For the longest time, it felt like the chances of us standing on the beautiful green grass of Temple Newsam and Hatfield House were slim to none – in 2021, at least. And yet, against all odds and through one of the most challenging possible years to pull off a festival with an international line up, the team at Slam Dunk did it, and even as we stand in front of the main stage we can’t help but pinch ourselves to check that this is real. This is a festival that truly feels like the spiritual home of Punktastic, and whether we’re exhausting ourselves galloping up and down the Temple Newsam hill or gleefully making our way through 500 ice creams (each) in the blistering heat at Hatfield, we’ve never been happier to be here. Misfits, outcasts, and weirdos assemble – Slam Dunk is back, baby!
WORDS: Gem Rogers [GR] (North), Yasmin Brown [YB] (South)
IMAGES: Glen Bollard (North), Penny Bennett (South)
There can be few better ways to kick start a festival than with a gigantic dose of riffs, and there are few better bands to deliver them than Yorkshire locals Blood Youth. Despite their early start there’s a sizeable crowd gathered in the Jagermeister tent, and it’s the perfect place for anyone looking for somewhere to get amped up for the day ahead – one word from vocalist Kaya Tarsus and a pit swiftly engulfs the floor of the tent, taking full advantage of the aural hammering that is opener ‘Iron Lung’. Elation and excitement fills the air as Blood Youth cover favourites both old and new with incredible precision; from recent single ‘Cells’, to ‘Starve’ track ‘Spineless’, to the older ‘Playing The Victim’, this is a devastating set, awash with the kind of deep, dark heaviness that stops your heart and immediately starts it again. There is, however, a note of sadness that accompanies the band’s sets this weekend, as they’re also the last for Tarsus. An inimitable vocalist, his presence will undoubtedly be missed, and performances like this show why – but as he says himself, this is far from the end. Blood Youth forever. [GR]
It felt like we were only just starting to get acquainted with Doll Skin, back on their first tour of the UK in late 2019, when the-thing-that-shall-not-be-named came along and put a two year spanner in the works. Fortunately, Slam Dunk has brought us back together, and you’ll be unlikely to find a more spirited, joyous set today; vocalist Sydney Dolezal is filled with a giddy energy that lights up the whole area, not least when they introduce latest single ‘Eat Shit’ with a guided singalong (is there much better than standing in a crowd of people bellowing swear words at the top of their lungs?!). A few technical hiccups along the way do nothing to impinge on the enjoyment of this set, and Dolezal’s vocals are nothing short of flawless – Doll Skin’s punk spirit and earworm pop melodies make for the perfect festival half hour, and we couldn’t be more delighted to be back in their company. [GR]
Hands up if the name ‘Hellogoodbye’ immediately takes you straight back to 2005. Keep your hands up if you now have ‘Here In Your Arms’ stuck in your head? This has been our constant state since this throwback band were announced for Slam Dunk and after today’s performance, we doubt they’ll ever leave our minds again. It may be a slow starter, but after a while, the words come back to us like old friends and it really is magical to have this band back in front of us playing their fun and folky emo pop to a full crowd under blazing sunshine. Naturally, ‘Here (In Your Arms)’ and ‘Baby, It’s Fact’ receive the warmest welcome, but it’s amazing just how much comes flooding back over the course of the set. Front man Forrest Kline marvels at the sight before him, noting earnestly that he would love to come back a million times and by the looks of things, this Slam Dunk crowd would greet them just as excitedly were that to be the case. It’s been year – over a decade – since Hellogoodbye have graced our shores but we’re left praying that it won’t be that long again. [YB]
As the day creeps towards 2pm, to say the crowd assembled around the Key Club stage is astronomical still feels like somewhat of an understatement – and with the ‘secret special guest’ band taking to the stage late, there’s plenty of time for more people to join the curious and eager masses in the top corner of the Temple Newsam hill. It’s an eclectic crowd, too, and yet when pop pioneers McFly appear, you’d be hard pressed to find a single frown. Much like when Busted played two years ago, everyone seems, quite honestly, absolutely bloody thrilled. The singalongs to tunes like ‘Star Girl’ and ‘All About You’ are so loud they almost certainly echo all the way to Leeds city centre, and ‘cheesy’ though it may be, this is clearly the exact happiness tonic so many people needed this afternoon. No pressure, Slam Dunk, but… McBusted 2022? [GR]
It’s no secret that Lizzy Farrall is one of our favourite up and comers in 2021. We are, quite frankly, obsessed, and it seems we’re not alone in that, either. “There are so many people! Fuck!”, she exclaims with the wildest of grins on her face, and as you look around you’ll see that same grin reflected on the hundreds that have turned up to catch her set. It’s her second show back in over a year and a half (the first being at Slam Dunk North the day before), and everyone will be in easy agreement that while the wait was hard, we’re over the moon to be back here today and maybe, just maybe, it was worth it. As she bounces around the stage, you can’t help but notice Farrall’s impressive stamina as she maintains perfect pitch as she executes each of the catchy yet bitter and slightly depressing songs on the setlist. Fans sing along emphatically and you can’t help but dance as the sun continues to beat down, perfectly matching the atmosphere. Friends clamber on shoulders during ‘Balloon’, and Farrall threatens to cry at the sheer magnitude of the response she’s receiving. Closing off with “the one you’ve all been waiting for”, ‘Barbados’, we can’t help but be sad that it’s already over. Here’s to hoping there’s not another 18 months to wait until she’s back on our stages once more. [YB]
Up next, over on the main stage, are a band who always help make Slam Dunk feel that little bit more like home – and it’s always a pleasure to see Creeper deliver yet another masterclass in performance. Their punk-infused sound may be more suited to the cover of darkness (though on this cloudy Leeds afternoon, we’re not too far off), but Creeper’s ua-theatrical stylings feel like an almighty celebration of life today, pulling on material from across their back catalogue to delight their crowd from start to finish. The dual vocals of ‘Midnight’ form a particularly well received highlight, and Creeper continue to go from strength to strength – the top slot on this stage awaits, and we’re willing to bet it won’t be too long before it happens. [GR]
We Are The In Crowd
They might be super late on stage, but after six years of waiting for a reunion, what’s another 20 minutes, right? Right. Absolutely right. Playing right before Mayday Parade on the main stage, this lineup feels like another 2011 throwback – a time when these two bands came hand in hand like peanut butter and jam, or salt and pepper. The fans here today are choosing to skip out on a surprise performance from the McFly boys, a British staple, so there’s a lot to live up to and We Are The In Crowd do not disappoint. A cheshire cat smile sits unwavering on the face of vocalist Tay Jardine as she acknowledges the sight before her, only growing wider as it becomes blatantly clear that those in attendance aren’t merely here to kill time. It’s been a while, sure, but how could we forgot the lyrics to what were our favourite songs as we made our way through high school and into university. There’s unspoken but unanimous agreement that we’re all absolutely delighted to be here as bodies fly into the air and tears unexpectedly roll down cheeks at the realisation that this reunion is happening. Jardine’s voice has aged like a fine wine over the years, still working in perfect harmony with co-vocalist Jordan Eckes. Claiming to have brought the sun with them from New York, it’s another sweltering performance, but neither fans nor the band themselves could care less as they throw themselves into this set entirely. What a flawless reunion for what has always been a flawless band – it’s taken a long time to get here but we couldn’t have hoped for more. [YB]
On paper, Trash Boat are probably one of the least heavy bands to grace the Jagermeister tent this weekend – but as anyone who’s seen this band live will attest, they can more than hold their own on any stage, and the power they bring into their live performance is second to none. Not only is this Slam Dunk set no exception, but Trash Boat feel almost like a different band entirely, in the best possible way. Yes, their recent sound has changed – as vocalist Tobi Duncan acknowledges mid-set – but with it has come a whole new level of confidence, transforming Trash Boat into a band who quite simply decimate this tent with the most glorious ease. Armed with undoubtedly the best and clearest sound of the weekend, this set is a wild ride from start to finish as the crowd revel in the bold, igniting tones of the likes of ‘Don’t You Feel Amazing?’ and ‘Bad Entertainment’, and bring full throttle pit mayhem for old favourites like ‘Tring Quarry’. Today’s crown, though, without question belongs to the tracks from latest album ‘Don’t You Feel Amazing?’ – with the force of this new sound, Trash Boat have delivered one of the standout sets of the weekend, and it’s one that’s sure to be remembered for a long time. [GR]
It’s doubtful that there will ever be a time when Mayday Parade are not seen as a pop-punk favourite among those of us who were there to experience them in their heyday circa 2007, and they’ll always be at the top of our list of must-see bands when they appear on festival lineups. Today is no different as they take to the stage right after their friends in We Are The In Crowd to play the second of their first shows in almost two years. How lucky we are that they chose us for their comeback! Throughout the set, it’s easy to see that most fans are here for the older songs – those from ‘A Lesson In Romantics’ or ‘Anywhere But Here’, but in reality, some of Mayday’s best music came in the early 2010s and if the singalongs to songs like ‘When You See My Friends’ or ‘Oh Well, Oh Well’ are anything to go by, our favourite Mayday songs may still be to come. As front man Derek Sanders delicately puts it, “we all needed this”, and it’s clear to see that every member of this band is truly embracing the experience, not really knowing for sure when the next one might be. Never one to ignore a fan gift, Sanders quickly puts on a T-shirt that’s thrown onto stage, depicting a rainbow cat riding a shark, rocking it proudly for the last few songs. It’s not Mayday Parade’s best performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it really doesn’t matter. Just having them back on stage is quite enough for now. [YB]
Funeral For A Friend
If anyone ever fancied testing the limit of capacity in the Jagermeister tent, Welsh legends Funeral For A Friend seem more than happy to help this afternoon. Thousands of fans spill far outside the tent, and though arranging the lineup for this year’s festival was surely a significant (and unenviable) task, it’s hard not to think that such a momentous set would have been far better with the unrestricted space of the main stage. It’s not the only issue this set faces – for anyone towards the back and sides of the tent, the sound is disappointingly poor and muddy, such that at times the only way to identify the song playing is by the singalongs that manage to spread throughout the space. The end result is, sadly, underwhelming, through no real fault of the band – that said, the finale trio of ‘Roses For The Dead’, ‘Into Oblivion (Reunion)’ and ‘Escape Artists Never Die’ is something to behold, even in a set that’s already packed with beloved classics. ‘Into Oblivion (Reunion)’ feels especially potent today, and as thousands of voices come together in an outpouring of blissful emotion, we’re reminded once more of the power of live music – and of Funeral For A Friend. [GR]
There’s a reason that Skindred rarely switch up their festival performances and it’s simply that it always goes down spectacularly well. While the inside of the tent is not an ideal environment for these showmen, it doesn’t deter fans from cramming in, with hundreds of others spilling outside just to catch a glimpse or engage in a singalong. The band’s reggae metal goes down a treat on the Jagermeister stage, and even those who may not know the band are eagerly drawn in. Performed to sheer technical perfection, you simply cannot fault Skindred at any single point, the only potential downfall being the sheer difficulty of performing the Newport Helicopter in such close confines. They may not have released an album in three years, but they still remain one of the most popular bands on any lineup, and today is no different. As the sheer delight filters through the crowd, we hope it always stays this way. [YB]
The sun may not be shining on Temple Newsam today, but it’s hard not to feel warm when State Champs roll around with the very best pop punk in town (and hey, at least it’s not raining). Never a band to scrimp on energy levels, ‘Elevated’ gets the set off to a suitably buoyant start, and the crowd take full advantage by descending into immediate, delirious chaos. God, we love live music… In amongst the likes of ‘Losing Myself’, ‘All You Are Is History’ and ‘Secrets’, there are a few special treats in the form of the debut play of ‘Just Sound’, and the even newer, unreleased single ‘Outta My Head’. Playing a wholly new song at a festival is a bold choice, but when you’re a band like State Champs, you can’t go too far wrong – and sure enough, ‘Outta My Head’ is not only instantly memorable, but also utterly easy to fall in love with. If there’s a downside to today’s performance, it’s that front man Derek DiScanio has some occasional and uncharacteristic vocal issues throughout, but none are significant enough to have any real impact on what is otherwise a thoroughly uplifting set. [GR]
If you haven’t yet heard of Vukovi you may well have been living under a rock. At the bottom of the ocean. Making their way onto every relevant festival lineup this summer, this is a band that are demanding to be heard and goddamn are they worth listening to. Fronted by Janine Shilstone, Vukovi ooze fun and silliness, and yet when it comes to their music you would be a fool not to take it seriously. The moment Shilstone takes to the stage, you sense her fierce presence and you’ll struggle to look away as she starts to attack the setlist with stunning force and accuracy, despite spending most of the performance floating around in the crowd somewhere, rather than being confined to the stage. Fans soon follow suit as crowd surfers emerge en masse before circle pits take over during the chaotic performance of ‘Claudia’. Despite the apparent ease with which Shilstone hits every note, just two songs from the end she breathlessly states, “I’m fucked”, and it becomes clear that however many shows they’ve played during these past few weeks of freedom, nothing compares to the stamina you build over months of relentless touring. Regardless, the band executes their music to perfection and the smile on drummer Martin Lynch’s face shows just how much fun they’re having – however tired they may be. Closing off with fan fave ‘La Di Da’, Wargasm’s Milkie Way joins them on stage for a hug and it’s a true delight to see two women who are storming our industry in one place – a reminder that women really do rule the world. Long may they reign. [YB]
The Key Club stage is often home to some of the strongest rising acts in our scene – the ones picking up the dedicated fanbases, delivering exciting new sounds, and paving their way to future main stage slots. Sweden’s Normandie comfortably fit that label, with third album ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ seeing them expand their reach this year, and though the impact of the first few tracks is dulled a little by some unfortunate sound issues, it by no means dampens the enthusiasm of the gathered fans, or the band’s ability to fuel it. New tracks ‘Holy Water’ and ‘Hostage’ sound especially gigantic, the perfect blend of heavy hitting riffs and soaring melodies, while older tracks ‘White Flag’ and ‘Collide’ bring some joyous singalongs (alongside a fair helping of crowdsurfers). Normandie have more than proven themselves today, and with songs and performances like these, taking main stages by storm will be an easy task. [GR]
Seven years is a really bloody long time to wait to see a band. It feels longer still when it’s for a band as beloved as punk rock kings Alkaline Trio, so it’s not too surprising that the crowd at the Punk In Drublic stage stretches back a long, long way – and even a half hour delay to the start of the set doesn’t seem to deter anyone. Hey, we’ve already waited this long, right? When the infamous Trio finally take to the stage, they bring with them a set packed with favourites – it would be hard not to, with so many to choose from – but the delight is especially evident when tracks like ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Emma’ make an appearance. Best of all, the band sound perfectly on form, despite their lack of rehearsal – “We practiced twice, by the way,” Skiba jokes in defence of earlier suggestions that it had only been the once. Though the volume could do with being cranked up a few notches or ten, this is the comeback set that dreams are made of, and makes the news of a 2022 UK tour all the more welcome. [GR]
To see Holding Absence live is to transcend to another world. They have, as they gently put it, been “grinding this shit” for years, slowly rising through the ranks at Slam Dunk Festival since the band’s early days and it has been a delight to see just how much they’ve grown. Today, there’s just one band ahead of them on the Key Club stage lineup and within seconds, it’s glaringly obvious as to just how much they deserve this slot. Front man Lucas Woodland has a voice that can be rivalled by none. It seeps into your soul and fills you with glitter and gold until it simply must flow out of your eyes in the form of salty tears. The words are important, of course, but it really is the music that does the talking for Holding Absence – Woodland’s melodies included – and this is only more powerful in a live environment. Desperate to exert this emotion in whatever ways they can, fans throw themselves into intense circle pits and launch themselves on top of one another, crowd surfing across a sea of willing supporters with no two songs receiving a more excitable response than ‘Like a Shadow’ and ‘Beyond Belief’. Woodland echoes everyone’s thoughts when the emotions get too much and he claims he “could do this for the rest of my life until I keeled over and died”, a sentiment that may sound dramatic when taken out of context, but in the moment feels like a perfectly reasonable comment and one with which we are all in agreement.
Emotions aside, the performance is technically perfect, too – the precision with which each song is played is genuinely mind boggling, particularly when you’re reminded that for anything off of April’s ‘The Greatest Mistake of My Life’, this is only their fifth outing in a live environment. With just one song left to go, the sombre ‘Wilt’ seems like an odd choice, particularly for a festival, but in reality there couldn’t have been a stronger choice. Friends clutch one another as they sing along through their tears and in this moment, we couldn’t possibly love them more. [YB]
It’s been mere seconds since the chaotic notes of ‘Everything is Ordinary’ first blasted our eardrums, but from the depths of the Boston Manor pit you already have to fight for air. Of all the festivals you may have spotted this Blackpool five-piece over the years, Slam Dunk really does feel most apt for their somewhat unplaceable sounds, and the crowd’s response is only cementing that suspicion. As the not-so-secret headliners of the Key Club, Boston Manor have a lot of pressure on their shoulders but they carry it with ease, performing each of the seven songs on their setlist with as much enthusiasm and energy as the last. This is a band that have performed in countless venues of varying sizes over the years, but somehow they feel most comfortable here – even more so in some ways than at their own headline shows. In fact the crowd is so enticing that front man Henry Cox dives in himself, performing ‘You Me & the Class War’ from the circle pit he’s just commanded open. Slowly but surely, he amps up the crowd as they chant the bridge increasingly aggressively, supported by his band mates on stage, until permission is given to lose their minds. The set continues in much the same way, with both crowd and band throwing all they have into the short but intense set – from crowd surfing to mosh pits to screaming ourselves hoarse and everything in between. The sense of pride they have at closing off this stage shines through as Cox shouts out as many bands as he can recall that have played there across the day, and affectionately referring to Slam Dunk as a “festival full of greebos” before allowing said greebos to carry him to the edges of the crowd and back again during what may forever be the fan favourite, ‘Halo’.
It’s over too soon, as it always is, but we can think of no better way to see out the Key Club stages – which have been home to so many incredible acts today – than with our favourite miscreants in Boston Manor. [YB]
While She Sleeps
For as long as they are a band, ‘Sleeps Society’ will always be the perfect set opener for the Sheffield-based five-piece While She Sleeps. It’s a song that encompasses everything they are and, most importantly, sets the scene for the raucous performance that is inevitably to follow. And if that’s your expectation for today, you won’t be disappointed. This idea of a ‘society’ makes for a powerful fanbase – bringing fans and band members together in a community without boundaries – and it’s clear from today’s performance just how powerful this community really is. At the helm, backed by red WSS flags, is front man Lawrence ‘Loz’ Taylor and he leads by perfect example, his energy never once waning as he commands the stage, conducting the crowd as he does so. It’s sweaty and exhausting, but with fan favourites aplenty (will ‘Guilty Party’ ever get old?), you simply don’t want it to end. But end it must and as sweat continues to pour down our faces and we can physically scream no more, the last notes of ‘Nervous’ and ‘Systematic’ still ringing clearly in our ears, we know we’ll be smiling at the memories for a long time to come. [YB]
If any band have long been destined for a Slam Dunk headline set, it’s Bedford (where’s Bedford?) legends Don Broco. The quartet don’t have a reputation for phenomenal live shows for nothing, and tonight feels like the most magnificent culmination of all their years of graft, bringing their unique blend of electrifying, mosh-inducing rock together with dazzling visuals that feel like the ultimate finale to an incredibly special day. It’s impossible not to be swept up in the excitement, and the ground at Temple Newsam is almost definitely on the verge of an earthquake under thousands of jumping, dancing feet. ‘Pretty’ makes short work of re-energising anyone feeling the effects of a long festival day, and from here on out, there’s no real chance to catch your breath. Let’s hope everyone stocked up on the Red Bull for this one, then.
Stage presence is in no short supply here, either, with vocalist Rob Damiani wrapping the crowd around his little finger – it’s hard to tear your eyes away, their music embodying the same attitude with which they command the stage. Above all else, it’s just really damn good fun – recent single ‘Gumshield’ is a beat driven monster, while the dancy groove of tracks like ‘Automatic’ and ‘Priorities’ remains as irresistible as ever. It’s in their new songs, though, that some of the standout moments of the evening come – when While She Sleeps’ Loz Taylor and Waterparks’ Awsten Knight take to the stage for ‘Action’, it’s hard to imagine anything more fantastically chaotic, and it’s followed by the stadium-esque ‘One True Prince’, feeling unlike anything we’ve heard from this band before. The next evolution of Don Broco is well underway, and it’s looking better than ever.
By the time we reach the encore one-two hit of ‘Everybody’ and ‘T-Shirt Song’, there’s still no sign of anyone tiring – as darkness has closed in and left only the illumination from the stage, the fans in front of the main stage have become one in a constantly swirling sea of movement. It’s not only the pits that are keeping things going, either, with the dancing and t-shirt swinging stretching back far beyond the food and ice cream vans – a true sign of a thoroughly enjoyable (and thoroughly enjoyed) headline set. Exhaustion and aching feet are but a small price to pay for a weekend spent relishing the triumphant return of one of our favourite festivals, and there could be few better ways to round off the day than these final few hours with Broco. Welcome back, Slammy – we missed you. [GR]