Rolling into May can mean one thing, at the tail end is the turn around of annual Slam Dunk Music festival and for the first date in Leeds, it was bigger and better than ever. Expanding from the confines of Leeds Met University, the festival found a home among a large part of the city centre, putting up outdoor stages on Millenium Square and in car parks for the day. Despite the weather being typically bipolar, the day seemed to be one of the hottest of the year and the sun shining made it the perfect year for expansion.
First on the bill is pop-punk five-piece As It Is, a band that has shot to popularity in a short time, even gaining the recognition of Fearless Records who they signed to not too long ago. The band is as energetic as ever even in the heat, almost hitting the ceiling of their small stage performing the highest of jumps. The athleticism shown, matched the upbeat sounds of their music and entertained the early birds of the festival who were first in for the day.
Hidden away inside Leeds O2 Academy was the Monster stage, home to the metalcore and hardcore bands. The Color Morale took to the stage in front of a meager few, being one of the only stages inside it shields most from the sun and is cooler but the bleakness of the venue doesn’t help with the summer vibe. Still the band power through their set, bouncing around their stage, which isn’t particularly well lit, despite the few downsides of the venue itself to entertain those who had come along to watch.
Millenium Square, main stage, PVRIS walk out to a roar of applause. Some had been waiting out since 7 a.m. to get to the barrier to see the Boston trio (with the addition of touring drummer Justin Nace) and it was no surprise why. PVRIS’ pop-rock sound has everyone on their feet from the get go. The band have only been to the U.K. once and that was only around a month ago and yet they’re already working their way up main stages proving their inevitably strong standing in the genre.
With no prior expectations to viewing their set, ROAM were somewhat of a pleasant surprise. Turning up to the stage that had been spaced out for As It Is, was suddenly packed to the brim with people in high energy for the band’s performance. Their music is up-tempo, with a pace to make anyone think the band had overloaded themselves on sugar before taking to the stage. It’s entertaining though and encourages an onslaught of crowd surfers to clamber their way over bodies to get to the stage. Chaos ensues when rubber dinghys, in the shape of mini surfboards, are thrown into the crowd, allowing for crowd surfers to, well, literally surf over the heads of fellow fans.
Celebrating the anniversary of their album Chroma, Cartel were next up on the Macbeth stage. The band are well rehearsed from years of playing those songs and fire through great tracks like “If I Fail” and “Honestly,” as well as some from their following releases. The crowd isn’t as hyped as they were for ROAM, though those who are fans are singing along to every word giving Cartel the warmest welcome.
Heading out away from the stage, is a queue streaming back beyond Beckett University, all of which are fans desperate to meet PVRIS. Those at the front are stopping for photos, the band happy to comply and a small gathering of people, not bothering to join the line, stand at the side just to catch a glimpse of the band. It’s surreal, as if the members of PVRIS are right out of Hollywood. Something only confirmed when the line is cut because the band have run over on time, where fans were on the verge of tears from the realization they wouldn’t be able to meet Brian, Lynn or Alex.
A small break between sets allows for some downtime among the main crowd. Overhearing Neck Deep all the while, the band are well loved among the pop-punk scene and experience an apparent number of more than 150 crowd surfers coming over the barrier during their set. Drinks are flowing among those in the back, most who are just sitting around in clusters relaxing and enjoying the sun, an ice cream van plays faintly in the back enticing people in for a sugary treat while they wait between bands. It’s all the fun of summer and it’s impossible to feel sad on a day such as this.
Bayside have one of the most enthusiastic crowds of the day. Though they seem calm just watching everything being set up, including some tech help from Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara, that soon changes when the band takes to the stage. The front row, especially one girl in particular, is overcome and ecstatically singing along to every single word. It doesn’t go unnoticed by the band either, who perform some of their greatest tracks with smiles. The sound is great; it’s no wonder the band have stayed so popular for so long.
Another signing drawing in fans is for You Me At Six, one of the U.K.’s biggest bands. Behind the queue of those meeting the band is a barricade holding back fans that are just wanting a glimpse of them. It’s much more strange than before with PVRIS as the volume of people is so much more vast, with more security standing by either side. Following them is another break and a chance to watch Don Broco from the back, another U.K. band that has soared to popularity. A group of lads who have the most fun throwing themselves around onstage, they’re an energetic precursor to what comes next.
Taking Back Sunday are the penultimate band on main stage, offering up a set of classics that some of the older fans grew up listening too, as well as some tracks from the likes of Happiness Is. Enigmatic frontman Adam Lazzara moves around the stage with an undeniable sass and camps it up for the audience in every sway of his hips as he sings. If you were to ever forget how great the band were, seeing them performing live at Slam Dunk is a permanent reminder.
The last band of the night, returning headliners to Slam Dunk Festival are You Me At Six. They even pay homage to the creators of the festival, their first promoter as a band who made Leeds a second home to them. They are able to show their undeniable appreciation, also, through a killer set. Seven of the songs are from Take Off Your Colours, their debut album and is incredibly well received. Whether you’re a big fan or not, there’s at least one song on their set that you’ll know and you can’t help but sing along, it’s infectious. Stage setup goes along way too: Each member is dispersed evenly across the huge stage, with a backdrop showing videos of the band and lyrics from some of their songs, adding another element to the complete experience. Overall You Me At Six deliver a powerhouse performance, leaving everyone we pass with a smile on their face—an unforgettable way to end Slam Dunk North. The only question: Can next year’s lineup top it?