Gig review: Slam Dunk festival at the University of Leeds

Tyson Ritter of The All-American Rejects at Slam Dunk. Picture: Neil Short
Tyson Ritter of The All-American Rejects at Slam Dunk. Picture: Neil Short

So Slam Dunk 2014 came round pretty fast. It doesn’t seem like yesterday when the teenagers were in the Cancer Bats mosh pit back in 2013 with the chaotic flailing of limbs and bodies... That’s what memories are made of.

This year, Leeds had traded in the sunshine for a lot of rain and wind, but the festival is pretty much indoors so we were protected from the elements.

The reason I bring the weather up (apart from being British) is outside is usually rammed from the minute the gates open until you’re getting carted of by security last thing at night. This time round, well, water pouring down on you would deter you from going outside. Unless you’re hardcore and want a band to sign something or you were waiting to get in to the Monster Stage tent.

I have been going to Slam Dunk North for years, and one thing always kind of hit me every year: the fans were getting younger and younger. This year it was different. Less Than Jake had their ‘oldest’ fan from Ireland – a 60-year-old dude and he was still attending all of their shows.

Getting back to the start of the day. This year, from a journalism side of things, I was more organised than I have ever been before. I had even written down a day’s agenda – I wanted to get all of the interviews done nice and early so I could go see some awesome bands. I had a word with Mike Sparks and Luke Prebble from Canterbury a couple of hours before they were due on the main stage. One thing is for certain. They can put on a show that pretty much blows any up and coming band at the moment out of the water, they’ve got the songs, in fact they have anthems and to top it off, there’s dual lead vocals. Vocals that genuinely rip right through you.

Why are they getting lost in the boggy quagmire of wannabe emo/hardcore/alternative/pop punk bands with an endless supply of mum and dads cash to fund throw away PR campaigns, rubbish videos, and better tour vans than huge, awesome bands? It’s tragic. They are extremely humble guys, and a great band to boot.

Crown The Empire had just flown in from Dallas. Jetlagged, they were still on top form. During the interview the guys mentioned professionalism. Being a musician myself and having learnt from mistakes that I have personally made through out my career (well not quite, but almost), I was keen to get the guys to expand on the subject. They made some really sensible and valuable points that I fear a lot of the younger bands are missing out on. They’ve only been going since 2010, and for a band, they’ve pretty much come really far in the industry in such a short space of time. And that’s all down to their professional attitudes kids. And clearly the monster music they keep putting out there.

So. After breaking for lunch, and catching a couple of bands (one of those being Canterbury, who were awesome!) I headed back to pretty much a bucket list moment/interview in the press area. Less Than Jake. A pure fanboy moment for me. Luckily, as it turns out, Roger and Chris were two humble, excitable, and clearly passionate guys about their music, their recording, their touring, and especially passionate about meeting fans – to give people memories that someone will remember for the rest of their life.

After that, there was no way I was going to make it in to the Monster Stage tent – that was rammed from the word go. Crown The Empire, The Ghost Inside, Let Live and Bury Tomorrow were all playing that stage and it was a case of one out, one in… And a queue that went ride round the sides of the tent. In the pouring rain.

In the Mine I went and caught The Marmozets, and Feed The Rhino. The Marmozets have recently been signed by Road Runner Records, and they’re a great band, talented like you wouldn’t believe. Feed The Rhino… Well anyone who knows their material, or stage performances, knows that they are just brutal, and always put on a monster show that blows the roof off of wherever they are playing.

Inevitably, with a festival this size (and it’s growing by the year), there were bound to be some stage time clashes for bands that I wanted to see. The Ataris clashing with Mallory Knox, and The All-American Rejects clashing with Less Than Jake. Having seen The Ataris and Less Than Jake play before, I opted for Mallory Knox.

They came on stage with all guns blazing, kicking everyone’s back sides in to a musical frenzy. They do live up to the hype, with great songs, great stage presence, and an energy that you can only get from an audience caught in the headlights. Pure adrenaline to watch.

Less Than Jake were just amazing. They came on with such fire and passion I thought they were going to blow the roof off! Roger kicking the nuggins right out of his bass, Buddy ‘Goldfinger’, Peter and Vinne were going insane, and Chris just shredding his guitar. And the vocals were on top form too. One thing I love about this band is they are fun. Professional musicians to the core, but they make it fun.

As for The All-American Rejects, I spoke to Nick Wheeler a few weeks ago, and he talked up a great show. They’ve been playing the odd shows on the run-up to Slam Dunk 2014, just to keep their chops up, Ty went and got married and did some acting stuff, and Nick has been fiddling with his guitar rig to blow folks ear drums out. I reckon if I wasn’t wearing ear plugs he may have come close.

From the start of their set to the finish, they were all psyched up to deliver something special. Like Less Than Jake, the Rejects were out to make memories for every single person in that room, fan or not. They played all the singles from the last decade or so. They even brought out guitars with lights on for Kids In The Street. Performance-wise, smooth as silk; energy-wise, Redbull with eight espressos, and entertainment-wise? Mind-blowing.

That is the first time I have ever seen them live, and I know I’m going to see them again when they’re next on tour.

Slam Dunk North 2014. The festival just keeps getting bigger and better every year. I’m struggling to comprehend how the organisers are going to top this year’s event.

Gig date: May 24