Festival Review: Slam Dunk North 2024

Caskets (c) Jack Barker

We’ll start with the elephant in the room. Based on accounts from people who attended last year’s Slam Dunk Festival and the string of apologies from organisers after the event, it was clear that there were several issues at the 2023 event that needed to be addressed before this year’s festival. With promises of improvements to both the North and South sites for this year’s event we were hopeful that last year’s issues were a thing of the past. With the South event first, this year’s reports seemed promising, and the event seemed to pass issue free. For the North event however, mother nature happened. With the rain beginning to pour the night before, there was no let-up in the conditions on the morning of the event.

With the short notice closure of the car parks on the morning of the festival due to the extreme weather, we were very lucky that some friends lived nearby and had space for our car. Otherwise, we were unsure if we would have made it into Leeds in time to catch one of the extra emergency shuttles that had been put in place on the morning of the event. As it was, we unfortunately missed the first band we wanted to see, As Everything Unfolds… or so we thought. Their set, fortunately, appeared to have been moved later in the day due to some band drama the day before and artist Bob Vylan pulling out of today’s proceedings. Despite the rain trying to dampen everyone’s spirits (pun intended) and last-minute changes, we (and many others from what we could tell) still managed to have a great day despite the mud!

After a quick visit to the press area for our passes, we made our way as quickly as possible to the Go Pro stage to see Caskets for the first time. The Leeds band have been on our wish list for a while, but we haven’t managed to make a date work until now. They opened with one of their biggest songs ‘Drowned in Emotion’ which followed by a setlist of their most popular songs including ‘Guiding Light and ‘Glass Heart’. I’m not sure if the sound was slightly muffled due to the weather or if I was just standing too far to the side of the stage, but Matt Flood’s vocals seemed quiet for the first couple of songs. With the inevitable “Yorkshire” chant for the local lads from the crowd, the vibe had been set for the day!

Taylor Acorn (c) Jack Barker

Now… I’ve seen plenty of drinks held in the air at gigs before and a few spilt over people, but this is the first time I’ve seen full wine bottles (or two) in the air! With a sea of umbrellas, ponchos and raincoats, it looked like most people had come prepared, however as with most festivals, there were a lot of crazy outfits like princess dresses, Teletubbies and banana costumes.

Taylor Acorn was a TikTok find for us, and we actually used one of her covers of Hello Goodbye’s ‘Here In Your Arms’ as our wedding aisle song last year! This was our first-time seeing Acorn live and her first time at Slam Dunk festival and her set did not disappoint! Opening with a fairly new track ‘Gray’ it was great to see lots of the crowd singing along straight away. Acorns confidence on the stage was captivating and musicians who have been in the industry for way longer don’t always have as much command over the crowd as she did.

Clever lighting during ‘Greener’ saw the tent turn shades of green for the duration of the song, which is a trademark upbeat breakup song synonymous with Acorn’s original work, in complete comparison to the loved up covers that gave her a way into the industry. While time is in short supply for earlier artists at festival’s, the tracks Acorn played left us excited to see what new material she will release.

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One of the hardest decisions to make at a festival is who do you actually go and see when there are always going to be clashes. Our first clash of the day came with RØRY and Set It Off. Both bands we have seen before and really enjoyed (to read the review from RØRY’s recent tour, click here). RØRY won the coin toss and we decided to camp in the Kerrang tent for a while which turned out to be a great decision as the first heavy rain since arriving at the festival site bucketed down while we were in the tent, and we saw two great sets while staying dry!

Slam Dunk was RØRY’s first festival performance and if there were any nerves present, you could not tell during the performance. With an introduction stating, “I hope you’re all ready to feel very sad this afternoon”, RØRY definitely felt her fan bases presence with the loud cheer from the crowd. With an announcement before the festival began that she was going to be performing a new song, RØRY treated the crowd to a snippet from her debut album due to be released early next year on her very own record label. Having nearly ran over her time slot, RØRY just had time to finish the set on the song that blew up on TikTok and had the crowd singing word for word, ‘Uncomplicated’, which I think would have caused uproar if it had had to be skipped.

RØRY (c) Jack Barker

Venturing back down to the Go Pro stage for a trip back in time, it was time for The Blackout‘s return to Slam Dunk to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their album The Best In Town. Having just completed a highly successful reunion tour earlier this year, while there may have been some nervousness around if anyone would show up for their Download set last year, the band clearly regained a loyal following judging from the size of the crowd they pulled in and the reaction they received as they walked on stage.

I’m not normally a fan of bands who decide to do a full album performance, however there is not a bad song on this album and from the reaction of the crowd, I’d say that’s a very popular opinion. It didn’t take long for Vocalist Sean Smith to join the crowd on the barrier. Throughout the entire set he was egging the crowd on with his overtly sexual dance moves and huge smiles. ‘Save Our Selves (The Warning)’ and ‘Children Of The Night’ and both got huge reactions from the crowd early in the set.

With an announcement before the festival of a surprise at the show, I know I couldn’t have been the only one hoping they’d been working on new music while on tour, however it seemed that the surprise was lead singer of You Me at Six Josh Franceschi joining them on stage towards the end of ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’. Or perhaps the surprise was a cryptic closing comment of “If you ever get the chance, come see us again”, potentially hinting that this isn’t where the story ends, again. We can only hope!

We struggled our way back up the muddy hill to our first band on the main stage to see Slam Dunk Veterans State Champs. Their first performance at the festival was 10 years ago and since then their supporters have multiplied. It was another full album anniversary performance being 10 years since The Finer Things was released and you could see the die-hard fans in the large crowd.

 

The Blackout (c) Jack Barker

I didn’t think the sound was too clear for the first few songs (again, could have been due to the weather) however with how loud the crowd were singing during ‘Deadly Conversations’ it didn’t really matter. A few songs later our plans to stay for most of their performance were ruined by a sudden downpour where we tried to make it undercover to avoid a soaking but alas, we failed.

Deciding we were already drenched through and that the next band were totally worth it, we slid our way across to the Go Pro stage for rock/metal icons Asking Alexandria. I will admit Asking Alexandria were one of the bands that I was most excited to see. Unfortunately, due to some technical problems with the equipment, they eventually took to the stage about 20 minutes late. I must admit my heart almost sank when there was a “Hello, can you hear me” through the speakers, dreading an announcement that the rest of the festival had been called off due to the conditions, but I needn’t have worried.

Opening with probably the heaviest track of the set, ‘Closure’, proved that lead vocalist Danny Worsnop can still perform the older tracks, despite previously stating that he needs a little help these days. ‘Alone Again’ and ‘Into The Fire’ were definitely crowd favourites. Trying to get a wall of death started during ‘Dark Void’ was a very brave move considering the area in front of the stages was basically a mud bath at this point, however the crowd definitely tried their best.

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State Champs (c) Jack Barker

Our original plan was to miss the last song or so of Asking Alexandria to head back to the main stage for Boys Like Girls, however due to the technical delays and worsening mud conditions we missed the start of the set, and our photographer missed the chance to take photos of the band. We arrived as they were playing newer track ‘LANGUAGE’ and the rest of the set was a perfect blend of nostalgia and tracks from their 2023 comeback album SUNDAY AT FOXWOODS, proving that Boys Like Girls are not just a thing of the past. While I love the song ‘Thunder’, I did feel that they were tempting fate a little with the line “So bring on the rain and bring on the thunder”. Frontman Martin Johnson hasn’t lost any of his confidence in the time they have been away, taking every opportunity to provoke cheers from the crowd and ended the set by returning to the stage with an acoustic guitar for a solo encore playing ‘Two is Better Than One’ just when the crowd were assuming the set had ended.

Taking a slight break from the music we went to try out one of the food options on offer and following complaints from last year about long queues at the vendors, we were delighted to see that most places had either no queues or a very short one. Somewhat counterintuitively, I think some of the longest queues (albeit not that long) I saw all day were in the VIP area where people had paid a premium for faster service to be on hand.

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Asking Alexandria (c) Jack Barker

ticking with the nostalgic feels it was time for The All American Rejects. Starting off with classic ‘Swing, Swing’, the enthusiasm both on stage and from the crowd was incredible. Seeing them perform their earlier tracks like ‘Dirty Little Secret’ made me wish I’d been able to see them back when those albums were released.

Lead vocalist Tyson Ritter has a very eccentric style and commands the stage like no other. There were a few of the newer songs which saw the crowd’s energy drop at times, however this didn’t stop Ritter’s enthusiasm through his performance. We did move onto our next band of the day when they decided to cover Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ (our photographer has a severe disliking to Coldplay!), however I am gutted as looking at the setlist, some of my favourite songs were to follow.

It seemed like the festival sight was definitely not as busy as it was earlier in the day. That could either be that more people had gathered at the Slam Dunk stage for the larger bands of the day, however I think this is more likely to have been that people had left due to the ground conditions. We were constantly seeing people falling and sliding and it was getting harder to move around the site as the day went on.

Once again we ambled our way down to the Go Pro stage for I Prevail. With the knowledge that Lead clean vocalist Brian Burkheiser has been recovering from surgery and hadn’t been able to participate in the bands European tour, we were intrigued to see Dylan Bowman (rhythm guitarist and normally backing vocals) taking to the front of the stage to fill in for Burkheiser. Unclean vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe stated “We could either cancel and postpone for a year and a half away or we could come and have a party” to which the cheer from the crowd was one of the loudest I’d heard all day.

It did feel like a particularly heavy based set which was more suited to Vanlerberghe’s vocals, with the exception of their breakthrough cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’. You could definitely tell Burkheiser was missing, however they all pulled together and still accomplished a brilliant show without him. I wish the stage timings were slightly altered so that we didn’t have to leave before the end of the set in order to catch the start of You Me At Six’s performance.

Boys Like Girls (c) Jack Barker

As You Me At Six embark on their farewell tour, it was a surreal experience to be witnessing the end of an era. With this being their final ever festival performance, the crowds had gathered to bare witness to this momentous occasion. From the first note of ‘Save It For The Bedroom’ the crowd went wild and it was clear that lead vocalist Josh Franceschi was here to enjoy the bands final festival performance. With clever plays on their song titles, Franceschi interacted with the crowd stating “You’ve gone straight to my head, Leeds,” before the namesake song.

“The next 5 songs are for anyone who is sick and tired of the pigs at 10 Downing Street,” was a very memorable comment from Franceschi given the current state of UK politics! The setlist was a perfect mix of the best songs of each of their studio albums, with hits like ‘Bite My Tongue’, ‘Loverboy’ and ‘Underdog’ showcasing the bands biggest hits from over the years.

With how hard the site had become to trudge through, we made the tough decision to leave before the end of You Me At Six’s set to start our trek back to the car before the sun set, and from what I have read since, I am glad we made that decision. It seems that there was some congestion with thousands of people trying to leave the park at the same time.

With a lineup as strong as the one put together by the organisers, there were definitely bands that we were unable to see during the day. Bands that we are gutted to have missed out on included Mallory Knox who were another band making a comeback this year, playing their first shows this weekend since 2019, although with new shows announced for October, we will hopefully catch them then. While we heard snippets while eating, we would have also liked to have seen Funeral For A Friend who, due to the departure of frontman Matthew Davies-Kreye, this weekend where fronted by Lucas Woodland who was on loan to them from Holding Absence. We also strategically chose to miss bands such as Palaye Royale and Against The Current as we will have another chance to see them at next month at Nova Rock Festival in Austria. While we made frequent trips to the Slam Dunk, Kerrang and GoPro stages, we are sure there were many great bands on the Monster Energy and The Key Club stages. We simply did not have the time to be able to get around to seeing everyone, which is always going to happen at a festival with so many stages.

We have to thank the festival and their PR company for actually providing us with a second review pass so we could have covered more of those acts. Unfortunately our co-reviewer, Sarah, fell ill the day before the event and was unable to attend. Hopefully next year we’ll manage to cover twice as many bands!

All in all: Slam Dunk, you were a very enjoyable and successful event, albeit with such bad luck regarding elements mainly out the control of the festival organisers. We’re excited to see what next year brings!

Photos by Jack Barker Photography

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