LIVE: Slam Dunk Festival 2019

By Yasmin Brown

Slam Dunk continues to be our favourite way to kick off festival season, providing the perfect opportunity for pop-punk/rock/alternative fans to surround themselves with like minded individuals, dressed head to toe in our very own version of festival clothing. Once again, fans find themselves happily floating in a sea of Vans, Doc Martens, neon hair, and tattoos, enjoying the rare freedom of being unapologetically themselves for twelve whole hours.

The weather is grim (what would a festival be without rain?!) but spirits remain high as we make our way from stage to stage (to stage… to stage…) to enjoy this year’s outstanding lineup.

Words: Yasmin Brown [YB] / Tom Walsh [TW] Images: Penny Bennett / Matt Higgs

It’s always a happy surprise when the first band on your list of acts to see also happens to be one of your favourites, and this was almost certainly the case for plenty of Slam Dunkers this year. Boston Manor are causing a ruckus; ruffling feathers with their controversial yet insightful views about the world today and – of course – those of us who inhabit it. As a result, they’re connecting with their fans in a way they never have before, resulting in absolute mayhem when it comes to their live shows. Taking to the stage with his face covered in a white balaclava, front man Henry Cox is every bit as lively and energetic as you’d expect from someone who wrote the angry lyrics that make up the band’s sophomore album, ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’, and the rest of the band aren’t far behind when it comes to energy levels, bounding around the stage and feeling every moment of their 30 minute set right down to their core. And we feel it, too. From a man on crutches fearlessly crowd surfing, to the three minutes of cardio the crowd happily agrees to as one mosh pit turns into an exercise regime, there isn’t a moment of calm. Cox’s vocals are on form, seamlessly transitioning from clean to rough vocals, and the band work tightly together to put on what many might already feel confident in calling the best performance of the day. [YB]

NOFX have brought a little gift to Slam Dunk this year. The Punk In Drublic tour has been making waves across the US and Europe, and Fat Mike has bestowed this celebration of double time drums and craft beer onto Yorkshire and Hatfield. Who better to wake the early crowd from their slumber than Anti-FlagWe’re entering an era where the smell of revolution is thick in the air and Anti-Flag have been a band forever willing to lead the charge. Every song sounds like a battle cry; from the confrontational opener of ‘Die for the Government’, to the raging ‘Fuck Police Brutality’, there is no let up in intensity, even if it is still very early in the day. Closing with ‘Brandenburg Gate’, both bassist Chris Head and drummer Pat Thetic climb down into the crowd to thrash through the last few bars. Just like that, everyone seems very much energised for the day ahead. [TW]Anti-Flag

It’s barely 2pm but there’s already strong competition for most energetic performance of the day, as one reunion we all hoped for – but never expected would come to fruition – is realised. Busted are back, baby, and turning up to the Key Club stage just five minutes after the start of the band’s not-so-secret set sees many fans struggling to catch a glimpse of the stage as they sing along to ‘Air Hostess’ from outside the crammed tent. Initially, it’s strange watching pop-punk fans crowd surf to a band whose fanbase in 2003 consisted mostly of 10-year old girls, but when you consider that those 10-year olds are now in their mid-twenties, it all starts to make more sense. Everyone loves a nostalgia trip, and although Busted make sure to add some of their newer releases to the setlist (‘Nineties’ goes down a treat), that’s exactly what this performance is. That’s not to diminish this band’s talent, though. Charlie continues to be host to one of the most recognisably soothing and husky voices in the industry and, as a band, they sure know how to amp up a crowd. As they close the set with ‘Year 3000’ – singing about naked, triple breasted women – it feels as though this is exactly where Busted belong. [YB]

Over at the Impericon Stage, US metalcore band Wage War are laying waste to the tent. It’s an impressive Slam Dunk debut from the Florida natives, as they combine chugging, melodic riffs with the dual vocals of Briton Bond and Cody Quistad. Dipping in to their studio albums ‘Blueprints’ and ‘Deadweight’, it is their latest single ‘Low’ that reverberates around the tent. Wage War do hark back to a metalcore genre of circa 2010, but the soaring clean voice of Quistad provides that stand-out factor. [TW]  

Wage War

Despite their Australian roots, Trophy Eyes are embraced like family for the duration of their set on the Marshall stage. Not once did the energy let up, with both crowd and band working tirelessly to make this one of the most memorable sets of the day. It’d be easy to assume that smaller stages such as this and the Dickies stage often see fans just passing through, killing time or trying to unearth hidden gems among the bigger names, but Trophy Eyes seem to have pulled in a dedicated fanbase made up of people who connect to this band’s often painful yet incredible music. As the set draws to a close, and Trophy Eyes launch into ‘You Can Count on Me’, there’s a huge sense of togetherness, reflecting the lyrics and creating that safe, comfortable space that so many of us turn to music in order to find. They’re talented musicians, sure, but it’s this ability to create a community that makes them really, really special. [YB]

If you had ever wondered what it would be like to see an amalgamation of a well-built Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison front a hardcore band, Turnstile are here to make that dream a reality. Brendan Yates brings all the sass and swagger that would make these rock and roll icons nod in approval. It feels like a riposte to the often machismo ethos within sections of the hardcore scene to see Yates strut around the stage before hotfooting up the tent support poles. It is not just Yates’ flamboyant performance we’re here to see, Turnstile crank out some delicious chugging and grooving riffs. The thrashing melodies and the guttural screams demonstrate why they are quickly becoming the must-see hardcore band in town. There is an extra treat for the uber Turnstile fans as they end on ‘The Dream’, plucked from their very first EP. [TW]

As streaming and miscellaneous playlists take over from the traditional, structured way of listening to music, genres are becoming muddled. No longer can you honestly say you exclusively listen to pop-punk or hardcore or metal or pop – while many artists have their roots, most are taking influence from elsewhere and Our Hollow Our Home are no exception. Their set is a glorious combination of metalcore and hip-hop, making their heavy sincerity incredibly catchy, too. As a member of the crowd, this means you can dance as much as you can mosh, and they grab this opportunity firmly by the throat, propelling themselves at one another while also fulfilling their dreams of being an extra in the Step Up movies. It’s intense, it’s emotional, it’s raucous and, most importantly, it’s really bloody fun. It’s everything a Slam Dunk performance should be. The wall of death feels anything but frightening as fans help one another off the floor without skipping a beat, immediately throwing themselves back into the pandemonium caused by the equally mad scene occurring on stage. If you haven’t heard of Our Hollow Our Home, it’s about time you rectify the situation. [YB]

The Interrupters’ rise has even taken the band themselves by surprise. “We’re still wondering how we got here”, guitarist Kevin Bivona announces as they begin their short and sweet Punk In Drublic stage set. Their latest record, ‘Fight the Good Fight,’ has gained traction among the punk scene eager for much more of those nostalgia-filled Rancid-esque riffs and anthemic protest songs. It is a hit-laden set with vocalist Aimee Interrupter leading the masses to chant back the words to ‘Take Back the Power’ and ‘She Got Arrested.’ They blend the ska-punk vibes throughout, before ending on the duo of the massive ‘She’s Kerosene’ and the arm-in-arm anthem of ‘Family.’ [TW]
The Interrupters

If ever there was going to be a time during the day for a singalong, it was going to be during Simple Plan. Ever wise to their fanbase, their setlist comprises mainly older material, taking the crowd back to the angst-ridden days of their youth. Despite the inherently melancholy nature of songs such as ‘I’m Just a Kid’, ‘Welcome to My Life’, and set closer, ‘Perfect’, front man Pierre Bouvier doesn’t for one second stop smiling, likely due to the “I say jump, you say how high” kind of obedience the crowd are providing him with. This set reminds us exactly why and how this festival started in the first place; it’s the epitome of hating this town (wherever that may be), and feeling misunderstood, yet paradoxically, in this moment, these pop-punk kids have never felt more understood. This much is clear through the passion with which each crowd member sings the lyrics back at the band and how, even after almost 20 years, Simple Plan still draw in the masses as though it’s still 2001. While we know these songs like the back of our hands, there are still some surprises in store, as we see beach balls being launched at us to reflect the theme of ‘Summer Paradise’, and drummer Chuck Comeau switches spots with Pierre, launching himself into the crowd during his five minutes as the ever popular lead singer. If nothing else, this set is proof that Simple Plan are timeless, that we’ll always stay loyal to our pop-punk origins, and that everything is more fun when inflatable beach balls are involved. [YB]
Simple Plan

While Slam Dunk definitely has a reputation for being a pop punk festival, it wouldn’t have been the same these past few years without some of the heavier bands that have graced stages such as the Jägermeister, Punk in Drublic, and Impericon. This year in particular, one of the most notable bands that fit into this heavy category is Story of the Year. Effortlessly packing out the Jägermeister tent, they waste no time with slow build-ups, choosing instead to launch straight into it, blowing our minds (and our ear drums, for that matter) the moment they take to the stage. While this band has a back catalogue of five studio albums, there’s a portion of the set where we find ourselves watching an emo cover band taking on all of our favourite tracks of the early 2000s. Story of the Year gave new life to My Chem’s ‘I’m Not Okay’, Taking Back Sunday’s ‘Cute Without the ‘E’’ and The Used’s notorious ‘Taste of Ink’. The highlight, however, is a little more off-brand, as they launch into Yellowcard’s ‘Ocean Avenue’, only to be joined by the pop-punk band’s front man himself – William Ryan Key. While it does seem strange to fill such a short set with covers when your band’s history stretches back 14 years, Story of the Year more than prove their unwavering talent through their unrelenting energy and ability to make old songs feel new again. [YB]

“This is the reunion of the year!”, Liam Cormier triumphantly declares. Cancer Bats are back in the UK for what feels like the thousandth time this year, and they’ve come to party. Cormier is hyped to see all of his friends and the swelled crowd are hyped to one of Canada’s finest exports – after maple syrup and curling. With the pleasantries out of the way, it’s time to get this place moving and Cancer Bats know exactly how to do it. All the stars come out for this 40 minute set with newer tracks ‘Brightest Day’ and ‘Winterpeg’ sounding even more huge. The biggest pops, however, are naturally reserved for the anthemic ‘Hail Destroyer’ and ‘Pneumonia Hawk’, which features a hugely enthusiastic cameo from Pagan’s Nikki Brumen. Cormier has been to this rodeo before and knows how to elegantly command his baying public, and he plays the role of conductor in the breakdown of the homage to the Beastie Boys, ‘Sabotage’. During the breakdown, he implores quiet and you can almost hear the breeze of the oncoming storm waft through the Impericon tent before launching into a rasping scream to signal the crescendo of an end. The chugging riff of ‘Gatekeeper’ brings its all to a close and, yes, now we’re fully warmed up. [TW]
Cancer Bats

“It’s time to get angry,” declares grandson, aka Jordan Benjamin, as he launches into his 30-minute set inside the Key Club tent. For any fan of grandson, this comment seems redundant, as a large part of his appeal is the anger that infiltrates each one of his songs, but still, we listen, and boy do we get angry. Everything about grandson is incendiary, from his ‘RIP America’ t-shirt, to his speeches about forceful yet peaceful resistance, and it’s only natural that anyone in his presence gets fired up too. If passion is the fuel, the tent is a wildfire, and we are set ablaze. While much of what grandson has to say is fuelled by the dire state in which much of the world currently finds itself, it also encourages positive change, and this is never more apparent than when he asks us to turn on the lights on our phones, and to look around to see just how other people can light up your darkness. There are moments where you might feel bummed out by grandson’s message – and for this he earnestly apologises – but ultimately what this performance is, is a reality check. It opens your eyes to the truth of the world and refuses to allow you to turn a blind eye to the mass shootings, to the systemic traditions that lead to endless cycles of poverty, poor mental health and sheer desperation. As grandson beats his chest and spreads his arms in avidity, you can’t help but feel his passion, too. His performance has all the elements of a great rock show, but it also leaves you feeling empowered, energised, and like you have the ability to make a difference. It’s a rock show, sure, but equally, it’s undeniably a political statement. And for this, as grandson confidently and vehemently states, he will not apologise. [YB]

There is something just effortlessly cool about The Bronx. Whether its Matt Caughthran’s beaming grin and southern Californian drawl, the mustachioed swagger of Joby J. Ford, the grooving tunes, or the raucous atmosphere that their shows create, it’s just done with an attitude oozing cool. The LA hardcore punks stride out on stage and straight into the ode to the working class, ‘The Unholy Hand’. Caughthran’s gruff voice screams of the hardships of being in dead end jobs to make ends meet, before pausing to remonstrate to everyone that we need to “live for today, forget tomorrow, just enjoy everything right here and now”. A huge rendition of ‘Shitty Future’ follows. Caughthran’s presence swings between rock and roll legend to preacher to local comedian, with an aura surrounding him, yet still seeming like someone who’d happily share a beer with you. The Bronx front man continues, “you’ve got a great thing going on here Leeds, there’s so many good and a couple of bad bands, but that’s all cool”, which is met with a knowing laughter from the audience. The Bronx treat us to a rare outing of ‘Cobra Lucha’ before Caughthran drops down into the pit to get up and close with his adoring public, reiterating the mantra of “forgetting tomorrow” before joining the crowd surfers for a celebratory version of ‘History’s Stranglers’. The finale sees him being triumphantly carried back to the stage – this is how a cool party ends, right? [TW]

Four years have passed since Gallows last took to a stage and the rustiness shines through in this highly disjointed set. From the moment they have to stop opener ‘Misery’ so front man Wade MacNeil can join the somewhat static pit, the tone has been set, and bassist Stuart Gili-Ross offers an apology – “sorry, we haven’t played these songs in years.” Fans begin to look on in amusement as Gallows approach the nadir of the set by thrashing into their calling card track ‘Abandon Ship’, only for MacNeil to sing the lyrics for ‘Belly In The Shark’. The faux pas causes another restart and another apology from Gili-Ross. Even the appearance of Liam Cormier to share vocal duties on ‘Last June’ and a shoulder-shrugging cover of The Ramones’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ can’t save a mess of a set. While this maybe a fleeting appearance from Gallows, it is notable that the band opted against airing any tracks from the outstanding ‘Desolation Sounds’ album, instead going for the fan favourites of ‘London Is The Reason’ and ‘Come Friendly Bombs’, which have always felt awkward in the post-Frank Carter era. Ever since the departure of the Carter brothers, Gallows have seemingly struggled to forge a proper identity and break free from a sound that made them so special. While this 12-song set did give fans that pang of nostalgia, it is not one that will have them clamouring for new material. [TW]

With the layout of the Key Club stages, the transition between sets remained smooth throughout the day, with one band setting up on the left, while another played on the right. This means that the aggression and anger that flowed through the crowd during grandson’s set quickly dissipates when LIGHTS takes to the stage, filled with attitude and her sultry and powerful vocals. This is LIGHTS’ first time playing to UK crowd in some years, but you’d never guess that she’s been on a low-key hiatus with the number of fans that fill the tent, singing along in delight to every song. For those who may be unfamiliar with LIGHTS’ music, however, we’re treated to a cover of Cher’s ‘Believe’, ensuring that everyone in attendance felt equally involved as each other. Making her way into the crowd for ‘Moonshine’, gripping onto fans’ desperate hands, LIGHTS proves herself to be an excellent performer as well as a talented musician, and Slam Dunk is lucky to have her. [YB]

As anyone who has been to Leeds Festival can attest, an outdoor music festival in Yorkshire is a blatant provocation to the Rain Gods, and Slam Dunk North’s first open air event falls victim to a springtime downpour as legendary punks Bad Religion take to the stage. A little rain isn’t going to dampen the excitement for one of big hitters of the Punk In Drublic stage, though, as Greg Graffin pokes his head out into the steady rain with a beaming grin before launching into ‘Them and Us’. It is a big year for Bad Religion with their first album in six years, ‘Age of Unreason’, taking a typical repugnant look on the world from one of the original political punks. Even as they near 40 years as a band, there is a still vehement anger and this courses through newer tracks ‘Chaos from Within’ and ‘My Sanity’. The riffs are there in abundance, squealing from the guitars of Brian Barker and Mike Dimkich, while Graffin’s signature vocals are as soaring as ever. They take us on a tour through their extensive back catalogue with favourites such as ‘Generator’, ‘Social Suicide’ and ‘Sorrow’ making the diehard fans forget all about their increasingly damp clothes. There’s even space for a rare outing of the excellent ‘Skyscraper’ and the raging ‘Fuck Armageddon…This Is Hell’. The closing double header of ‘American Jesus’ and ‘Punk Rock Song’ finish a frantic, energetic set, and provide a timely reminder that Bad Religion are the undisputed kings of punk. [TW]

It’s left to the band whose seminal album inspired the name of the stage they stand on to wrap up proceedings on the Punk In Drublic stage. As the rain continues to fall, NOFX struggle to continue the standard set by Bad Religion in a slapdash, plodding set. While they have never been renowned for their live performances, there is something entirely sluggish about tonight’s closing act. Fat Mike’s rambling monologues seem to cause agitation among a now sodden crowd with one audience member exasperatedly shouting “just play a fucking song”. When NOFX finally get into their rhythm there are early renditions of ‘Bob’ and ‘The Brews’, which kind of feel like bargaining chips to keep the hardcore fans interested. Much like Bad Religion, NOFX’s latest record ‘First Ditch Effort’ felt like a sea change in the band’s approach with much more personal and angry tracks. There are airings of the excellent ‘Six Years On Dope’ and the poignant ‘I’m So Sorry Tony’, before which, Fat Mike gives a heartfelt ode to the late Tony Sly, whose death provided the inspiration. NOFX finish on a celebratory note with ‘Linoleum’ and a cover of Bad Religion’s ‘We’re Only Gonna Die’, to rectify what threatened to be a damp squib of a headline set. [TW]

While we’ve been consistently soaked by varying levels of precipitation throughout the day, it turns out that All Time Low might actually be pop-punk’s very own Mother Nature. Not only has the downfall cease just in time for their headline set, but everyone in attendance is delighted to note that ATL have “made a rainbow, you motherfuckers! One whole rainbow!” As well as the stunning scenery that now surrounding us, with it being 10 years since the release of the band’s sophomore album, we’re treated to an ode to what many maintain is All Time Low’s best release to date – playing eight out of the 12 tracks on ‘Nothing Personal’, including a cameo performance from Waterpark’s Awsten Knight on fan favourite ‘Break Your Little Heart’. Tears are cried during ‘Therapy’, but quickly dried when the gates to the stage are opened and countless fans join All Time Low for a manic dance party during 2011’s ‘Time Bomb’. Despite Jack Barakat’s countless inappropriate comments, and minor confusion caused by Rian altering the finale of ‘Lost in Stereo’, it’s an otherwise joyous end to an incredible day. [YB]
All Time Low

Slam Dunk continue to bring in the best bands and artists from our world, and we can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.