This year was a monumental one Slam Dunk. For its 13th year, organisers had scrapped the Midlands date and took its first step to develop North from a multi-venue city event to a fully-fledged outdoor festival in Temple Newsam Park, matching South’s move from The Hatfield Forum to Hatfield Park last year. The big move did spark some apprehension amongst North attendees, fretting over transport, weather and the general functionality of the festival. As usual though, Slam Dunk didn’t disappoint.
WSTR – Monster Energy Stage
Most years, any opening act struggles to pull a decent crowd together no matter what stage they’re on. However, now that most public transport arrangements got attendees to the park early, crowds could be seen forming at all stages by 11:30. Liverpudlian pop punk collective WSTR  opened up the main stage an hour later with bitter banger ‘Promiscuous’, taken from their latest album Identity Crisis.
With this being their first festival appearance since its release, its tracks made up the majority of the setlist, which could have been risky considering the mixed reviews it received. As it turned out, the over-exaggerated “blah blah blah”s (enhanced by vocalist Sammy Clifford’s theatrical dancing) in ‘The Latest’ as well as the cringy lyrics in ‘Bad To The Bone’ that were poorly translated on record actually fuelled the crowd when performed live. Just ten days ago the band also released a double single Give Yourself A Hell featuring covers of ‘Give Yourself A Try’ (The 1975) and ‘Gives You Hell’ (The All-American Rejects), with live debuts strongly hinted at on Twitter. Although, only the final chorus of ‘Gives You Hell’ was performed, leaving many questioning where these already-popular fan-favourites were.
Knocked Loose – Impericon Stage
It’s been almost a year since Knocked Loose  performed in the north of the UK and it was obvious that fans were impatient for their return. Opening with a newer track ‘By The Grave’ that’s only available through low-quality live videos on YouTube could have been a vital mistake, but fortunately for them part of the audience were only interested in the rowdiness of the crowd, not the backing music.
The band became the main focus when ‘All My Friends’ followed; a downbeat anthem from their debut album Pop Culture which had recently been re-released. They maintained the attention flowing through older favourites such as ‘Oblivions Peak’ and ‘Billy No Mates’ into their two newest tracks ‘…And Still I Wander South’ and ‘Mistakes Like Fractures’ from their upcoming record A Different Shade of Blue. Still fitting the hardcore blueprint, those not familiar with the band would probably never have suspected the former had only been out 2 days as the crowd echoed even the most illegible lines. Closing with the short yet iconic ‘Counting Worms’, it probably confused passers-by why a tent full of hundreds of people were barking, but judging by the crowd’s reaction this was the part of the set they’d been waiting for.
Trophy Eyes – Marshal Stage
Trophy Eyes  seldom tour the UK so, of course, every time they play Slam Dunk they draw a crowd. This was also their first UK performance since the release of their third album The American Dream which came out last August and has seen their fan-base grow significantly. Leading with two big hits from the album, ‘Friday Forever’ and ‘Something Bigger Than This’ garnered impressive singalongs from the crowd, while older favourites ‘Heaven Sent’ and ‘Chlorine’ caused the volume to double.
Throughout their short set, vocalist John Floreani made up for every stagnant performer across the whole festival with his eccentric moves; his arms never stopping by his sides for a moment. The ever-growing crowd were just as energetic – to the point where security at the barrier couldn’t keep up. The singalong outro of ‘You Can Count On Me’ unfortunately became the last fans heard of Trophy Eyes for the day as one crowd-surfer seemingly went straight over the barrier unassisted. The backing track quickly faded out along with the sparse instrumentation as the whole band winced. After they were carried away, Floreani and co awkwardly left the stage with nothing much to say on the matter. A rather questionable parting on their behalf but everything leading up to it did meet expectations.
Seaway – Marshal Stage
During the set change between Trophy Eyes and Canadian pop punk five-piece Seaway , you could physically feel the crowd growing and becoming more and more tense as their designated time drew closer. They opened with pop hook-laden track ‘London’ – a track which probably went down a storm at Slam Dunk South just for the shout-out, but in the north the pessimistic lyrics regarding the capital were particularly well received.
While most of their set including tracks taken from their 2017 album Vacation, including ‘Lula On The Beach’, ‘Curse Me Out’ and ‘Scatter My Ashes Along The Coast or Don’t’, they also played new single ‘Pleasures’. Although it still features their signature big choruses and memorable repetitive lyrics, it was blatantly obvious that the Weezer-like track didn’t go down as well as the rest. This was fortunately recovered by vocalist Ryan Locke’s comical dad-dancing, and their more classic track ‘Shy Guys’ – which Locke didn’t even know was on the set list until the opening riff played… Despite not being 100% prepared for what was only their second UK show of the year, their singalong segments and upbeat atmosphere certainly compensated for it.
New Found Glory – Monster Energy Stage
By the time New Found Glory  were due onstage, the rain was hammering down. The audience huddled together, adamant that they weren’t going to lose their spot in front of the packed-out mainstage because of it. While the atmosphere was rather miserable, the moment the pop punk legends bounced on stage, the cold and rain were instantly forgotten. Although WSTR missed out on debuting their new covers, New Found Glory couldn’t play enough of theirs. Front man Chad Gilbert performed most of the set in stars and stripes boxing gear to match their opening song ‘The Eye of The Tiger’ taken from the third edition of their theme tune album series From The Screen To Your Stereo released earlier in May.
In a lot of cases, covers such as ‘Let It Go’ (Frozen), ‘This Is Me’ (The Greatest Showman) and of course ‘Kiss Me’ (She’s All That) had bigger reactions from the crowd than their lesser-known originals, but when performing at a festival in last slot before the headliner, this was probably expected. The bigger singles such as ‘My Friends’ Over You’, ‘Dressed To Kill’ and ‘Hit or Miss’ all brought in pits and more receptive crowd movement, especially as Ryan Key of Yellowcard was brought on for the latter. It was also somewhat ironic to them play ‘Head On Collision’; the track which the following headliners had named themselves after. As one of their slower and more passionate originals on the setlist, in this case it really showed the bands on this year’s line up going full circle.
All Time Low – Monster Energy Stage
2019 marks ten years since Maryland pop punk collective All Time Low [7/10] released their breakthrough album Nothing Personal, and although they’d already made it abundantly clear that it would not be played in full, they got pretty close. Opening with ‘Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don’t)’, which they rarely play these days,it was evident this was the bands ploy to prove themselves worthy of headliner status above one of the very bands that inspired their existence. The pop punkers transitioned between 2009 classics such as ‘Stella’ and ‘Weightless’, as well as less popular tracks ‘Keep The Change You Filthy Animal’ and ‘A Party Song (The Walk of Shame)’, into newer efforts such as ‘Life of The Party’ with ease.
However, this seamless transition on stage was not replicated in the audience. You could feel a definite split in the crowd between the current fan base and those who’d only attended for the nostalgia, and as part of the latter, the nostalgia was replaced with slight embarrassment. Are our treasured favourites still making dick jokes at thirty years old? Was it always this tedious waiting for them to finish making forced TV show references and actually start playing? Is it possible to physically feel yourself outgrowing a band whose members are ten years your senior? These questions came in waves as their infamous acoustic ballad ‘Therapy’ (another NP special) brought in the biggest singalong of the whole festival and silenced the cynical intrusion.
Witnessing 13 fans achieve what would have been all our dreams at one time as they were brought on stage for ‘Time Bomb’ also reminded us that All Time Low might be cringe inducing at times in the current age but they’re still kind. They even debuted new single ‘Getaway Green’, and while it didn’t necessarily stand out compared to any of their latest releases, it was uplifting to see fans of the bands more recent work's ecstatic response to being part of All Time Low history.
While every track played from Nothing Personal was emotive and each held their own memories for everyone in the audience, the uncomfortable banter ruined the sentimentality. But on the other hand, they couldn’t have represented 2009 without it.
Photo Credit: Ashley Asborn