This year, with what’s effectively billed as three main stage lineups, the opportunity for Slam Dunk to go bigger has been truly laid out on the table. It’s a festival that always brings an impressive lineup within its niche, but particularly with a headliner choice like Alexisonfire, you see a chance to bring up a band who typically wouldn’t be afforded a top-bill position elsewhere. And for a stage that’s typically skewed towards the hardcore and metalcore end of things, this feels like a winner. Not only is their new album imminent, but Alexisonfire have earned their spot among the most celebrated post-hardcore acts of recent times. Live appearances in the UK have been somewhat scarce since their comeback in 2015, so at a point like this where they’re in full swing of being a band again and moving outside of the reunion honeymoon phase, this feels like a big deal to give them the top spot. Elsewhere, it’s always a treat to have Beartooth back as one of the most reliable live bands in modern heavy music, full stop. Festival set or not, they’ve got the locomotive, full-throttle hardcore sensibilities to always thrive, with this one shooting to be no different. In fact, throw Cancer Bats in the same camp; there’s a reason their show has become as celebrated as it has, and with a brand new album in tow that’s only added more bangers to an already sizable repertoire, they’re another keen choice for hardcore on the bill. The Used and Silverstein both come loaded with a certain amount of nostalgia for the halcyon days of 2000s post-hardcore, though with the former’s catalogue that transcends those shackles on force of bangers alone, and the latter’s increased presence in modern music that’s done decently well as growing and reshaping naturally with the times, there’s little tokenism to be found here. Beyond that, the Jägermeister Stage comes packed with the reliables; both The Amity Affliction and Electric Callboy aren’t the most reputable metalcore acts but are sure to draw a crowd (having Hypa Hypa in your arsenal will do that), while Counterparts are among emotional hardcore’s best-loved names, and Cassyette continues to grow by the day with her thoroughly modern take on punk.
Rock Scene Stage
The Rock Scene Stages comes across as the most ‘standard’ of the three main stage choices. It’s the one that’s most in-keeping with Slam Dunk’s most forward-facing remit, namely taking the top acts right now within pop-punk and giving them their big moment to shine. By no one is that embodied more than Neck Deep’s headline slot, undoubtedly the premier name within pop-punk for a good amount of time, and whose upward trajectory may have wavered or fluctuated, but has constantly stayed up. It’s a wonder they’ve never headlined before now honestly, but between their immense popularity and a cache of tunes that have already ranked among the genre’s modern staples, it’s a big moment in no uncertain terms. They’ve got other well-loved genre bands at their back, too; The Story So Far, indeed, could’ve been in Neck Deep’s position just a few years ago, but momentum that’s slowed somewhat hasn’t dampened what might be one of the most influential bands in pop-punk of the last decade. Similarly, there’s The Wonder Years, who might’ve graduated from the genre in recent years but return to put the hat back on for the weekend, playing two of their earlier formative works in full, The Upsides and Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing. The original plan was the former up north and the latter down south, but with the cancellation of Motion City Soundtrack, there’s enough room to satisfy everyone and that couldn’t be lovelier. Rounding out this little coterie is Knuckle Puck, a definite last place of all the ones mentioned, but only on the basis of size and impact. Again, they’ve fallen victim to once-intense hype being severely tamped back, but they’re not short on good stuff, even on that last album that fell unfortunately coolly for many. But it’s the newer breed who’ll inevitably kick up the most fuss, particularly when that’s headed up by KennyHoopla, bringing the era of the pop-punk soloist its most defined superstar-in-waiting with the songs and energy that most in his lane aren’t nearly equipped to square up to. There’s also Hot Milk, continuing a strength-to-strength leap with a new EP on the way, and reputation for being one of the brightest lights in the current wave of pop-rock. Finally, to round out, there’s Meet Me @ The Altar as the ones to watch when it comes to pop-punk ready to go supernova, and Beauty School, unquestionably the band with the lowest profile, but with an anthemic emo streak that shouldn’t keep it that way for too long.
Making up the majority of Slam Dunk’s punk contingent, the Dickies Stage also feels like the section of the lineup tailored to the older crowd. In what’s effectively folding in the territory that NOFX’s Punk In Drublic would often bring, it contains the bands that go the furthest back in terms of sound and influence. And while for many, to see Sum 41 included among a statement like that will instigate back pain and arthritic creaking almost instantly, they do fit, and they’re a good choice for headliner. If you’re looking for a conduit between the older and younger, they can do that, with an aptitude for both punk and pop-punk, and a couple of genuine classics to rubber-stamp on something that’s bound to be great. Joining them are The Dropkick Murphys, treated as de facto co-headliners for a reason that’s easy enough to see why. They’ll fill more or less the same crossover niche, albeit in the sense that they’ll hold fast in ‘real’ punk while upping the ante for a knees-up with a Celtic flair that—let’s face it—no one really does better than them. Furthermore, when you see bands like Pennywise and The Vandals who’ve been plugging away for decades in punk and still have the power and drive to proceed forward, it’s hard to go wrong. That mindset also embodies the muscular emotionality of Hot Water Music’s evergreen alt-punk, and the wiry gnashing of The Bronx’s hardcore, while The Interrupters come as bearers of the old-school Fat Wreck sound with the songs to match. Finally, there’s the turn into ska, which is definitely less represented this year than in previous ones (and can unfortunately be felt more due to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ dropping out), but Streetlight Manifesto and The Suicide Machines are still strong flag-bearers with healthy reputations to their names.
Rock Sound Stage
A bit of an odd one, this stage, in which the assortment of styles under the umbrella of Slam Dunk’s remit are brought together, for arguably one of the more uneven runs, both in sound and quality. Let’s get the valleys out of the way first—3OH!3 are here because the nostalgia cycle has come around to a position where some will deem them worthwhile; MOD SUN has the least of note of any of the rappers-cum-pop-punks; and while pop-punk covers of Disney songs are fine for novelty compilation purposes, Punk Rock Factory don’t really feel equipped for a gig like this. Otherwise, there’s a good bit to enjoy here, mostly made up of acts from the poppier end of things that wouldn’t necessarily fit the cleanest among any of the bigger stages. Even then, Deaf Havana aren’t the obvious headlining choices here in particular, but their festival experience elevates them greatly, and the fact they’ve been able to tap into the most anthemic possible strains of Britrock and pop-rock (and look set to continue it on their new album) only works in their favour. Meanwhile, Stand Atlantic have had a bumper year so far, just releasing their best album to date and moulding a hyper-modern style of pop-rock all of their own that’ll really do well here. A lot of the others come across as fairly safe but still worthwhile choices, like the more immediately poppy offerings of Set It Off and The Summer Set, or the down-the-middle pop-punk of With Confidence, Yours Truly and Between You & Me, all of whom operate on a no-frills basis that makes up for it with turbocharged hooks ideal for a festival like this. Rounding off is Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!, another band hitting a clearly defined peak for themselves lately, where their easycore is less overtly metallic but the most excitable and engaging it’s ever been.
Key Club Stage
Split across two stages once again (to ensure that wait times between acts are minimal to limited), The Key Club Stage retakes its place as the home of Slam Dunk’s smaller, more niche acts, as well as the ones ready to burst into greatness all of their own. On that end, there’s the raucous garage-punk of Nova Twins and the deeply incisive alt-punk of Spanish Love Songs, cresting as a couple of the most acclaimed newer acts in recent years, but that’s not to overshadow the sincere, critically detailed alt-pop of Bears In Trees, or the hard-edged punk of Pinkshift. Expect both of those bands to be rocketing up bills very soon, as well as Caskets with their sweeping post-hardcore, and As December Falls with their catchy, wide-appealing alt-rock. On the other hand, this is also the home of some of the more niche acts Slam Dunk has to offer; the respective brands of emo from Hot Mulligan and Mom Jeans. could definitely be slotted elsewhere, but here particularly feels like a good home that lets their own individual brands of melody shine. It’s also just a good way to bring together a variety of different sounds to play off each other, like gruffer pop-punk from The Flatliners, dense, production-heavy alt-pop from Point North, the earnest pop-punk of In Her Own Words, and especially the genre-bending emo-pop courtesy of Magnolia Park. With them especially, it opens the door for Slam Dunk to welcome its contingent of emo-rap and adjacent styles, most of whom at least feel like they’re bringing their own style. Yes, MC Lars is still active and carrying a nerd-rap shtick that’s pretty dated nowadays, but between the pop-punk leanings of LiL Lotus, the moodier pop fare of DeathbyRomy and the heady SoundCloud rap of Smrtdeath, there’s at least ample variety. Capping off is Zummo, a solo appearance from Sum 41 drummer Frank Zummo, something which, we’ll be honest, we aren’t entirely sure what it is yet, but it’s intriguing that it’s there to say the least.
So that’s what we think, but what about the bands actually playing? We threw it over to a few of the acts gracing the lineup about their top picks of who to see—here’s what we got…
“KennyHoopla is not to be missed. He’s been putting out some incredibly catchy, energetic songs for the past couple of years. Cancer Bats are our Canadian brothers and put on an amazing live show. Don’t miss out!” – Paul Koehler (drums, Silverstein)
“I’m really excited to see the band Yours Truly. They’re an Australian band I’ve know about for years! Haven’t had the chance to catch one of their sets yet and I finally will at Slam Dunk. It’s gonna be a great day and I’m stoked.” – Zach DeWall (guitar, Set It Off)
“Oh boy, where do I start? Slam Dunk is such a good blend of new sick bands and bands I grew up admiring! Off the top of my head I‘m most stoked to see these guys go crazy this year! Alexisonfire, The Used, Silverstein, Counterparts, Knuckle Puck, The Story So Far, Hot Mulligan, KennyHoopla, Point North, MOD SUN!” – LiL Lotus
Slam Dunk Festival takes place on 3rd June at Leeds Temple Newsam, and 4th June at Hatfield Park. For more information, visit slamdunkfestival.com.
Words by Luke Nuttall