Despite the unpredictable British weather, in Leeds the sun is shining and the heat brought smiles to hordes of fans ready for a day of great music at the annual, sold out, Slam Dunk Festival. The fest is in its 10th year and with everyone out to celebrate this big anniversary, it seems only fitting that they have some huge bands on the bill. With the likes of Panic! At The Disco headlining and The Starting Line making their first appearance in the UK in years, it was bound to be the greatest Slam Dunk to date. All images by photographer Kelly Hamilton.
First up for the day are Young Guns, a UK alt-rock outfit that has undergone a recent line-up change. Perhaps that was why they didn’t do too well at warming up the crowd for the day, as their performance was rather lackluster. Next was The Word Alive, who drew in quite the crowd to their little hideaway stage, up a back alley by one of the main venues. With new material to blow away the awaiting crowds, The Word Alive do well to satisfy as an opener for the day.
Mayday Parade are a breath of fresh air, providing the most energy of the day. Vocalist Derek Sanders bounds across the stage barefoot, his hair flying in wisps here, there, and everywhere as he goes. Their set is full of nostalgia for fans who have stuck with them for the past ten years; the likes of “Jersey” getting the loudest response from the massive mainstage crowd. We Came As Romans are next at Atlas stage and their crowd spans down the alley for quite some way, proving they’re still as relevant as ever. Though some of their songs sound a little too similar—making it hard to tell where one ends and another begins—they make up for it by putting on a stellar performance, stomping around and joining the crowd.
Inside the dark and dreary O2 Academy are Real Friends, self-acclaimed pop-punk sad boys are all smiles despite their statements. Though the room is dark—a little fitting to their lyrics—the atmosphere created by band and crowd alike is very much alive, with people even hanging over the balcony to scream back “I don’t love you anymore” at the band. The Starting Line’s UK return comes in the same venue, their classic tracks breathing new life as they echo throughout the room, and their new tracks sound incredible live, showing that this well-loved pop-punk favourite is back and hopefully, this time, for good.
BaaBar hosts the acoustic efforts of the day—a tiny packed room with no real stage makes for an unbelievably intimate experience for The Rocket Summer. Bryce Avary, vocalist and founder of TRS, opens with an old favourite “Do You Feel?” and is stunned to find every person standing before him singing along louder then he is. He even takes a moment to step away from his mic, allowing the crowd to take over; their voices much like a choir filling the small space and leaving Avary brimming with joy. Back out in the sun are New Found Glory, old time pop-punkers who still hold the most amazing stage presence. You never know where to look when they’re on stage; from guitarist Chad Gilbert jumping his way across the stage hardly ever touching the ground, to vocalist Jordan Pudnik’s inability to stand still as he marches around. The set leaves you somewhat dizzy but in the best way, and feeling a little nostalgic to hear ‘”My Friends Over You.”
Sticking with the theme of nostalgia is Panic! At The Disco, though a lot of their set for the day is made up of newer tracks from their recent release, it is the older tracks that are most welcomed of course. Away from the first few rows, the crowd is made up of 20-somethings who have had too much to drink and can’t wait to hear the likes of “Time To Dance” and “Nine In The Afternoon”; of course they get that and so much more. There’s even a welcomed cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” where vocalist and sole remaining original member, Brendon Urie, brings a piano onstage to host a Queen sing-along with the crowd. Urie is completely charismatic; perhaps this is why fans have stuck with the band throughout all the line-up changes. Not only are his vocals damn near untouchable—giving off a Sinatra vibe, even for the more modern tracks—but he holds the canny ability to keep everyone in the palm of his hand for 90 minutes. For a 10-year anniversary celebration, Panic! are the perfect send off for Leeds and it leaves you quick to wonder if they’ll be able to top it next year.
Enjoy our gallery from Slam Dunk Festival below.