FESTIVAL REVIEW: Slam Dunk Festival North 2023

The Rock Scene Stage opens with something a little different for the traditional Slam Dunk goer—rising alt-pop star ZAND. Straight from the first thundering bass hit it’s obvious these songs are tailor-made for main stages and huge crowds, but more immediately to wake the still-sleepy festival goers right up. A cocktail of creepy synths with blaring guitars and drums make Religion and Boys Like U memorable, but the thing that will stick in minds most about this set is how assured ZAND is in their image. Dressed in a bodystocking and bright green wings with a gimp mask-clad dancer off to the side, the character of ZAND is fully committed to, manic cackles, pouts and eyerolls balancing out the sex positivity and non-binary pride in their lyrics. By the time the set ends with a wordless mic drop, the shtick has tired a little, but it’s more than certain to have made a mark on plenty of people in this crowd today. • GJ

It’s a bit of a bomb for Slam Dunk to drop to put Heriot among their opening acts, a band brushing—if not outright claiming—the uppermost limit of heaviness that this festival has likely ever reached. And while this emphatically not being their home turf means it’s not the most immediately destructive, this particular bomb lingers to keep its damage constant. It’s all about as bludgeoning as Heriot’s groove-metal-via-death-metal has always been, particularly as the low-end quakes and now-renowned riff-smith Debbie Gough does her thing. At a festival not headlined by The Offspring, the hordes would be chomping at the bit for more of this, though in all fairness, the crowd is no more unresponsive than for any other early-doors band, and its size is way more considerable. Get Heriot to Download, though, and this whole thing is way different. • LN

Youth Fountain performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Youth Fountain (Credit: Nathan Robinson)

On the other side of the field, Youth Fountain is bringing his pop-punk / emo hybrid to the Key Club stage. Tyler Zanon is definitely playing the right festival, a small but enthusiastic contingent in the centre of the crowd furiously bro-pointing to every word, so much so that the players onstage look like they can’t quite believe it themselves. While the sunny guitars could single-handedly lift the clouds over the stage, the singing feels like it still needs a bit of work. Zanon could be mistaken for Jordan Pundik from New Found Glory if you closed your eyes, but he’s missing the grace earned by years of being in a legendary pop punk band to excuse the shaky parts (the transitions into harsher vocals feel especially rough). Otherwise, the vibes are cheerful, a set-long narrative of looking for a fan lovingly named Stinkytits in the crowd is particularly entertaining. Song highlights Century and Deadlocked follow all the right beats to get pop-punk lovers onside, and a bit more sharpening up will make what they have to offer even better. • GJ

As guitarist and vocalist Violet Mayugba reiterates at numerous junctures, Destroy Boys play punk rock songs. They’re clearly cogent of their lack of frills and classically-leaning firepower, but there’s clearly something here that’s taking them above the top, and attracting a fairly dense crowd enthused and enraptured in equal measure. Maybe it’s just the fact that Destroy Boys have a live presence that’s extremely hard to pick holes in. Mayugba and Alexis Roditis have a mix-and-match approach to frontperson / guitarist duties that founds some visual intrigue, but the live spark is there from the off, with a lot of energy and passion and a real kick to a lot of these songs. The cover of Nirvana’s Drain You is just icing on the cake, as opposed to some anchor of recognisability that plenty of lesser bands would use it as. That simply isn’t necessary for Destroy Boys; there’s something potentially big here, for sure. • LN

girlfriends performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
girlfriends (Credit: Nathan Robinson)

It’s easy to dismiss girlfriends as the latest industry-connected pop-punk products to join the new breed, but the reaction as they step onto the Key Club stage feels a lot more invested than the polite curiosity such acts often get. On record, there’s not much on offer that could be picked out of a ‘catchy pop-punk band’ lineup, but girlfriends’ knack for a hook serves them extremely well in this live setting, ppener Jessica and set highlight Tattoo sounding like the biggest anthems you’ve ever heard from a stage this small. They’re helped along by their pace and solid drumming from Nick Gross, mind, but even the rest of the set, which blurs together somewhat, doesn’t feel like it’s dragging. A speech in the middle of the set about being in the band brought the members out of pandemic stupor ends up veering off into aimless, long-winded territory, plus eyebrows are raised at Life’s A Brittany’s misguided callback to the misogynistic forefathers of Warped Tour. Silly moments aside though, this half hour with girlfriends has potential to be the most unexpectedly fun of the festival. • GJ

Movements performing at Slam Dunk North 2023
Movements (Credit: Nathan Robinson)

Kinda torn on Movements, honestly. On one hand, people are clearly still interested; as with pretty much everyone today, they seem popular, no doubt aided by the updraft of newly-announced album. On top of that, Patrick Miranda can still sell anguish and pain in his vocals which, for an emo frontman, is fairly crucial. But everything just…lands there. Confidence and capability is one thing, but Movements can struggle to break out of their own spiral of simple adequacy, such is the extent that some unremarkable stage presence and lack of explosive moments goes. It’s a definite ‘in between albums’ set, hopefully to be rectified in the coming weeks and months. • LN

SeeYouSpaceCowboy performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
SeeYouSpaceCowboy (Credit: Eddy Maynard)

Naturally coming on to the Cowboy Bebop intro, the mood is duly set for SeeYouSpaceCowboy from the jump. The sonic polarity couldn’t be more obvious (though some big-band horns in future is a tantalising idea), but neither could the manic, maddened intensity is there all the way down. That’s what SeeYouSpaceCowboy thrive off, in a mathcore onslaught mixed with clear strands of visual theatricality and a classically-aged Warped-core shtick. That’s Connie Sgarbossa’s bread and butter, evidently, as she struts, spin-kicks, two-steps and generally serves as a magnetic goliath up front, which the rest of the band do surprisingly keep pace with. But Connie’s got the edge of a voice that shrieks and shatters like a nail launched through multiple panes of glass, incising through a sometimes-overbearing live mix to keep her as the focal point. That’s how SeeYouSpaceCowboy work, and they’re pretty damn excellent at it. • LN

TikTok has been huge in the rebirth of pop-punk, with plenty of artists who got their start on the platform popping up around Slam Dunk this year. The Key Club stage has gathered quite the crowd ready to see LØLØ, one of the notable success stories from the app. While there are a couple of cringe moments across the set (verbatim quote “toxic crowd, we love to see it” and a not exactly cutting takedown of the pathetic crowd member who decided to throw a drink onstage), it’s obvious that LØLØ is having the time of her life. u turn me on (but u give me depression), debbie downer (performed without Maggie Lindemann, who’s due to play the same exact stage only two hours later) and 5, 6, 7, 8 (performed with other stagemates girlfriends) are all super catchy and not designed to be taken too seriously. There’s even a completely by-the-numbers Teenage Dirtbag cover that LØLØ herself says is only included so she can actually hear the whole crowd singing something back to her. She won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (or pint of beer, if that one audience member is anything to go by), but there are undoubtedly worse things than harmless fun and catchy songs. • GJ

Following an unfortunate last-minute dropout last year, the grand emergence of Spanish Love Songs is something to behold. It’s quite literally been a year in the making too; Brave Faces Everyone proved to be far more than a flash-in-the-pan success, and a new album on the horizon feels primed to properly explode. Well, after this explosion anyway, because it’s inescapable how utterly beloved this band is. And why wouldn’t they be? On record, they already make some of the most bone-deep, affecting alt-punk songs imaginable; live, there’s the clearest sense of how all-encompassing they are yet. It’s more than just the hooks too, although Kick and Losers are positively swollen with them. No, there’s an emphasis placed on the weight and quiver in Dylan Slocum’s voice that an unforgiving live mix could easily have sheared off. He’s a surprisingly cheery ringmaster between songs, but in them, still capable of dredging out the emotions and letting it all thunder. On top of new song Haunted sounding equally as fantastic and proving that the presumed synth-heavy direction of No Joy will have no negative impact whatsoever on what makes this band special, Spanish Love Songs continue to be one-of-a-kind. • LN

Fireworks performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Fireworks (Credit: Katie McMillan)

There are plenty of reuniting bands on the Slam Dunk bill this year, but one of the lesser discussed is the UK return of Fireworks. Opening with two of the more toned-down songs from their comeback album from earlier this year, the crowd’s reaction is fairly muted until the opening chords of Arrows ring out across the tent. It’s the most triumphant moment of the band’s entire set, pure joy and catharsis taking over every fan who’s missed them while they’ve been gone. Bed Sores and Summer get the blood pumping too, but elsewhere Fireworks have some of the worst luck of the festival. A malfunctioning microphone that plagues the first half of their set openly (and understandably) agitates those onstage, plus recovery isn’t helped by the Kerrang! tent’s two stage layout, meaning the next band’s drum soundchecks happen over David Mackinder addressing the crowd. The elements might not have completely been in Fireworks’ favour today, but boy does it feel good to hear these songs again. • GJ

So how much of the enjoyment around Scene Queen is actually ironic? If you ask the heaving throng packed into the Key Club Stages’ little glade, chances are they’d say not much at all, such is the fervour of anticipated buzz. But there’s almost something about Hannah Collins’ pink-idolising Bimbocore alter-ego (where it becomes more questionable by the day whether it’s actually an ‘alter’) that’s built to disregard ‘objective’ quality. Because the weaknesses do show, namely in a now-customary cover of I Kissed A Girl that sounds a lot thinner as Collins proves that, opposed to valley-girl talk-rapping, more traditional singing isn’t really her forte. It’s also easy to rag on the concept as a whole that inelegantly mashes a provocative Barbie persona with rudimentary nu-metal chugs, but to do so is missing the point by a colossal margin.

Yes, there’s so little to this that’s innovative, intelligent or even good half the time, but it clicks on the basis of pure commitment to the bit. It probably even goes further than that, circling right around a fun curio about half-a-dozen times and lands at a legitimate blast. That’s because Collins is a real magnetic character who knows how to laser-craft these songs and this persona to get the most from them. Sure, Pink Hotel or Pink Panther are almost entirely reliant on being gay and horny, but with as deeply as Collins dives in (so to speak), it’s a lot of fun to watch. Similarly, there’s Barbie & Ken, in which Wargasm’s Sam Matlock plays Collins’ foil with the exact energy and unseriousness as you’d expect. The ‘serious’ music fans will balk, but that’s one of the exact crowds who Scene Queen is trying to bait, and you can’t fault her for succeeding there. As it stands right now, that stage name might be more accurate than you’d think. • LN

Trophy Eyes performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Trophy Eyes (Credit: Nathan Robinson)

Some of the best moments at rock festivals are when you see a band solidify themselves as scene heroes in real time, and as the Kerrang! tent begins to overflow even before Trophy Eyes take to the stage, there’s an overwhelming feeling that we’re about to see something special. The next 40 minutes is that indeed, cherry-picking moments from their career that best represent where the band are now. Figure Eight, arguably the band’s best song to date, feels like an atom bomb when it’s dropped second song in. For every single from upcoming record Suicide & Sunshine, there’s a cut from fan favourite album Chemical Miracle, but there’s not even really a noticeable gulf in reception between the two. Keeping that in mind though, Chlorine sounds mightier than ever with this tent-full of voices shouting it back. As the gang chants of You Can Count On Me ring out, this genuinely feels like a band at the highest point of their career so far – it’s certainly one of the most heartwarming sets of the day. • LN

For a band who’ve been off the radar for a few years, Grayscale don’t seem to have lost much of their sheen. Granted, they’re practically all sheen now, morphed into synth-heavy pop-rock with any semblance of punk or emo as a fleeting afterthought, but the rippling colour of that can cover some fair ground nonetheless. The songs themselves remain well-received too, with In Violet notably being the vehicle that gets a kneel-down-jump-up going (y’know, the technical term) in only the third song. There was every opportunity for that to fall flat on its face, but Grayscale evidently still have the pull to succeed. It’s not too hard to see why. • LN

It says a lot that Cody Muraro has been Real Friends’ vocalist for three years now, and he’s still considered ‘the new guy’. Possibly because activity in that camp has been sparse to say the least, but credit to them for showing up and at least planting their feet again. For starters, they’ve fully outgrown any ‘sleepy eyes and bony knees’ memes, especially when Muraro offers a more muscular pop-punk presence to anchor things. He also seems like the catalyst to realise how underestimated Real Friends have been in terms of really great hooks. You aren’t getting the big barnstormers in line with the genre’s best today, but the consistent train is present nonetheless, coupled with an energy that never previously felt there in this capacity. It might’ve taken a while for the wheels to touch ground, but if this is how Real Friends are rolling on forward, colour us enthused. • LN

We’re currently out in the pleasant sunshine; it’s mid-afternoon with a cool breeze rolling in. What better climate to witness Underøath in their most vicious state in years? But let’s be clear—even when foregrounded like that, none of the menace is lost. In fact, it’s pretty much built to withstand it, as huge post-hardcore lined with an industrial gristle proves particularly difficult to weather down. Of course, Spencer Chamberlain fronting certainly helps, who’s consistent in his brutality as the gnashing, stalking frontman that’s difficult to look away from or avoid his strikes. Especially on some recent material like Hallelujah where that edge has become it’s most pronounced…maybe ever, Underøath are riding a high that’s truly thrilling to witness. • LN

Clearly Four Year Strong aren’t here to waste any time. They’re on within seconds of Boston Manor wrapping up on the other side of the tent, with barely any chatter throughout to pack in as much as possible. That might as well be the ethos of the day for Four Year Strong, who play pop-punk as if it were metal with bludgeoning volume and crunch as its prerequisite. On one hand, that can lead to both Dan O’Connor and Alan Day’s vocals getting a little lost in the mix, no matter how hard they try to power and scream through; on the other, it makes for one of the most exhilaratingly bullish and beefy sets of the festival. You feel that as soon as they get off to the races with It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now, a song title whose irony has rocketed in value considering the pool of bangers this band has at their disposal. Even those among their newest like Get Out Of My Head and Talking Myself In Circles are already worth their weight in easycore gold, as are covers of Green Day’s Brain Stew and Jaded, if only to hammer in how titanic Joe Weiss’ bass sounds here. In other words, Four Year Strong remain among the best to do it. • LN

As a medley of Elton John’s The Bitch Is Back, Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien rings out over the Rock Scene speakers, it sinks in just how long Kids In Glass Houses have been gone for (it’s nine years, by the way). As Fisticuffs thunders over the field, it’s obvious that this is a band revitalised (though uncohesive when it comes to the dress code), frontman Aled Phillips in particular fully at the top of his game, checking off all the boxes for a full house in Lead Singer Moves Bingo (which probably should be a game at Slam Dunk). It doesn’t feel like Smart Casual has had an obvious legacy when thinking of revered Britrock albums, but this kickoff set for the album’s 15th anniversary circuit proves otherwise. Of course singles Easy Tiger, Saturday and Give Me What I Want serve their designated purpose, but dark horses come in the form of Dance All Night and Lovely Bones, which sound absolutely glorious in the May sun (obviously choosing the right moment to come out from behind the clouds). Of all the band reunions at Slam Dunk today, Kids In Glass Houses’ means the most to the Brits here—having them back feels like normality restored. • GJ

In a move that’ll surprise literally no one at all, The Menzingers continue to totally rule. On every possible metric too—the warmth they exude; the affability between Greg Barnett and Tom May that’s a genuine delight; the ethic to roll from song to song with barely a breath in between, and have it completely work. Oh yeah, and the songs themselves, which remain some of the crowning jewels of the entire alt-punk scene that are as sharp and vital as the day they were first released. These are live songs too, inspiring deafening singalongs in a rare instance of the phrase being used literally instead of for quick journalistic hyperbole. There’s an electricity to everything that The Menzingers do, where every screamed-out lyric about ageing ennui and craving youthful freedoms has the gravity of thousands of other voices bouncing it right back. As far as punk on a festival scale goes, it’s the gold standard. There’s no need for flash or show; the songs totally stand on their own, as does the band who made them and continue to take everyman charm to its highest echelon. Oh, and After The Party might be one of the greatest set closers of all time, so a couple of points for that too. • LN

Maggie Lindemann performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Maggie Lindemann (Credit: Eddy Maynard)

One of the buzziest Slam Dunk acts this weekend is bubblegum starlet turned pop-punk upstart Maggie Lindemann, and plenty of eager fans have gathered at the Key Club stage for her set. Things get off to a middling start; it’s not clear whether the sound levels are a conscious decision on the part of Lindemann or some of the consistent problems many Slam Dunk stages saw across the day, but there are multiple points, especially in the set’s first half, where the guitars and drums drown out the singer’s slinkier vocal. It’s a shame, as Scissorhands, you’re not special and she knows it should speak for themselves, but their overall impact is muddied.

When it comes to Lindemann herself, there’s absolutely no questioning of her talent with her constantly hitting notes out of the stratosphere. That said, the pace at which songs (or in some cases halves of songs) are flown through does make the set feel a tad too rehearsed over anything else. But while a “do you think you can open up a pit…maybe, please?” before casualty of your dreams would probably make more seasoned punks roll their eyes, the self-aware chuckle Lindemann along with it gives feels like the set’s only moment where the mask truly slips. It’s obvious that Maggie Lindemann’s pivot to pop-punk was the best career move she could have made, and with a little more work on the live embodiment side of things she’ll be unstoppable. • GJ

The Academy Is… performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
The Academy Is… (Credit: Katie McMillan)

Not to downplay any of the hard graft The Academy Is… have put into their career thus far, but it does come as a bit of a surprise to see the Kerrang! tent so full as their set starts. It’s a welcome surprise though, the reception elevating this entire live experience. It’s a very Almost Here-heavy set (due to the anniversary tour of the album the band are currently on), but the songs honestly don’t feel like they’ve aged at all. The band themselves are tight but not so much to suck all of the fun out of everything, evidenced by the frankly ridiculous setlist inclusion of Bring It (Snakes On A Plane) from, well, Snakes On A Plane, a Cobra Starship song that they were only featured on. As they get to the closing victory lap of About A Girl, it solidifies its status as one of the most underrated anthems played on this festival site today, and the cherry on top of these unsung heroes’ grand return. • GJ

The point in time where PVRIS were touted as alternative music’s great white hope for something fresh and new seems like a million years ago. The diminishing returns for Lyndsey Gunnulfsen’s sorta-solo electro-pop project have simply become too great to avoid, to where a big main stage slot like this even feels generous. And while there’s still an audience, overall PVRIS itself feels like a shell of what it was just under a decade ago. At least they’ve amassed enough hits to rattle off some hooks that rarely miss, but the spark just isn’t there anymore, as Gunnulfsen’s weaknesses as a performer only feel exacerbated. She’s not that powerful of a singer (Fire especially feels dramatically neutered), and as such gets swallowed up by a massive, relatively empty stage that leaves no chance for escape. There’s an airlessness to it all, removed of dark-pop mystique or gothic ambitions to feel flatter, more perfunctory and less fulfilling than ever. The fact that the once-guaranteed smash St. Patrick is omitted entirely feels like a fate-sealer in itself, even removed from everything else. • LN

When a set starts with the severed head of the lead singer being brandished before the crowd, you know you’re about to see a show. And of course, if there’s one thing Creeper will deliver, it’s a show. All their characteristic drama is channeled into their goth-punk staples, like in storming opener Ghost Brigade, the theatre-kid quiet intro before Hiding With Boys, or new song Cry To Heaven representing the spooky camp factor, its key change sounding colossal and single-handedly upping the excitement for the band’s new record Sanguivore. As they’ve proved again at again (at Slam Dunk itself and beyond), Creeper provide a masterclass in how to do a live performance. They’re always polished and rehearsed, trying new things with stunts and theatrics, but also serving as an example when it comes to actually caring about their crowd, proved when a raucous Suzanne is cut short due to an audience injury and the set paused until the fan is helped (frontman Will Gould even jumping offstage to muck in). A closing Misery, complete with acapella, crowd-only singing for the final chorus cuts the spectacle out completely, Creeper perfectly spotlighting the exact reason why everyone is in this tent and field today. • GJ

The first sight of major onstage production comes from Billy Talent today, who’ve brought a big LED display to flank themselves with a bit more visual flair. That’s as extravagant as they need to go honestly, because it’s Billy Talent. Obviously they’re going to wheel out a bundle of all-timers, and obviously the sharpness of the performance is going to be second-to-none. It’s especially impressive on what takes the form of a whistle-stop tour of their biggest and best, ranging from frantic-and-frayed shout-alongs like Devil In A Midnight Mass and Try Honesty, to expansive stompers like Rusted From The Rain, to simply giant punk smashes like Afraid Of Heights. All the while, Ben Kowalewicz is as vocally dexterous and acidic as ever, blessed with an especially clean mix that carries it perfectly right to the back. It’s the kind of wholehearted win that Billy Talent are no strangers to—clean-cut and to-the-point, but also it couldn’t feel stronger. • LN

With bands like Billy Talent and Yellowcard (performing classic album Ocean Avenue in full) playing at the same time, some may roll their eyes at the choice to see Bowling For Soup, a band who haven’t really been in their prime for a while, instead. But the thousands of people gathered at the Dickies Stage are here for nostalgia and a good time, something the band have in spades. The setlist is hits front to back, and even away from High School Never Ends, 1985 and Girl All The Bad Guys Want, there’s Emily, My Wena and The Bitch Song which might not be quite as synonymous with Bowling For Soup, but every pop-punk fan still knows all the words to anyway.

The humour never gets more sophisticated than dick jokes and rickrolls, always drawn out until long after the last drop has been squeezed out (like the ‘Bowling For Soup Photo Opportunity’ which happens multiple times). That said though, absolutely no one in this crowd expects anything else, plus it’s all done with such joy and obviously good intentions that laughs can’t be suppressed, even if they come alongside a groan. Bowling For Soup might not be the most sophisticated way to spend the best part of an hour, but everyone here is definitely having the time of their lives, with a dollop of warm nostalgia fuzzies to boot. • GJ

The return of Yellowcard has been touted as one of the key draws of this year’s Slam Dunk. And to be fair, that’s not wrong. They’re one of the 2000s’ seminal pop-punk bands, rising from the ashes to play their seminal album Ocean Avenue in its entirety for its 20th anniversary. And though it doesn’t actually feel like that long since their breakup, 2017 was, in fact, a long time ago, and people clearly recognise that. They’re spilling out of the tent rows deep, to where it’s a genuine struggle to even catch a glimpse. But after a bit of false start in which technical gremlins lead to some delays, Yellowcard can still make it worth persevering.

It does feel like a big deal, not just to have them back but to have them back at this calibre. They’re refreshed, rejuvenated, and owning their legend status in such a uniformly solid way. Yes, that means bumping up the big closing number Ocean Avenue to the third song of the set, but that hardly feels like a rub. It can’t be overstated how elated the atmosphere is; the band’s camaraderie and appreciation for each other is palpable, and it feeds into the performance massively. There’s punch and kick and zest all over the place, most notable in Ryan Key’s ebullient frontman role, and Sean Mackin in his shared roles as violinist and generally vigour-filled hype-man. It feels more than just a hot wave of nostalgia (though that’s there too); it’s such a quintessential band picking up where they left off without missing a beat. May it continue that way for a long, long time. • LN

Enter Shikari performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Enter Shikari (Credit: Katie McMillan)

The choice between tonight’s two headliners is a difficult one – see The Offspring, who are legendary to patrons of Slam Dunk and might be edging closer to retirement, or top-of-their-game, constantly touring Enter Shikari? There’s a palpable excitement at the Rock Scene stage for those who’ve opted for the latter, everyone aware of the live reputation the St. Albans quartet hold. They’re old hands at this now, having first headlined Slam Dunk in 2017, but nothing can prepare for the level up they’re about to witness. There are set traditions like the three claps during Sorry, You’re Not A Winner and the ‘quickfire round’ towards the end of the set, but if there’s one thing an Enter Shikari set is not, it’s predictable. The most noticeable upgrade is in the visuals, which are next level. There are huge timers and graphics that show the rate climate change has accelerated over the years, strobe lights that seemingly shoot for miles across the festival site, and in the show’s most beautiful moment, rainbow streamers that float over the crowd during satellites* *. The centrepiece of all this though, is Rou Reynolds’ own Harry Houdini moment, where he seemingly jumps into a tank of water onstage and wrestles to get out.

Setlist wise, the cuts from new album A Kiss For The Whole World (a UK Number One album, Reynolds makes the point of reminding us) sound glorious, particularly Bloodshot and It Hurts as a main set closer. One-off singles The Void Stares Back and Bull (featuring guest appearance from Wargasm and Cody Frost respectively) get some love too, but there’s plenty of debut Take To The Skies to counteract accusations of recency bias and nod back to their heavier roots. As a flag-planting closing one-two of Live Outside and { The Dreamer’s Hotel } ring out across Temple Newsam, it feels like the bar has been set, and that Enter Shikari could truly go anywhere from here. • GJ

The Offspring performing at Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
The Offspring (Credit: Josh Kim)

It’s kind of funny that the biggest reactions that The Offspring get are when they play the songs that don’t sound like they usually do. That might seem a bit of strange observation right at the top when discussing the actual headliners, but it’s easily where they stand out the most. And there’s your most prevalent issue right there—you can tell that The Offspring, the ageing punk veterans that they are, are slipping a bit. Even when the catalogue is there (primarily in their faster skate-punk material), it’s given such a workmanlike go-through that the widening cracks become very noticeable. Dexter Holland is definitely weakening as a vocalist, and for a band fighting against their own wear-and-tear, the grander headliner element to it is all but missing. Enter Shikari are pulling out all the stops with expanse and production on the other end of the site; with The Offspring, it’s a headline set insofar as they’re a bigger band with more time to perform.

But you can also tell that they’re trying, not just here to knock an appearance out and cash the cheque. For one, they’re smart enough to stick to classics, and avoid any stabs at putting their oft-maligned recent work out there. The only song they actually play from their post-2008 albums is In The Hall Of The Mountain King which a) is just chucked onto the end of a medley of Iron Man, The Trooper and Sweet Child O’ Mine riffs, and b) originally came out in 1875 anyway, so doesn’t really count. They do want to have fun, clearly, and their best material is a good gateway for that. And when you get to some of the goofier hits like Why Don’t You Get A Job? and Pretty Fly (For A White Guy), you feel the brightness and excitable ripples all around. In fact, the last leg of the set is far and away where The Offspring hit their stride, more jam-packed with hits that translate to bigger moments.

And honestly, it’s just nice to see the effort, and how they’re yet to become jaded beyond belief like some of their contemporaries clearly have. Especially from guitarist Noodles, a lot of his old-man banter is exceptionally corny (and the bit about how many people are in the crowd goes on for way too long), but it’s also so endearing, as is his bigging up of Holland’s achievements outside of music that’s markedly sweet. They’re very little moments, but they add up, and alongside the moments of musical spark and elasticity, there’s a fair amount to like, regardless of the visible problems. Perhaps not one for the ages, but a good time nonetheless. • LN.

Words by Georgia Jackson (GJ) and Luke Nuttall (LN)

Photos by Nathan Robinson (Website | Instagram| Twitter | Facebook), Eddy Maynard (Website | Instagram | Twitter), Katie McMillan (Instagram | Twitter | Facebook) and Josh Kim (Website | Instagram)

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