Live Review: Slam Dunk Festival, Leeds Uni, May 24th 2009 (Faye)

slamdunkAfter spending hours in the sweltering heat, harassing bands and folk in the queue for on-the-spot interviews, as well as handing out D.I.Y. ‘business cards’ in the form of notepad paper written in biro, accumulating some attractive sun burn and getting fat off essential pre-gig food (Morrison’s mini-doughnuts) along the way, 3pm finally arrived and doors opened. Holy run-on sentence.

Choosing to start the day off at the Fishing For Eskimo Stage, for High Wycombe rock-quintet, Young Guns, turned out to be a fine decision. I have to admit, I was a bit sceptical of these, because our grebby George is mad into them, but for the 15-minutes that I watched of them, I was impressed, and, evidently, as were the rest in attendance were, with the enthusiastic reaction they received with a series of pits opening up.

I left mid-way through Young Guns, to catch Welsh pop-punkers, Save Your Breath, who gathered quite an amass of people at the Punktastic Stage, which was a bit of an effort to find. Playing tunes from their EP Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy and split with Fireworks, their punchy pop-punk with a tinge of hardcore gartered sing-a-longs a plenty, with a surprise appearance from fellow Welshman and Kids In Glass Houses frontman, Aled Phillips, briefly lending his vocals.

Being a sucker for trendy ‘popcore’,  I, naturally, stuck around the Punktastic Stage for Blackpool’s Me vs Hero, a band who I was especially looking forward to, and, clearly, I was not the only one, as they played to a jam-packed room. Unexpectedly, opening up with one of their newest tracks, Days That Shape Our Lives, in addition, to belting out almost all of their self-titled EP and the brand-spanking new Cashing Cheques. With their trademark gang chants, breakdowns, and infectious hooks galore, the Leeds crowd was loving every second of Me vs Hero; a band who will not let you down live.

I scurried back down to the almost-sea level Fishing For Eskimo Stage for The Urgency. If I’m being honest, I only endured (well, suffered) this set to get a good spot for Hollywood Undead who followed. I found myself looking at my watch several times; really uninspiring, boring music. Although, I’m guessing the two massive Urgency fans standing next to me, heartily singing word-for-word, with the world’s biggest grins, creaming their pants every time vocalist Tyler Gurwicz glanced at them would disagree with me. While Tyler’s pounding vocals are impressive, there is just no substance to the music.  If I were to describe The Urgency it would be a less bouncier and darker Audition, and being compared to The Audition isn’t a good thing.

There’s currently a lot of stigma surrounding Hollywood Undead but, fuck it, unashamedly, I had been waiting to see this rap-rock (or dare I say ‘crunkcore’?) outfit hailing from L.A. for years, and, out of all 30-something bands playing, this was the band I was most excited about seeing. While this is their first time in the U.K., it is clear that Hollywood Undead have already made a name for themselves, as ‘Hollywood’ chants erupt throughout before the masked ones take to the stage. An 8-song set, opening up with the anthemic Undead, they had the rowdy crowd eating out the palm of their hands from start to finish. Their set, overall, was an interesting one, with the inclusion of the more mellow, Bottle and a Gun, as well as the unreleased Dead In Ditches. Ending with fan-favourite and oldie, No. 5, receiving a vivacious reaction, before J-Dog flinging himself into the crowd. Their mostly vulgar and profanity-induced lyrical content, understandably, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but even haters would have to admit they put on a fucking good live show.

Back through the maze of narrow passageways filled with neon-clad kids soaking in sweat from the sauna-like temperatures,  it was time for Bridge 9 darlings Polar Bear Club back at the Punktastic Stage. Scrawny singer Jimmy Stadt, with the gravely voice of someone twice his size, engaged the whole room with a dose of positive aggression. My only gripe with this was the barrier, not a typical Polar Bear Club setting, but the flawless 45-minute set of old and new tracks made up for this. A highlight being album-favourite Our Ballads, resulting in a hoard of fists in the air, hands reaching out for the mic, and voices passionately yelling every word; pretty much reflective of most of their solid set.

Up the stairs it was  for my first taste of the Vans Stage for The King Blues. With the sweaty swarm of punks that had collated to watch this band, it is quite clear The King Blues could have easily headlined this stage as it reached maximum capacity. Their unique hybrid of acoustic punk and reggae had the entire room captivated, dancing away, with the words to songs such as Save The World, Get The Girl and The Boulder rolling off the tip of everyone’s tongue. Incorporating their Dizzee Rascal cover Bonkers and Itch’s new poem Five Bottles of Shampoo into their set also proved popular. Of course, it wouldn’t be a King Blues gig without the slagging of the BNP (and rightfully so) before delving into Taking Over. While the heat of the room was pretty overbearing, this did not affect the several hundred in attendance bouncing up and down, singing away to their heart’s content during final song, The Schemers, The Scroungers And The Rats. Tonight, The King Blues proved exactly why this room reached maximum capacity.

My chosen headliner of the day was Brighton hardcore punk act The Ghost of A Thousand, at the dingy Dropdead Stage. If there was one word to describe this set – resulting in bloodied noses and shredded t-shirts – it would be: insane. New songs, such as Bright Lights with a more melodic twist – from their critically-acclaimed new album New Hopes, New Demonstrations out on June 1st – received just as much of an fanatical reaction as the old tracks. With such an intimate setting, vocalist Tom Lacey frequently left the stage, spending most of his time on the floor or surfing on top of people pelting out his intense vocals. An exhausting and powerful 50-minute set, full of stage invasions and frenzied bodies flying everywhere, as well as an unconventional ‘Wall of Hugs’ demanded from by Lacey; TGOAT was my band of the day.

With TGOAT finishing early, I was able to catch 25-minutes of politically-charged punk-rockers, Anti-Flag, back at the Vans Stage. After a long day, the room looks quite sparse compared to what their predecessors, The King Blues, had assembled. However, with no barrier, people still have it in them for irresistible stage dives and mass sing-a-longs during Die For Your Government as well as their two Clash covers of I Fought the Law and Should I Stay or Should I Go?, which, I’m sure the perspiring and worn-out masses would agree, rounded the day off pleasingly.

Shattered, sweaty, and bruised, it was all worth it. Slam Dunk 2009 solidified itself as the best value-for-money festival in the U.K., with the variety and amount of high calibre of bands on the bill, as well as the general crack had, £21 is a steal, and you can bet I’ll be doing it all again next year.



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