Live Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Slam Dunk Festival North, Temple Newsam Estate, Leeds, 25/05/2019

Can you believe Slam Dunk Festival has come round again? The yearly Bank Holiday celebration of noise and shenanigans officially holds its own as a gigantic bat signal, announcing the arrival of festival season to masses of alternative music fans across the UK.

This year’s event, affectionately referred to locally by revellers as “Slammy D” had officially outgrown its Millennium Square home in the heart of Leeds, so it was time for an upgrade and boy what an upgrade we got. Step forward Temple Newsam Estate. A more traditional outdoor British festival location. Featuring eight stages on beautiful open fields, bathing in the shadow of historic Temple Newsam House and its surrounding acres of forests, Slammy D never looked so classy.

Kicking things off as the first act of the day are The Bombpops over on Punk In Drublic Stage. Co-fronted by Jen Razavi and Poli Van Dam, they take to the stage with all of the attitude and swagger you would come to expect from any band on the Fat Wreck Chords roster. They run through a short set of their tracks which includes Dear Beer, an angsty number that could be placed in any coming-of-age 90’s romcom. The first thing that strikes us it that The Bombpops are one of those bands that sound staggeringly better live than on their studio recordings. They exude charisma and utilise it all to get everyone pumped for the remainder of the day. 6/10

The sun is already beaming down and Milk Teeth are the next band on today’s checklist, opening up the Dickies Stage. We make a crazy run across the new site and make it just in time for the start of their short but action packed set. They really get the crowd involved, which isn’t an easy feat so early on in the day and they pull in a considerably large audience considering the arena hasn’t long been open at all. They commence proceedings with fan favourite Vitamins before running through a set list of blatant fan pleasers, closing their festival appearance with Stain. 7/10

When we heard Anti-Flag would be making an appearance this year we couldn’t help but anticipate what they had in store over at the Punk in Drublic stage. They always put on one of the most energetic and politically infused performances at any show, and of course they didn’t disappoint. They play a headline worthy set before the day has even properly begun. Opening with huge anti-establishment anthem Die for the Government instantly prompts a huge explosion of activity from their fans, while final track Brandenburg Gate see’s both drums and bass taken into the pit, allowing things to really get out of control. 8/10

Now Slam Dunk have never been shy of treating us all once in a while. They’ve done everything they can to give us the most incredible experience possible each and every year. Once again this year is no exception. They had been teasing us with clues to the identity of their secret special guests all week and everyone has been excitedly speculating. Then, when they listed the band name as Y3K, social media exploded as people very clearly read the pseudonym as Busted track Year 3000.

The Key Club Stage is beyond overflowing before the trio even take to the stage. The boy band’s arrival is marked by the deafening noise of fanatical screaming. It’s like something from a 90’s music video. Now we use the term boy band loosely because that’s exactly what Busted used to be, but as they open their set to the tune of Air Hostess it’s pretty clear that these days they have officially transcended the confines of that genre. They seem to have earned genuine respect as a band with solid, alternative influences. Plus you can’t deny the nostalgia element of their presence either.

The set is a short seven songs and comprises of only two newer tracks. The rest are greatest hits such as What I go to School For and Crashed the Wedding. Busted put on a great show but surprisingly its the fans who provide the energy in the set. They look to be enjoying themselves but often appear dissociated from the live experience, maybe even just going through the motions as they always have. This is perhaps downside to their set however they still follow through, putting on a hugely enjoyable and successful show. 7/10

Press to MECO had the difficult task of following on from Busted’s set on the Key Club Stage, and unfortunately the tent had vastly emptied. However they seem unfazed by this and just kick off doing what they do best. Ripping through their set with enthusiasm, the people that did stick around are elated. One of the best moments is their closer Here’s to the Fatigue, and by now people are arriving for the next set. It’s a massive bet that those people catching the end of this set were won over by the band’s energy and enthusiasm whilst performing. 7/10

It’s mid afternoon over at the Monster Stage and As It Is are just taking their places to begin their set. It’s their first time back in the UK since touring Europe and they are met with a huge turnout at the festival’s biggest stage. They open their set with huge and anthemic The Reaper. Vocalist Patty Walters is on top form and rallies powerfully through a ten song setlist of perfectly executed, alternative punk tracks from their back catalogue. Their performance of Dial Tones from their debut 2015 album Never Happy, Ever After is an incredibly enjoyable peak in their set. They close things much to the joy of their fans with The Stigma (Boys Dont Cry). 6/10

Next up on the agenda is a short dash up to the Jägermeister tent, and we make it just in time to catch the opening moments of The Word Alive’s set. Hailing all the way from Phoenix, Arizona these metalcore titans are no stranger to Slam Dunk, having made multiple appearances since the festival’s launch. Starting their performance with Red Clouds they pull in a very good sized crowd. On vocal duties, Tyler ‘Telle’ Smith is on top form and is a virtue of energy, leading the band through a comprehensive set of tracks from their discography. They prove once again that they operate as one slick machine when playing in any live scenario. 7/10

In true British music festival style the scorching heat doesn’t last for long and by late afternoon the heavens have opened and begin to drench the open fields of Temple Newsam Estate. People opt to prioritise the bands playing sheltered stages, turning the entrance to the Impericon Stage into a boggy mud pit.

As the rain falls outside Cancer Bats take to the stage inside with all the typical insanity that comes with their live show. Cancer Bats are one of those bands that always seem perform better than any headliner in terms of energy and ruthlessness. They tear up the stage with finesse and their fans scream their lyrics back at them. Never known as a band to do anything by half measures, they play every track likes its their last. Nikki Brumen from Pagan joins Liam Cormier on stage to add vocals to Pneumonia Hawk and the result is pure fire. The high point comes later in the set as the band tear the place to shreds with their cover of Sabotage by Beastie Boys. 8/10

By now the rain is torrential, but we are one hundred percent focused and determined that we will brave the elements and not miss a second of Saves the Day on the Dickies Stage. Although they are delayed en route they swap time slots with The Get Up Kids and ensure they don’t let fans down. The stage is drenched but Chris Conley appears absolutely beaming and is grinning from ear to ear. Like an excitable child he clutches his mic with both hands and sings the intro to At Your Funeral, as the whole crowd sings along. It’s one of those magical moments in live music that you’ll never really forget. They play a huge set for such a tiny stage and rip through twelve massive tracks, including Freakish and classic Shoulder to the Wheel. 10/10

Time for a little bit of emo nostalgia now as we shelter inside the Jägermeister Stage under the watchful eye of Silverstein. They sound huge and manage to earn full crowd participation on standout tracks such as Heroine and Smile in your Sleep. They sound a lot more like a metalcore band than in their early days, but this by no means has any negative effect on people’s affections towards their performance. The Canadian natives rip through a complete set spanning their lengthy discography. Vocalist Shane Told performs flawlessly, closing the set with The Afterglow. 8/10

Swedish punk rock veterans Millencolin are next on our itinerary to check out at the Punk in Drublic Stage. The arena is packed out and the band open their colossal sixteen song set with SOS. Volleys of crowd surfers pass over the barriers into the domain of the less than prepared security teams, and chaos breaks out on multiple occasions due to the hive of pit activity that goes unmanaged, but the band play on. They play well but their set feels a little underwhelming and overstretched. The set list is crammed with a lot of filler tracks. By the time they get to their final and most popular track No Cigar fan energy has massively dwindled, and its not the experience we could have hoped for. 3/10

Taking on the Key Club Stage next are post-hardcore influenced outfit Employed To Serve. The Woking based five piece fronted by Justine Jones are one of those bands that a lot people don’t seem to know about, which is an absolute sin because they sound huge. Their set includes past singles such as Harsh Truth, which has a touch of The Chariot to it that we can’t get over. Another notable moment is their performance of Force Fed, which really gets the crowd pumped and even gets a nice little pit going inside the tent. 7/10

It’s been over ten years since Story of the Year performed on UK soil, anyone remember the Taste of Chaos tours? Yes we really are that old, but its super exciting to have these guys cross the pond once more, making a long overdue performance on British turf. These guys have been off grid for some time, but amazingly enough they manage to pull an enormous crowd of nostalgia seekers over on the Jägermeister Stage. It’s evident in their opener And the Hero Will Drown that these guy’s show no sign of slowing down. Their stage show is high energy and action packed. The best moment of their set is their rendition of seminal emo debut single Until the Day I Die, and as an added bonus they are joined on stage by Yellowcard’s William Ryan Key. 8/10

On the Marshall Stage a frustrated looking Forrest Kline of Hellogoodbye removes plastic tarps from his keyboard setup. The rain is back with a vengeance, but as the rest of the band take to the stage Kline seems to switch straight into performance mode. It’s evident he’s an individual who grasps huge happiness from performing the music he makes, and it’s suddenly almost as if he is purely engaged in solely working the crowd. He leaps from the stage and performs at ground level, interacting with his fans up against the barriers multiple times during the set, much to their elation. Their set feels nostalgic, euphoric even, and makes everyone completely desensitise from the bad weather conditions going on around them. Of course they closed their set with Here in Your Arms, it was never going to be anything else. Kline instigates a huge singalong, closing the set in the most memorable way. 9/10

We had just five minutes to get from one side of the site to the other to catch the beginning of Less Than Jake’s highly anticipated performance on the Punk in Drublic Stage and let us tell you, it is not easy frantically running down a muddy hill, but it was absolutely worth it. A Less Than Jake show is always one huge party and today isn’t any different. The best way to kick that party off? Open the set with a track everyone can get down to. Gainesville Rock City opens with the famous brass intro we all know. Everyone is singing and dreadlocks are bouncing. Once again the pit crews are out of the depth as they are bombarded with crowd surfers. The set is so strong that they should probably have taken the headline spot. The band close with an encore of Last One Out of Liberty City and classic All My Best Friends Are Metalheads. 8/10

Atreyu are next to take to the stage at the Jägermeister Tent and something initially seems afoot. As they open with Becoming The Bull it’s not their usual frontman Alex Varcatzas who walks out. It turns out he couldn’t make the trip to merry old England, after the discovery of health concerns that have put him out of action on doctor’s orders. Instead its drummer Brandon Saller taking up vocal duties with a supporting percussionist filling in for his own absence. Saller has always being know for adding his clean vocals to Atreyu tracks, but what he puts forward to fill the gap Varcatzas has left its pretty incredible and he does it with ease. The band rally through a stack of classic tracks, including their famous cover of Bon Jovi’s You Give Love a Bad Name, a song that’s become synonymous with Atreyu’s live shows. 10/10

The last band we decide to check out on the Monster Energy Stage today are New Found Glory. At this point it would be difficult to say they weren’t regulars to the festival. They’ve made multiple appearances on the Slam Dunk stages over the years. We kind of hoped to see them bring something new to the festival this year, but it wasn’t exactly the case. Aside from the usual mix of singles they always squish into their set they decided to perform some downright bizarre and questionable covers from their From The Screen To Your Stereo 3 album, so many in their set in fact that it started to feel a little bit like watching a tribute act. Okay, so they sound pretty cool opening the set with Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, but then things get plain odd as they cover Let it Go from Disney’s Frozen. We were left a little stunned by that one. They go on to cover The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News and it just feels a little bit too much like watching a band still in their garage phase learning songs by their hero’s, it’s weird. They go on to predictably close their set with My Friends Over You. Their set is acceptable but feels forced, we just can’t quite seem to enjoy it. 2/10

We have a huge selection of headliners to choose from this year since there are so many stages on site. We make our decision and are happy with it. Over to the Jägermeister Stage it is. Time for Bullet for my Valentine‘s first show since they headlined Alexandra Palace back in January. Their stage set is beyond elaborate, a wall of amps on top of one another, a drum kit mounted on the top of a raised platform above the amps, and a ton of pyro cannons. This show is going to be big. They open their set to deafening screams and play the opening riffs to Don’t Need You; the atmosphere is electrifying and band are at the top of their game. During the opening of their second track Over It the pyro cannons are triggered, and all manor of confetti and ribbons rain down on the audience. The set is long but vocalist Matt Tuck and co stay on point for the duration. They close their headline slot with a three song encore, including final track Waking the Demon, one of their oldest but still most popular tracks to date. 7/10

It’s safe to say that 2019’s Slam Dunk Festival was by far the best yet. The new site at Temple Newsam is incredible and allows a vastly improved experience compared to what was on offer in Leeds City Centre over the past years. Bands’ sets are far more accessible, as are amenities and the outdoor stages are far more enjoyable with a better atmosphere.

It all rounds off to something that far exceeds all events from past years. There’s now so much more potential to further expand the festival in future years, maybe even to one that lasts the whole weekend. We can only cross our fingers, but what we do know is that next year will have the potential to be up there competing with the UK’s biggest and best known festivals.

Written by: Pat Gleeson

Photos by: Pat Gleeson

Pat Gleeson
Passionate photographer and music critic from Kingston Upon Hull. Coffee connoisseur and an avid Whovian.