Slam Dunk North 2022 Review

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Abbi Draper-Scott

Given that her most recent show on UK shores a few weeks ago was supporting the reformed My Chemical Romance in a packed stadium, an early slot for Cassy Brooking, aka Cassyette (6) feels like somewhat of a change of pace. “Guys I’m still waking up, you’re gonna help me right?”, comes the jovial quip as the Chelmsford songstress takes to the Jägermeister Stage, but it’s very quickly evident that she hardly needs assistance. Right from the opening notes of dark electro-meets-pop-punk earworm Dear Goth, Cassyette is on an absolute tear to kick things off today. From the soaring September Rain, to the bouncy pop hooks of recent single Sad Girl Summer, pretty much everything is positively lapped up by the festival earlycomers, to the point that even a few dodgy moments of mixing wherein she’s buried beneath a mountain of guitar and backing tracks can’t even hinder the up-and-coming star. Dedicating the driving ballad Mayhem to her ex (“he’s a massive c***”, apparently) is seemingly a pretty crowd-pleasing move, and by the time she manages to induce a Slipknot style jump-up for Dead Roses, it really feels as though Cassyette is starting to arrive as a real force to be reckoned with in alternative music.

By all accounts, it’s a minor miracle that The Bronx (7) have managed to make it to the stage today. Having travelled over from New Zealand to the UK for this weekend’s shows, it transpires that both the band’s luggage and all of their gear have disappeared somewhere along the way, leaving them to play on instruments and amps hastily-borrowed from other bands on the bill, and arrive in clothes quickly bought on arrival (though vocalist Matt Caughthran is quick to amusingly assure everyone he “f****** hates H&M”). For all the chaos surrounding their arrival though, you’d hardly notice a single dip in quality from The Bronx’s usual brand of glorious chaos. Throwing themselves straight into the chaotic White Shadow with the rallying cry of “Let’s f*** s*** up”, it takes all of about half a second before bodies are flying all about the place (including at several points the glorious sight of a Tigger-costumed festivalgoer crowdsurfing the length of the field), and the five-piece are soon throwing out the clattering likes of Heart Attack American and Knifeman as if it were nobody’s business. Long story short – it is literally impossible to have a bad time watching The Bronx, and that’s just a fact.

Perhaps one of the biggest joys of Slam Dunk is in how its stages often mix together both the most exciting up and coming bands and more revered classic bands together. Although not an enormous name in any commercial sense, to punk-rock fans of a certain disposition, Hot Water Music (7) might as well be considered legends, such is their influence on the scene they inhabit. Opening strong with the title track from 2001’s A Flight and a Crash, it’s evident from the off exactly why the Gainesville collective are that revered too. Talismanic frontman Chuck Ragan is on fine form throughout their set today, his throaty roar powering the band along through a firecracker of a set that pulls liberally from beloved records like Caution; but equally so this year’s rather excellent Feel The Void, with newer cuts like Killing Time and Habitual feeling right at home amongst their more vintage material. 

Is there a more reliably great live band on the planet than “The Motherf***ing Cancer Bats(8)? Well, on a day like today, you’d be hard-pressed to find argument from us. Arriving to an increasingly-busy Jägermeister Stage (more on perhaps why in just a second), the Canadian powerhouse are today rocking a new lineup of sorts, with the void left by departing guitarist Scott Middleton now being filled by both KT Lamond of Like A Motorcycle and Stevis Harrison of Fever 333 and The Chariot (the latter of whom inevitably ends up soloing from the middle of the pit by the end of the performance. Opening with the teutonic Psychic Jailbreak from their new album of the same name, it takes absolutely no time for the Bats to reestablish themselves to their UK fans, rattling through a crowd-pleasing set that runs the gamut from 2008’s beloved Hail Destroyer all the way through to recent fare like 2018’s The Spark That Moves. Everything here today feels precision-made to detonate hardcore crowds like a musical bomb, but it’s the one-two hook of their iconic cover of the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage and the crushing Lucifer’s Rocking Chair that predictably brings things to a glorious fever pitch. Long live hardcore punk, and long live Cancer Bats.

Hot off the heels of such an explosive set, you’d be expecting something equally exciting to follow, and the good folks at Slam Dunk seem to have been more than happy to oblige. Arguably the hype band of the moment, thanks to an array of brilliantly-daft viral music videos over the last couple of years, German party-metalcore kings Electric Callboy (9) take to the stage in full 80s fitness gear and launch straight into Pump It to such a response that it’s astounding they’re not headlining the damn thing. With a sound that’s equal parts Scooter as it is metal, the group are put simply, one of the most energetic collectives playing anywhere on-site today – bolstered by the effortlessly charismatic dual-vocal attack of longtime screamer Kevin Ratajczak and relative newbie clean vocalist Nico Sallach. Even not having drummer David-Karl Friedrich with them on-stage today due to illness (he’s replaced instead by a mannequin at his kit) doesn’t seem to hinder the band’s energy this afternoon, and as they fire through stupidly catchy electronicore anthems like MC Thunder, We Got The Moves, and inevitably Hypa Hypa, it’s borderline impossible not to be swept up in the sheer mad brilliance that is Electric Callboy.

Passing briefly by the Dickies Stage, we find veteran California skate-punks Pennywise (5) apparently in the midst of a few technical hiccups. From what we can gather from those around us, guitarist Fletcher Dragge’s axe seems to have decided to completely pack in at the start of the band’s set, rendering their usual attack more than a bit stunted. Luckily, they do get things going again in pretty short order, and promptly start throwing out their angry takes on the likes of AC/DC’s TNT, Nirvana’s Territorial Pissings and perhaps best of all Ben E. King’s legendary Stand By Me to a suddenly reinvigorated crowd of old-school punks. It’s maybe not quite enough to fully rescue them today, but by the time the likes of the eponymous Pennywise are blasting from the speakers, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find that many in their audience all too bothered about the slight derailment – I guess that’s punk after all, right?

With the sun relentlessly beating down by this point, there’s perhaps no better time for LA ska-punks The Interrupters (8) to take to the Dickies Stage. Sprinting out of the wings, the three Bivona brothers and vocalist Aimee Interrupter are on fiery form from the off today, opening with a brilliant one-two of Take Back The Power and Title Holder and pretty much maintaining the massive-singalong pace from that point onward. Of all the more modern bands to take up the mantle of ska-inflected punk rock, there’s a case to be made that The Interrupters have quietly been amassing maybe the strongest canon of songs of the whole lot too, with the likes of She Got Arrested and By My Side proving exactly what the doctor ordered for the summer sunshine facing them. The band even find the time to throw out some new material too, with recent singles In The Mirror and Anything was Better from upcoming album In The Wild both receiving their live debuts today, and sounding utterly monstrous. It’s not just their own material the band power through today either – a mid-set mess around playing joke snippets of tracks by Epitaph alumni The Offspring, NOFX and Rancid lead into a full and rather brilliant cover of Sorrow by Bad Religion, eliciting roars of approval from the veteran punks of the crowd. Eventually closing out proceedings with the energetic She’s Kerosene, one of Aimee Interrupter’s most catchy moments in a set jammed full of them, it’s impossible not to take a step back and wonder whether we could be looking at one of modern ska-punk’s most important and most brilliant bands.

With a façade of brick-wall backdrops being set up across the length of the Dickies Stage, and a small army of old punks congregating, there can be only one band up next. It’s been a little while now since we last saw The Dropkick Murphys (9) over on these shores, but you’d hardly guess so given the utter reverence with which they’re greeted this evening, and even being a man down (vocalist Al Barr sitting out this run due to family health problems) doesn’t stop the Boston collective from tearing Slam Dunk a new one, as they blast through anthem after rousing anthem. Opening shout-along The Lonesome Boatman leads straight into The Boys Are Back, and that’s pretty much the level of throat-shredding singalong the band are operating at for the length of their set today, with huge anthems like Barroom Hero and Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya being greeted by the faithful in a manner you’d expect reserved for the second coming. Particularly fun today is the band’s take on the traditional Worker’s Song, here of course coated in punk riffs and a healthy lashing of bagpipes courtesy of touring member Campbell Webster. It’s a great moment, but almost immediately outstripped just a few songs later when Rose Tattoo practically threatens to bring the whole of Temple Newsam Park unglued with drunken glee, as once again bodies and beers begin to fly. Time running low, the Murphys nonetheless find time to chuck in a daft-but-fun cover of Gerry Cinnamon hit The Bonny, before the obligatory I’m Shipping Up to Boston sees proceedings brought to a brilliantly chaotic conclusion. They might have been up against it in theory today, but there was certainly no weakness evident in the Dropkick Murphys’ performance and we can only hope it’s not quite as long before they return next time.

As a giant inflatable devil begins to rise above the back of the Dickies Stage, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you’d somehow wandered into a much more satanic-leaning festival for this evening’s conclusion. Surprisingly though, that’s the backdrop for pop-punk titans Sum 41 (8), who set about closing out Slam Dunk 2022 amidst a rush of pyro more befitting the likes of Kreator as they bash out an array of cuts from the heavier end of their catalogue. Starting off, ridiculously, with Motivation basically sets the tempo all the way up to 11 from the off and Deryck Whibley and the boys are on fine form throughout their evening atop the bill. As you’d probably expect, a lot of the setlist tonight is culled from fan-favourites All Killer No Filler and Does This Look Infected?, but the likes of Out For Blood and Goddamn I’m Dead Again certainly prove there’s still musical fire within the band far beyond their heyday some 20+ years ago. Of course, it helps that the band seem to have once again settled into a fairly stable lineup, with the triple guitar attack of Whibley, Dave Baksh and Tom Thacker sitting comfortably atop drummer Frank Zummo and bassist Jason McCaslin’s energetic-as-all-hell rhythm section. If their own array of songs weren’t enough to satiate fans either, Sum 41 even find time to start dicking around with other people’s; tacking the iconic riffs to both Seven Nation Army and Smoke On The Water onto their own track Pieces, and even throwing out a cover of Queen’s monolithic We Will Rock You seemingly for laughs. Of course, this being a Sum 41 show though, there’s only one way that they were ever going to cap things off, as the almighty pairing of bona-fide anthems Fat Lip and Still Waiting bring not only their set, but Slam Dunk North 2022 to a triumphant end. It might’ve taken a while to get them here, but the wait was certainly worth it.

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