With a new location at Temple Newsam for its northern leg; and perhaps the biggest lineup in its history, Slam Dunk is now one of the most anticipated events in the alt-rock calendar. Alongside the standard mix of pop-punk, emo and metalcore, there are electronic and acoustic sets, as well as top-secret special guests (more on that later!). While it’d be a near miracle to take it all in, GIGSoup’s Tom Forrester covers some of the biggest draws on the one day bill.
William Ryan Key (formerly of Yellowcard), was a late but welcome addition to the festival bill. While already over to play rhythm guitar with New Found Glory; Key has agreed to perform a short acoustic set of classic tracks from his old band’s back catalogue. Whether played with a full band, or a solitary acoustic guitar, these songs are timeless. As Key builds his collection of solitary work, sets such as this will become rarer. As such, it’s a different and excellent way to get Slam Dunk underway.
Opening the main stage of a festival in a daunting task for anyone. WSTR, however, manage this with aplomb, hitting the stage to a recording of The 1975’s “Give Yourself a Try”-it’s clear that they’ve come to party. Running through a series of tracks from 2018’s “Identity Crisis”, the band’s live show has been honed to near-perfection over the last few years of relentless touring. Their energy is infectious, and sets a high standard for the subsequent occupants of the stage.
In the weeks running up to Slam Dunk, the organisers hinted at a band whose last UK tour was “in arenas” and “had never played the festival before”. This, of course, led to numerous suspects; from A Day to Remember, to 21 Pilots. However, a few days before the festival, the act’s ‘codename’ provided the biggest clue yet!
Depending on who you ask, the true identities of ‘Y3K’ was either the best or worst-kept secret of the summer. ‘Y3K’ turn out to be none-other than Busted, who are indeed making their Slam Dunk début.
As Slam Dunk has a reputation for showcasing the best in independent punk and alternative music-and the ethos that goes with it-its hard to speculate how this appearance will go down with the festival faithful. As it turns out, Busted draw one of the largest crowds of the day. Classic hits such as ‘What I go to School For’ and ‘Crashed the Wedding’ go down a storm. Very much at the pop-end of the pop-punk spectrum, ‘Year 3000’ draws a huge pop, as everyone at the Key Club Stage throw up their hands, and sing along. It’s a triumphant début, and truly a milestone for Busted, as they finally transition from ‘gateway band’ to fully-fledged members of the UK pop-punk scene. It’s also an incredible coup for Slam Dunk to book an act of this size, keep it secret and not have them headline the bill. Truly brilliant stuff.
Back on the Main-stage, As It Is hit the stage suited and booted in red and black, looking like stadium-rockers in-waiting. Making no secret of their shared love and influence by early 00’s pop-punk and post-hardcore; they could be the younger siblings of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, or My Chemical Romance’s Gerrard Way. Running through a set-list of comprising predominantly of tracks from 2018’s ‘The Great Depression’, the band’s message is as strong and powerful as their stage presence. Frontman Patty Walters, and guitarists Ronnie Ish and Ben Langford-Biss are a blur of windmilling limbs, and relentless head-banging. It’s a strong and confident set from As It Is, and their promotion to this year’s main-stage is completely justified.
At the Key Club Stage, Aussie rockers Between You & Me put on a strong show in the face of adversity. As is Slam Dunk tradition, technical difficulties will hit at some point, and unfortunately it’s during this set. However, not a band to be brought down by faulty connections, frontman Jake Wilson, and guitarist Chris Bowerman jumping into the crowd to lead an impromptu a-cappella sing-along. Although their effort cannot be faulted, their relative inexperience shows, and the set, while solid, isn’t particularly memorable, and gets lost somewhat, in the day’s shuffle.
As afternoon turns to evening, it’s time for the heavy-hitters to start taking to the main-stage. At this stage in their career, Simple Plan truly are veterans of the pop-punk touring scene. Having spent years cutting their teeth on the now-defunct Warped Tour, they’re experts at crafting a set list and stage show which will please old and new fans alike.
The set features tracks from all of the band’s respective eras; but is especially heavy on tracks from début record ‘No Pads, no Helmets, Just Balls’. Frontman Pierre Bouvier is a bundle of energy and charisma, who doesn’t betray his 20-plus years on the road. This is great fun from start to finish; and drummer Chuck Comeau’s banter with the crowd, while brandishing a Yorkshire flag goes down brilliantly with the northern crowd. If there was a masterclass in putting on a pop-punk festival set, it would look a hell of a lot like this.
While Simple Plan have toured consistently for the better part of two decades, it feels like Neck Deep have been on the road for the entirety of the last two years. Since releasing “The Peace and the Panic”, the band has completed multiple tours; at home and abroad, headlining and as support. It’s no surprise then, that what follows is a swashbuckling, rambunctious beast of a set.
If Simple Plan showcases the best of the genre’s history, then Neck Deep show that pop-punk’s future is very bright indeed. In their relatively short years as a band, they’ve gleaned a stage craft that more than justifies their position on the main-stage bill. With a tour with Blink 182 and Lil Wayne in the offing, and new music in the not-too-distant future, Neck Deep are almost definitely Slam Dunk headliners-in-waiting.
The penultimate band on the main stage is another veteran act from the genre’s heyday. With the recent release of ‘From the Screen to Your Stereo: Part 3’, it’s no surprise that New Found Glory’s set features a healthy smattering of covers.
While the energetic opening of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and the brilliantly delivered power ballad ‘Let it Go’ go down well with the crowd-and get some of the loudest sing-alongs of the day-a band of New Found Glory’s tenure have plenty of hits of their own to be getting on with. Their live presence, and the addition of William Ryan Key on rhythm guitar, mark them among the strongest performers of the day. However, long-term fans will be slightly miffed at the lack of material from ‘Sticks and Stones’ and ‘Catalyst’.
Anticipation is at a fever-pitch for headliners All Time Low. Slam Dunk will be the only shows that the band perform this year, and with it being a decade since the release of fan-favorite record ‘Nothing Personal’, the set promises to be something special.
Coming out to The Beach Boys ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’, it’s clear that All Time Low are here to have fun, and reminisce about their career to date.
Playing a set with one or two new songs thrown in, but mostly featuring material from ‘Nothing Personal’, there really is something for everyone in this set. It’s also clear that despite All Time Low’s lack of performances over the last six months, there is no rustiness whatsoever. Live, they are as slick and polished as they ever have been, and the onstage banter between Alex Gaskarth and Jack Barakat is as on-point and hilarious as ever. As sets-and headliners-go, it’s pretty much perfect, by the time the last words of ‘Dear Maria’ are belted out by a field full of fans, the band, and festival, close the curtain on a job well done.