It’s time once again for Slam Dunk to kick off the festival season. Returning to Hatfield house with its biggest line up yet, Slam Dunk looked set to get the season going with a bang and it did not disappoint. Whether it was the traditional pop-punk bands, NOFX’s Punk In Drublic festival or the amazing hardcore bands on the Impericon stage, Slam Dunk Festival had something great for everyone there.
First up was William Ryan Key (7) opening up the Marshall Stage. Judging by the size of the crowd who turned up to see him at 11:45 in the morning, it’s clear a lot of people were very excited to hear some Yellowcard songs played live again. Ryan comes across incredibly humble on stage and seems genuinely blown away by the amount of people who are here. Unsurprisingly the set mostly focuses on Ocean Avenue with Only One and Ocean Avenue getting the best reactions. But the other songs serve as a reminder that Yellowcard weren’t just a one hit wonder. This was just a very nice and relaxed way to kick of Slam Dunk 2019.
Over on the Punk In Drublic stage, Anti-Flag (7) were playing to an absolutely huge crowd. Few bands capture the spirit of punk like Anti-Flag do now. Their passion for what they do and their message is so clear. Justin Sane and Chris2 both do a fantastic job sharing vocal duties as the band smash through some of their greatest hits. There are some sound issues and it is very windy which certainly didn’t help the sound. But this couldn’t dull the impact of songs like Fuck Police Brutality and American Attraction. The band take numerous opportunities to speak out against all kinds of discrimination and deliver one of the best lines of the day with “let milkshakes rain down on fascists”. It’s an incredibly uplifting set and the feelings of unity could not be stronger as they bring things to a close with Brandenburg Gate.
Next up on the Key Club stage was Y3K, although you may know them better as Busted (6). Being the second date of the festival, Busted’s secret set on the Key Club stage was no longer much of a secret, meaning the tent was packed out with 20 something year olds waiting to relive some childhood nostalgia. Opening with Air Hostess did not disappoint but sadly, it’s clear pretty quickly that the set might have peaked with this and the energy in the tent doesn’t match this again until closer, Year 3000. Although it’s hard to blame a band for wanting to play new music they have released, Busted’s place on this festival bill was very much a big draw because of the nostalgia and between some very mediocre new music from them and all the incredible modern bands playing today, nostalgia just doesn’t have the effect many would have expected from this set.
Again pulling a huge crowd to the Punk In Drublic stage, it was now The Interrupters (9) turn to deliver 40 minutes of incredibly fun and uplifting punk rock. Even if it was now incredibly grey and cloudy at Slam Dunk, The Interrupters managed to make it feel like sunny California. If anyone tries to say that ska punk isn’t cool now then they should be pointed in the direction of The Interrupters. All four members of the band just have a brilliant presence on stage but it’s the quality of the songs that just makes The Interrupters so great. Take Back The Power sounds bigger than it ever has with everyone in the crowd singing along. Whilst She’s Kerosene and Gave You Everything off their new album show off what an impact that has made for them. This was easily one of the standout sets of the entire festival.
On the Impericon stage it was Cancer Bats (8) turn to bring the party. What more can be said about Cancer Bats really. They are just always so great live and this was no different. The band sounded great, the setlist choices were spot on for a festival set, Liams stage antics and banter were spot on and the crowd was just so fired up. All of this combined to make this another brilliant showing from Cancer Bats. There’s even guest appearances from Pagan Nikki on Pneumonia Hawk and Wade McNeil on Hail Destroyer. Sabotage really kicked things up another level with the crowd absolutely losing their mind resulting in the biggest pit of the set. Just business as usual for Cancer Bats.
On the Key Club stage, Pagan (7) kicked off their black mass. Pagan are certainly one of the most unique bands on the line up this year. Perhaps they were just a little bit too out there for the Slam Dunk audience, based on the fairly muted reaction to their set. Their crazy mix of black metal and disco left many in the audience looking slightly confused but the band still made a solid impact. Nikki is just such a unique presence on stage as she dances around screaming and pouring red wine over herself. For a band still on their first album, Pagan show a lot of promise and they will no doubt continue to grow and improve.
Everything that was said about Cancer Bats earlier could also be said about The Bronx (8). Another band who are just always so brilliant live. From the very first song the crowd are just losing their mind and this only escalates throughout the set. Songs like Shitty Future and History’s Stranglers remain some of the best punk songs around but it’s The Knifeman that is the real highlight of this set. As Matt Caughthran makes his into the middle of the pit. What follows is just absolute chaos as every fans swarms him. Again it just feels impossible for The Bronx to be anything other than great live.
Back on the Key Club stage, Employed To Serve (8) were staking their claim to be the heaviest band on the entire line up. Their newest album has just added another level of brutality to their sound and the band just feel so motivated right now. They are just riding a wave right now and show no signs of stopping. The newer songs like Harsh Truth and Force Fed fit brilliantly in their set now. Justin Jones presence as a vocalist is better than ever the increased vocal dynamic between her and Sammy Urwin is just another string to their bow. There’s a good reason why Employed To Serve are such critical darlings right now and as I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away threatens to tear the tent down, it’s hard to argue against that.
The heaviness doesn’t stop as Gallows (9) continue their long awaited return as they tear the Impericon Stage apart. Before this weekend it has been almost 4 years since Gallows had last played a show and you can see just how much they’ve missed being on stage. Wade McNeil sounds absolutely furious as they tear though Misery and London Is The Reason. Liam Cormier returns the favour of Wade’s earlier guest spot by coming out for Last June and their combined vocal attack is amazing. Leeches see’s drummer Lee Barratts dad diving into the crowd. The whole set is just anarchy from start to finish. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 4 years for Gallows to come back. They are just one of the greatest punk bands ever.
Over on the Dickies Stage we had Touche Amore (9) making their Slam Dunk debut. The band kick things off with the opening track from 2016’s “Stage Four” before going into “New Halloween” which never fails to put a lump on my throat everytime the number of years with the lyric “How has it already been a year? I skip over songs because they’re too hard to hear”. Touche Amore are always able to perform a set that’s just as energetic and intense as it is emotional, with the rain providing some beautiful pathetic fallacy to the songs being played. They wrap things up with fan favourite “~” and leave the crowd absolutely stunned.
Lights (7) provides something completely different over on the Key Club stage. Her synth pop makes a nice break from all the aggression seen elsewhere. She might not be playing to the biggest crowd but everyone in the tent is clearly a huge fan and it creates a really intimate vibe for the set. It’s actually slightly confusing how Lights is playing on the smallest stage at Slam Dunk as her pop tunes are massive and brilliantly catchy but for some reason it just hasn’t connected with a mainstream audience. Closing with Giants it feels like this could be a massive radio hit over here.
For some reason the Plain White T’s (3) have found themselves headlining a festival stage in 2019. Whilst they seemingly have a large crowd it’s pretty clear a large portion of them are just waiting for The Menzingers to headline the Dickies stage next to them. The remainder are obviously nostalgic for some middling pop rock from 13 years ago. There is just nothing about this set that needs to be heard in 2019, it’s just the worst lifeless pop rock imaginable. Unsurprisingly Hey There Delilah gets a bigger reaction than everything else but shockingly that doesn’t even signal the end of their set as they decide people would want to hear another song after it. Just an awful set from a band trying to cash in on nostalgia.
Thankfully The Menzingers (9) immediately followed this and just made everything better. Over 50 minutes they just fill their set with a ridiculous amount of brilliant songs. Tellin’ Lies kicks things off with a huge sing-a-long and it just doesn’t stop from there. Even the rain cannot dampen the vibe of this set as everyone involved is just having so much fun. The band even seem stoked over the site of a double rainbow providing the backdrop for this set. It’s the songs that just make The Menzingers so special. Even when their sound got cut off during Nice Things as they started to overrun slightly (but still with over an hour until the festival ends and them closing out this stage), the fans refuse to let this ruin things and just carry on singing and they band play without sound. What could have been a downer ending for a really spectacular set felt like a triumphant moment as everyones passion for this band refused to let things be ruined.
Finally it was All Time Lows (8) turn to bring Slam Dunk to a close. And really there just aren’t many bands more suited to this job. Celebrating 10 years of Nothing Personal gave this set a little something extra as it meant the band could pull out some deep cuts they haven’t played for year like Break Your Little Heart and A Party Song. It’s undeniable how cheesy All Time Low are. They are the furthest thing from a serious, sophisticated band. But when it just comes to big pop rock tunes, All Time Low are just one of the best at it. The band are clearly having a lot of fun goofing around on stage and the fans love it. There’s all the pyro and impressive lighting that you’d expect from a big headline set too. They throw out a brand new song which goes down well and it seems like they’ve learnt from the criticisms of their last album. They just deliver an immensely fun end to the day and when you can fire out an encore of Lost In Stereo and Dear Maria it’s tough to argue against All Time Lows position as headliners of this festival.
Stay tuned for a full photo gallery packed full of action from Slam Dunk North in Leeds too!
Words by Sam Dignon, Fran Dignon and Connor Morris. All photos by Connor Morris.