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Slam Dunk Festival (North) 2017 Review

Slam Dunk through the eyes of Sean Friswell.

With my press pass collected, it didn't take long before I bumped into Crossfaith and ended up having a quick catch up (they remembered me from photographing them early last year).

This was my first time attending Slam Dunk Festival and with the recent attack in Manchester fresh on my mind I was quite nervous, so this brief encounter went a long way to helping with my frame of mind. Upon entering main arena I was still quite worried about being in such a crowded area but before I continue with my review of the day it is worth noting those fears and concerns left very quickly and were replaced with a great sense of pride as I witnessed the sheer strength of our music scene and the love of its fans coming together to just enjoy themselves. There was a sense of fun in the air and everyone was beyond friendly.

So onto the bands, my first act of the day was Lizzy Farrall. A singer/songwriter who has just recently signed to Pure Noise Records and was tasked with opening todays festival on the UPRAWR stage. Having seen Lizzy play a few times already I knew exactly what to expect but that still didn't stop me standing in awe as she commanded an incredibly full room. Lyrically her songs resonate and her voice is quite simply beautiful, her lead single 'Broken Toy' is by far her stand out song from todays performance but don't let that diminish the strength of her overall set. Captivating and fun in between songs, I expect you'll see a lot more from her from here on out.

I decided to hang around the UPRAWR stage to catch The Lion & The Wolf. Having first seen him perform in Chester a few years back I was interested to see how he had evolved as an artist if at all. When I first saw him he told the crowd how he's decided to give up the 'day job' and pursue music full time. So it's great to see him here a few years on doing what he loves and making a living out of it. But has a evolved as an artist? the answer is no and to be honest that's exactly what I was hoping. Because for me he had already become everything he needed to be. His lyrics are raw and complex and his voice full of emotion, he captivates an audience and holds their attention. You can expect nothing more than an artist wearing his heart on his sleeve, welcoming you into his world, a world that is sometimes fun or sometimes full of sorrow but you're glad you got to witness it all the same. I love this dude.

Next I find myself at the Impericon Stage for Crossfaith. A band who I had the pleasure of seeing at Download Festival 2014 and photographing in Manchester in 2016. Having never heard of them previous to Download I fell in love instantly with their insane live show and their blend of Electronic, Synth and Metal. Today was no different as they took Slam Dunk by storm, the crowd went off and didn't stop for their whole set. Insanely good!

Next we have We Are The Ocean, a band I have loved from day one, so to have the chance to witness their second to last show ever was quite special. As lead Liam fought back tears, I too found myself getting upset at the prospect of never seeing these guys live again. A brilliant set, full of hits new and old and quite simply a brilliant way to say goodbye.

It doesn't take long for Bury Tomorrow to set things off big time. With frontman Daniel declaring he wants to see '1000 people crowd surfing over the barrier' I very quickly lost count as a sea of bodies surf their way towards him. Probably one of the heavier bands on the festivals line up these guys again caught my attention at Download 2014 and have just gone from strength to strength since. Taking this years special guest slot their set was very special indeed.

My final band of the day and albeit one I only catch briefly is Beartooth. A band I've never really been interested in until today, because fuck me are they good. Melody and brutality fuse perfectly as one as they tear Slam Dunk a new one.

As I find myself slowly leaving the main arena to go and mooch at the stall and grab an extortionately priced burger and drink I look back at the amazing turn out for this years event. Even if some did understandably decide to stay away because of the attack, it is still incredibly heartwarming and a beautiful site to see. My first Slam Dunk was a win and I can't wait to come back next year.

Slam Dunk through the eyes of Oli Williams.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way this year. There were still queues. However this year, they were for the extra security, which given the nature of recent events was totally necessary. And even those weren’t too large. Waiting on average about 10 minutes to enter the Arena stage, and literally walking into the main site.

Slam Dunk North 2017, was split a bit, with the Fireball stage in the First Direct arena, and the other stages on the usual festival site. We arrived in plenty of time, and wristband exchange went without a hitch this year. Departing for the pub, we discovered the joy that is table service at Wetherspoons, and ordered some cocktails, only to discover the first band we wanted to check out, Fenix TX, started in ten minutes. By the time we’d chugged the jugs, and gotten through the arena security, we heard about 2 minutes of them. I’m sure the other reviewers will have caught them and will have great things to say.

After that we chilled for a while before coming back in time for Mad Caddies, one of my highlights of the day. Playing a selection of classics and some of the newer works off the most recent album, the sunny music and great tunes never fails to raise a smile, and I look forward to catching a longer set in October.

Goldfinger seemed to be just one man now. The rest of the band being an all star line-up of MXPX, New Found Glory and another band I can’t remember. The tunes we caught were great, but I got the feeling that the lead singer was treating it as a massive FU to the other members of the band. Reel Big Fish are legends. And can quite comfortably make fun of themselves and the music they play. A set of classic songs, good hearted ribbing and general skanking followed. Less Than Jake hit the stage and instantly launched into the classics. Relying heavily on tracks from 'Losing Streak' and 'Hello Rockview' in the early going, the pit was hot and sweaty, and the tunes were excellent. I left before the end, but this goes to show that the classics never fail.

Enter Shikari are a band I’ve seen just once before, and have really gotten into in recent years. The combination of Metal with electronic elements, and politically charged lyrics always kicks ass, and in this time of year, it’s well received. Playing almost all of 'Take To The Skies' as part of it’s 10th anniversary tour, the experience and atmosphere was electric, and with the crowd chanting and singing, especially during the more choral moments, felt almost church-like and epic. A fantastic closing set that left tears in eyes and hearts charged with making a difference.

Altogether, I didn’t catch many bands, but the experience I had was far better than last years. The bands I caught in the main were incredible, and the organisation has significantly improved. There are still occasional issues, like the drink prices rising a pound across the board, and the vegan food stand offering non-vegan Garlic Mayo on there Falafel dog, but those things are nitpicking.

Slam Dunk North through the eyes of Ric Snell.

So I got myself to the show, stood up in the crowd and the first band I checked out at Slam Dunk was Fenix TX. First of all I must say it was mint to see these guys rocking the show, it’s nice to see that in all these years that music still smashes despite time. These guys knew how to work a crowd but then again that’s unsurprising given their experience. Each song was a banger and was only made better when they worked with the crowd, I was a late player to the game on this, but got the gist that two long haired guys were in competition, and who am I to get in the way of this democratic approach? This is England after all!

The next band I managed to make notes for were a ‘small’ band called Crossfaith. I ended the sentence there because I had for some reason never heard of these guys, and I hope to never make that mistake again.Crossfaith absolutely blew me away. Their effortless fusion of Metal and Synth worked so amazingly well, it got the crowd going in a way you don’t see very often, and I actually ended up trying to keep a girl upright amidst the impromptu pits! (you’re welcome btw) this was only made better by the guest vocals Beartooth singer (Caleb Shomo) who also blew things away! And also the cheeky cover of Prodigy, Omen which no matter which festival you’re at is always an absolute treat to hear.

Now I must admit I did see a great many other bands at SlamDunk now I won’t review them all and here’s why. First of all I don’t want to steal all the thunder from all our other amazing reviewers (not that that’s an actual issue) but mostly because I was pretty battered and managed to sober for our next band.

Enter Shikari absolutely blew me away, and I know anyone who knows me would knows that is definitely a biased opinion but I don’t mind. Them playing through 'Take To The Skies' has never been more relevant. With the ever glooming election on the cards ahead of schedule, Rou was quite justified in talking about issues such as the NHS as well as many other issues (I know there are many such as policing and schools but if I mention them all we’ll be here all night!) This set was only improved by for me by Shikari’s choice to include 'Last Garrison', 'Anaesthetist' and finally 'Red Shift'. The whole crowd chanting the words “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” was amazing for me because I know it’s easy to take the “oh god Facebook has become the House of Commons” approach again but I personally love it when people actually take an interest in their country and we should never discourage that!

I’ll end this review on a wonky rant, overall I had the time of my life at Slam Dunk the public services such as heavy policing (given the horrendous events that preceded the festival) were absolutely spot on, and I don’t think I have the word count to tell all of the Police, NHS and public sector staff as well as the poor bar staff workers (I’m so sorry for all the drinks I ordered) for all the appreciation I have for you.

Slam Dunk was an absolute smasher for me however, at certain bands the people of Leeds had decided throwing beer was better than drinking beer. Sorry Leeds but I don’t get this new fashion, the amount of cups half filled with beer that flew through the air was somewhat disheartening and made me want to put up a sign saying “bring your left over beer here” to save you having to throw it. Then again I was always taught not to let things go to waste!

I loved my time at Slam Dunk and will definitely be there next year, hopefully reviewing more bands, not covered in beer this time.

Reviewers - Sean Friswell, Oli Williams & Ric Snell

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