LIVE: Slam Dunk North 2013

By Tom Aylott

Slam Dunk has now become a seminal event in the PT calender. Its incredible atmosphere, overwhelmingly good weather and consistently great line ups always make for an amazing weekend. You can check out our review of Slam Dunk South and Wales here and here and our review of Slam Dunk North is below. Next week we’ll be bringing you interviews and photos from the weekend, but for now – here’s what we saw over the day in Leeds.

For many bands opening Slam Dunk festival can result in a reduced crowd, especially on one of the smaller stages. With their recent exposure and the imminent release of their ‘Funemployed’ EP, Gnarwolves break the curse and attract a surprisingly large crowd. Only minutes into their short set it is easy to see why. Despite being a three-piece, the rough-and-ready dual vocals sit perfectly against the thundering drums and powerful riffs, creating an explosive sound that would lead you to believe there were significantly more members in the band. The serious undertones that add the unique twist to the hardcore punk excel in a live environment, particularly through Charlie’s distinctively cracked and subtly emotional vocals. Gnarwolves prove an excellent opener for Slam Dunk, and confirm what we already know – this band is going to be huge. [BT]

The Summer Set
Kicking things off on the main stage are pop rock supremos The Summer Set who attract a huge crowd in the Refectory. This crowd wasn’t just here to make up the numbers either, with a sea of waving hands and singalongs staking a claim for The Summer Set to perhaps be playing a slot slightly higher up. The band themselves have a great stage presence, frontman, Brian Dales has an infectious energy while he bounds around the stage and it’s clear to see that all five members are having a ball. An unexpectedly great opener to a great day. [CM]

Tonight Alive
Up next were Australia’s own Tonight Alive who do their best to pick up where The Summer Set let off. Things don’t go as well for the band however, the sound is a bit more mucky here and the vocals don’t reach the standard that I imagine frontwoman Jenna McDougall expects. That being said the crowd once again lap up every moment and really manage to push the band and the set from dull to entertaining. [CM]

The Story So Far
Today, The Story So Far go down as well as you would have expected. Second only to The Wonder Years in terms of pop punk creds, they take to the stage and punch a whole stack of smiles on faces today. The set feels a little short (I’m assured it actually wasn’t), but tracks from both their latest and previous record go down an absolute storm. [TA]

Mallory Knox
With the Refectory already reaching boiling point, Mallory Knox deliver a short set compiled from their debut EP and this year’s ‘Signals’ full-length. Album highlight ‘Death Rattle’ sounds particularly impressive in the large indoor space, as does lead single and set closer ‘Lighthouse’. With the magnitude of the situation perhaps overwhelming the band, there is less of the obvious enjoyment on their faces than during past shows. This however does not stop the dedicated fans from screaming every word to every song at the top of their lungs. [BT]

Class Of ’92
Better known for fronting A Loss For Words, Matty Arsenault is in Leeds today to play as Class of ’92, his RnB side project on the Keep A Breast acoustic stage. I’m hoping that this was just an off day for Matty as this wasn’t very good at all. Playing only to the backing track on a macbook, while he does his best, it all falls a bit flat and dare I say… cringeworthy. This isn’t to take away from his obvious vocal ability, but Class of ’92 just doesn’t do it for me. Matty says that he’s doing Class of ’92 because he just wants to have fun and at the end of the day, that’s the only thing that really matters. [CM]

Formerly known as the frontman of The King Blues, Itch has branched out on his own. Although it’s hard to know what to expect, seeing him live is proof that he’s done the right thing. He seems a thousand times more comfortable in his own skin doing his own thing, and he’s just as fantastic to watch as ever. He’s still got that swagger, and he uses the venue as his playground, walking into the crowd and jumping onto every available surface. Make sure you watch him when you can. [LMW]

We Are The Ocean
Back in the Refectory and it was time for We Are The Ocean and unfortunately, right from the get go, it’s clear that We Are The Ocean aren’t totally on the ball today. Whether it was just an off day or it was because the band had one eye on the long journey to Northern Ireland for the Radio 1 Big Weekend, something just isn’t right, songs like ‘Bleed’ sound rushed and the usually huge ‘Machine’ just doesn’t have the same impact as usual. It’s a real shame as We Are The Ocean are usually a consistently good live band, I guess we just all have our off days. [CM]

Man Overboard
Today’s venue for New Jersey residents Man Overboard does not initially appear to be the right fit. With the stage elevated above the crowd and the confined walkways and hidden stairs jamming the audience closely together, there is little opportunity for either the band or the fans to bound around with their usual reckless abandon. The perhaps unexpected result sees Man Overboard deliver their best vocal performance to date, released from the breathlessness that normally dominates their sound. After warming into their set, ‘Atlas’ provides one of the highlights of the day. [BT]

Chas Palmer Williams
The last time Chas Palmer Williams played Slam Dunk Leeds, he was chased from the building and forced to wear a disguise to get back in for setting off firecrackers inside. Today, no such chaos (you’d have to imagine he promised he wouldn’t set anything off), but also no full band. It matters not though, as his solo work has come along leaps and bounds since the last time he played. Today’s performance carries his all of his wit and charm, and concludes with yours truly on the stage playing an air trumpet to an old Lightyear classic. A great bit of fun for the middle of the afternoon, and a trip down memory lane for yours truly.[TA]

Sleeping With Sirens
If anything, it’s a travesty that Sleeping With Sirens are on so early in the day, because they draw one of the biggest crowds to the main stage. They’ve slowly managed to become absolutely massive, and it’s wholly deserved. Frontman Kellin Quinn is definitely one of the main reasons for their success, with a crowd full of seemingly rabid fan girls eager to get a glimpse of their idol not to mention their great songs. Finishing off with the huge ‘If You Can’t Hang’, it’s clear to see they will only get bigger from here. [LMW]

Over on the Macbeth stage and Fireworks were making their UK return after a long two years away. The band are finally over to play some songs from their incredible ‘Gospel’ album. The songs that do get an airing go down extremely well, ‘The Wild Bunch’ inspires one of the biggest singalongs of the day and ‘Oh, Why Can’t We Start Old…’ is a full on groove-fest. The band are clearly taken aback by the reaction they’ve received today and as a result step up their game, it was just one of those sets that define Slam Dunk for me, an absolute highlight of the day for sure. [CM]

If you are going to play sixteen songs in a late afternoon set at a festival, you are going to be pushed for time. Allister take the challenge on the Macbeth Stage by playing their acclaimed 2002 full-length ‘Last Stop Suburbia’ in full, leaving little time for crowd interaction. Relying on the quality of the songs and the dedicated fans to generate atmosphere seems to work, yet it is not until favourite ‘Somewhere On Fullerton’ that things really move into fifth gear. Although the room is considerably emptier than for prior bands, this is clearly something special for those who grew up with the seminal record. [BT]

Polar Bear Club
Today, Polar Bear Club really don’t come across as the band that released their incredible ‘Clash Battle Guilt Pride’. They feel out of place on a smaller stage than you’d expect, but it doesn’t even quite feel as busy in here as you’d have hope. Consequently, it doesn’t end up being a fantastic day at the office for the band, and though the tunes are still there – the energy doesn’t quite seem what it usually is. We’re hoping for the crowd to buzz a bit more at their headline show in London next week. [TA]

Kids In Glass Houses
Kids In Glass Houses have been away for awhile now, and aside from a warm up show, this is their first big show since Merthyr Rocks last year. To put it simply it’s a complete triumph for them: they sound flawless. Aled’s voice is glorious and the set list is incredible. It mainly consists of songs off ‘Smart Casual’ and ‘Dirt’, mixed in with new track ‘Drive’, which is an unbelievable banger. If there’s any justice, Kids In Glass Houses will now go on to reach the potential they’ve been threatening for the past few years. They deserve it. [LMW]

The Wonder Years
Everyone knew The Wonder Years set was going to be a busy show. With fans literally pushing through the various doors into the darkened Macbeth stage, few could have anticipated the effect ‘The Greatest Generation’ would have on the band. The handful of tracks from the new album spliced between old favourites prove the impact of the record as fans belt lyrics back at the band, at times louder than the vocals expelled from frontman Dan Campbell. Despite the maturity of the new tracks, they still work next to the likes of ‘Came Out Swinging’ and ‘Logan Circle’ from older records. With enough energy being projected from the stage to power a small town, we would put our money on The Wonder Years being at the top of the bill a few years down the line. [BT]

Gavin Butler
As we head into the later stages of the festival, The Blackout’s co-frontman, Gavin Butler takes to the Keep A Breast stage for an acoustic set. It’s an intimate show and he plays a mixture of The Blackout’s hits and his own songs. His voice sounds fantastic tonight, and the crowd go away incredibly happy. [LMW]

The Early November
While jumping across tracks from all four albums, The Early November set is bookended by ‘Frayed In Doubt’ from last year’s ‘In Currents’ and ‘Every Night’s Another Story’ from 2002’s ‘For All Of This’. This provides evidence for the development in style across the last decade, but also demonstrates the range of fans in the disappointingly small crowd – all singing along to a vast range of tracks. When given the choice, the crowd jump at the chance to hear more songs from fan favourite ‘The Room’s Too Cold’ – ‘Ever So Sweet’ sounding particularly nostalgic yet equally beautiful. With the tracks retaining their resonance some years later, Ace Enders appears equally as thrilled to return to the stage with a full accompanying band. [BT]

Andrew McMahon
Armed with just a piano, Andrew McMahon delivers a suitably mesmerising close to a festival filled with pleasant remembrances. Playing a combination of acoustic Something Corporate songs and solo material, McMahon entertains with hauntingly pitch perfect vocals and expert musicianship. In-between tracks he provides hushed anecdotes, slowly building towards a rendition of cult track ‘Konstantine’ – the penultimate song to the main set. With his guarded personality on stage matching the captivating sound, it proves a simple yet stunning performance that offers an alternative to the pop-punk shenanigans on the main stages. [BT]

Deaf Havana
Deaf Havana play just below All Time Low, but despite the lack of headliner status, they could very well be the band of the day. With a full live band, complete with female vocalist, they sound absolutely flawless tonight. ‘Fools And Worthless Liars’ is an unbelievable album and tonight they do it justice. From the huge ‘Little White Lies’ to closer ‘Hunstanton Pier’, Deaf Havana ooze soul and a wisdom beyond their years. [LMW]

King Prawn
It’s been a LONG time since many people have seen King Prawn in the flesh. Today they are Babar Luck-less, late and sound absolutely awful in the Riley hall. It’s not even so much taht they don’t give a shit, it’s just that it feels like the wrong place and time to see them. A headline show would have suited them much better, and the crowd at Slam Dunk North really didn’t seem to care much for the performance. We left quite early on, and decided to reserve judgement for a headline show later in the year.[TA]

Cancer Bats
Over in the Mine, Cancer Bats were offering an alternative to the plethora of pop punk and post hardcore over on the other stages by doing their level best to bring the venue to the ground. Although Mine is comparably empty compared to the other stages, those in attendance are getting fully involved with barely anybody not in the moshpit. [CM]

All Time Low
After a long and incredible day we finally come to Slam Dunk headliners All Time Low, who inspire an amazing level of hysteria among the crowd. The amount of fainting teenage girls is unreal, not to mention the mountain of bras thrown at the stage. The hysteria is completely deserved, because All Time Low not only have the huge catchy anthems, but they have fantastic stage presence and crowd banter to match. Closing with ‘Weightless’ and ‘Dear Maria Count Me In’, All Time Low finish off an amazing day in style. [LMW]

SO, that’s our reviews of Slam Dunk 2013 done. We genuinely had an incredible time at all three dates we managed to attend. The Slam Dunk organizers really pulled it out of the bag this year and we can only see them going from strength to strength. We may still be feeling a tad fragile from the weekend but all we really have to say is Bring on Slam Dunk 2014.