Coined as the UK’s answer to Warped Tour, Slam Dunk Festival is a glorious one-day rock fiesta.
The festival has grown out of alternative nights at the Leeds Cockpit into a huge touring event with three sites: Leeds, Birmingham, and Hatfield. 2016’s lineup was as impressive as any other, featuring headline sets from pop-punk legends Panic! At The Disco, and Orange County’s Of Mice and Men. This year, we stuck to Slam Dunk North’s Main Stage to check out the crème de la crème of the festival’s lineup.
Everything was off to a promising start: the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the temperature was almost in double figures. By the time the festival gates opened, Slam Dunk had a line spanning half of Leeds city centre. It was hectic, it was loud, but it was well worth the wait.
The day was kicked off by Canterbury’s own Moose Blood. They opened the show with their latest single ‘Honey’—a feel good, festival-ready anthem. Vocalist Eddy Brewerton radiated enthusiasm, grinning ear to ear as reams of fans screamed his lyrics back to him. From the reaction of Slam Dunk’s crowd, it’s obvious Moose Blood have already made a huge impact in the industry. The band had an incredible stage presence, captivating the 7,000-strong crowd through ‘Swim Down’, ‘I Hope You’re Missing Me’, and ‘Bukowski’. They rounded off their set with slow-burner ‘Gum’, leaving the Main Stage hyped for a phenomenal day.
After a short break to chat to some bands, we ran back to the Main Stage to catch Mayday Parade’s set. Despite being a man down—drummer Jake Bundrick had been injured prior to the day—Tallahassee’s finest made no sacrifices to their show. Kicking things off with ‘One of Them Will Destroy the Other’, the band were joined on-stage by Real Friends’ Dan Lambton. Combined with the vocals of Derek Sanders the pair were pop-punk perfection, gliding through what is potentially Mayday Parade’s heaviest track. ‘Jamie All Over’, ‘When You See My Friends’, and ‘Keep in Mind, Transmogrification is a New Technology’ came next, successfully spanning the quartet’s now ten-year career. The band are clearly familiar with festival crowds, rattling out a stream of fan favourites before closing the set in their typical style: with A Lesson In Romantics’ ‘Jersey’.
A festival is not truly a festival without at least one technical hitch. This year, a sound issue resulted in Yellowcard’s set being cut to only 20 minutes. The band—who were booked to play the entirety of Ocean Avenue—took this in their stride, admitting that “these things happen” and cherry-picking their favourite six tracks. Yellowcard opened with ‘Way Away’, working their way through ‘Breathing’, ‘Ocean Avenue’, ‘Life of a Salesman’, and ‘Only One’ before closing their set with ‘Believe’. It was short and to the point, but the band gave it their all.
Next up: Mallory Knox. This alternative rock quintet has been making waves in the industry since their debut album Signals was released in 2013. Their stage was the most eye-catching of the festival so far, featuring huge ‘MK’ standees which lit up to suit the mood of each song. Mikey Chapman showcased his impressive vocals throughout, sailing through ‘Shout at the Moon’, ‘Wake Up’, ‘Dying to Survive’, and ‘Death Rattle’. The band’s fluid performance nodded to an extensive touring career; they didn’t miss a beat even during on-stage technical difficulties. Mallory Knox finished up with fan favourite ‘Lighthouse’, basking in erupting cheers as they exited the stage.
New Found Glory hands down had the roughest crowd of the day. By the time the band had finished up their opening track ‘Hit or Miss’, venue security were already struggling to pull crowd surfers from the pit. Vocalist Jordan Pundik conducted the crowd’s energy; he easily convinced a mass of fans to open up pits as they continued through ‘Selfless’, ‘Truth of My Youth’, and ‘Understatement.’ The spirit of the festival translated on-stage, encouraging the band to invite a fan—Josie—up from the barrier to choose a last minute setlist addition. She decided on Not Without a Fight’s ’47’, and pulled two of her friends on-stage with her to scream the lyrics down a—admittedly muted—microphone. New Found Glory closed their show with ‘My Friends Over You’, leaving echoing static blaring over Slam Dunk long after they’d left the stage.
Finally, it was time for Panic! At The Disco. Vocalist Brendon Urie—clad only in leather trousers and a blazer—broke out into a flawless rendition of Death of a Bachelor’s ‘Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time’; an upbeat, satirical masterpiece. The singer vibrated with energy from the moment he stepped on-stage, grinning wholeheartedly at the crowd as he made his way through ‘Time To Dance’, ‘Vegas Lights’, ‘LA Devotee’, and ‘The Ballad of Mona Lisa.’ The setlist was a calculated mix of old and new, including the iconic ‘I Write Sins not Tragedies’ and ‘Let’s Kill Tonight.’ Urie showcased his musical prowess throughout, whipping out a guitar during ‘This is Gospel’, and providing a piano accompaniment to ‘Nine In The Afternoon’.
There’s no argument that Urie’s a showman, a fact proven by Panic! At The Disco’s technically flawless rendition of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Despite him hitting every note with a flourish, and claiming that the band “just wrote [the song] backstage”, guitarist Kenny Harris was the MVP. He performed Brian May’s iconic solo without a hitch, earning himself roaring cheers from the crowd.
The stage was alight with pyrotechnics, illuminating the band’s movements through ‘Golden Days’, ‘Crazy=Genius’, ‘Nicotine’, and ‘Miss Jackson’. In perhaps the strangest moment of the night, Urie decided to resurrect his Vine trademark ‘POSITIVE HARDCORE’. It was mainly a lot of incoherent screaming, but at least he was having fun. Panic! At The Disco finished up their set with more fire and Death of a Bachelor single ‘Emperor’s New Clothes.’ It was a vibrant, colourful extravaganza, and it was the perfect way to end the day.
Check out more photos from the festival here!