Every year for over a decade now Slam Dunk festival has been a highlight in the UK mosher’s year. Constantly growing, the festival has always managed to marry the best of the metal, punk rock and pop-punk worlds, making one of the best alternative music experiences. While the festival has branched out across the country for multiple days as of the last few years, it’s Slam Dunk’s hometown of Leeds we’re visiting this year, following it to Temple Newsam Park for its biggest year yet!
We start a very punk day with Angel Du$t who’ve gone from a unique transition of making 80s-styled hardcore to Buddy Holly-esque rock ‘n’ roll. Whether it’s lovely bops or two-stepping fury, they play with complete sincerity and people on both sides of their spectrum react with much enthusiasm.
Up next is the first punk veterans of the day Anti-Flag. You wouldn’t think this was a band approaching their thirtieth year the way they play with more energy than most bands in their first couple of years. There’s a beautiful sense of liberation from political rally calls ‘You’ve Gotta Die for the Government’ and ‘Turncoat’, as Anti-Flag encourage us to fight back against all the horrifying stuff happening in the world (“keep the milkshakes raining!”).
Turnstile are a real highlight, igniting some of the most gnarly pits of the day with their meaty hardcore that takes cues from grunge and surf-rock. The place is like a warzone, though there are some moments of actual dancing.
Cancer Bats are armed with such ‘f**k yeah’ metal anthems, they could crush sets in their sleep at this point. However, there’s still plenty of effort on their part with frontman Liam Cormier furiously headbanging and rampaging around the stage, whilst the thick but slinky riffs of ‘Hail Destroyer’ and ‘Pneumonia Hawk’ sell themselves to the eager crowd.
Likewise, The Bronx are effortless when it comes to whipping a crowd into a frenzy. Punk ‘n’ roll bangers like ‘Heart Attack American’ and ‘Sh**ty Future’ are so full of bite and California cool that there’s almost a feel-good air to the bodies slamming everywhere which is perfect for a summer festival. It helps that Matt Caughthran is one of the liveliest, most charismatic frontmen in the game, constantly leading the mosh charge.
Now it’s time for maybe the best metal band the UK has to offer right now: Employed To Serve. The way this band can go from sporadic, mathy swing to ominously, doomy tones makes for all kinds of moshing whether it’s a firm headbang or loony wind-milling. The band play with full menace, frontwoman Justine Jones spitting ‘this isn’t a f**king pop-punk show’ to encourage harder movement and guitarist Sammy Urwin ending the set with maniacal shrieking as he crowdsurfs away from the stage.
You could be forgiven for not having the highest of hopes for Gallows today. They’ve been out of the game for the last four years and even back then their activity was fairly brief. However, they’re arguably the band of day! Playing a set largely of Frank Carter-era material, tracks like the riff-licious ‘Leeches’ and the Watford thuggish ‘Come Friendly Bombs’ are punk/hardcore classics at this point and they’re received so, to much crashing of bodies. Frontman Wade MacNeil brings his A-game, immediately starting pits first hand and leaping all over the stage.
You could argue that there’s something off about the band flying so high from songs with a different frontman to when they were recorded, but MacNeil has done these songs enough times now that he can nail them with his own spin on them. Plus, songs from his own time including the blistering ‘Last June’ and the blink-and-you’ll-miss ‘True Colours’ has the same gnarly spirit to give you a true Gallows experience.
The other main claim for set of the day is Touché Amoré, who can do something most bands can’t which is get tears flowing as well as ignite chaos. This band put the richest emotion into their songs, whether they’re mourning lost ones in the ‘Stage Four’ cuts or unleashing valiant, never-give-in spirit in the oddly titled ‘~’ from ‘Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me’. Frontman Jeremy Bolm is fearless in wearing his heart on his sleeve through his bare lyrics and passionate delivery that gives a rawness to the hard-hitting topics; that impulsive and very human lack of control is beautifully captured. With snappy riffs and pummelling drums, there’s a recipe for some serious movement.
Bad Religion are the oldest band that play today and maybe the oldest band that have ever played Slam Dunk, being just shy of 40-years-old as a group. However, bangers like ’21st Century Digital Boy’ and ‘Suffer’ don’t feel like they’ve aged a day with that stomp and punch still getting people going. Greg Graffin’s voice remains impeccable, tuneful and lecturing in his left-wing messages delivered in speedy, melodic fashion.
We end the day on an odd but really quite enjoyable note with NOFX’s set. Whilst they might be known for their skate-punk aesthetic with their rapid, loose riffs and political edge, they’re also utter goofballs which is the side of their personality we see today. Whether they’re purposefully(???) messing up songs, unrelentingly beating a dead horse and making some questionable jokes, NOFX are so atrocious tonight, to to mention unfunny, that they’re gloriously hysterical.
They do manage to legitimately get it together and slay when it comes to classics ‘Linoleum’ and ‘Don’t Call Me White’, making you think they’ve actually got their s**t together and their “hiccups” are purely intentional. Either way, they’re akin to a punk version of The Room; you just can’t help but be fully entertained by their shambolic mess of a show.
Overall, Slam Dunk 2019 was a killer day of punk rock and all its varieties. Sick Of It All once said ‘old school, or the new, doesn’t mean s**t if your heart’s not true’ and today, whether they were old, new, political, goofy, p***ed off or just having a good time, all the bands we saw truly played with passion in their hearts. The only downside was the ridiculous scheduling clashes from just how many amazing bands there were this year, but there are worst problems to have than being spoilt for choice and we were most satisfied with the choices we made.