LIVE: Slam Dunk Festival 2018

By Penny Bennett

When choosing a festival to attend, location and line up can be two major factors. Slam Dunk’s ability to cover both of these goes some way to explaining why this well-loved event is now on its twelfth year, and getting seemingly bigger and better every time. By taking its wide-spreading line up – that boasts the best in all things metal, alternative, punk, ska and acoustic – to three locations in the South, Midlands and Northern parts of the country, Slam Dunk caters for everyone, no matter where you live or what genre you prefer.

The Punktastic team were there to witness yet another fantastic experience at one of the country’s most treasured festivals.

Images: Penny Bennett, Words: Mark Johnson [MJ] / Becky Mount [BM]

Merseyside’s Loathe get Slam Dunk started with a bang – a very loud bang – ensuring that everyone inside Leeds’ O2 Institute is awake and pumped up for the day ahead. The band’s uniquely heavy, vastly down-tuned sound, is bolstered by eerie samples and with the addition of distorted black and white imagery playing alongside them onstage, it’s a fully immersive experience. The atmosphere is slightly tempered by a computer glitch after the first song, but it’s swiftly resolved, allowing the band to get back to their rampant pace and destruction. Vocalist Kadeem France commands the stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of moshing and circle pits and with the huge sounding instrumentals to accompany him, the band deliver one of their best performances to date. With unrivalled power, imagination and talent at their disposal, Loathe are fast becoming one of the most exciting bands in the UK alternative scene. [MJ]

It’s somehow been ten years since Rise or Die Trying and Four Year Strong are on the Jager Main Stage to prove that easycore never dies. No, seriously. It’s endless pop punk riffs that kickstart our Slam Dunk South perfectly, a set full of fan favourites that still stand the test of time. [BM]

For a band yet to release a record, it’s amazing to see a packed out Rocksound Breakout Stage awaiting the arrival of Holding Absence, and it’s even more impressive to see so much passion from the crowd as they sing back every word that’s sung with pristine perfection by Lucas Woodland. Holding Absence are used to playing smaller, more intimate club venues where they can get in the faces of the crowd and share in their sweat and tears, but it seems that no stage is big enough to contain the band’s enormous ambient post-hardcore and they look as comfortable on this larger stage as any other they’ve performed on in the past. There’s a palpable sense of momentum behind this band and with performances as consistently flawless as this, it’s certainly well deserved. When Holding Absence eventually release their debut record, they could become unstoppable; in the meantime we’re more than happy to enjoy the stream of excellent singles and drink in the atmosphere of their intense performances. [MJ]

Keeping that nostalgia ball rolling are Say Anything. With an almost cult status, Max Bemis and co. are a welcome addition – albeit a fairly last minute one – their own brand of emo going down a treat. It’s a set for the fans, focusing on really, what most people* (*everyone) came to hear; Belt, Woe and Alive With The Glory of Love to name a few. Would it have been nice to hear some newer material? Sure. But Say Anything in the UK feels rarer than hen’s teeth and frankly, it feels nice to be pandered to. Just maybe they could try not to leave it so long between visits… [BM]

Dream State keep the energy going on the Rocksound Breakout Stage, helped in no small part by vocalist Charlotte-Jayne Gilpin. Gilpin is a relentless ball of energy bouncing around the stage and though she exerts a massive amount of effort working up the crowd, her voice remains solid throughout, whether projecting soaring melodies or tearing into aggressive screams. Songs from the band’s recent EP ‘Recovery’ feature heavily in the set and sound massive live, bringing unrivalled energy to the stage and exposing Dream State as a definite band to look out for. [MJ]

There is no ignoring Creeper’s meteoric rise, and it’s so very apparent at Slam Dunk. Going from a one in, one out set just a couple of years ago to an afternoon slot on the Jager Main Stage is no mean feat. And whilst they are undeniably brilliant, there’s a restless feeling amongst the crowd. It’s a set that’s been heard time and time again; it’s still great, but since their inception just a few short years ago, we’ve been spoiled with (what felt like) endless new material. It’s far from stale though, and they still put on a faultless performance that is a sure fire highlight of the weekend but it may be time for a little fresh blood. [BM]

Amongst many, many things, Slam Dunk is good at two in particular – ska, and nostalgia. The Fireball stage may see some (too) familiar faces year after year, but they also have a knack of bringing out some real Easter Eggs. And this year? It was Save Ferris. Serving up a perfect slice of 90s Americana, it’s been close to two decades since they’ve played the UK. It’s everything you want from a ska set, and it’s an utter delight to have them back. [BM]

Taking to the Signature Brew stage at Slam Dunk North, it’s gloriously sunny for Broadside; just the cliche you want for a pop punk set. It can be hard not to overlook bands when there’s so much buzz around them, but Saturdays set proves that they’re certainly worth the fuss. It’s an enigmatic, energetic performance – frontman Oliver Baxxter is nothing short of captivating – which is hit after hit, inducing countless singalongs and the ever-growing crowd is testament enough to their allure. Surely Broadside aren’t far off a bit of scene domination? Let’s place bets now on how long it’s going to take before they’re back at Slam Dunk, working their way up the line up with ease. [BM]

Counterparts take to the Impericon Stage, with the signature brand of devastating, heartbreaking hardcore that almost feels uncomfortable at times. Their set was a welcome addition to the weekend – a friendly reminder that if you aren’t a fan by now, that needs to change – and it hits every post-hardcore spot. Emotive, melodic, and yet always brutal, Counterparts make it all look so easy yet still cause enough destruction to leave a lasting impression. [BM]

State Champs have the privilege of playing in Leeds’ First Direct Arena, home of the Jagermeister Stage at Slam Dunk North. The massive stage and huge sound system gives their performance a sense of grandeur, and to the band’s credit their pop punk anthems fill the arena admirably, easily justifying their position on this stage. The band open with favourites ‘All You Are Is History’, ‘Losing Myself’ and ‘Simple Existence’ before addressing their upcoming new record ‘Living Proof’ by charging into new track ‘Dead and Gone’. The chorus “whoa ohs” were made for the stage and the crowd oblige in full voice, proof that the new material has gone down well, slotting in nicely alongside the band’s already impressive array of anthems. State Champs last played Slam Dunk in 2014 on one of the small stages, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by vocalist Derek DiScanio, who takes the time to thank the audience for their part in promoting the band to an arena four years on. With another flawless performance to their name, State Champs have worked hard to get to this point and prove that when you can consistently churn out great songs, big things will happen. [MJ]

The thing about Comeback Kid is that you know what you’re going to get. And that isn’t a bad thing – it’s far from it. Did we watch them at every single Slam Dunk date, three days in a row? Yes. Was it enough? No. Giving just about everyone else a lesson in mastering your art, the hardcore stalwarts are immaculate each and every time. An unsullied sound that somehow hasn’t changed but at the same time, hasn’t ever aged. The phrase “lay to waste” springs to mind, with every breakdown and gang vocal sending the crowd into a frenzy because really, who can ever get bored of Wake The Dead? Not us. [BM]

Taking on the Rock Sound Breakout Stage are Milestones. Not letting a few too many brutal band clashes get in the way of their Midlands set, their performance is a prime example of just how great the UK rock scene currently is. It can be hard to be a smaller band at festivals like Slam Dunk, but apparently that wasn’t the case here – devoted fans meant one hell of a crowd, all sing songs and goosebumps. A dynamic band, it feels like Milestones are on the cusp of something great. [BM]

Lower Than Atlantis are always a safe bet for a festival; their foot-tapping, easy listening alt-rock songs are well suited for an outdoor stage on a bright sunny day and as they storm through some of their better known anthems, the amassed crowd are happy to lap it up. Mike Duce can be hit and miss but he puts in one of his better vocal performances here, belting out strong choruses while doing a fine job orchestrating the crowd’s movements. The whole band are full of energy, particularly drummer Eddy Thrower whose hard hitting display adds power to their delivery. It’s an assured, professional performance that shows why they continue to secure main stage slots at some of the UK’s top festivals every year. [MJ]

Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes will forever whip fans and bystanders into a frenzy, and Slam Dunk is no different. The trademark outfits, designated female only crowd surfing and Carters very own brand of acrobatics tick all the boxes – everything you’ve come to expect from a Rattlesnakes performance. Of course the songs are still as ferocious as ever, each one packing one hell of a punch no matter how many times you’ve heard it. They’re certainly an act that’s getting harder and harder to ignore, a refreshing inclusion on a stage full of great yet somewhat predictable bookings. [BM]

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like Slam Dunk without Taking Back Sunday. No one delivers singalongs quite like them. It’s a frenetic set of just about anything you could want to hear from the pillars of your emo youth, the new songs fit in seamlessly alongside the songs we all know and love, enough to sate even the most fair weather fan. Their sound varies over the course of the weekend – technical difficulties or maybe just a band not quite as young as they once were – but frankly it’s not an issue when you have endless fans screaming along to every word like it’s 2005. And you know what? We wouldn’t have it any other way. Like so many other bookings that Slam Dunk nail year after year, Taking Back Sunday feel like a constant, a comforting reminder of what makes the weekender such a pinnacle of the UK festival scene. [BM]

PVRIS have been extensively touring their incredible second album ‘All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell’ for the best part of a year, so it’s no surprise that their arena show on the Jagermeister Stage is a condensed version of their recent UK shows, heavily featuring tracks from their most recent album. And that’s certainly not a bad thing; the record’s diverse range of electronics and instrumentation demands all three permanent members play multiple instruments on stage, most notably Lynn Gunn who switches between keyboards, guitars and samplers, as well as an occasional flurry on the drums. The ceaseless touring hasn’t fatigued Gunn’s impressive vocals, which stay level and note-perfect throughout, filling the arena with words that demand to be sung back at full volume. With two albums’ worth of huge hits to pick from, PVRIS aren’t short of rich material to fill their set and before you know it, 50 minutes has passed in a flash. If PVRIS continue on this trajectory, it won’t be long before they’re looking at headlining slots at this festival. [MJ]

At some point during a multi-stage festival, you’re going to be faced with the dilemma of clashes. With so many headliners to choose from at Slam Dunk, it’s difficult to pick a side, but one thing that’s even more predictable than festival clashbusting, is the energy, power and dependability of an Every Time I Die performance. Latest album ‘Low Teens’ has added even more heavy ammunition to their already staggering arsenal and the band unload as much of it as they can into the packed out O2 Institute. Any set that opens with ‘The Coin Has a Say’ means business and the dual riffing power of Jordan Buckley and Andy Williams remains relentlessly pummelling from the opening notes of the song, right through to the end of the set. The band offer a brief respite while they saunter through Southern-rock-tinged single ‘It Remembers’, which allows Keith Buckley to demonstrate his vocal diversity with well-executed passages of clean vocals, before he returns to a barrage of face-melting screams. Just as you think the power of Every Time I Die’s instrumentation can’t get any bigger, another track pounds straight in to prove you wrong, showing why they’re regularly called up to close out festivals: theirs is the type of performance you don’t forget in a hurry. [MJ]

If you want to leave the grounds of a festival with a smile on your face, then Reel Big Fish are the perfect send off. Headlining the Fireball Stage, the Orange County ska legends make you forget the time of day; even though it’s now dark outside, Reel Big Fish’s humour and party anthems make it seem like the sun is still shining. The combination of jangly chords and brass section provides the perfect rhythm to move your feet, turning the Fireball Stage’s car park venue into a joyous arena of dancing and japery, and when the band launch into their cover of ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, the audience goes into skanking overdrive. Reel Big Fish are no strangers to Slam Dunk and with performances like this, long may the relationship continue. [MJ]

It feels like Jimmy Eat World have been around since the dawn of time. Maybe they have. Who knows, or cares, because to this day they are still one of the most important bands we’ve got. They put on an utterly flawless performance at Slam Dunk Midlands – it’s all radio friendly phenomenons and deep cuts, with new tracks slotting seamlessly into a gloriously familiar set. We’re not entirely sure Jimmy and co. can do any wrong, there’s just something so comforting, so enthralling about a band who have done it their way for so long without ever faltering. And is there anything as unifying as a big old karaoke session for The Middle. Suggestions not welcome, because you’re wrong. [BM]

Say what you like about Good Charlotte, they can put on one hell of a show. Their welcome return has been nothing short of relentless – an all American comeback that showcases just what a career they’ve had (and how much they’ve been missed). It’s a fit-to-burst set of hits and earlier success’, the band never once turning their back on the hits or their history. The quips between the Madden brothers go down a storm – there’s something about their performances that feel like you’re at a big budget, all singing all dancing show and they make it feel like Slam Dunk is some kind of homecoming. Leaning heavily towards the pop side of things, Good Charlotte manage to pull in overwhelming crowds…no mean feat when up against a band like Jimmy Eat World. But therein lies the power of Good Charlotte. [BM]