Slam Dunk North: The Review

We were all over Slam Dunk Festival this year. Here is a look back at Heathers time at Slam Dunk North...

By the size of the crowd they brought in, you’d never guess Astroid Boys (8/10) were the first band on. Fans boasted how they’d been waiting over an hour just to get to the barrier, highlighting the grime-punks’ popularity this year. Despite rapper Traxx tweeting the night prior to the first Slam Dunk show that he was too ill to perform, the four-piece made do. For songs such as ‘Minging’ and ‘Posted’, an extra mic was hovered over the crowd who all jumped at the chance to assist. Their use of a backing track as well as Benji Kendall and Elliot Brussalis covering for him meant that nothing was detracted from their performance as they still had strong cohesion between them. Kendall in particular, who took on most of Traxx’s load, didn’t miss a beat during their whole set, and filled his shoes with ease.

It was surprising to see a band of Four Year Strong’s (7/10) size fill up an arena the way they did. The floor of Leeds First Direct Arena was packed out, with constant pits throughout their set. Although, despite having played arenas in the past when supporting the likes of Blink 182, the Massachusetts quartet seemingly struggled with the size of the stage, not daring to explore the space. Crowd interaction was also kept to a minimum, but this was understandable due to lack of intimacy this 13,500-capacity venue provides. The size of the venue also didn’t flatter Dan O’Connor’s rough vocals either as, from the seats, he wasn’t aided by fans singing over him to hide the weaknesses in his voice. In spite of this, the atmosphere in was almost unparalleled during songs such as ‘Wasting Time (Eternal Summer)’ and ‘Find My Way Back’ where the crowd joined in for gang vocals. Overall, Four Year Strong are arguably arena-ready purely due to the size of their fanbase, however their sound didn’t quite fill the room.

Selfish Thing’s (9/10) acoustic set was comprised of just vocalist Alex Biro on keys, playing the alt-rock Canadians’ first ever UK show. At the start of the set there were less than fifteen people in the small side room in Leeds Beckett Students’ Union but that didn’t knock him in the slightest. He handled the small turn-out really well and was genuinely appreciative of everyone present, especially as the majority of the audience by the end had never heard of them before. Although his setlist was made up of emotive songs, he still managed to joke with the crowd and make it an engaging set; for example describing minor ballad ‘Without You’ as “a song about being a sad little fuck.” He also included a cover of Drake’s ‘Marvin’s Room’ which he made fit in perfectly with his own songs as he incorporated keys and his own unique vocal style. Biro was certainly received well as he created a relaxed atmosphere with a chilling setlist and contrasting humour.

The main thing learnt from Counterpart’s (10/10) set was to never opt for the balcony at hardcore shows. Having only played one UK show since the release of their latest album You’re Not You Anymore, fans were definitely responsive, with massive pits breaking up the crowd. The majority of their setlist featured songs from this new record such as ‘Haunt Me’, ‘Rope’ and ‘A Memory Misread’ - all of which fans knew every line of, conveying the anticipation. Older tracks like ‘Only Anchors’ and ‘The Disconnect’ brought in just as much of a reaction though, with the latter encouraging huge gang vocals from the crowd. Vocalist Brendan Murphy in particular had a really comfortable stage presence, interacting with the crowd whenever possible, while bassist Tyler Williams was so into his performance he looked like he was bringing crabcore back.

Like Counterparts, Roam (9/10) performed most new tracks from their 2017 album Great Heights & Nosedives, which was also well-received. Lead singles ‘Alive’ and ‘Playing Fiction’ caused for huge crowd singalongs and proved why pop punk gigs are arguably the most fun. Although, with most pop punk gigs, you do occasionally get the odd cringe-worthy speech; something guitarist and vocalist Alex Adam took pride in today. “Let’s make memories, not money” somehow managed to echo around the crowd despite being outside, accompanied by a few uncomfortable groans, but luckily this only effected the set momentarily. What made up for it? Inflatables. During 2015’s ‘Hopeless Case’, members of Grayscale came out and crowd-surf-raced backwards from the barrier on lilos mid-song while beach balls were thrown around them. The strongest thing about Roam’s performance is the complete control they have over the crowd, meaning their live shows are always more than your average gig.

If you ever feel bad about something you’ve done or have embarrassed yourself in front of other people, just be glad you’re not Lower Than Atlantis’ (7/10) Mike Duce. The set was going well and they brought in a massive crowd, but everything ran the risk of crumbing the minute Duce decided it would be a good idea to throw an unopened can of beer to someone in the crowd. This next-level attempt at crowd interaction seemed to happen in slow motion while terrified audience members ducked and screamed as the can bounced off someone’s hand and into someone else’s head. Luckily they survived the head wound and he apologised profusely although the awkward guilt lingered in the air. In spite of this, Lower Than Atlantis’ set felt the most like a summer festival as the crowd was mainly quite tame; made up of drunks singing along out of key and shamelessly dancing away.

Pvris (8/10) entered the mainstage as dark silhouettes; their whole set lit by only four bright white backlights. They were more energetic that expected, with vocalist Lynn Gunn taking every available opportunity to dance around the dark stage. They were all visually entertaining in their performances, unlike most bands where you’re only drawn to the vocalist. Touring drummer Justin Nace’s dramatic, powerful arm movements made sure no one ignored him, and he put every other drummer on the line-up to shame. Although, Gunn’s voice was the surprising downfall of the night. Having such strong vocals on their releases, there were high expectations of her live range which she just couldn’t meet. She was a lot softer and quieter in this setting, and during ‘St. Patrick’ in particular, she was being overshadowed by her own voice on the backing track. This was completely salvaged though as she showcased her talents elsewhere. A second drumkit had been sat untouched but with no hints where it would be used – or who by. Gunn jumped on for sections of ‘Half’ and ‘No Mercy’; the double percussion creating a whole new heavy atmosphere unexpected from the synth-rock trio. ‘No Mercy’ in particular featured heavy bass drum patterns and the beat was enforced as the pair played the same fast-paced rhythm. As unfortunate as it is that Gunn’s drumming outshone her vocals, Pvris played more than a gig, it was a visually immaculate and almost seamless performance.

Not many bands can make the stalls feel just as much energy as those in standing, but Good Charlotte (10/10) nailed it. The crowd was a good variation of genders and ages, implying the effect they’d had on a range of generations over their 22 years as a band. From young teens going in their first pits to spikey-haired guys in their late twenties reliving the noughties, everyone was immersed in the performance of some of pop punk’s biggest hits like ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘The Anthem’. “Three years ago I thought we were dead, but from tonight I can see we’re not” beamed vocalist Joel Madden. He and his guitarist brother Benji often stopped between songs to give appreciative speeches, which were so heartfelt and emotive no one cared that they were rambling. They took the audience through every era and album, from ‘Little Things’ off their debut released in 2000 to brand new track ‘Actual Pain’, and each one got an equally intense reaction. Even during less popular songs such as ‘March On’ were still highly received. The only issue that they came across was Joel forgetting the name of the city and had to just settle on repeatedly saying “the UK”, but the awkwardness didn’t linger for very long. Ending the set with one of their most notorious songs ‘Lifestyles of The Rich & Famous’ created such an immense atmosphere as the whole arena were on their feet dancing and shouting along. It felt like the world’s biggest and most inclusive emo party, and isn’t that where everyone wants to be?