Photo Credit: James Lomax – Slam Dunk North 28th May 2023
Slam Dunk South returned to Hatfield Park this late May bank holiday and it did not disappoint. With the sunshine blaring over the crowd, there was nothing but good vibes all around as people anticipated their favourite acts to grace the stage. With a great balance of new and old acts, there was never a dull moment in the day. This year saw the return of some Slam Dunk alumni such as Creeper, Zebrahead, Yellowcard and We Came As Romans as well as acts such as Billy Talent and Spanish Love Songs who had to previously cancel in previous years. However, this year was the battle of the headliners: Enter Shikari vs The Offspring. Fans were torn on who to see and many opted to run between stages to catch a glimpse of each act as the festival came to a close.
To kick off the coverage of the festival, NOAHFINNCE took to The Key Club. With the release of two EPs, Stuff From My Brain (2021) and My Brain After Therapy (2022), there was a lot of material from a relatively new artist. He was cracking jokes between sets and giving the crowd what they love, pop-punk. He blends what feels like 90s pop-punk with modern riffs that pleased a lot of the crowd. Near the end of his set, Noah’s cheekiness and personality shone when he announced that the next song was written for his mother “When I was 7. Love you mum”, before launching into a pop-punk cover of Fireflies by Owl City. He continued with more jokes and gave the crowd a red herring by starting to cover Dance Dance by Fall Out Boy before launching into one of his most well-known songs, Life’s A Bit. In particular, younger music fans were having a blast and singing along to the words while those unfamiliar with the song were vibing and having a good time. As his set approached the end, he played Worms (In My Brain) which required a bit of audience participation. He instructed the crowd to wiggle like worms as the chorus hit and many obliged. Overall, NOAHFINNCE’s set can be summed up in six words: a bit of nonsense and fun. He captures what pop-punk is all about and there is no doubt that he is on a trajectory upwards after playing Slam Dunk. 9/10
Following NOAHFINNCE, there was a massive buzz over at the Rock Scene Stage as Slam Dunk South marked the first live show of the newly reformed Kids In Glass Houses. Despite running a little late, this was an incredible set. Before taking to the stage, the audience got a taste of anticipation as The Bitch Is Back by Elton John, We Are Never Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien by Edith Piaf played over the sound system before the band took to the stage. It was difficult to find a good spot; fans were treated to an amazing forty-five minutes of tunes such as Give Me What I Want, Easy Tiger and the very fitting Saturday. Frontman Aled Philips reminded fans of just how important they are to them and fans went wild in response. The band also reminded fans that in celebration of their return, they are also reissuing their chart-topping album, Smart Casual, fifteen years after its release! There is no better way to celebrate their reunion than to hear a crowd of strangers come together and sing their hearts out in support of Kids In Glass Houses. 8.5/10
Back at The Key Club, Maggie Lindemann was about to take to the stage. After a false start, an audio track began before she came on. Setting up a narrative for the audience regarding a guardian angel looking over everyone and not letting appearances fool you, Lindemann launched into the first track of her newest album Suckerpunch (2022), Take Me Nowhere. Her vocals were clear and haunting, and the pain that she felt writing this song came out, helping audiences understand who she is as an artist and lyricist. Adding to the darkness of the first song, she used a prerecording of her vocals to sing alongside, thus adding to the depth of the subject matter that she was singing about. Asking how the crowd was, it was obvious that Lindemann was a little anxious but as the set went on, she became the confident person fans see everywhere. She was laughing and reminded the crowd to have fun, go crazy and start a pit (they obliged) as she launched into Hear Me Out. Lindemann stated that she was honoured to be performing at Slam Dunk as part of her European tour that she is currently on and to no surprise, played a big chunk of her album, Suckerpunch, but she did throw in some tunes such as It’s Not Your Fault and Crash And Burn from Paranoia (2021). She showed everyone there that she is a force to be reckoned with within the rock and alternative music scene. She sounds just like she does on record and to see her warm up as the set goes on is special. 8/10
Immediately as Lindemann finished her set, the left key at The Key Club started, catching people on their way out to see other acts. At first, people believed it was tech setting up and playing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, but it was JXDN. Pushing the keyboard off his lap, he immediately asks the crowd, “Can we just have a good time?” before launching into his first song and jumping up and down with the crowd. During Last Time, he showed the crowd that age has nothing on talent as he demonstrated his clean screams into the mic, which is no easy feat and he is just nineteen! Furthermore, he knows how to work the crowd and have fun as he acted like a puppet on strings over the stage whilst singing and screaming.
In between songs, he talked a lot to the crowd and could see he does not take himself too seriously, he pointed out that his shirt said, “fuck you and eat my shoe” and that he was, “happy to be here, and I had been trying to come to England for two years. Thank you for having me. It’s about the music” before launching into Dead Or Alive. Similar to Maggie Lindemann, JXDN used prerecorded vocal tracking of himself so he could harmonise live with it, but also used recording that mimicked breaking news stories. He gave 110% in every song and when interacting with the crowd. There was never a dull moment and like NOAHFINNCE, pop-punk is in safe hands as gen-z grows up. 9/10
Over at Knotfest Stage, We Came As Romans had quite the entrance. With a flashing light show flickering in time to the sound of a drum barrel beat, the band took to the stage. Vocalist Joshua Moore launched right away into their first song and thus opening several pits in the crowd as expected for one of the heavier bands in the Slam Dunk lineup. With songs such as Daggers, Golden and The Anchor making an appearance, it was Lost In The Moment was the most poignant. Moore discussed the death of their old band member Kyle Pavone and dedicated the song to him as he was someone who always had fun and wanted others to do the same. Fans were respectful as Moore discussed the loss but were more than happy to get their arms up in the air and clap as the climax of the song hit. From there, the energy kept picking up and the band even did a throwback to their 2013 album, Tracing Back The Roots, by performing Hope as 2023 marks ten years since the release. The set was full of joy and energy and the band showed the crowd that music means everything to them. It was a celebration of life. 8/10
As the sun was setting, the crowd gathered at the Rock Scene Stage in anticipation to see the one and only, Billy Talent. As the crowd waited, they launched into a mass sing-song of t.a.T.u.’s All The Things She Said but was cut short as the band immediately launched into Devil In A Midnight Mass. The crowd went wild; all hands were punching the air and the crowd surfing began. There was no respite after opening with that as they moved straight into This Suffering. After an electrifying opening, vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz asked how the crowd was doing and spoke about why England is special to the band. He noted that England was one of the first countries to accept their music and to celebrate, the band were going to play a song from an album that they released 20 years ago. Of course, the audience was filled with anticipation as they waited to see what Billy Talent had up their sleeve. It was Try Honestly.
As the set went on, there was nothing more exciting than seeing the crowd on screen as the band played hits such as Rusted From The Rain, Surrender and Fallen Leaves. The love for the band could be felt in the glimpses of those in the audience, but it was incredible to see young kids singing along as they sat on their parent’s shoulders, belting out the words. But the ultimate peak of the set was when the whole crowd sang along to Red Flag thus marking the end of their show! 8.5/10
As the final headliners took to the stage, there was a buzz at both Dickies Stage and Rock Scene Stage. For those who love pop-punk and a bit of nostalgia, there was only one winner. The Offspring. With massive screens that played with visual effects over the live coverage of the band, there was a lot to look at as the band came on and launched into Come Out And Play. With good vibes and a nice sunset, there was no better way to start the headliner set. Without saying a word, they started to pay for a recording of a church organ. After a few notes of the melody, the crowd worked out that the band we launching into Want You Bad and sang the words before vocalist/rhythm guitarist Dexter Holland changed the tempo and started to sing the song. After the first two songs, Holland and lead guitarist Noodles Wasserman began bartering on stage. With many expletives and a few jokes, they explained how they are happy to be headlining Slam Dunk 2023 and how the crowd fit the pop-punk vibe because of the crowd surfing, pits and random inflatable banana going around.
After a dose of nostalgia, the band began to play some of their new songs. Whether or not people came to watch them for nostalgia or because they like their new album, the songs easily fit into the late 90s and early 2000s vibe they are known for, it was very fun and energetic.
Near the end of the set, the band switched it up a little by throwing way back to the creation of punk music by covering Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones. Although unexpected, the crowd went wild for this as the band put their spin on it. And in the true spirit of punk, more expletives happened, with Holland holding a long “fuck yeah” before kicking off Pretty Fly (For A White Guy). There was once again no respite at Slam Dunk as the band continued to hit fans with more of their well-known songs like Why Don’t You Get A Job and You’re Gonna Go Far Kid. Just before the finale, the love between band members was shown as Wasserman took the time to celebrate his fellow band members bassist Todd Morse, drummer Brandon Pertzborn and Holland. They have been together since 1993 and to still celebrate each other’s achievements and play music together is a testament to friendship and is altogether really pop-punk. Although it was sad the set was coming to a close, The Offspring were going out with a banger – Self Esteem. There was no better way to end a show than that. 9/10
Written By: Jo Lisney
Slam Dunk North photo gallery by James Lomax featuring Real Friends, Boston Manor, Four Year Strong, Kids in Glass Houses, PVRIS, JXDN, Creeper, Billy Talent, The Hunna, Yellowcard and Enter Shikari.