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Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge bang, Slam Dunk Festival hosted some big and legendary names in the pop-punk/ska punk scene to their roster: Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger and Less Than Jake. Along with several other established aswell as up-and-coming acts spread across several stages, Slam Dunk has always been, and still remains to be, the best pop-punk event the UK has to offer. We joined in on the fun at the Leeds date of the festival weekend this year, and here’s what we thought of who we managed to catch across the day:
THE SKINTS – 7/10
Ever since The Skints supported Sublime With Rome last year, their popularity has shot through the roof, and they don’t half deserve it. These politically influenced reggae/ska Londoners have written infectiously danceable music that will always get people moving whilst having music with some meaning. Whilst the room was a little bit empty, there was still a good amount of people who came down early enough to catch them, and with people moving about to almost every song they kicked the Jägermeister stage off to a great start.
HELLOGOODBYE – 6/10
The Jägermeister stage had picked up far more for these guys’ set, bringing in their mix of poppy upbeat music with some synthy, rocky and punky elements thrown in too for good measure. With plenty of energy going into their live performance the American electro-pop outfit made sure the crowd got into them, most notably to hit single ‘Here (In Your Arms)’, and with such happy music, it was hard not to get into the music. Ultimately, an all-round fun set from these lot.
ANTI-FLAG – 9/10
Back to some politically fuelled music now on the main stage, except this time with far more anger installed into their music. Getting the crowd whirled up into moshing and getting some circle pits started, it was very clear the crowd were loving every second of Anti-Flag‘s set. With antics from the band such as the drummer taking parts of his kit into the crowd and playing in the middle of them and the bassist crowd surfing, their presence would not be easy to top.
GOLDFINGER – 9/10
Another band that by judging from the crowd reaction was another that a lot of the crowd were here to see, and rightfully so. Like with most of the acts on the Jägermeister stage, each one of them could have easily headlined the festival themselves. Playing classics such as ‘Superman’ and ‘Spokesman’, the set went down a storm. To make sure their performance wasn’t forgotten quickly, vocalist John Feldmann jumps head first into the crowd from the balcony of the venue, and in turn becoming quite possibly the most daring stage dive I’ve seen yet. Definitely a top live performance, proving the younger acts still have to work hard to surpass their older competition.
THE STARTING LINE – 6/10
Following their split in 2008, The Starting Line were the one band everyone was talking about this year. Nobody knew whether the pop-punk legends were back for good, or whether they were just doing another one-off show. However, all doubts were gone when Kenny Vasoli confirmed that they were back for good. Sailing through a set of classics, The Starting Line really did look at home. However, the sound in the hall let them down. The bass was turned up too high and the vocals too low, which was a huge distraction and massive disappointment. Nevertheless, the crowd sang every word of every song at the top of their voices to compensate, and the atmosphere was electric. By the time they were playing set closer, ‘Best Of Me’, the band and crowd were in perfect harmony. Walking off the stage and leaving the crowd to sing the last chorus was phenomenal, and an example that music really does bring people together.
LESS THAN JAKE – 10/10
Legendary punk bands seem to be the word today for the main stage, and rotating sub-headliners Less Than Jake just add to this. With plenty of stage presence and knowing how to rev up a crowd, the set was full of mosh, circle pits and crowd surfers galore. The band also went above and beyond the norm to get people involved with daring the crowd to get naked for free booze and getting on stage with them, to getting a random boy and girl out the crowd on stage to make out in front of everyone. Playing their classic style of mixing pop-punk and ska punk went down a treat, and was played perfectly. Including a range of classic tracks in their set such as ‘All Of My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ and ‘Johnny Quest Thinks We’re Sell Outs’ meant for great reactions from even the most unseasoned listeners of the band. The band proved without a doubt they deserved a headlining slot to this festival.
REEL BIG FISH – 9/10
Onto the North date’s headliner of the main stage, Reel Big Fish, yet another classic ska punk act that have been known for decades, and by proof from the sea of a crowd that had shown up for them, it’s not likely they’ll be disappearing anytime soon. Playing up a storm with plenty of presence, their usual sense of humour on stage and general showmanship sent the crowd wild. For ‘She Has A Girlfriend Now’, vocalist Marcia Richards of The Skints joined them on stage to help with vocal duties. If you’ve seen Reel Big Fish live before you can probably guess the set list, all of the crowd favourites were played and as usual played incredibly well. The only downside to the set is they had the unfortunacy of coming on after Less Than Jake, who is a tough act to follow up. Whilst the set was still superb, Less Than Jake had already stole the show. Combined however, the two acts made for the best consecutive headline acts Slam Dunk has had for years.
THE DANGEROUS SUMMER – 7/10
Opening this year’s Atticus stage were Maryland’s The Dangerous Summer. With their easy listening pop-rock sound, the quintet confidently took to the stage, and having pulled quite a size-able crowd got Slam Dunk North off to the best possible start. Slaying through a set of infectious songs, they are in their comfort zone and it shows. Getting sing alongs to the likes of ‘The Permanent Rain’ and ‘Where I Want To Be’, The Dangerous Summer prove they’re worth arriving early and watching.
WE ARE THE IN CROWD – 6/10
Upon their first visit to the UK with Mayday Parade, New York’s We Are The In Crowd are one of the more hotly-tipped newcomers to Slam Dunk this year. Though their infectiously catchy pop-punk hits like ‘Carry Me Home’, ‘Both Sides Of The Story’ and their take on Taylor Swift‘s single ‘Love Story’ are executed with youthful energy and precision, sadly sound problems don’t quite bring the full potential of what could’ve been a much better set. It’s a shame, especially when it’s not done to any fault on the band’s part.
A ROCKET TO THE MOON – 6/10
After turning up to a packed out Atticus stage and seeing only 14 year old girls and a few slightly bored looking guys, my mind set went to the worst conclusion. However, fortunately it turned out whilst the lyrical content is suited to a tee for the young teen females, musically A Rocket To The Moon‘s pop-rock tunes have a massive blues influenced guitar riffs, which made them rather enjoyable to listen to still. With plenty of presence onstage and great capability whilst playing made for a good set.
NOT ADVISED – 7/10
British pop-punk isn’t something that’s really as appreciated half as much as its cross Atlantic brethren, but with bands like Not Advised under the UK’s arsenal that should surely change in a few short years. ‘The Winner’ and ‘The World’s Not Ready’ are just two examples of the band’s back catalogue, and they seem very comfortable on this year’s stage that’s much bigger than the one they performed on last year. Though arguably some of their material sounds a little too similar and following a similar formula, the preview offerings from their upcoming full-length show a level of progression and maturity ahead.
VERSAEMERGE – 7/10
A more theatrical approach is on the cards with VersaEmerge, and songs like ‘Figure It Out’ and ‘Whisperer’ display this quality of the band and its strongest. Front woman Sierra Kusterbeck looks as stunning as ever, and her swagger onstage has all the boys wide mouthed and drooling and all of the girls staring in admiration. Though the quartet seem a little bit more reserved on the stage than usual, the band can walk off stage happy with their performance.
FRANCESQA – 8/10
Britain’s new boys on the scene. After a huge hype up by both Kerrang! and Punktastic, the world is at their feet as they play to the Leeds crowd. They couldn’t have done much wrong, as they slowly showed the USA why the UK is catching up with them for the outstanding talent we are developing. Playing the hit single ‘Ghosts’, they show why they’re so highly regarded, with excellent musicianship and a relationship with the crowd you just can not achieve overnight.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch Framing Hanley‘s set.
MAYDAY PARADE – 7/10
With a more emo focused presence and sound than most acts preceeding them on the same stage, Mayday Parade bring no surprises to the expectations of their crowd; pre-adolescent boys and girls (mainly girls), some with fringes longer than their faces. However, songs like ‘Anywhere But Here’ and ‘Three Cheers For Five Years’ displays Derek Sander‘s high-pitched and high-rendered vocals at its strongest. It’s clear why they have their youthful following, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any weaker in the near future.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch 3OH!3‘s set.
ME VS. HERO – 8/10
The nation’s sweethearts of pop-punk, it only makes sense to watch them and writhe in their catchy, bouncy and poppy aura. Ending their set with ‘The Days That Shaped Our Lives’, they encapsulated their performance with unnerving sense of buoyancy and professionalism, whilst leaving the crowd to lap up the Slam Dunk fun they were offering. Over time this band only seem to go from strength to strength, almost as if they don’t know what failure is.
DECADE – 8/10
Decade were by far one of the biggest surprises of the day. Not expecting too much, the band took to the stage with a rather modest crowd, the young pop-punker’s filled the empty space in the room with their huge sound and energy. As their set went on, the room began slowly but surely filling up, with more and more Slam Dunker’s paying attention. The youngsters, without question, made a heap of new fans, and in due time, will be huge. Watch out for this band, because they have more than enough potential to blow UK pop-punk out of the water.
FAILSAFE – 5/10
Failsafe were next to grace the Macbeth stage, and having appeared on Channel 4’s popular comedy series, The Inbetweeners, it’s no surprise that they pulled in a fairly huge crowd. Their aggressive rock pleases the crowd while their punk edge complimented their sound. Although they had all the components there, something just didn’t click. There was something almost boring about watching them, and they lacked the likability the rest of the Macbeth stage’s bill had an abundance of.
THIS TIME NEXT YEAR – 8/10
After three British bands had shown off some homegrown talent, it was time for the US to prove that they are at the top of the ladder when it comes to producing pop punk. As This Time Next Year burst on to the stage, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is true. With an ear for a hook and a bucket load of energy, the Californian’s win the crowd over instantly and play, I quote, “The best show they have ever played outside America”. Smashing through songs like ‘Drop Out Of Life’ and ‘New Sensation’ before ending with hit ‘Alex In Wonderland’, the quintet proved why they are one of the fastest rising names in pop-punk. The crowd went mental, the band went crazy and everyone seemed to be having fun, even better when you consider this is their second time over here for a relatively unknown band.
A LOSS FOR WORDS – 9/10
A Loss For Words are one of the buzz bands at the moment, and and it’s no wonder when they are as good a live band as this. Matt Arsenault spends more time in the crowd than he does on stage, and the whole atmosphere is incredible. The Boston outfit are one of those bands where every song they write could be a hit, and playing songs from past to present and even throwing in a song off their ‘Motown Classics’ album, A Loss For Words conquer the stage. ‘Stamp Of Approval’, their rendition of ‘My Girl’ and an electro acoustic sing along of ‘Mt. St. Joseph’ brought the crowd to the ceiling. Definitely a huge highlight of the Slam Dunk weekend, they encapsulated everything this festival is about: bouncing beats, epic sing alongs and plenty of stage diving and crowd surfing. Make no mistake, these boys will be huge news in years to come.
PAIGE – 7/10
Replacing Attack! Attack! last minute, at precisely 6:00PM the day before, Hertfordshire pop-punk act Paige snapped up their North slot. Even with this sudden arrangement against them, Paige manage to fill half the room on such short notice. Obviously happy to be on the bill, even at this short notice could be seen whilst they played the set. Playing some decent melodic punk and as a break from the routine that a lot of bands have right now of including breakdowns in everything, there wasn’t any to be heard. Just excellent!
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch Cartel‘s set.
HIT THE LIGHTS – 7/10
The room is almost filled to the brim when Hit The Lights take to the stage, and from the word go the crowd are going mental for the Ohio-based quintet. ‘Body Bag’ brings out one of the strongest moments of the band’s set, and shows why the song is one of the band’s most popular to date. Halfway through their performance some people start filtering out of the Riley Smith room. This doesn’t falter Hit The Lights however, who filter on regardless resulting in a great set.
SET YOUR GOALS – 6/10
Having been over to the UK approximately seven million times between the release of ‘Mutiny!’ and ‘This Will Be The Death Of Us’, it all gets a bit samey when Set Your Goals take to the stage. Playing to a slightly smaller crowd than usual, they play all the usual songs with the same, usual tenacity and fun. With one of their friends constantly stage diving throughout the set, it helps keep the crowd wanting more. The dual vocalists seem a bit pointless live, but they made up for this with their energy on stage. You can not take away from the band that they are great at what they do, and people are definitely loving it, but until they release more material with their forthcoming album, ‘Burning At Both Ends’, you can not help but think that if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it all. A confident, yet sameish return from the stalwarts, they put in a decent shift.
SHADOWS CHASING GHOSTS – 7/10
Having an early slot on in the day always has more negative outcomes than later ones, the main one that bands frown upon being the fact they generally play to a much smaller crowd. This rule barely applys with Shadows Chasing Ghosts however, who despite being one of the first bands playing during the day, have managed to attract a reasonable sized crowd. Even though he keeps throwing himself into the crowd and should show sure signs of exhaustion, frontman Trey Tremain keeps a strong face and tight vocals throughout songs like ‘Thumbelina’s Story’ and ‘Searchlights’.
FEED THE RHINO – 8/10
Despite being a festival based mainly on pop-punk and ska punk, there’s some injections of hardcore carnage throughout, including Kent’s own Feed The Rhino. Starting to a fairly empty room, it soon fills up as their intense set goes along. Whilst the crowd were mainly sedate for their set, the boys pulled out every stop to get the crowd going, including going into the crowd themselves on several separate occasions. With a heavy slowed down hardcore vibe to their sound, people eventually started moshing to it and even managed to get a circle pit going. Better late than never.
HYRO DA HERO – 9/10
‘Man In My City’ opens up Hyro Da Hero‘s set, bringing what he himself describes as “gangsta rock” into the Slam Dunk Festival vibes. Instantly he’s getting the crowd waving their arms back and forth to his music, and from then on they’re all in the palm of his hands. ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ and set closer ‘Ghetto Ambience’ bring into play much more of his volatile and punk influenced work, and really sees Hyro taking full advantage of the small confines of the Honour Over Glory stage.
BURY TOMORROW – 7/10
Even before they make it to the stage, it’s clear Southampton’s Bury Tomorrow are a buzz band of the day that a lot of people were here to see, with the room packed to bursting before the set had even started. Hitting the stage with an awful lot of energy and frontman Daniel Bates getting into the crowd almost instantly, everyone was revved up and moving nice and early. Musically, they play the modern twist on metalcore, with focus melody and melodic clean vocal hooks. Comparatively like Adelaide, they’re nothing new to the style, however what they do is play it well live, and know how to get the crowd going better than most.
WHILE SHE SLEEPS
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch While She Sleeps‘s set.
YASHIN – 7/10
Though their sound and style to most may come across as generic and predictable, post-hardcore sextet Yashin know how to put on a good live performance. The dual vocal attack has been done to death recently, but at least the Glaswegian and American vocalists Kevin Miles and Harry Radford respectively bounce off one another like most others can’t. ‘Get Loose!’ brings this experience to light the strongest, and keeps Yashin from playing a performance any less than average.
DANCE GAVIN DANCE – 10/10
Back to their original line-up, Dance Gavin Dance strutted onto the Honour Over Glory stage and clearly blew everyone in the room away. You can almost smell the arrogance off one Jonny Craig, as he used his soulful instrument, which some people like to call a voice, to compliment each song and the very obscure band. The off the beat drum patterns and flashy guitar clash in the most beautiful manner, creating an aroma of dissonance, while the bass walks up and down the fret board. However, it is the vocals of Jonny Craig and crunchy bark of Jon Mess which make this performance. As they battle with each other through vocal parts, and together complement the most unique sounding band of the day.
DEAF HAVANA – 8/10
You can hardly move inside the Honour Over Glory stage room, as post-hardcore rising stars Deaf Havana take to the stage. The air is thick with sweat, and the atmosphere is tangible as the first chord is strummed. Having re-defined their sound after the departure of screamer Ryan Mellor, the band deserve a lot of credit for keep themselves going and reinventing their sound to great success. Today’s set though is a masterpiece, from beginning to end they soar through a flawless set. Throwing a few new songs in, which the crowd reacted well to, didn’t harm the set, and the old songs played with their new style sound nothing short of huge.
WE ARE THE OCEAN – 8/10
Only one year ago, We Are The Ocean were only halfway up the line-up of a slightly bigger stage at Slam Dunk. Now, the British post-hardcore powerhouse are headlining their own stage, admittedly a smaller stage, but this should only force them to make their live presence far more prominent. New album tracks such as ‘Runaway’ and ‘The Waiting Room’ go down just as well as debut offerings like ‘Confessions’, and even songs as old as ‘Nothing Good Has Happened Yet’ get roars from all across the room. Dan Brown‘s gruff vocals and confident stage presence gets the audience all worked up for one of the festival’s final acts of the day. Clean vocalist and guitarist Liam Cromby also proves his worth as one of the strongest and most gifted singers in their genre today, standing up as a strong comparitive and competitor to Alexisonfire‘s tour de force, Dallas Green.
ADELAIDE – 6/10
This year’s competition winners to open the Kerrang! Introducing stage certainly had a strong following of fans willing to come out for them. Musically, there’s not all that much that they do differently to what a lot of bands are doing right now: pop-punk with some hardcore breakdowns, and a tad bit of emo to it. Sounding familiar at all? However, they play it well, and know how to get crowds revved up behind them. They’re nothing ground breaking, but they what they do well, and if you like that Four Year Strong-esque style, you’ll probably enjoy this band.
THE SUMMER SET
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch The Summer Set‘s set.
BLITZ KIDS – 8/10
In what can only really be described as anthemic indie-rock, rising quintet Blitz Kids whip the crowd into a frenzy on the small, dingy and dark Kerrang! Introducing stage. Hailing from the small Northern towns of Nantwich and Crewe, clearly there are no boundaries as their set is full of exuberance and ear shattering noise. Ending their set with the infamous ‘Comedian’, they bring a tight end to a seemingly even tighter set, almost as tight as some of the crowd members’ jeans.
THE FAMOUS CLASS
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch The Famous Class‘s set.
DON BROCO – 9/10
Easily one of the most interactive and entertaining acts of the festival weekend, and one that will surely be hitting much bigger venues in the near future due to their recent inclusion onto the BBC Radio 1 playlist, Don Broco are as fun as they are great musicians. They opt for getting things going as soon as possible with opener ‘Thug Workout’, with which they get people to climb on top of each other’s shoulders towards the end of the song. One spectator even climbs on the stage and sings along to ‘Livin’ A Dream’, before diving back into the carnage.
LOWER THAN ATLANTIS – 9/10
Since the release of their sophomore album ‘World Record’ just one month prior to Slam Dunk, the popularity with Lower Than Atlantis has increased dramatically, and that shows spectacularly in their Leed set, despite frontman Mike Duce‘s confused mistake of saying they’re in Liverpool. New set inclusions ‘Up In Smoke’ and ‘Deadliest Catch’ get people bouncing along and singing just as much as older offerings ‘Far Q’ and ‘Taping Songs Off The Radio’. It’s not until set closer ‘Beech Like The Tree’ however when things go off the hook. Barely a word is sang by the band as the crowd floods the stage, knocking over Mike‘s microphone, all reaching to the climax of both Mike and guitarist Ben Sansom crowd surfing with smiles smacked across their faces. Things can only get bigger from here for LTA.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch Lost Boys‘s set.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch Rio‘s set.
BASEMENT – 9/10
One of the most talked about bands of the past year, Basement have a lot to live up to in terms of their live performance. In the vein of Title Fight (or an exact copy as some people argue), the band play hardcore sounding emo pop-punk, if there is such a thing anyway. Playing mainly tracks off their 7″ ‘Songs About The Weather’ and their tape release meant the crowd knew most of the lyrics, mixed with no barrier led to mic grabs from the crowd as well as a few attempted stage dives. Treating us to a couple of tracks off the forthcoming album out this summer went down well. You can tell they revel in the pressure as they tear the room apart in perfect synchronisation with the crowd, showing exactly why people think what they do. You would think the band has around 100 members judging by the enthusiasm of those watching/flying/everything else they were doing, as legs were being thrown around like prosthetic limbs.
Unfortunately, we were unable to catch Summerlin‘s set.
MC LARS – 8/10
Post-punk laptop rap is definitely popular still, as MC Lars packs out the whole of the FRONT Bar for his set. Known for his humorous and satirical take on pop culture produced in a punk/lo-fi style, he fits the ethical boots of punk to a tee, even if he does rap. With a great presence on stage and getting the entire room moving to their set, the whole set goes down amazingly. Playing his more well-known tracks like ‘Generic Crunk Rap’ and ‘Signing Emo’ amongst others. Diving into the crowd during the set made sure that his performance this year will not be forgotten any time soon.
Sadly, we were unable to catch enough of any artist sets on the Punktastic.com Acoustic stage to be able to conduct a justified and honest review. The parts of sets we did manage to catch however were highly enjoyable, notably the unpredicted crowd surfer at one moment of Sam Little‘s set. Good effort whoever you were!
Overall, as always, Slam Dunk has surpassed itself once again in creating incredibly strong line-ups across all of its stages. From the first festival with only one stage to the now much expanded seven stages that are on offer today, the line-ups fit together incredibly well and makes it one of the best festivals for this type of music the UK has to offer. Their celebration for their 10th anniversary was a great success. Those who didn’t go this year, you missed out. Make sure you don’t do the same next year.
Written by Zach Redrup, Chris Loomes, Dom Wyatt and Joni Andrews
Photos taken by Joni Andrews