Slam Dunk Festival has become quite the heavyweight in the world of festivals since their humble beginnings back in 2006. Over the 13 years since it was founded, it has grown out of its one stage of Leeds, most of its time there being nestled in the city’s University, and attracts bands and fans worldwide.
The organisers ditched its three day approach by not having a Midlands site, return to just a North and South location, but for the first year ever made it a completely outdoor festival to take itself one step closer to competing with the big dogs.
For 2019, they’ve enlisted some of the greatest across the pop-punk, rock, metalcore, and post-hardcore genres, and heading it all are All Time Low, celebrating the tenth anniversary of their breakthrough LP, ‘Nothing Personal’.
MONSTER ENERGY STAGE:
WSTR – 7/10
Complete with their technicolour hair, Liverpool’s WSTR are a lot of fun. Their setlist is packed with punchy pop-punk gems that are almost entirely from latest album, ‘Crisis’, and it’s not long before fans are leaping Converse-first over the barrier.
The band don’t seem entirely at home on the main stage, and, in fairness, it’s probably a larger crowd than they’re used to – but the likes of ‘The Latest’ and ‘Bad To The Bone’ have choruses so big that it’d be a crying shame to confine them to a tent. [LC]
BOSTON MANOR – 8/10
The meteoric rise of Boston Manor has been nothing short of spectacular. The Blackpool based outfit were once a staple of the pop punk scene, but with their latest record, ‘Welcome to The Neighbourhood’, have become a band that will soon grace arenas.
Opening with ‘Flowers in Your Dustbin’, frontman Henry Cox walks out donning a balaclava that’s a homage to the theming of their new record, and the crowd erupts -they definitely don’t look out of place on a stage this size. ‘If I Can’t Have It, No One Can’ provides some bravado, while ‘Halo’ gives us one of this year’s biggest sing-alongs. Don’t be surprised to see Boston Manor headlining this festival themselves in a few years time. [JE]
AS IT IS – 7/10
As It Is have gone from pop-punk sweethearts to emo outfit, flying the flag for the genre that never really truly went away after its huge mainstream surge in the 2000s. Adorned in uniformed stage gear and make up, you can’t help but make the comparison with My Chemical Romance.
Opening with ‘The Reaper’, the outfit continue to set the tone left by Boston Manor. With a set heavy with tracks from their latest LP, ‘The Great Depression’, the relief of old school pop-punk anthem ‘Dial Tones’ proves a bit of light relief from their newer and darker material. All in all, a solid performance from a band making the past relevant again. [JE]
WATERPARKS – 7/10
The sun is trying its hardest to shine for Texas trio Waterparks, whose peppy pop-rock seems to be doing their best to encourage it. They might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if opener ‘Blonde’ doesn’t get you at least nodding your head, you might want to check your pulse, because we’re pretty sure you’re dead.
It’s a testament to how dedicated their fanbase are that they all seem to have memorised every word to the pulsing electronics of ‘Turbulent’, which dropped just two days prior, and is a definite indicator that this lot are far from the end of their soar yet. [LC]
SIMPLE PLAN – 9/10
The biggest surprise comes from Canadian pop-punk icons Simple Plan, who deliver a near flawless set full of nostalgic massive anthems. Opening with the one-two of ‘I’d Do Anything’ and ‘Shut Up’ acts as an instant throwback, and it’s extremely difficult not to get completely swept up in the atmosphere.
It’s a genuine surprise to hear vocalist Pierre Bouvier express gratitude at being given a chance to play their first ever Slam Dunk, especially considering that this band is a staple in the scene that this festival thrives in. It’s incredible that they’ve not played before and, by today’s standard, probably a mistake. Ending with ‘I’m Just A Kid’ and ‘Perfect’, they sign off with an audience genuinely wanting more. [JE]
NECK DEEP – 6/10
Emerging proudly to Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, Neck Deep have no shortage of confidence, and why would you be when you’re UK pop-punk’s hottest property? They rocket through a plethora of hits from their three album back catalogue, from ‘Gold Steps’ through to ‘In Bloom’.
Admittedly at times, it does feel like the band are just going through the motions, and, whilst their now famous cover of ‘Torn’ by Natalie Imbruglia soars, a cover of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ doesn’t quite land. Still, the crowd lap up every word, and you’ve got to hand it to the boys – they know their way around a hook. [LC]
NEW FOUND GLORY – 9/10
If there was one band that epitomised the scene that Slam Dunk Festival cater for, it’s New Found Glory. In a career spanning setlist, hits such as ‘Understatement’ and ‘All Downhill From Here’ might be staples over 10 years on, but they’re pop-punk classics. There’s no way that they’ll ever be leaving.
Touring in support of their third cover record, ‘From The Screen To Your Stereo 3’ so opening with cover of ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ seems pretty fitting, and later ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Kiss Me’ also get an airing. ‘The Power Of Love’ in particular is a highlight, thanks to JR Wasilewski (Less Than Jake) and Chris Rhodes (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones) making an appearance to add some live brass to the mix.
‘My Friends Over You’ provides the biggest response of any band this weekend, with the main stage feeling like it goes up in flames. Sometimes you do wonder how long a band can keep plugging away, but it seems like New Found Glory have still got so much more left in the tank. [JE]
ALL TIME LOW – 8/10
Paying homage to their third record, ‘Nothing Personal’, All Time Low headline this year’s Slam Dunk Festival with an extensive set that’s sure to please fans who favour any era of their now 16-year long career. Opening with ‘Damned If I Do Ya, Damned If I Don’t’, the pop-punks provide the start of what is a set full of dancing, sing-alongs, their trademark terrible banter, but, most importantly, a hell of a lot of fun.
Pop-punk banger ‘Stella’ goes down a treat and hasn’t aged a decade on, while newbies like ‘Dark Side Of Your Room’ showcases their transition into an almost electro tinged pop band in recent years pretty seamlessly.
Of course, dusting off the likes of ‘Break Your Little Heart’, ‘Keep The Change You Filthy Animal’, and ‘A Party Song (The Walk Of Shame)’ for a rare showcase is a welcomed treat and, though this set is mainly a homage to the past, it doesn’t stop the group looking forward with sharing a new and unreleased song, ‘Getaway Green’. It’s reminiscent of their earlier work, yet has the sleekness and refinement that comes with years of experience.
This headline slot though is about celebrating and respecting a record that really catapulted the band into the name they are today, and without it they may not even be performing at this festival and in this spot right now. [JE]
PUNK IN DRUBLIC STAGE:
ANTI-FLAG – 7/10
With a stage called Punk In Drublic, was there ever a doubt that Anti-Flag would be on it? The Pittsburgh quartet are mainstays in the punk rock scene, with their politically charged lyrics and fast aggressive music causing mayhem in a crowd full of people who probably aren’t even that awake yet.
For a band with nine studio albums under their belt and a following of die-hard fans, it does come as a bit of a surprise that ‘American Attraction’, a single from their latest record, gets the biggest reception. It’s a testament to the group’s following that over 20 years on from their conception, new music is getting the biggest reception. A raucous performance for an early afternoon slot. [JE]
MILLENCOLIN – 7/10
Swedish punk rock icons Millencolin take to the stage and deliver a setlist that spans across the whole of their staggering 27-year career. Even though it’s no surprise that tracks from the group’s 2000 breakout record ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ go down the best, new tracks such as ‘Sour Days’ or ‘Nothing’ get a great reception too.
With their first ever mainstream hit and biggest single ‘No Cigar’ selected to close things off, they end with a set which will please both die-hards and casual fans alike. [JE]
WAGE WAR – 7/10
Things are heating up over in the Jägermeister stage, where those who aren’t bothered by not-so-secret band Busted are clamouring to see something a bit heavier: US metalcore band, Wage War.
Fresh off the back of a sold out London headline show, they open with the huge ‘Don’t Let Me Fade Away’, with clean vocals from guitarist Cody Quistad bouncing effortlessly off Briton Bond’s screams. New track ‘Low’ suggests great things to come, but it’s set closer ‘Stitch’ that really gets the crowd moving. [LC]
STORY OF THE YEAR – 5/10
Opening with ‘The Hero Will Drown’, Missouri’s Story Of The Year provide a bit of pandemonium in the Jägermeister tent, however, unfortunately their set falls relatively flat from this point onwards. Reeling through a few new tracks from their recently record, ‘Wolves’, the audience seem genuinely disinterested and, while frontman Dan Marsala tries to gear them up, it’s just not working.
Of course, both ‘Anthem Of Our Dying Day’ and ‘Until The Day I Die’ receive huge reactions, but in reality, the set as whole just lacks the fire an energy that Story Of The Year used to exude in abundance. Maybe it’s just an off day, because the day that Story Of The Year lose the spark that once made them so special will be a sad day indeed. [JE]
THE BRONX – 8/10
The Bronx’s reputation for a great show clearly precedes them, as the Impericon tent is packed before they even arrive on stage. From the rolling riff of opener ‘The Unholy Hand’ through to the unstoppable force that is ‘Knifeman’, it’s non-stop energy and pits galore.
Frontman Matt Caughthran seems as desperate to engage with the crowd as they are with him, even flinging himself into an ensuing wall of death at one point. The Bronx prove once again that they’re one of punk rock’s finest live bands, just in case there was any doubt. [LC]
GALLOWS – 8/10
Following hot on the heels of The Bronx are Gallows, who clearly aren’t wasting any time, as frontman Wade MacNeil leaps into the crowd as the set has barely started. It’s mostly older material on offer – well, there’s not much in the way of anything new on the Gallows front (yet!), but the likes of ‘London Is The Reason’ and ‘In The Belly Of A Shark’ are as brutal as they ever were.
“I fully support this trend of throwing milkshakes at fascists,” MacNeil declares to cheers of agreement, before a venomous ‘True Colours’ seems only to echo these sentiments. If you’re still one of those mourning the loss of Frank Carter, you might want to have a word with yourself. The lads are doing just fine. [LC]
MILK TEETH – 7/10
Opening today’s proceedings on the Dickies Stage, Milk Teeth’s blend of grunge and punk provide us with the first dust clouds of the day, with their music proving popular with the Slam Dunk early birds. The added addition of Em Foster of Nervus to the line-up on guitar and vocal duties is one that helps to add intensity, with her aggressive vocals being a highlight.
The band are highly thought of in the community, and with this performance you can see why. You can expect to see Milk Teeth hitting bigger heights in years to come and they will definitely be higher up this bill in a few years too. [JE]
SAVES THE DAY – 5/10
Old school emos Saves The Day seem a bit dull today. They open on a high with the anthemic ‘At Your Funeral’, which sees fists raised and voices soaring along with frontman Chris Conley, but fail to reach such heights again.
Musically, it’s solid as can be, but the band themselves just don’t seem all that interested. Even fan favourite ‘Shoulder To The Wheel’ comes a bit too late in the set, as many have already left in search of something a bit more invigorating. [LC]
THE MENZIGERS – 8/10
A rainbow is emerging through the clouds as The Menzingers emerge on the Dickies stage to a far smaller crowd than they deserve. Still, they evidently aren’t going to let it stop them delivering one of the day’s best performances, and as soon as the opening bars of ‘Tellin’ Lies’ ring out, it’s clear the party is finally going to start.
“Oh yeah, oh yeah / Everything is terrible,” the crowd scream along with Greg Barnett, but it couldn’t be further from the truth as the sun comes out and crowd surfers begin flying overhead. Die-hard fans might lament the lack of older material in the set, but when you’re bellowing along to the heart-wrenching ‘Good Things’ or bouncing euphorically to ‘Lookers’ with a pint of Dark Fruits in hand, it seems a minor quibble at best. The ‘zingers know how it’s done. [LC]
SEAWAY – 6/10
Having released third LP ‘Vacation’ two years ago, Canadian pop-punks Seaway embark on a set filled with tracks from said record, but it’s the old material that truly shines. Opening with ‘London’, the repetitive track doesn’t pack the same punch as it does on record and falls a little flat. The crowd are loving it, though.
‘Slam’ proves to be the band’s redeeming moment, with what seems like the whole festival screaming “Everything is cool man” at the top of their lungs. It’s a genuinely hair-raising moment, while ‘My Best Mistake’ rounds off a set that picks up nearing its end. [JE]
THE KEY CLUB STAGE:
CRUEL HAND – 7/10
American bruisers Cruel Hand seem only too happy to be kicking the day off in The Key Club tent, and have attracted a relatively sizeable crowd considering how early in the day it is. Vocalist Chris Linkovich leaps excitedly around the stage to heavy hitters like ‘Decompose’ and ‘Dead Eyes Watching’ that act as a slap in the face to any bleary-eyed audience members.
You could wash down a couple of Pro Plus with a Red Bull, or you could listen to Cruel Hand, but the latter is a far more enjoyable wake up call that’s easier on your stomach, if not your eardrums. [LC]
HOT MILK – 5/10
Fresh faces Hot Milk are a hot topic right now. Their EP ‘Are You Feeling Alive?’ could well be one of the strongest debuts of the year, so it’s a bit disappointing that their infectious powerpop just falls a bit flat today.
Hannah Mee and Jim Shaw have no shortage of enthusiasm, but the vocals seem to get entirely lost, particularly on the EP’s title-track, to the point where it feels like they’re both shouting over each other to be heard. Everything starts to synergise during the absolute banger that is ‘Awful Ever After’ at the end, but by that point it’s a little late. [LC]
BUSTED – 9/10
In one of the worst kept secrets of all time, pop-rock titans Busted take to The Key Club Stage for a short set which proves to be one of the festival’s biggest highlights. Even at only 7 songs long, the energy in the tent is incredible, and at times it almost feels like a headline set.
Opening with smash hit ‘Air Hostess’, the crowd explodes into a frenzy of dancing, screaming, and even a little bit of moshing. ‘Shipwrecked In Atlantis’ provides the perfect platform for a few crowd surfers, while ‘3am’ proves the perfect catalyst for that nostalgic sing-along moment.
Ending on ‘Year 300’, the band prove that while they generate a little bit of flack from the rock community, they could easily belong near the top of a festival like Slam Dunk. A flawless performance that genuinely leaves you wanting more. [JE]
GRANDSON – 7/10
There’s one man making the biggest waves in the music scene at the moment, and that man is Jordan Edward Banjamin, or to give him his musician name, Grandson. It’s difficult to pigeon-hole Grandson to a specific genre, he’s a bit of an enigma really; think Cage The Elephant meets synthesisers mixed with a bit of Royal Blood but more swag.
It’s a relatively short set and it no doubt peaks at the first two tracks. Opening with ‘Stigmata’ provides the audience with a great introduction to the type of music you can expect from Grandson, and ‘6:00’ gives a bit of a heavier vibe with mosh pits opening here and there. It’s a strange booking by Slam Dunk, and perhaps a booking that shows they’re looking to the future and trying to stay ahead of the curve. [JE]
A full photo gallery from the event can be found here.
Written by Jacob Eynon [JE] and Lottie Cook [LC].
Photos by Alice Burton.