Friday, June 21, 2024

Slam Dunk Festival 2023 – The Good, the Bad, and the Mosh Pit

RAMzine’s Lamestream Lydia, Christopher James Ryan and Jess Bland made their way down to Leeds for an entire day of pop punk, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater music, bimbocore, deathcore and that’s just what we got to see. There’s so much at Slam Dunk every year but 2023 was especially stacked with headline slots from The Offspring and Enter Shikari as well as appearances from Billy Talent, Yellowcard, Scene Queen, We Came as Romans, Gogol Bordello, Millencolin, Escape the Fate and so much more. 

Slam Dunk has been a British institution since 2006 and has been steadily growing more and more every year but an overwhelming online opinion has arisen that it may have grown too big to continue being a one day festival held at two separate locations. The parking situation elicited opinions from many on social media throughout the entire weekend.

Many attendees had great difficulty navigating a rather disorganized parking situation, causing huge delays to people’s days, with some cases resulting in hours stuck in traffic. Slam Dunk has since commented to say “there was an unprecedented number of cars arriving to the festival site who hadn’t pre-booked car parking. This alongside other external factors created a traffic flow issue which inevitably caused delays into the festival site.  As a measure to combat the traffic flow issue we made the conscious decision to stop checking passes for parking to increase the rate of entry to the car park and to prevent further delays”. Read Slam Dunks full statement here. Those on social media also reported access issues, as well as coaches from other cities struggling to navigate. 

By the time we’d gotten into the festival grounds, which was an admittedly smooth process once we’d gotten our wristbands, several bands had already been on and we’d missed their sets. Some of the earlier acts like Heriot, Zand, Sincere Engineer, Millie Manders & The Shut Up and Destroy Boys were missed by far too many people because of the parking fiasco and that’s a shame because they’re all artists that deserve massive turn outs. 

Vukovi

Vukovi review by Jess Bland*. 

*Words by Dale Unsworth except where specified. 

Scottish two-piece Vukovi had no issues warming up the crowd for what was a fairly early set at 12:15. Lead vocalist Janine Shilstone seemed genuinely thrilled by the turnout, which was to be expected following the success of their new album NULA which recently won Best Production at the Heavy Music Awards. 

Vukovi

Opening to ‘HADES’, it wasn’t long before Shilstone demanded the crowd to “open this pit right f*cking now,” and with so many songs from NULA featuring catchy hooks and strong riffs from guitarist Hamish Reilly, it only feels natural. Shilstone’s interaction with the crowd is second to none, jumping down to the barrier during ‘LASSO’, giving everyone a high-five and declaring ‘that’s more f*cking like it!’. The set closes with ‘La Di Da’ with Shilstone singing from the barrier before crowd surfing during the final chorus.

Vukovi

Girlfriends

The Key Club stage was where all the smaller acts played which is where we saw Girlfriends, a pop punk project masterminded by Nick Gross and Travis Mills and they were fantastic despite only being together for two and a half years. They had such a life affirming show and seemed so happy to be performing and after meeting them later on it seemed like they’d maintain that energy performing to a crowd of any size. 

Girlfriends

They had gigantic sing along choruses on tracks like ‘Life’s a Britney’ and ‘Tattoo’ which won over a brand new audience but the big moment that made everyone love them was when they jumped into a cover of ‘Just a Girl’ by No Doubt. 

If you’re in need of some emo tinged pop punk with the classic iconic “emo yarl” then Girlfriends is worth checking out. 

Check out our interview with Nick and Travis on RAMzine soon. 

Hawthorn Heights

Hawthorne Heights are a mid 2000s emo staple and it was absolutely rammed or at least the entrance was. By this point I was still figuring out how to manoeuvre the festival and hadn’t quite figured out the best places to see the bands but Hawthorne Heights sounded amazing from where I was. 

Hawthorn Heights

As someone who didn’t appreciate emo music when it was coming out, this whole festival gave me a new appreciation for the emo scene and I attribute that to what I saw of Hawthorne Heights. They had amazing guitar harmonies and the atmosphere amongst the crowd was electric. 

Having turned my nose up at the likes of Hawthorne Heights when I was a younger and less intelligent metal elitist, their set really turned me around and ‘This Is Who We Are’ became a new playlists staple. This is why giving bands a second chance is important and festivals are the best place to do that. 

LØLØ

LØLØ is a frustrating act to search for online due to several other acts being called Lolo but without the accent character. Despite the awkward SEO, LØLØ gave a really fun performance that acted as a decent introduction to her sound. 

LØLØ

A decent description would be if you took mid 2010s tumblr aesthetics and mixed it with TikTok pop punk and as much as this sounds like a negative, it really isn’t. LØLØ seems to be geared towards a younger audience but that’s an important niche to fill as every singer songwriter has to have that youthful start before they grow and change their sound. All the pieces are there, it’s down to her to put them together and I’m confident she will. 

Scene Queen

Scene Queen took her throne through TikTok but has since become a globally beloved advocate for female empowerment in a scene that has been plagued by the rotten stench of toxic masculinity, entitlement and grotesque machismo perpetuated by some of the worst people in music. 

Scene Queen

Scene Queen’s music screams “if you’re not gonna share your scene, then we’re taking it back” as she blasts through iconic ragers like ‘Pink Rover’ and ‘18+’, arguably the most important song about policing your scene in recent memory. 

Scene Queen

Even outside of the serious talking points, her set was so much fun, Fred Durst but without the problematic elements and hat. The crowd was losing their minds and even spilled out over the hill as it got bigger and bigger. She even performed a cover of ‘I Kissed a Girl’ from acclaimed nu metal artist Katy Perry. 😜

As a member of the LGBT community, I greatly appreciate having something on my playlist that I can lose my mind to while still being a bit girly pop. If you didn’t see Scene Queen then you’re basic. 

Millencolin

Once Scene Queen ended we ollied back over to The Dickies stage for Millencolin. This band is made up of consummate professionals who still maintain the classic punk rock energy required for a stage as big as Slam Dunk. 

Regardless of whether or not you skate, Millencolin are the quintessential band to skate to. ‘No Cigar’ is best remembered as the best song from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (don’t argue with me, it’s objectively true) and hearing it live was amazing. Their whole set made me look around for ways to skate and get big air over the crowd. 

Millencolin

Perhaps it would make the slog between stages through the food stall village tolerable. Just imagine filling your special metre and doing a boneless kickflip over the massive crowds, collecting S-K-A-T-E and going for the sick score while Millencolin is blaring Bullion and that just barely scratches the surface of how cool this set was. If this part of the review made no sense to you then you’re either too young or you’re too cool for video games. 

Gogol Bordello

Gogol Bordello are a highly diverse group of musicians who came together to make punk music mixed with Romani folk elements complete with violins, accordions and thick European accents; and they could be one of the best bands to play The Dickies Stage that day. 

Gogol Bordello

There was such joy on stage as eight people had to fit on the stage to play the most jovial music you could hope to listen to with tracks like ‘American Wedding’ and ‘Immigraniada’. It’s very difficult to make so many instruments work together and not have it sound like an utter mess but Gogol Bordello were all phenomenal musicians and turned an unsure crowd into a legion of fans. 

Gogol Bordello

Even between the fun filled music they made important political statements including a call to continue supporting Ukraine with Start Wearing Purple. Music is the best way to get people to care about things and this seems like a philosophy Gogol Bordello endorses and so do we. 

Go see Gogol Bordello throughout the UK this December and start wearing purple! 

Fit For A King

It was at this point in the day where I needed something heavier and Fit For A King were a welcome pit break in between all the bouncy punky bands and doot doot music. Fit for a King were over on the Knotfest Stage and there were some technical issues which delayed their set but it was worth the wait once they finally hit the stage.

Fit For A King

Fit For A King are a great introduction to modern metalcore with their use of clean and harsh vocals which were absolutely amazing and the quick switching between the two styles were very impressive. They had fantastic stage presence as they thrashed around and did the classic iconic metalcore spin move that never gets old. 

You can also catch their headline shows throughout the UK in December with support from Emmure, Thrown and Gloom in the Corner. 

Kids In Glass Houses

Kids In Glasses were over on the Amazon Stage and they were a really lively act that embodied the 2000s alt/indie sound and aesthetic from the twangy guitar tone to the snazzy suits but the best part of their set for me was how close it was to the Crash Records tent. 

Kids In Glass Houses

Kids In Glass Houses still sounded amazing inside of the tent as I was left in my happy place, listening to amazing high energy rock music while flipping through death metal records. Crash Records are a staple in Leeds and they brought a great selection and I left in a great mood after buying my copy of Left Hand Path by Entombed and walking out into the sun as ‘Give me What I Want’ started playing. A perfect moment. 

Escape The Fate 

Escape The Fate were almost impossible to get close to by the time we’d arrived at the Knotfest Stage. They were one of the biggest draws at this stage and they lived up to hype. They had astounding guitar work and Craig Mabbit gave a brilliant vocal performance as he was accompanied by a rabid audience that screamed along throughout every song. 

From where I was standing I could only make out what the crowd was doing but in my imagination the band was doing insane stunts based on how the crowd was reacting but with that said, the Knotfest stage had been insane all day. 

Maggie Lindemann

Maggie Lindermann review by Jess Bland*.

Maggie Lindemann took to the Key Stage with emotional banger ‘Take Me Nowhere’ from her new album Suckerpunch, before gliding seamlessly into ‘Scissorhands’ from EP Paranoia. Lindemann mentions that the Slam Dunk South crowd opened a pit to ‘Break Me’ and asks almost nervously “do you guys think you could open a pit too, maybe? No need to be shy”. The crowd eagerly took her up her offer with a semi-decent pit, keeping the energy alive right until the end of the set. 

Maggie Linderman

Before playing ‘Phases’ Lindemann reveals that she “didn’t used to like this song much, but it seems to do well live”, and she’s not wrong, as the crowd excitedly sings back the opening lines. Fitting in an impressive thirteen songs, with ‘Break Me’ and ‘How Could You Do This To Me’ only featuring a chorus and verse, Lindemann finishes with sapphic pop-punk anthem ‘She Knows It’, ending on a high.

The Academy Is… 

The Academy Is had been inactive for a very long time and hadn’t played the North of England in around fourteen years according to frontman William Becket but they were welcomed back with open arms and rapturous applause. It’s a little disappointing to see a smaller crowd but they were on at the same time as Less than Jake and PVRIS which are hard acts to compete with. 

The Academy Is… 

The crowd was still really receptive and ready to go as the band pulled out classic tracks like ‘About a Girl’ and ‘Ready for It’ which was notable for being in the end credits of modern cinematic classic Snakes On A Plane. Their sound is reminiscent of 90s alternative acts mixed in with 2000s emo, it’s designed for people who want sad music but don’t want to deal with the emo yarl. 

Hopefully this sparks a UK tour in the future because The Academy Is has been greatly missed. 

We Came As Romans

We Came As Romans were back over in the Knotfest tent and we struggled to get past the awkwardly laid out food village. Queues were overlapping and it just became a mass of people you had to barge through but we made it on time for the start. 

We Came As Romans was a beautiful experience and a testament to how powerful music can be as a tool to overcome the darkest moments in life. ‘Lost In The Moment’ was dedicated to former lead singer Kyle Pavone who had passed away a few years prior and this was a really beautiful moment. 

We Came As Romans

All the touching tributes were appreciated but the audience were here for crushing riffs and vicious breakdowns and they got those in spades. ‘Cold Like War’ was a standout track with its infectious vocal hooks pounding drumming and crushing guitar work, this song really had everything going for it and you can see them again throughout the UK in January. 

Billy Talent

Billy Talent were over on the Amazon Rock Stage and it was a much older turnout. The majority of the audience were die-hard fans who had been listening since the first three records came out and it was cool to see that level of dedication as longtime fans finally got to see a band they’d loved for decades 

Billy Talent

Benjamin Kowalewicz has a unique voice that you’d probably call an acquired taste but he gave a killer performance that lived up to people’s expectations as they performed classics like ‘Devil in a Midnight Mass’, ‘Fallen Leaves’ and ‘Red Flag’

You can also read our interview with guitarist Ian D’sa on RAMzine very soon.

Yellowcard 

Yellowcard were over on the Kerrang Stage celebrating a massive landmark by playing Ocean Avenue in its entirety, an alternative masterpiece and one of the greatest rock albums of the 2000s.

Yellowcard 

Some may be disappointed that there were only songs from that album on the setlist but to those people I ask “what more could you possibly want?”. You’ve got ‘Way Away’, ‘Ocean Avenue’ and ‘Miles Apart’. The whole album is a masterpiece and it’s an amazing experience to finally see them live. 

There were some technical issues that delayed the set which led to a false start and some frustration from frontman Ryan Key but once it got going it was amazing. Everything sounded near identical to the record but it was the crowd losing their minds all around that made it all the more effective. 

Yellowcard 

Yellowcard haven’t played in the UK for the better part of a decade and It’s a wonderful sight to behold and the Ocean Avenue set made it all the more special because how many more times are they likely to do that again? 

Enter Shikari

Enter Shikari review by Jess Bland*.

It was highly anticipated what the British rock band Enter Shikari had up their sleeve as headliners. The band is only going from strength to strength after recently celebrating the number 1 spot on the album chart with their new release, A Kiss For The Whole World. Opening with ‘(Pls) Set Me On Fire’ frontman Rou Reynolds previously declared they would have a “whole new setlist”, and with a fairly even mix of past albums, fans were eager to hear hits such as ‘Sssnakepit’, ‘Juggernauts’ and ‘Anaesthetist’. 

Enter Shikari

Eight songs in they welcome Wargasm to the stage for their collab ‘The Void Stares Back’, which recently won Best Single at the Heavy Music Awards. Blitzing through genres that resemble rock, post-hardcore, indie pop and electronic, there really is never a dull moment during the set, most notably the second half which was introduced as a ‘quick-fire round’. Reynolds hypes up an already excitable crowd, asking if they’re ready to “bring the energy and the stamina” for seven songs packed into an energetic four minutes. Starting with ‘Havoc B’, they bring out Cody Frost to join for both ‘Bull’ and ‘The Last Garrison’, as songs seamlessly transition into one another over a lively drum and bass set, both unique and efficient. Ending the round on a high, Reynolds announces they’re “bringing this song in 2023”, and the crowd is ready, making sure their hands are free to clap along to the intro – 2006 emo hit ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’ sounds surprisingly good mixed into 140bpm, as the lyrics “my white abode, do you remember” transition into a 30-second drum and bass breakdown.

Enter Shikari

Bassist Chris Batten humbly admits that they “didn’t expect this when starting the band 20 years ago”, which surely made everyone in the crowd suddenly feel very old. Ending with ‘Live Outside’ and ‘{The Dreamer’s Hotel}’, it’s safe to say Shikari can go down as legends in live performance, and they may not have expected this kind of response, but it’s very well deserved. 

Enter Shikari

The Offspring

Back to The Dickies Stage for punk rock legends The Offspring, one of the two headliners of Slam Dunk 2023 and based on social media reception, they were the weaker of the two headliners but it’s still hard to be disappointed with The Offspring. 

The strength of their back catalogue was incredible and not a single classic was omitted. ‘Come out and Play’, ‘Want You Bad’, ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’, ‘Why Don’t You Get a Job’ and my personal favourite, ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’

The setlist was amazing and the back and forth between Noodles and Dex Holland was entertaining but you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole section of Noodles playing classic metal riffs was a waste of time. On stage banter is really important but if you can play the length of an entire song in that time then you have to be saying something of significant value. 

The Offspring

These riffs included ‘Iron Man’, ‘The Trooper’ and ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, all classics but it did feel like a bit of a cop out but you have to ask what else would they have played without that section? Would you rather have heard some fun banter or a deep cut designed to fill the set out. Probably the latter but shut up and eat your noodles. 

According to the band, there were 1,999,004 people in the audience and I can confirm that is a correct estimate 😜 because I counted them during ‘Why Don’t You Get a Job’, the slowest of their classics but still a fantastic sing along moment. You can argue that there were better choices for a headliner but The Offspring is still a very safe choice and they always bring it live. 

The Offspring

I’d taken my last chance to go feral during ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’, an eternal banger which never fails to get people moving and for some it was the last enjoyable experience before their will to live evaporated while trying to get out of the car park. 

Some of the people who left hours in advance to beat the rush were stuck in traffic and still got to see The Offspring from over the wall. Somehow we managed to dodge it coming off the staff car park as ‘You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid’ played in the background like some kind of chase montage from a 90s boner comedy. But at least we were finally getting out of Leeds, something that very few people would be able to say for another few hours. 

The Offspring

Slam Dunk is an important festival in the UK music scene, it fills a hole left by Warped Tour and it’s one of the very few festivals that caters to alternative music without being exclusively devoted to extreme metal or niche subgenres so there’s a responsibility to do right by that audience. 

The festival couldn’t facilitate everyone with food stalls having queues that lasted longer than some band’s sets, toilet queues with minimal organisation and many people having to go without water for long stretches and disabled viewing platforms being essentially useless to the majority of people who need it. 

For anyone hoping to blame the venue, Live at Leeds happened at Temple Newsam the previous day and it was smooth sailing, I even managed to get a pizza while watching Kate Nash without having to plough through the crowd Dead Rising style. 

The lineup and bands themselves have not disappointed. Slam Dunk 2023 was still an amazing experience with the chance to see acts that hadn’t toured the UK in years. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out for Slam Dunk 2024.

Lamestream Lydia
Lamestream Lydia
Self-proclaimed journalist, Progressive rock enthusiast and the most American sounding person you're ever likely to meet in the North of England

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