Like last year, headlining duties at Slam Dunk come split between the two distinct ends of the festival’s spectrum of genres. In the corner of the old guard, and the sort of punk that forms the foundation of what so many acts on this bill have sprouted from, are The Offspring, a headline choice that pretty much speaks for itself. What they’ve lacked in compelling material in recent years is made up multiple times over by a catalogue of hits that—in no uncertain terms—have shaped what pop-punk has been since at least the ‘90s. Historical significance alone dictates The Offspring’s worth atop a bill like this, and provided they stick to what works for them (i.e. the ones that everyone knows with no deviations whatsoever), it’s easy to see this delivering.
In fact, a lot of the main names on the Dickies Stage can be found in that same ballpark. As Slam Dunk’s home for an older punk crowd—be that in sound or simply in years aged—it’s not like there’s a dearth of well-loved material here, and sticking to that has a lot of merit. Take Less Than Jake for example, who are spending their festival time celebrating 25 years of Hello Rockview, their third album that’s become a bona fide ska-punk classic. Or Bowling For Soup, whose deep bench of hits combined with perma-youthful charm and a pop-punk undeniability always adds up to a fun time. Meanwhile, both Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello come armed with their own takes on fun, in respective Celtic and Romani punk flavours that, especially after a few ciders, have boundless knees-up potential.
As for the rest of the Dickies Stage’s undercard, it’s maybe a bit less noteworthy, but exceptionally well-tailored to its crowd. Millencolin’s meaty melodic hardcore continues to go strong after more than three decades, while Zebrahead have proven to be Slam Dunk favourites time and time again, thanks to an oft-acclaimed live show and a wide pool of pop-punk / rapcore floorfillers to draw from. Finally, Teenage Bottlerocket have firm, straight-up punk locked down, and Millie Manders And The Shutup—while still having probably the lowest profile on this particular stage—have made a decent name for themselves thanks to punk leaning on decidedly more British flavours.
Rock Scene Stage
Come on—does anything more really need to be said about Enter Shikari, and why they’re the most natural choice in the world for a headline slot like this? On the stage offering Slam Dunk’s cream-of-the-crop in modern rock offerings, it’s only right that the band who’ve been leading that charge for over two decades step to its top. They’re hardly shy of experience at this sort of level either; both the Download pilot and 2000trees over the past few years have played host to them topping their bills. Capped off with a brand new album that continues their ascent, and sees them doubling down on the brighter, pop-inflected, still unfailingly anthemic sounds that’ll cement them at this level for many more years to come, it’s a no-brainer, really.
In all actuality, you’re not likely to find many individual festival stages that, as a whole, can deliver pound-for-pound more than this one. For one, the return of Kids In Glass Houses has been feverishly anticipated, as one of 2000s-wave Britrock’s most beloved names that still hold up today, even after numerous contemporaries and successors have felt the rub. That’s the sort of get that immediately leaps out, particularly in the context of Slam Dunk’s audience. Nostalgia isn’t totally deposed from the conversation, but such a tremendous return from a band of this stature totally stands on its own merits. On the same token—albeit to a slightly lesser extent—Billy Talent and Underøath are still going strong today, while bolstered by an influence in punk and post-hardcore respectively that can still be felt almost 20 years later. And when both of their last efforts have displayed real growth and exploration without losing the key pieces that have always kept a tight hold, the potential for a couple of great sets is obvious.
But filling out the Rock Scene stage is the names of today, the acts on the cutting edge of the scene and are either continuing a meteoric rise, or just on the cusp of it. Heading up this particular crowd is PVRIS, back after a couple of fallow years to reclaim dominance in electro-pop-rock. Lyndsey Gunnulfsen has always been a force of personality live, and even though they’re yet to top the seismic waves caused by their debut, those songs still hold up pretty well. Joining Gunnulfsen is a pleasing array of British talent filling in a number of different niches, even if they aren’t the absolute best (see the electro-punk racket of Wargasm that doesn’t really know how to stop souring). Most of the time though, the home runs are clear to see—Holding Absence’s mountainous post-hardcore needs no more elaboration after their last couple of years; Trash Boat and Vukovi are both firmly in the upper tiers of brash, dense alt-rock with some real teeth; and ZAND looks primed for a phenomenal festival season to see their dark-pop take flight.
This is the bread and butter of Slam Dunk right here—the swathes of top-end pop-punk and emo that would make for a great day all on its own. Even better, the staggered stage set-up is back, meaning no clashes and very minimal wait times that benefits a lineup as stacked as this hugely. After all, just look at its top end—a recently returned Yellowcard is a great start, but then there’s also Creeper gearing up for their next act of their ever-unfolding goth-punk opera, and The Menzingers as the current kings of alt-punk that seem incapable of missing. That alone is pretty stellar, not just in the breadth of punk represented, but in just how high-quality these bookings actually are.
Other than The Academy Is… to throw a bone to the 2000s pop-rock fans salivating for their return (and maybe Hawthorne Heights doing the same for the post-hardcore crowd), there really isn’t a miss here when it comes to that standard. Four Year Strong and Boston Manor are both reliables with no pejorative or backhanding intended; in their fields, they’ve been on some real tears with rare exception. Similarly, Trophy Eyes are ramping up the anticipation for their new album post-festival, and undoubtedly bringing the charged post-hardcore / pop-punk cuts their shining reputation has been built on.
Real Friends and Movements both come with a rock-solid presence in pop-punk and emo, while Destroy Boys’ punk and Sincere Engineer’s indie-rock offer injections of fresh blood from two bands who’ll likely both be inescapable over the coming months. But even above all of those, there are two names that shine more incandescently than all—Fireworks, who make their grand return off the back of a comeback album that reinvents their brand of emo into its most diverse and challenging form yet; and Spanish Love Songs, finally arriving at Slam Dunk after an unfortunate dropout last year, as a towering monolith in emotionally tense alt-punk’s current scene. If that doesn’t firmly plant the benchmark of quality for this stage alone at borderline unassailable heights, then what does?
Home to Slam Dunk’s heaviest contingents is the Knotfest Tent, though for some here, that’s more a formality than a full description. Primarily Escape The Fate, a band who’ve been very lucky to stick around for as long as they have, let alone continue to have opportunities to play festivals like this, when their glam-metalcore shtick has long since ran out of gas. At least deeper in metalcore, We Came As Romans still have some traction on their side, and LANDMVRKS are new enough to stick the landing here, but the forefront of Slam Dunk’s heavier end? Yeah, it’s debate. This is also the stage where DJ Fresh will be doing a closing set, so there’s that too.
Putting all that aside though, it’s not hard to find some great stuff here. For one, Malevolence wholeheartedly deserve their headline set, not only as band who’ve never had the acknowledgment of how sick they are, but also in a brand of metal that’s not so tied to the ‘scene’, so to speak. Heriot fall into a similar vein; you probably wouldn’t find them on Warped Tour, but being a great metal band speaks for itself, and it’s clearly paying dividends here. As far as other British heavy-hitters go, there isn’t too much to complain about, as Static Dress know how to put all their weight behind both a mean post-hardcore thrasher and some killer live energy, and Higher Power’s alt-rock-flavoured hardcore has always had such solid footing underneath it.
Capping off is another example of how well the cross-section of scenes and genres is really captured in these bookings. Fit For A King have ballooned into a considerable metalcore force in recent months; Dragged Under have been showing a lot of promise with their hardcore punk; and, of course, SeeYouSpaceCowboy are about as sharp-edged and frenetic as modern hardcore comes. When there’s all of that on offer, some slight dips don’t really seem too bad.
Key Club Stage
A bit of a mixed bag, this one. On one hand, it’s good to see the approach of two staggered stages utilised once again, but as for who’s performing on them… Okay, they are explainable bookings for the most part, tapping into the wave of TikTok-driven pop-punk soloists that have infiltrated the scene in a big way, and for Slam Dunk as a vessel to showcase what’s big right now in its catchments, they kind of have to be here. For as deeply unimpressive as the music can be, credit for getting an artist like jxdn here, who, from the viewpoint of sheer stats, could easily justify a big main stage booking, instead of just lobbing him in a tent. Plus, it’s only really him and Sueco that you could deem questionable among this crowd, as the two rappers who jumped ship to pop-punk when it was convenient, and will likely never be heard from again in these circles when the wave dies down.
Perhaps that also applies to Maggie Lindemann, but as something of an originator of this whole thing—and as someone who can be a bit harder-edged for marginally deeper creative application—she’s a worthwhile booking. The same goes for Scene Queen; for as easy as it is to recoil at how obnoxious the ‘Barbie goes nu-metal’ thing is, it’s something different, and it’s more fun live than you’d probably expect. For something a bit more streamlined though, Charlotte Sands and NOAHFINNCE are both making some significant pop-rock waves off their own backs, and it’s not hard to imagine that LØLØ isn’t far behind on the same merits.
As for the bands though, it’s a total mystery why The Hunna are headlining over The Maine. Regardless of how high the tolerance for them being pushed is, they simply aren’t interesting, and their flavourless alt-rock just pales in comparison to the actual vibrancy and colour that The Maine’s pop-rock bleeds out. Whatever; it is what it is. At least the variety elsewhere here can kind of make up for it, even if it too is a bit all over the place. Emarosa’s synthpop downswing is hardly great for them to be here on, just like the impressively formulaic pop-punk from both girlfriends and The Tyne. But with Grayscale bringing alt-pop sparkle and intelligent songwriting in equal measure; and Youth Fountain offering a robust emo / pop-punk fusion, the good stuff does end up shining through.
So that’s what we think, but what about the bands themselves? We asked a few of them who you really can’t afford to miss, and here’s what they said…
“Really excited to see The Offspring. No surprise, but just like everyone else I grew up going to their shows and singing along with their songs. We live in the area they are from, so were lucky enough to go to some the the super small and strange hotel shows, etc…and then it became huge…and I still want to sing along. Also excited to see Less Than Jake. Never get tired of Chris’s humor and can’t beat the overall show for energy anywhere. Sing-along with a mosh pit…sounds like nothing but fun to me! Can you tell I love a sing-along?” Ben Osmundson (bass / vocals, Zebrahead)
“I’m really stoked to see Less Than Jake and Enter Shikari the most, mostly because those were some of my childhood bands I would listen to growing up and to be playing the same festival as them is an absolute surreal experience.” Tyler Zanon (vocals / guitar, Youth Fountain)
[Re: the European Slam Dunk lineup] “Lagwagon—Lagwagon took us on tour when we were only 19, and were incredibly kind to us. They put on a killer show every night. I love running into them on the road. [Also] Frank Turner—a lot of my friends are huge Frank Turner fans, and I get why. He’s a super kind soul and a great musician. I can’t wait to see them play.” Violet Mayugba (guitar / vocals, Destroy Boys)
“Millencolin: Man, I’ve loved this band since I was a teenager. I don’t think anyone has listened to any single album more than I’ve listened to Pennybridge Pioneers. I’ve actually only gotten to see them live a handful of times over the last 20 or so years, but they’re just as awesome every time, and I know exactly where I’ll be when they’re playing at Slam Dunk Festival.
“Four Year Strong: This band literally has it all! They fucking shred, they put on one of the most high energy shows you’ll ever see, they’ve got badass beards, they’re from the east coast (so that’s bonus points from me), and they’re probably the friendliest fellas you’ll ever meet…and did I mention that they shred?
“Zebrahead: Speaking of shredding…Zebrahead! What a fun and entertaining live performance these guys put on! I’ve known these dudes for a long, long time, and I still have just as much fun watching them perform. This year’s Slam Dunk Festival will be the first time seeing them with my buddy Adrian in the band (who’s an AWESOME frontman!), so I’m stoked!
“Less Than Jake: I’ve spent more time with Less Than Jake over the last couple of years than I have with my own family at home…and I STILL watch their entire set every single time. I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, so it’s been pretty damn cool to be able to call these guys friends and touring brothers; and yes, I’ll be watching their entire set at Slam Dunk…both days!” Rob Felicetti (bass / vocals, Bowling For Soup)
Slam Dunk Festival takes place on 27th May at Hatfield Park, and 28th May at Leeds Temple Newsam. For more information, visit www.slamdunkfestival.com.
Words by Luke Nuttall