There’s nothing quite like Slam Dunk Festival. This year we headed to Leeds to catch some of the best and biggest names in alternative music in the city where it all began.
Set against the backdrop of the Civic Hall and, if you’re lucky, clear blue skies, Slam Dunk has grown an incredible amount since its inception in 2006. Now, the festival has multiple stages across the city, and it’s the closest the UK gets to the infamous US Warped Tour.
This year’s line-up was as loud and eclectic as ever. Here’s what our Bank Holiday weekend looked like:
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness — Jaegermeister stage
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness is the latest endeavour of Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate alumni Andrew McMahon. Basking in the sun on Millennium Square, the acoustic duo is miles from McMahon’s pop-punk past.
The singer-songwriter opens the festival, piano-in-tow, with ‘Walking in My Sleep’ — a track from his recent album Zombies on Broadway. The breezy tune has a sound that lives and breathes summer, and McMahon’s set couldn’t be more separate from the rest of the day’s rock ’n roll line up.
He continues with a compilation of tracks from projects old and new. Jack’s Mannequin’s ‘Dark Blue’ and Something Corporate’s ‘I Woke Up in a Car’ are met with delighted roars from a growing crowd, and McMahon smiles along with them.
In front of a sea of sunglasses on a warm Sunday afternoon, the pair are flawless. McMahon dedicates a cover of Jack’s Mannequin’s ‘La La Lie’ to the victims of the previous week’s terror attack in Manchester. He says that music is something we can’t allow to be taken from us out of fear and, of course, the entire festival cheers in solidarity.
But too soon, the duo are closing their set with ‘Cecilia and the Satellite’, an homage to McMahon’s daughter, and their most popular track to date.
Then they laugh, wave, hit a tambourine a few more times, and exit stage left.
With Confidence — Key Club stage
Next up: glorious, glorious pop-punk. Aussie quintet With Confidence take to the Key Club stage in Leeds’ O2 Academy to a packed room. The band have been busy since their Slam Dunk debut last year: they’ve released their debut album, toured the world, and gained an ever-growing legion of fans.
So much is evident the second vocalist Jayden Seeley grabs the mic, diving straight into Better Weather track ‘Voldemort’. Crowd surfers are already throwing themselves towards the stage, urged on by guitarist Luke Rocket’s plea for mania.
It’s the calibre of show pop-punk fans dream of: heavy guitars, the occasional circle pit, and having to master the art of avoiding a crowd surfer’s shoe hitting you in the face. In one word, it’s magic.
Before the show ends, they break out ‘Godzilla’ — a song from their 2015 EP Distance.
With Confidence hit a few technical snags, as even the most experienced musicians do, but their performance of ‘Archer’, ‘London Lights’, ‘We’ll Be Okay’ and ‘Keeper’ is something close to perfect.
Waterparks — Key Club stage
Continuing the vibe, we stuck around at the Key Club stage to catch Texan-born Waterparks and their unique brand of neon-streaked pop-punk. This is another band that hasn’t been around for long; they released their debut album Double Dare last November to a massive amount of critical acclaim worldwide.
The trio kick off their set with ‘Hawaii (Stay Awake)’, a track from their debut. They pick up the electro-pop with ‘Crave’ and ‘Stupid For You’, watching as the crowd, again, work their way into a frenzy over these obvious favourites.
Vocalist Awsten Knight has the crowd hypnotised; he throws around some jokes, chats with people in the front row and, weirdly, agrees to sign someone’s face mid-set.
It’s exactly how you’d imagine an early show from one of your favourite bands. Their performance is raw and unpolished, but their music is endearing enough that nobody really cares.
Waterparks finish up their show with ‘Dizzy’, ‘Gloom Boys’, ‘Mad All The Time’, and ‘Royal’. Then they point out their merchandise stand, so they can get “more rich” (obviously), and head off stage.
Frank Iero and the Patience — Signature Brew stage
Frank Iero’s solo project has undergone a bunch of transformations recently. Far from his past playing guitar for My Chemical Romance, Frank Iero andthe Cellabration—now, Frank Iero and the Patience—is the heart and soul of its namesake.
Over on the Signature Brew stage, Frank Iero takes to the stage in an oversized army green parka. His set is a considered mix of old and new, meshing together tracks from both brands of his solo sound.
He kicks things off with Parachutes track ‘World Destroyer’, moving through ‘Veins! Veins!! Veins!!!’ and ‘I’m a Mess’ in album order before switching over to Stomachaches.
The crowd is small but determined, with a few show-regulars attempting mosh pits and crowd surfing unsuccessfully throughout. The mayhem reaches its peak with Stomachaches tracks ‘Weighted’, ‘Blood Infections’ and ‘Joyriding’.
The band ease through their set like like a well-oiled punk-rock machine, barely pausing to breathe. They’re not a chatty bunch, but they’re clearly passionate, driving their unruly crowd further in love with music destined to make you cry. In a good way.
Set It Off — Key Club stage
Back to the Key Club stage, and Floridian four-piece Set It Off are gearing up to start their first Slam Dunk set since 2015. The past three years have seen the band switch dramatically from what they described as orchestral pop-punk, to an awkward N’sync-Beyonce-All Time Low hybrid.
They open the show with Duality track ‘Why Worry’, vocalist Cody Carson dressed half white, half blue in an ode to their latest release Upside Down.
They continue to showcase their rollercoaster of genres, playing ‘Forever Stuck In Our Youth’, ‘Ancient History’ and ‘Upside Down’ in quick succession. They even break out heavier track ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ mid-set although, sadly, this time it’s without featured singer William Beckett.
It could be nerves, but the show seems a little under-rehearsed. Carson drops his mic twice during the set, gets yelled at by stage management for climbing scaffolding, and he can barely hold himself up when he tries to stand in the crowd.
Set It Off are clearly ambitious with their music and their live performance, but can they pull it off? After today, it seems the answer is fairly hit and miss.
Against Me! — Signature Brew stage
In 2012, Against Me! vocalist Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender. Their sixth studio album Transgender Dysphoria Blues mirrored this change, with Grace using her songwriting narrative to explore the idea of gender identity.
Taking to the Signature Brew stage for its famed headline spot, the Floridian quartet opens the show with ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ — and the crowd scream the refrain back at them.
The band continue through ‘I Was a Teenage Anarchist’, ‘Walking Is Still Honest’ and ‘Pints of Guinness Make You Strong’. Their audience throw themselves into every second of it, jumping and fist-pumping, and barely missing a beat. It’s a reaction like any other: fans screaming passionately along to a sentiment which is hardly touched by commercial artists.
That’s part of what makes the show so powerful: the honesty pounding through Grace’s songwriting. She wants to tell a story, and many of the people watching must need to hear it.
‘Dead Friend’, ‘333’, ‘Unconditional Love’ and ‘New Wave’ continue the madness, Against Me!’s sparse stage set holding up strong under the raw emotion of their music.
Then, too soon, it’s all over, the band playing out with ‘Black Me Out’ and sweeping off the stage, leaving their fans fist-pumping and screaming their name as the lights go up.
Were you at Slam Dunk? Let us know who you saw at @CelebMix.
Make sure to check back for interviews with Frank Iero, Tonight Alive, With Confidence, and many more coming soon.