Live review: Slam Dunk Festival 2022

All the madness from Leeds and Hatfield as Slam Dunk 2022 revs festival season up to fifth gear…

Live review: Slam Dunk Festival 2022
Sam Law, Susie Telfer, Emma Wilkes
Katie McMillan, Bethan Miller, Nathan Robinson

Things might not quite be back to normal yet, but they’re very nearly there. Nine months after it closed 2021’s abbreviated festival season, Slam Dunk returned over Jubilee Weekend to get 2022’s summer properly underway. A series of late-in-the-day cancellations – Motion City Soundtrack, Spanish Love Songs, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Used only this week – might have speedbumped its arrival, but a series of excellent adaptations, improvisations and line-up adjustments ensure that the UK’s favourite two-legged showcase for all things punk, emo and post-hardcore delivers arguably its strongest showing yet.

Slugging water and slapping on the sunscreen, we hauled ass back and forth across both North and South sites to catch the festival's buffet of effervescent up-and-comers, seasoned veterans, and punk heavyweights reaching the top of their games to whet our appetites for the long, loud summer ahead…

beauty schoolRock Scene Stage, Leeds

Legions of punters are still stuck in the mile-long queue for car-parking when Leeds locals beauty school open proceedings in the shade of Temple Newsam’s gaping Rock Scene tent, but the plucky newcomers turn the space into a cathedral of angsty optimism regardless.

Marrying elements of aching old-school emo and springy pop-punk, jangling indie and driving alt.rock, tracks like infectiously laid-back Take It Slow, heart-tugging highlight Drysocket and the breezily infectious Pawn Shop Jewels feel like they could have been custom-written for this festival. Indeed, debut album Happiness will be released via Slam Dunk Records in September. But they’ve enough infectious originality to ensure this stirring Slammy D debut will surely be the first of many crowd-pleasing sets here to come. (SL)

PinkshiftKey Club Stage Left, Hatfield

Pinkshift’s Ashrita Kumar is impossible to look away from, and not just because she’s wearing an excellent leopard-print bucket hat. Her energy is unbridled as she zips about the stage, still sounding pitch perfect (and what a jagged scream she possesses), only ever pausing to lie down and then moments later explode back onto her feet again. She’s got good tricks too, beginning i’m gonna tell my therapist on you by getting the crowd to scream bloody murder on the count of four. This weekend marks Pinkshift’s first time in the UK, but they’d better make their return soon. (EW)

CassyetteJägermeister Stage, Leeds

Cassyette is almost too cool for Leeds’ sweltering Jägermeister stage. “Fuck me, the sun’s coming out fast,” she gasps under baking midday rays, sporting regulation all-black attire and killer make-up better suited to some subterranean dungeon than the balmy open air. With grungy, nu-metal-influenced bangers like Dear Goth, Behind Closed Doors and Mayhem (“Dedicated to my ex, who’s a massive c**t!”), however, the Essex electro-rock sensation gets her fellow dark hearts beating, and a whole field throwing shapes. Even better, the inadvertently anthemic Sad Girl Summer, with its wave after wave of thumping feelings and irresistible pop hooks, feels like it could very well become the sound of the season. (SL)

Meet Me @ The AltarRock Scene Stage, Hatfield

Meet Me @ The Altar have enough top-tier easycore bangers for them to succeed at their debut Slam Dunk performance, but they don’t quite have the necessary live prowess just yet. Edith Victoria is a decent live vocalist, but strangely avoids singing the lines containing the highest notes, particularly in Mapped Out. Later, they play a medley of alternative covers from Jimmy Eat World’s Sweetness to Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff, which sounds better on paper. They’re still a little green, but there’s still hope for them to grow into themselves as performers. (EW)

Hot MilkRock Scene Stage, Leeds

“Let’s show them how we do it in the north,” grins Hot Milk singer Hannah Mee, looking every inch the rock star as the fast-rising collective hit top speed, 45 miles up the M62 from their Mancunian hometown.

Catching fire right from the high-octane opening salvo of I JUST WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I’M DEAD, Wide Awake and Bad influence, the Foo Fighters-endorsed collective could as easily be playing some gaping stadium as this oversized marquee. With every one of the few thousand crammed in roaring back the likes of Candy Coated Lie$ and Awful Ever After at the tops of their lungs, however, and the interplay between Hannah and co-vocalist Jim Shaw tighter than ever, it’s a set to remember.

“We want this tent to be a party,” Hannah grins, “because we fuckin’ deserve it!” By the time a gloriously unhinged Split Personality drops curtain, it’s very much mission accomplished. (SL)

KennyHooplaRock Scene Stage, Leeds

“KENNY! KENNY KENNY!” A raucous Rock Scene stage is in danger of screaming itself hoarse well before Kenneth La’ron – aka KennyHoopla – bounds from backstage 10 minutes late and straight into an explosively exuberant silence is also an answer// to raise the mid-afternoon atmosphere to fever pitch. For a relatively new artist with only a handful of UK shows ever under his belt, the singer-songwriter is the subject of some deafening buzz this weekend, but pinballing off the sides of the stage in a blur of loose-limbed energy and burning emotion, he more than lives up to the hype.

From the swirling melancholy of how will I rest in peace if I’m buried by a highway?// to the woozy deliverance of 9-5 (love me)// Leeds is taken on the kind of emotional rollercoaster that can only ever come from the most exciting new voices. “Thanks for having me!” he grins, genuinely humbled. “I feel honoured to be on this stage with these bands.” Take it from us, Mr. Hoopla, the pleasure was all ours. (SL)

Cancer BatsJägermeister Stage, Leeds

When founding guitarist Scott Middleton left the Cancer Bats fold last October, fans had legitimate cause to question whether the Toronto hellraisers would still be able to cut it as one of the finest bands in all of heavy music. Today’s full-throttle showing mightn’t quite lay those doubts to rest, but anything lacking in skull-caving finesse is more than made up for in gleefully chaotic energy.

Bringing along Katie Lamond of Nova Scotia punk-rockers Like A Motorcycle and FEVER 333/The Chariot shredder Stevis Harrison (“Two motherfuckin’ guitars!” enthuses frontman Liam Cormier), the timeless Hail Destroyer, Bricks & Mortar and R.A.T.S. detonate some of the biggest pits of the weekend. Even better, fresh cuts like Psychic Jailbreak confirm there’ll be no slowing down anytime soon. By the time we get to the classic end-of-set one-two of Lucifer’s Rocking Chair and Sabotage, even the bloodied front-row brigade are stretching shit-eating grins through their black eyes and broken teeth. Superb. (SL)

The Wonder YearsRock Scene Stage, Hatfield

Dan Campbell doesn’t even need to open his mouth for the crowd to start roaring along to The Wonder Years. The sheer volume at which they sing along to Came Out Swinging, and the precision and passion with which the Pennsylvanians play, is enough to make anyone forget that this is a festival set – it feels more like one of their own headline shows. The beautifully big-hearted Don’t Let Me Cave In and the rarely played You Made Me Want To Be A Saint, which Dan introduces in a voice made fragile with emotion, are priceless moments to witness – it’s handy, then, that this is a record-breaking day for the festival, as the pop-punks run through their classic albums Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing and The Upsides (in that order) in full, marking the longest Slam Dunk set ever. We know this is selfish but… can we get an entire discography performance next time?! (EW)

The InterruptersDickies Stage, Leeds

There’s a logjam of awesome bands stacking up by the time they take the stage, but it would be a cold heart who wouldn’t stop to soak in a little of The Interrupters. Having not stepped onstage in nine months – indeed, almost two years since their last headline performance – the Los Angeles ska-punks could be forgiven for taking a minute to come up to speed. Instead, they barrel through a breathlessly feel-good 13-song set with the pent-up joy of dogs let off the leash, rattling through Take Back The Power, Title Holder and Judge Not against the golden glare of the lowering sun.

With fourth album In The Wild due on August 5, we get live debuts for the irresistibly chilled In The Mirror and infectious album opener Anything Was Better, complete, already, with a massive sing-along. A drum-tight cover of Bad Religion’s Sorrow sees thousands of voices raised further still. And, though ubiquitous closer She’s Kerosene rolls around all too quickly – as massive posters at the side of the stage announce, fans won’t be left waiting for long, with The Interrupters due to skank back onto these shores for headline shows come August. The most fun you can have with your chequered pants on. (ST)

BeartoothJägermeister Stage, Leeds

When K! sat down to talk fourth album Below early last year, Beartooth mainman Caleb Shomo explained that it marked not only a departure into heavier sonic territory, but also a bold step up in terms of theatrical ambition. And Slam Dunk is the first chance for UK fans to see that vision brought thrillingly to life. A gaping purple-and-black reaper backdrop blankets the back of the stage. Flamethrowers and CO2 cannons alternately roast and cool the crammed-up front rows. Bare-chested and brimming with confidence, Caleb runs the chaos and hurls himself into an uber-cathartic The Lines, the thumping Devastation, and all-action banger Aggressive with the purposeful abandon of a stuntman taking a shortcut down a flight of stairs.

“I found out from all this bullshit – hitting the lowest lows that I’ve ever hit – that I’m a lot stronger than I thought,” he grins with megawatt evangelical zeal, about to celebrate six months sober. “And, for sure, you are too!”

Wringing light from darkness, Disease is dedicated to Caleb’s wife Fleur, who’s watching on from the sound desk. In Between and The Past Is Dead prove their stylistic heights and emotional depths. By the time they close out with daring instrumental The Last Riff, there’s little question that this iteration of Beartooth have far more bite than before. (SL)

Magnolia ParkKey Club Stage Left, Hatfield

It seems a rather large number of Magnolia Park fans have descended upon Hatfield today. Though Magnolia Park are playing Slam Dunk’s smallest stage, the tent is looking pretty full, and if this show of support has given them an extra surge of energy, it wouldn’t be surprising. Opener Feel Something sounds utterly huge, sending the devotees jostling and jumping at the front, while the extra venom that cuts through Joshua Roberts’ ­­voice in Liar gets even the more timid folk at the back lapping it all up. They even throw in a ballsy cover of Sugar, We’re Going Down which sounds phenomenal with the modern lick of paint the electropop-punkers give it. This set really doesn’t look or feel like a band in their relative infancy trying to win people over – it feels like the best kind of sweaty club show. If they get booked for Slam Dunk again (and they should be), they’re going to need a bigger stage. (EW)

Stand AtlanticRock Sound Stage, Hatfield

If a band starts off their set with the Jurassic Park theme song playing from the speakers, and their guitarist wailing the melody along to it ('NUH NUH NUUUUUH NUH NUH'), it’s going to be good. If they then follow it with their own song called Jurassic Park, it’s going to be really good. That’s exactly what Stand Atlantic do, and they follow it up with 35 minutes of crowd-pleasing tunes fizzing with personality. The acerbic sass of pity party cooks up a storm, Hate Me Sometimes gets the crowd bouncing, and molotov (OK) is nothing less than fierce. “That was mint!” Bonnie Fraser rejoices. She’s not wrong. (EW)

Neck DeepRock Scene Stage, Hatfield

­­In 2013, Neck Deep played their first-ever Slam Dunk ­ as winners of a fan-voted competition. Nine years later, Ben Barlow would go on to tell that story to a far bigger crowd, now as the headliners of the whole damn thing.

Their set tonight is the beginning of their 10th anniversary celebrations, and what a way it is to begin. The Wrexham gang arrive amidst a cloud of smoke in a blazingly determined mood, charging through new single STFU with a pointed sense of attack. The 65 remaining minutes is a joyous celebration of Neck Deep past and present, just the right amount of sentimental, and with unlimited quantities of fun. They dust off old favourites What Did You Expect? and Over And Over in tribute to their origins, and add new sparkle to A Part Of Me by playing it on an electric guitar.

Ben’s between-song patter is idiosyncratic and witty as ever – “Please save your battery in case you need to call your mum,” he quips as he asks the crowd to wave their phone lights in the air – serving as a reminder that they’ve got here with a combination of big personality, big heart and big tunes.

All in all, it’s triumphant. Moral of this story? In Ben’s own words, “Start a band in your fucking bedroom and live the dream you want to live.” (EW)

Nova TwinsKey Club Stage Left, Hatfield

Nova Twins have got a nasty slot. Their set clashes with co-headliners Sum 41, and at the end of a day of pints, punk and partying, their audience arrives rather drained. However, the band remain unfazed, Amy Love struts about regally while to the left of her, Georgia South bounces like the stage floor is lava. By the time they get to Losing Sleep, they’ve reinvigorated the crowd enough to get a mosh-pit going, and anyone still feeling fatigued by that point is fully awake with a bit of the old jump-the-fuck-up during revving closer Undertaker. Now this is how it’s done. (EW)

AlexisonfireJägermeister Stage, Leeds

On June 24, Alexisonfire will drop fifth album Otherness – their first in 13 years. Aside from a mid-set airing for that record’s sort-of title-track Sweet Dreams Of Otherness, however, tonight’s set feels less like a preview of what’s to come than a celebration of everything leading to this point.

My youth is slipping away,’ the Canadian post-hardcore icons sing on the outstanding Boiled Frogs against a deafening chorus of 'woah-oh's, but as mind-boggling as it feels that songs like Pulmonery Archery and .44 Caliber Love Letter are two decades old this year, there’s absolutely no sign of them slowing down. From circle-pit revving smashers like We Are The Sound to subtler, more melodic cuts like Dog’s Blood, it’s a finely-balanced masterclass with the contrasting vocals of George Pettit, Dallas Green and Wade MacNeil to the fore.

Of course, mega-bangers This Could Be Anywhere In The World and Young Cardinals send the sprawling crowd into sunset delirium. But it’s the soulful, shirt-ripping Happiness By The Kilowatt that delivers the ultimate crescendo tonight – one that’s turned into a tantalising cliffhanger by the promise that Alexisonfire will be back in the autumn to smash it all over again with a set of even more intense standalone shows. Sign us up already. (SL)

Sum 41Dickies Stage, Leeds

Sum 41 look every inch the headliners this evening. With a massive devil’s head filling the back of the enormous Dickies Stage, ‘blood-dripping’ Marshall amps, and some seriously budget-burning pyro at their disposal, the pop-punk icons might be repping upcoming double-album Heaven And Hell, but there’s also an element of crossover into the world of heavy metal that sees Motivation, The Hell Song and Over My Head (Better Off Dead) sending a sprawling crowd wild.

Delivering just 14 songs over the course of 70 minutes, theirs isn’t the most substantial setlist of the weekend, but whether dropping hits like In Too Deep or blasting through fresher cuts Goddamn I’m Dead Again and Out For Blood, there’s a tangible desire to meet this grand occasion. A Jubilee weekend-appropriate cover of Queen classic We Will Rock You revs it up to another level, then timeless classics Fat Lip and Still Waiting send everyone into the night on a sugar-rush high.

They might never have scaled the heights of some of their ’00s mainstream punk peers, but Sum 41 still pack an impossibly good time two decades down the line. (SL)

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