Slam Dunk Festival at Leeds City Centre 28th May 2018 Review
It’s that time of year again- the days are getting longer, the nights are getting warmer, and for music fans everywhere, that can only mean one thing: festival season is upon us once again! Kicking off the summer season in style was the first leg of the UK’s most prestigious touring festival, Slam Dunk North. And with a line-up featuring legends from decades past rubbing shoulders with the rising stars of tomorrow, what better way could there be to kick start what is shaping up to be an incredible summer of festivals?!
Jumping straight in the deep end, the first set of the day came from Liverpudlian heavy metal quintet Loathe, who delivered a veritable cacophony of sound! A sure-fire way to blow away any cobwebs was the screeching guitars and thunderous drums of tracks such as ‘Banshee’, with deafening screams from frontman Kadeem France flickering over a storm of thrashing guitars and pummelling drums that hit you like a freight train! For some, the cataclysmic wall of sound might have felt almost impenetrable, however tracks such as ‘White Hot’, with its dark, melodic undertones and smoother guitar line that grumbled like distant thunder as opposed to ripping through your skin like a hurricane provided some welcome balance to the set. The pulsing lights married together with the post-apocalyptic atmosphere, turning the mosh pit into flickering shapes like a flipbook, which only served to heighten the sense of being immersed in a swirling, writhing thunderstorm of light and sound that left the whole crowd with ringing ears and racing hearts!
Fellow newcomers to the mainstream festival circuit were to be found on the RockSound Breakout Stage- Holding Absence, one of the most exciting new bands to emerge into the eyes of the rock world this year. The Cardiff-based band’s set was short, but nothing short of stunning. The entrancing stage presence of frontman Lucas Woodland was evident from the ethereal opening line of ‘Permanent’, with its heartbeat-like drums and darkly swelling, wraithlike melody which provide the perfect backing of swirling grey, against which the vocal line shifts and soars. ‘Saint Cecilia’, taken from ‘This Is As One’, (the band’s recent split release with the aforementioned Loathe) flew with a ghost-like gravity, peppered with Lucas’ strained screams that drew every ounce of commitment and energy from his lungs, and six-minute closer ‘Penance’ floated with a ghostlike fragility that exploded with whiplash inducing power and palpable emotion in equal measure. Watching this utterly self-assured fledgling band, it is impossible to deny that these guys are definitely set to make massive waves in the UK metalcore scene and beyond over the coming year!
A short walk out of the festival site was the First Direct Arena, today renamed the Jägermeister Stage, home to the festival’s biggest names. The sea of Callous Heart patches that surrounded the arena doors left nobody who passed by in any doubt as to which band would soon be taking the stage- it could only be Southampton’s horror-punks Creeper! Even for a band who have already cut their teeth when it comes to playing arenas, the sea of heads that packed out the floor and seats was an intimidating sight! But, as always, the band owned it with ease, crashing straight into staple opener ‘Black Rain’, it’s delicate opening piano notes ringing out through the hush, before the breaking tidal wave of the melody sent the room into a frenzy of wild abandon! The bouncy, effervescent ‘Winona Forever’ and ‘Poison Pens’s blistering guitars melded perfectly with the tear-jerking, heartbreakingly raw ‘Crickets’, where keys player Hannah Greenwood’s vocals shimmered like stars! The lighter-waving, touchingly poignant closer ‘Misery’ swept the whole room up in a profound sense of unity, perfectly rounding off a set with the perfect balance of fun and vigour as well as undeniable raw talent that earmarked Creeper irrefutably as future festival headliners!
The next and first non-UK offering of the day came in the form of Albany’s State Champs, who certainly gave the home-grown bands something to think about, with a masterclass in putting on a riotous pop punk show! Infectious energy rolled off the stage from the first notes of opener ‘All You Are Is History’, which drew a roar from the crowd as a mosh pit opened like a gaping mouth in the centre, swallowing up swathes of the crowd with every swooping hook into each lively chorus! The pace was relentless, as the band crashed through their new singles ‘Dead and Gone’ and ‘Crystal Ball’, while also harking back to their beloved earlier records with the undulating guitar line of ‘Easy Enough’ and the fist-pumping melody and crashing drums of ‘Remedy’! After the climactic closer ‘Secrets’, every member of the audience left the room with adrenaline flowing through their veins and unshakable grins plastered on their faces, and with renewed anticipation for the band’s soon-to-be-released record ‘Living Proof’, which is set to be one of the albums of the summer!
Sticking with the pop punk theme, next up were south coast boys Roam, who mirrored the beating sunshine with their upbeat, exuberant sound that wraps cleverly constructed lyrics up inside their boyish charm and happy-go-lucky demeanour. The tracks from latest album ‘Great Heights and Nosedives’ shone in the afternoon haze, from the feel-good anthem ‘Alive’ to the track which borrows from the infectious rhythms of the campfire songs of the Boy Scouts, ‘Rich Life of a Poor Man’, whose lively guitars only lightly veil the lyrics which call out to all downtrodden dreamers! The highlight of the set, however, was the unexpected delight of a throwback to the band’s early EPs, in the form of the breakneck circle-pit-starter ‘Headrush’ and the equally hard-hitting ‘Warning Sign’, which prompted crowdsurfers to come flying over the barrier in waves! A fervent forty minutes filled with much finger-pointing, impassioned sing-alongs and a deluge of inflatables- what more could you ask for?
Helping the crowds wind back into gear after the lull of the early evening before the night’s finales were Aussie-based stars-in-the-making, Stand Atlantic, whose melodic sound blends poppy rhythms with all the stirring passion of punk rock, instantly endearing them to the crowd that filled the RockSound Breakout Stage. The impossibly bouncy ‘Mess I Made’ set the whole room jumping in unison, while frontwoman Bonnie’s soaring vocals on ‘Coffee at Midnight’ were evidence enough of the innate talent this band possesses! The jewel in the crown of their short but sweet set was undoubtedly ‘Chemicals’, a melodic yet defiant mission statement proposing a rejection of conformity in pursuit of one’s dreams! And, if the small taste of their new material the crowd were given with an exclusive performance of an unnamed new track was anything to go by, the next release from this trio will take the alt pop and pop punk worlds by storm!
Then, at last, after a long day of mosh pits, uplifting choruses and crushing breakdowns all delivered under the glare of the rare Yorkshire sun, it was time for the night to come to its final crescendo. As the sun set, the lights on the stage came up to reveal veteran festival legends who have been together longer than most of the Turn It Up Louder team have been alive, and whose songs have been the soundtrack to countless teenage stories: it could only be punk superstars Good Charlotte! Backed by a backdrop of flashing lights, electrifying pyrotechnics and confetti cannons galore, Good Charlotte whisked the crowd along on a breakneck journey through the classics from their extensive discography: opening with the iconic introductory riff of ‘The Anthem’, the band effortlessly whipped the crowd into an undulating ocean of rippling waves, filling the room with visceral sense of wild abandon that persisted for the entire set! The band left no stone unturned, harking back to their very early career with the hope-tinged apathy of ‘The Motivation Proclamation’ and the angst filled, riot-starting anthem of the broken youth that is ‘Little Things’. Yet their new material wasn’t forgotten either, with a rousing rendition of ‘Life Changes’ from latest album Youth Authority receiving just as warm a reception as classics such as feminist powerhouse ‘Riot Girl’, the fist-pumping chorus and grinding bassline of ‘The River’ and the soaring falsetto highs on ‘I Just Wanna Live’! Punctuating the set were humorous anecdotes exchanged between the Madden brothers that created the atmosphere of an intimate reunion of a few old friends, despite the thousands of people that were packed into the arena like sardines! And at the end of the day, if the entire set, and indeed the festival itself, could be condensed into one single moment, it would undoubtedly be the final thunderous chorus of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ that brought with it a surge of pure, unadulterated joy evident in the screams of the crowd, creating the kind of piercing memories that last a lifetime!