Festival Review: Slam Dunk Leeds 2019

I’ve lived in Yorkshire for the past seven years on and off but unfortunately have never been able to attend Slam Dunk Festival as it coincides with the local festival Bands on The Square in Barnoldswick that I am normally part of the photography team for.

Bullet For My Valentine (c) Jack Barker

My first trip to the festival was when the festival came of age. Having started many years ago as an indoor festival at some of Leeds smaller venues, it has grown in popularity of the years taking over the city centre with stages in Millennium Square, the First Direct Arena and the O2 Academy. This year the festival left its city centre routes behind and spread its wings at the Temple Newsham site.

Arriving at the site a little later than planned due to a detour around West Yorkshire trying to find the car park, I arrived at the Marshall Stage just in time to see ex-Yellowcard vocalist Ryan Key perform one of their biggest hits “Ocean Avenue”. With side by side stages Milk Teeth kicked off their set on the adjacent Dickies Stage as soon as Key left the stage. Their pop punk sound was a good way to kick off the rest of the day, the penultimate track “Owning Your Okayness” was a personal favourite.

I then realised one of the slight problems with new site for someone like me that’s a little overweight and wanting to see as many bands as possible, it’s bloody hilly. I took my first trip down the hill to see Anti Flag on the Punk in Drublic stage. Having seen Anti Flag at last year’s Nova Rock festival I knew there would be the trademark political lyrics and massive energy from the whole band, but especially from bassist Chris Barker who spends more time on the air jumped of various amps around the stage.

The Bronx (c) Jack Barker

After a £7 slice of pizza and saying “HOW MUCH? ” in my best Yorkshire accent, I headed to the Key Club tent to see Moshville Times favourites Press To Meco. Arriving a little early I saw the last couple of tracks from not so secret band Y3K on the right-hand stage. In the days before the festival when the secret band was announced the link to Busted’s track “Year 3000” was made and the secret was out. Arriving halfway through “Crashed The Wedding” it seemed like everyone at the festival was squashed into the relatively small tent and I was amazed by the number of crowd surfers. With the Press To Meco guys ready to take over on the Left stage, Busted finished their set with “Year 3000”.

With a slightly smaller but still impressive crowd Press to Meco began their set with lasted single “Familiar Ground”. With a relatively short set, you could tell that band members Luke Caley, Adam Roffey and Lewis Williams were really enjoying the festival appearance. With their catchy tracks and something a little different with drummer Williams also being the main vocalist, I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys appear on a larger stage in years to come.

Heading back up the hill to the Dickies Stage again it was time for Sea Way. A band who I had seen supporting State Champs but who I haven’t stopped listening to since their set at Slam Dunk. From the first song in their set “London”, the security seemed overwhelmed by the sheer number of crowd surfers, with some simply not being caught and others attempting to be caught but ending up on the floor along with the security staff.

Press To Meco (c) Jack Barker

It was at this point that I felt the first few spots of rain that would soon turn into a torrential downpour that would last until the headline bands took to the stage. I took shelter in the tent housing the Jägermeister and Impericon stage and stayed there for the next few hours, catching the sets from some bands that I wouldn’t necessarily have seen if it wasn’t for the rain such as Cancer Bats, The Bronx, Gallows and The Story Of The Year. The most impressive of the three for me were Gallows, marking there return following a hiatus. During their set front man Wade MacNeil spent the first few songs in the crowd getting up close and personal with the crowd.

Atreyu were next on the Jägermeister stage and entertained the crowd with hits such as “Bleeding Mascara” and “Becoming The Bull”. Unfortunately, due to medical problems lead singer Alex Varkatzas was unable to perform at Slam Dunk, however drummer Brandon Saller stepped up to the frontman position to prevent the band having to pull out of the festival appearance. With a little help from member of bands that had performed earlier in the day, Saller did a brilliant job at filling in for Varkatzas. Saller even carried on the band’s tradition of covering Bon Jovi’s 80’s classic “You Give Love A Bad Name” in their own much heavier style.

Atreyu (c) Jack Barker

With a now two decade long career, Bullet For My Valentine were more than worth of this year’s headline slot on the Jägermeister stage, and after a little reckon trip down to the main monster stage during the set, I would say they pulled in more of a crowd than the main Monster stage headliners, All Time Low. With a set that covered their entire career they flipped between the different albums seamlessly, beginning with “Don’t Need You” and “Over It” from the band’s most recent album Gravity, then diving into their back catalogue with “Your Betrayal” and “4 Words (To Choke Upon)”. During the encore the band played my personal favourite “Tears Don’t Fear” which took me back to being 15 and listening to the track on my MP3 player that held a whopping 100 songs. Despite enjoying the band’s set at last year’s Nova Rock festival I feel that the Slam Dunk Festival set was catered far more to the fans rather than simply trying to promote an album that at the time was yet to be released.

Upon leaving the festival site and arriving back home in 16 minutes. It was clear how well organized and we’ll thought-out the new site was, and it seems to resolve some of the issues I had heard about from the city centre site in previous years. Despite being a little pricey for food and drink, I hope the festival remains at the Temple Newsham site in the years to come.

Photos by Jack Barker Photography

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