It’s Mayday Bank Holiday weekend, and the sun is shining(ish) as V13 headed off to Temple Newsam in Leeds for the kick-off of festival season in the UK. Now, having seen social media blow up the night before with reports of major problems at the Slam Dunk, there was a bit of apprehension in the air, but arriving on site experiencing very few of the issues sending Twitter into meltdown, we soon started to look forward to a day of great bands.
Now, when you hear those immortal words, “Let me see you open up that fucking pit,” you know you’re in the right place. Kicking off our Slam Dunk on the Knotfest Stage was abrasive metallic hardcore crew Heriot, who pummelled through their dual-vocal onslaught giving absolutely zero fucks that it was barely lunchtime. A band that gets better as they grow, the quartet matched their ferocious reputation with an equally feral set.
Speaking of feral, Californian grinders, SeeYouSpaceCowboy were magnificently disgusting, not simply content to match Heriot’s opening offering, preferring instead to raise the ante even further in terms of wall-shaking heaviness. Mixing grindcore with head-stoving noise, the Californian wrecking machine was simply unstoppable in its assault on a busy tent.
Our first visits to the Dickies and Amazon Rock Scene main stages saw established UK punks Millie Manders and the Shut Up kicking off the day on the former, with Scottish troublemakers Vukovi being our first band of the day on the latter.
Incredibly, despite raising a ruckus across the UK for many a year now, Millie Manders & TSU revealed that this was their first Slam Dunk and, judging by the multiple t-shirt-wearing fans dotted around the filling arena, this was an appearance well overdue. All smiles and big punk rock anthems, if there was a band to get Slam Dunk dancing, they were right in front of us. A few hundred yards away, an equally healthy crowd had joined Scottish duo Vukovi, with vocalist Janine Shilstone soon realizing it was even more fun getting into the faces of a similarly energetic crowd. The day is barely a couple of hours old, and Slam Dunk was not disappointing in the musical department.
Sandwiched in between all of that were a couple of bands not on our original list but, despite a nightmare-inducing running order, there was still time to cram in time to check out both Teenage Bottlerocket and Trash Boat. First up were the Wyoming punks who brought their blistering Ramones-inspired punk to Leeds, blasting through a no-frills blast of pacy punk offerings like “Don’t Want To Go.” St.Alban punks Trashboat have been around since 2014 and look very much like a band who’ve earned their stripes on the punk scene, simply setting about the task at hand with the minimum of fuss but the maximum noise.
Now it’s time to get the party started as the mighty Zebrahead storm onto the stage and whip the mid-afternoon crowd into a frenzy with their pop-punk anthems. “We wanna see you crowd surfing,” they urge, and, as bodies spit out from the pit and over the barrier, the pit security gets a real workout while those packing out the moshpit get to dance their way through a set stuffed with pop-punk gems like “Hello Tomorrow.”
Next up was a band who, to this point, I’d still yet to understand what the fuss was about. The band Holding Absence but as they slammed through a couple of tracks from their recently announced new album, The Noble Art of Self Destruction, the penny finally dropped. A truly faultless performance from a band who will be playing their biggest headline dates yet later this year, and, on this evidence, they are going to be shows not to miss.
The first of three visits to the Key Club stage saw recent HMA award-winning Scene Queen whipping up a very colourful crowd of fans into a bouncing mess. Joined onstage by Sam from Wargasm for “Barbie & Ken,” it’s easy to see why her electro-pop/alt-metal earworms have struck a chord with the young Slam Dunk crowd.
Elsewhere, there can be no other words to describe Manhattan folk punks Gogol Bordello than fucking mental. Losing track of how many band members there were on stage or where to even look, the take home from their stint on stage was that this is a band that the world needs right now and, if you buy one gig ticket this year, please make it be one to see this band live, you won’t regret it.
Back up at the Key Club Stage, Nashville’s Charlotte Sands was delivering her attitude-filled tunes, including “Dress,” the track that really kickstarted her career. Equally colourful as Scene Queen before, artists like Charlotte Sands, Scene Queen and Maggie Lindemann who followed, are heralding a new era for modern rock music and, judging by the reaction, the singalong anthems, and the connection all three of these artists have with the new generation of rock fan, these are exciting times.
Ahead of PVRIS arriving onstage in the early evening, there seemed to be a surprisingly sparse crowd, but as set time got closer, the masses had gathered in front of the Amazon stage for the alt-rock stars. Now a household name in the rock scene, PVRIS arrived at Slam Dunk off the back of a very sold-out UK tour earlier in the year, and as “Monster” belts out across the field, you can see why PVRIS have quickly become one of the biggest names on the rock scene.
Now, if Slam Dunk had finished with Texan buffoons Bowling For Soup, I would have still have left happy. “We’re fifty-year-old men singing songs about being in High School,” jokes frontman Jaret Reddick while, to his right, bassist Rob stands there picking his nose. From day one, nothing has changed and, as they bounce through hit after hit, from “Ohio (Come Back To Texas)” to “Punk Rock 101” to “Emily” to “The Girl All The Bad Guys Want,” from the front of the stage to the top of the hill, Bowling For Soup have given Slam Dunk the best forty minutes of the day.
Disaster hits as returning punk rockers Yellowcard are about to the stage as “something breaks,” meaning this dangerously busy tent has to wait a good ten to fifteen before the band finally kicks off the 20th celebration of their Ocean Avenue album. Playing the album in full, when frontman Ryan Key explains how they’re going to need some of that “last song energy” as they play their usual set-closer “Ocean Avenue” third song in, the sight of a tentful of fans singing back every word shows that Leeds gave the man exactly the energy he wanted.
So, Slam Dunk 2023 comes to an end and with all headliners playing at the same time, while we were gutted to miss Sheffield bruisers Malevolence, the chance to see our recent cover story stars Enter Shikari bring this festival crashing to a finale was a no-brainer. And they didn’t disappoint.
Powering through the likes of “Sssnakepit” and “Juggernauts,” the Hertfordshire outfit are a band who are simply firing on all cylinders. Joined by Wargasm for “The Void Stares Back” and Cody Frost for “Bull,” Enter Shikari are simply one of the most exciting live bands on the circuit at the moment. From Rou’s passioned speeches between songs to a set-list that includes absolute bangers like “Anaesthetist” and “Sorry You’re Not A Winner” alongside new album gems like “Bloodshot,” there could have been no better way for Slam Dunk 2023 to sign off and festival season in the UK roar into life.