The journey up to Leeds for Slam Dunk 2012 was a long and strenuous one, but even that, miles of traffic and a blistering sun, it was hard to believe that anything could get in the way of my excitement. After a heavy night previous, a large group of friends and I met up at a service station on the outskirts of Peterborough to greet and devour a much needed McDonald’s breakfast and coffee. Spirits high, we embarked on the three-hour drive, and arrived in Leeds shortly after midday. Due to the heat, the carburettor (car talk, gents) in the car I travelled in had melted, and we were unable to continue, and find a parking spot, etc.
As convenient as it was, no one seemed too impressed when I found myself breaking out some Forever the Sickest Kids karaoke: “Cause it’s a breakdown, a break dowwwahahawahown”. But eventually, the situation was overcome, sun cream was applied, and the drinking had began following a quick walk around Leeds and food consumption, before acquiring our own black wristbands and entering the university’s student union.
Lower than Atlantis showcased their dominance on the UK music scene by opening the Atticus stage up in the main hall, to a roar of energy and fury, in a packed-to-the-brim room. I had arrived late, and found it difficult to find a place to stand and have a good view, whilst hundreds still remained queueing up outside, or aimlessly wondering around the venue; hallways upon hallways upon bars and bars. I had settled just about to the middle of the room, where the sound technician’s booth was set up, peering over towering giants and snapbacks to see Duce and co. hammer away at their instruments and rally the audience up for a day of blindingly good music and fun. From where I stood, the sound became too distorted, and only from knowing the songs, I could make out the words or signature riffs, but this did not dissolve their key performance as much as you would think. Since last seeing them over a year ago (or was it two?), their confidence and stage presence has multiplied and they have only progressed, never letting the recognition affect their work ethic or display, mixing up their set with well received Foo Fighter cover snippets. Their efforts were greatly rewarded when they ceased to play the first chorus of ‘Deadliest Catch’ and let the crowd take over singing duties before a crashing finale.
My friends and I found ourselves in awe of the venue choice, settling comfortably at the terrace bar balcony, enjoying the BBQ facility and blinding weather. The student union resembled a maze, with twists and turns, bars and rooms in every direction; a perfect venue to host such an event and big names, especially considering the festival would be an ‘inside’ affair. I did pause for one moment to pity the cleaners.
Say Anything opened their set with a thundering rendition of ‘Belt’, to ease the audience into a frenzy of new songs and crowd-pleasers, along with interludes of comforting talking. Bemis oozed his frontman charisma from start to finish, never with the intention to impress or out-do, but simply to entertain and have a good time himself. Exerting a camp, hand-on-the-hip and lean, strike a pose persona, Bemis with his booming voice, backed up by his band members finally made their mark with the final two songs of their set, ‘Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too’ and ‘Alive With the Glory of Love’. With familiar favourites, Say Anything was able to go all out on guitar tricks and throwing themselves about to wrap up a successful performance.
The realisation of what big names would be lurking around the student union finally struck me having visited one of the million toilets and stop to let two people pass me, lugging some music equipment into the room which hosted the Vans stage: Wade McNeil and Steph Carter.
Amidst call of the queueing and drinking, I was able to catch several songs from Motion City Soundtrack’s set, including a well rehearsed and much-enjoyed ‘When You’re Around’. They performed to an expert level, with a marvellous sound and charming nature that they always have, which easily shows how they have been able to maintain such a level of success and often please even the pickiest of audience members. Looking around, as I was far back and to one side of the hall, no one looked displeased or bored of what they were witnessing.
Whilst my friend Ryan joined the immensely long queue of hundreds to get into the basement coliseum like room (Honour Over Glory stage) to catch While She Sleeps, I was on beer buying duty, and stumbled into a bar that resembled an old, wooden pub with flashing lights and DJ in the corner, blaring old Offspring hits, only to stop dead in my tracks and have my heart literally skip a beat. Keith Buckley, casually and humbly, walked passed me, again reminding me of how much this day is for the performers too as well as the fans; how much they want to be a part of the day and take in the entire experience.
While She Sleeps are nothing short of amazing, consisting of five of the luckiest, smartest, creative and passionate opportunists that the UK have to offer. Their set proved yet again how and why they have emerged out of nowhere to ‘take over’. A fast-paced flurry, blended with a sound I can only describe as ‘booming’ took control of the packed out stage, sending fans into hysterics. I could hardly see, but still got a buzz off the atmosphere, and relished every second of it. Finishing with ‘Crows’, there was not one soul not shouting out “Give me your hands!”. Not exploiting but captivating the current culture of Britain’s metal scene, While She Sleeps cannot put a step out of line; they are marketing gods with the now instantly recognisable logo and recent hatched six symbol to represent their eagerly awaited release, This is the Six, which will no doubt see them reach higher heights.
Following such a brilliant display, I thought nothing could top what I had just witnessed. But, I was wrong. Incredibly wrong.
For me personally, they were to best act of the day; the most passion, the most energy, even stating how much they had wanted to perform on such a stage previously, which they took every opportunity now that the chance had arisen to not let the promoters doubt their decision.
There was a calm before a storm as Every Time I Die began to set-up, filling the air with suspense and anticipation. And by storm, think of scenes from The Day After Tomorrow or Knowing. With the full support of the room, they tore the place apart. Standing right at the front, I lost Ryan within a few chords, as he was picked up and thrown away and found myself in a barrage of crowd-surfers and feet to my skull – Much like the music of Every Time I Die, in fact. One benefit of being at the front was it allowed me to take in their intensity of a live performance, witness their movements first hands and bask, as it were, in their glory. I expected big things, and I was not let down. However, as time was passing by, and due to several clashes, I left early during ‘Bored Stiff’, before the much talked about stage invasion of every fan there which just enforces the band’s connection with fans and for-the-sake-of-it fun.
As I waded my way through the enormous union, I entered the main hall just as The Blackout were closing their set with a song unfamiliar to myself, and being at the far back of the room, it was more static than music, followed by a hoard of cheers and clapping. With a drink in hand, my friends and I formed a tight unit near the front of the stage to await Taking Back Sunday’s return to Leeds. The musky air became tense and still, as sweat dripped off of noses and chattered died down to a murmur as the lights began to dim once more, accompanied by shadows ascending through fog and purple lights, and an eruption from the audience, and myself!
Interestingly opening their set with ‘Error: Operator’, Taking Back Sunday swept fans off their feet and gained new ones within seconds, displaying why they have been big-time contenders since day one with catchy songs and a powerful performance, which form them, required minimum effort. I found myself travelling through time, going through the motions once more as they delved into their deep bags of songs, playing a total of eighteen tracks from all five albums, along with a surprise; a beautiful piano introduction to introduced a rendition of Straylight Run’s ‘Existentialism on Prom Night’ with Adam taking main vocal duty, which left me in awe and absolutely captivated by respect (for their time apart).
With Shaun Cooper shying away by the drum kit, it felt as if all eyes were on John Nolan as his reunited chemistry with Adam Lazzara; playing off one another, shaking their heads from side to side; their hair even dancing. Mid-set, I was washed with a wave of wonder, slow distortion blended into (quite possibly) my favourite Taking Back Sunday song, ‘Everything Must Go’ – a song I did not think they would ever play. Adam stated it was an emotional song for himself, and lyrically it meant a lot, which could clearly be seen in his face for what I would declare the best song he sung that night, vocally.
Even with a broken foot, Adam found himself leaving the stage on several occasions, and walking along the top balconies, which hung from both sides of the stage, first the left, and then the right, greeting fans with close-up photos or engaging in life-changing eye-contact. As ‘There’s No ‘I’ in Team’ thundered away, Lazzara leant over and hung from the stage-left balcony, belting out “Best friends means I pulled the trigger”, he made contact with myself, as I stood, arm raised, screaming the words back, he pulled out his hand like a gun, and pretended to shoot me. A moment I truly will cherish.
Seeing off the night with the epic ‘MakeDamnSure’, one word echoed throughout the hall: unreal, as the buzz died down, leaving ears ringing as we scuffled our feet across the floor, slowly making our way outside.
After a taxi back to my friend’s hotel, changing into fresh, clean clothes, and a sexed-to-sleep friend, I walked through Leeds, lost for an hour, in aim of the after party, which many of my friends have decided to give up their tickets to, due to fatigue. I walked through the entire city centre, passed club after club, legs after legs, inspiring graffiti and a sex shop with the sign ‘Additional entrance at rear’, and couldn’t help but think, ‘Well, obviously’. Finally arriving at the after party, I found myself wishing I had never came, or longing for a school disco; to eat some Wotsits and skid along the floor in my best jeans. The music was not dance worthy, just a shuffle on iTunes, and everyone stood in their friendship groups, slightly facing the stage where the DJs stood, the bar empty, the music slightly echoing around the massive hall, and no one really ‘partying’. The atmosphere made you not want to catch up on drinking, but simply leave. The room was too big and it was a disappointing end to such a brilliant day. After an hour of hoping for things to pick up, we left with our hands in our pockets, kicking the discarded plastic cups in our path, longing for a slice of pizza and rest.
Sunday: the comedown, the hangover, the journey home. The drive back where everyone is quiet and deep in thought, contemplating life or rather what they are to look forward to now, to do with their lives, and what to do before work in the morning. After a sole coffee at a service station, I laid on one of the beds in the back of the We Are Fiction van, faintly hearing Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake serenade the crew in the front seats, as we travelled for miles over bumps and concrete where peace was restored. Chaos no longer reigned. Half wrapped in a duvet, I solemnly approached my chocolate bar, savouring its taste, and thought about girls and the world.
And then that got boring so I played some Angry Birds.