The Chicken Man has been baiting the bands since Random Hand, with songs being dedicated to him (apart from Capdown, who chucked him off for being dressed incorrectly) and his stage diving becoming a regular appearance. Phwoar - he must have been cooking in that suit!
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