Festival Review: Slam Dunk North 2021

After what has been a very long wait, it was finally time for Slam Dunk North! My first festival since COVID rained down upon us and put a stop to all live music! Last year (well… 2019) our photographer said entry was super easy and didn’t take long to get parked at all so we made what turned out to be a mistake in setting off later than we should have. After nearly an hour queuing to park, we finally made our way up the hill to the festival entry gate. The process from there was very efficient though which made up for some of the delay.

Boston Manor (c) Jack Barker

Straight through the gates you got a feeling that the past 18 months had all lead to this moment of normalcy, with thousands of people out purely to enjoy the pleasure live music brings. After dropping in the VIP/press area (and feeling some nostalgia from the bean bags), we headed straight for our first band of the day, Hello Goodbye on the Rock Scene Stage. With one of many brilliant quotes from the day, lead singer Forrest Kline stated: “This is a song about getting old, we’re all fucking doing it” and I definitely agreed with him by the end of the night! I am certainly out of practice and exhausted today as it has been 571 days since my last gig!

We had a couple of minutes to spare before the surprise act on the Key club stage so we headed into the Jägermeister tent to see some of Brutality Will Prevail’s set. I thought with it still being fairly early in the day (after 1pm but still…) that the crowd might still be a bit subdued, but oh was I wrong! I hadn’t heard of this band before, but they undeniably bring it all to their performance, as do their fans!

I love a surprise and I think a surprise act is such an interesting thing to do at a music festival. With it being my first time at Slam Dunk, I wasn’t sure if this was a constant feature at the festival and with that, I didn’t know how many people would be waiting to see this surprise in case it wasn’t their cup of tea. Turned out, a lot of people are risk-takers as the stage was packed! After a slight delay I was definitely shocked when McFly bounced onto the stage, and I wasn’t the only one as the crowd instantly rushed forward with excitement. Now, during the day and after the event I have heard very mixed things about Mcfly being at Slam Dunk, but after seeing the reaction to their presence first-hand, all the negative comments on social media about them not being “rocky” enough for the festival, just seem like keyboard warriors, and even though we only stayed for a couple of songs, they rocked the stage.

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As It Is were a band I was very excited to see again, after seeing them the first time at Nova Rock festival 2019 and once again they didn’t disappoint. The topics they cover in their lyrics are subjects a lot of people choose to ignore, but not this band. They bring light to the struggles of day to day life, especially with songs like “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” and their new single “IDGAF” which was introduced as “A very sad song” by lead singer Patty Walters, who also said how “Deflated they had been by politics and how governments had handled this bullshit”. The first crowd surfers of the day that we saw were during the last song of their set “Dial Tones” and they continued throughout the day.

Normande (c) Jack Barker

Seeing the families around the festival with young children with ear defenders brought a huge smile to my face, especially when they were really getting into the music (or maybe just mirroring their parents but it was still cute!). However, something that always confuses me at gigs/ festivals is people throwing drinks given they’re not cheap! And do they really think people want to be covered in the remains of their drinks? No! This might just be me getting older and grumpy but I’m sure others agree… right?

Our photographer nipped across to Creeper to quickly grab some photos as we made our way to the Punk in Drublic stage for Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls. In their signature white shirts, the folk band drew in a massive crowd who were happily dancing throughout the entire set. We heard our first Yorkshire chant of the day, which I have grown accustomed to hearing now since moving to the area over five years ago now. During “If Ever I Stray” I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people dancing rather than moshing at a gig. Lead singer Frank Turner had everyone laughing with “If you shout at people, they do what you want” while asking for three circles to form.

A very special event on the Rock Sound Stage after a 6-year hiatus was We Are the In Crowd’s first performance back and the crowd that gathered were ready for a hit of nostalgia! Unfortunately, there was some technical difficulties which meant their set was halved in time, however this didn’t stop them bringing their all to the performance. Jordan Eckes had the crowd laughing stating “I’ve never had so much fun playing a guitar that’s not plugged in!” due to these technical issues. Vocalist Taylor Jardine stated how much they had missed being on stage and it was like they hadn’t been away with the crowd singing every word back especially to their biggest hits “The Best Thing (That Ever Happened)” and “Rumour Mill”.

Sticking to the Rock Sound Stage, Mayday Parade were up next with singer Derek Sanders taking centre stage with his signature tasselled microphone. The last time they played in front of a crowd was November 2019 and you could tell how happy they were to be on stage again (as with every band to be honest). We stuck around for the first few songs, enjoying a classic “Jersey” before hunger got the better of us and we went off to explore the culinary offerings. The crowd could be heard singing along way back towards the food stalls and every time we looked back the crowd had grown larger.

Mayday Parade (c) Jack Barker

Skindred were on my list of need to see bands as I’ve only seen them once before at Winter Rocks Festival in Sheffield back in 2018. I made a mistake about leaving it until last minute to get to the Jägermeister stage, as it was crammed full of excited fans. You couldn’t miss Benji Webbe on stage with his bright red sparkly jacket and I don’t think it would be a Skindred gig without the unconventional clothing. Webbe received a massive cheer when he said “We come together today as one. If you hate someone because of the colour of their skin or their sexuality, then get the fuck out of here!”. Now, as excited as I was to see them, I didn’t feel particularly comfortable being surrounded by so many people in a semi-enclosed space after being told to stay away from people for so long, which I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one, so I moved out to the side to enjoy the majority of the set.

The hills of Temple Newsam Park were tiring me out at this point so I decided it was time to sit on the hill overlooking the main stage to watch State Champs’ performance, however this didn’t last long as I couldn’t resist getting back down into the crowd and joining in with the party. It had been two years since they had played a live show and the entire bands energy on stage was incredible. When they started playing their new single “Just Sound” I was amazed at how many people were singing along, especially when I started singing to the chorus and realised I knew it from their TikTok videos!

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A band we discovered during lockdown thanks to Kerrang Radio’s Jon Mahon was Normandie who were next on our plan, playing on the Key Club Stage. I got there just in time for my favourite song “Holy Water”, after which lead singer Philip Strand happily stated that he was glad “the technical difficulties are gone”. Strand spent a lot of time on the barrier, egging the crowd on and he looked like he was thoroughly enjoying every minute.

Vukovi (c) Jack Barker

Round two for the surprise acts on the Key Club Stage and I have a feeling that it may not have been a surprise for a lot of Boston Manor fans as by the time we got there the arena was packed with fans singing along to every song. They are a band that I have had recommended to me multiple times, and now I’ve seen them live I’ll definitely be taking a listen. It was a flying visit this time though and we left during “Brand New Kids” which had a feeling of being a lot heavier life compared to the album version.

Rounding off the entire day was headliners Don Broco. Before the band had even taken the stage the crowd were going wild and as soon as they began playing, multiple circle pits formed. Wasting no time, lead singer Rob Damiani asked for a wall of death, and the crowd happily obliged. Confirming their new album was being released in a few weeks, they stated that the last year had given them a chance to work on their album, although they’d been “Gagging to get back on stage”. Playing a mixture of classics and new music, they clearly have a very dedicated following as the energy from the crowd was intense. The light show was the most impressive of the day with laser and pyrotechnics. Sneaking away a few songs before the end, we headed back to the car to avoid the lengthy queues leaving the festival site.

Looking back at Saturday’s festival it is a credit to the organisers to have pulled off such an incredible event despite it having been pushed back from its normal May Bank Holiday Weekend slot and the several line-up changes due to COVID rules. Hopefully, this is a sign that gigs/festivals are well and truly back in business. If that’s the case I will certainly be back for Slam Dunk 2022.

All pics by Jack Barker Photography

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