The big review: Slam Dunk Festival 2024

Slam it down! Festival season kicks off in style as Leeds and Hatfield party at Slam Dunk 2024…

The big review: Slam Dunk Festival 2024
Sam Law, Luke Morton, Rishi Shah, Susie Telfer, Emma Wilkes
Em Coulter, Abbie Shipperley

There's sun, mud, a tearful farewell to legends, a bunch of exciting new heroes, and a whole lotta punk rock. It's Slam Dunk time again, and as Hatfield Park and Leeds Temple Newsam once again host the first fest of the season, there's all manner of japes to be had.

From You Me At Six calling time on their festival career at the one where it all started, to Waterparks topping the Kerrang! Stage and Bob Vylan bringing more energy than anyone outside the National Grid should be able to, and the likes of Honey Revenge, Beauty School and Taylor Acorn showing the shoots of greatness, it's been another banner year for the British punk fest.

If you were there, relive the greatest moments of the weekend with our mega review. And if you missed it, get jealous, and get booking for next year!

ArtioKerrang! Stage, South

Fresh from the release of debut album Babyface, Leeds quartet Artio are tasked with warming up the early arrivals for what hopes to be a glorious day. There are flashes of potential – singer Rae Brazill's honeyed yet gritty vocals fill the tent beautifully, while guitarists Jai Akhurst and Rob Arkle throw themselves ferociously into the business of bashing out riffs. Even when they're hit by technical problems and Rae’s mic cuts out more than once, they persevere undeterred. By the time the dark groove of Pyro Kid arrives to close their set, they sound like the full-bodied, hungry young electro-rock band they are meant to. If only they’d had just a little more chance to truly take flight. (EW)

Beauty SchoolKey Club Stage, North

On a rotating opening slot with Canadian emo dudes Arms Length across Hatfield and Leeds, local lads Beauty School take the responsibility of getting the crowd properly woken up for the day very seriously. It’s only two years since their Slam Dunk debut, but they’ve grown into a real force in the interim, with new song Gloom – getting its live debut this weekend – showcasing more subtlety and affecting emotion, while Reaper (featuring singer Joe Cabrera’s custom nails) sees the mic handed into the crowd for a sing-along with their assembled nearest and dearest. It’s the older tracks that really whip up the faithful, mind, including a version of Monster kinda-dedicated to Joe’s wife, and closing anthem Pawn Shop Jewels shredding the first throats of the afternoon. (ST)

Honey RevengeKerrang! Stage, South

There’s a serious possibility that the set of the day has taken place before folks have even started queuing for lunch. Decked out in matching hot pink outfits, Honey Revenge are fizzing with life and bolt through their set like they’re on a sugar rush. Opener Seeing Negative (Disappointment) is polished to the max, the Technicolor banger that is Airhead sounds as gigantic as it deserves, and singer Devin Papadol – a wonderfully charismatic master of ceremonies – is thrilled by the way Worst Apology gets their sizeable crowd bouncing. “Are you having a good time? Are you impressed?” she roars to introduce the song of the same name. Fuck yeah, we are. (EW)

As December FallsSlam Dunk Stage, North

North is looking a little deflated as things kick into gear around Sunday lunchtime. Grey skies. Sodden ground. All car parks closed at the last minute due a forecast of more heavy rain. It’s the kind of atmosphere in which lesser bands would wilt, but Nottingham upstarts As December Falls crash the Slam Dunk Stage with the look of players relishing the challenge. “This might be a difficult question given the weather,” vocalist Bethany Curtis allows herself a cheeky grin, “but how are you doing, Slam Dunk?!” And, with that, the skies duly open for the first real rainfall of the day.

Fortunately, from the thunderous drums and lightning bolt guitars of Ride to the sheer sun-drenched defiance of Join The Club, their brand of high energy pop-punk is more than a match for the elements. Yes, the pre-recorded ‘ADF Airlines’ warning of turbulence before a massive Mayday cuts close to insensitivity given recent real-life terror in the skies. But by the time the crowd breaks into its first ‘YORKSHIRE’ chant of the day – for a bunch of Midlanders, no less – and they storm through smashing closer Carousel, it’s obvious why these guys are ranked amongst the UK’s brightest hopes. (SL)

Taylor AcornKerrang! Stage, North

Star quality oozes off the Kerrang! Stage from the moment Taylor Acorn steps up. The Pennsylvanian pop-punk phenom initially clashes with the mud, but as songs like Gray and Certified Depressant bed in beneath the gloomy skies and she whips the crowd into a swirl of handclaps and swaying bodies, its clear we’re witnessing a performer with the wit and dexterity to own rain sodden fields as easily as sun bleached stadia. On record, there’s an undercurrent of bittersweetness to I Think I’m In Love and Greener, but they’re tweaked here, exuding a poppy angst and loose-limbed abandon. And in Taylor A herself, there’s a focal point who clearly feels – and believes in – every beat she lets loose. Penultimate banger Psycho is already a mega-sing-along. And, in massive closer Shapeshifting (“a song about sex and death”) she has one of the most powerful sign-offs of the whole festival. Huge. (SL)

Head AutomaticaSlam Dunk Stage, South

On paper, Head Automatica’s vibrant disco-infused catalogue should absolutely go off when blasted at ear-rattling volume in the early summer sun. The reality, however, doesn’t quite match up. Opening songs At The Speed Of A Yellow Bullet and Brooklyn Is Burning sound like a chunk is missing from them, and the New Yorkers later have to pause to fix technical issues. Meanwhile, Sold Gold Telephone and Dance Party Plus are oddly shoddy despite frontman Daryl Palumbo’s masterful delivery. Luckily, they do sound cleaner later on, but new cut Bear The Cross barely makes a ripple of impact in the crowd who appear to be waiting on tenterhooks for Beating Heart Baby. Then again, when it arrives, the atmosphere becomes electric – it’s just a shame that party feeling couldn’t have lasted the entire set. (EW)

One Step CloserKey Club Stage, North

“This is a two-step song!” yells One Step Closer vocalist Ryan Savitski as straight-edge sluggers launch into an unglued Orange Leaf. There are a few mud splashes as things kick off, but the slippy ground and some annoying noise bleed from Set It Off on the next stage over mean the set can’t stop feeling hamstrung. In a crammed sweatbox with bodies bumping into the ceiling, songs like Giant’s Despair and the already-anthemic Pringle Street can be amongst the most energetic and emotionally resonant from the current hardcore crop. Today, they feel bogged down – literally, at points – with the heavier moments unable to quite connect, and more fragile melodies are lost in the chaos of the outdoor setting. As instruments crank to ear-splitting volume, box fresh banger Leap Years manages to raise a few goosebumps but, ultimately, this isn’t the celebration that excellent new LP All You Embrace deserves. (SL)

RØRYKerrang! Stage, South

“If you’re here you must be fucking sad!” RØRY remarks during their afternoon slot. She's already garnered a tight-knit online community with her agonisingly raw songwriting, and this afternoon they practically tears their heart out and put it onstage. Help Your Friends Get Sober absolutely soars, particularly as she roars the final line, while Uncomplicated is a tremendous moment of catharsis, but there’s still moments of levity here. “Loads of you will have ADHD – how did you get here on time?” RØRY jokes, while her husband Rich later makes a hilarious appearance dressed as an adult baby for Baby Vendetta. Above all, however, this set is a statement of victory against an industry that would not give them a chance. “Make your own fucking way in the world!” she declares. Bravo. (EW)

The SkintsMonster Energy Stage, North

By their own admission, The Skints have long since forgotten how many times they’ve played Slam Dunk. It makes perfect sense. The brilliant Londoners’ reggae/dub/ska-punk fusion feels almost emblematic of that corner of this festival’s yearly remit, and when guitarist/vocalist Josh Rudge says that, "To play for you all on a day like today is a joyful thing," there’s no hint of artifice. Mindless, Rise Up and Ratatat bump and smash and salve in equal measure. Airy highlight The Forest For The Trees drifts spectacularly out over Temple Newsam’s resplendent woodland. Trademark Capdown cover Cousin Cleotis even has the festival organisers bobbing about onstage.

As always, though, Marcia Richards steals the show: a talent unlike anyone else in attendance; vocals drifting between ocean breeze reggae and something more dreamily hypnotic; alternating between dreamy keys; head-spinning jazz flute and gleefully honking saxophone. Apparently the “meat and potatoes” of long-overdue album number five are already done, just awaiting a final seasoning, and there’s an acoustic tour coming in October, but this sizeable deposit in the skank bank will keep us going in the meantime. (SL)

Bob VylanKerrang! Stage, South

It’s quite the day for Bob Vylan. This afternoon they’re playing to one of the busiest crowds the Kerrang! Stage has seen all day, then tonight they’re on Later… With Jools Holland. And not many bands can say that. There a buzz in the air as mainman Bobby leads the crowd of the converted and the curious through some meditation and stretching before the self-proclaimed “Fred Perry mafia” smash through Bait The Bear, Ring The Alarm and a riotous We Live Here. It’s been a long time coming for the pair to hit Slam Dunk, something they’re keen to point out throughout the set, but judging by the reception it’s been worth the wait. (LM)

Against The CurrentKerrang! Stage, South

Somehow, this is Against The Current’s first-ever appearance here. They’ve got a real spring in their step this afternoon, vaulting through a gigantic rendition of Voices, the youthfully optimistic Running With The Wild Things and angsty new cut Blindfolded with aplomb. Energetic singer Chrissy Costanza oozes charisma, poking fun at the unusually good British weather (unaware that the punters in Leeds won’t be so lucky) and asking, “Has anyone applied enough sunscreen?” with the expectation they haven’t. They’ve had a tricky time lately after wrestling out of a major label contract “which kept us trapped”, but the love with which they’re received here suggests they’ve done very well to keep their loyal fans returning again and again. (EW)

The Ghost InsideGoPro Stage, North

No moment hits harder than The Ghost Inside’s eternally defiant mid-set Mercy mosh-call: ‘Life’s swinging hard / But I’m swinging harder!’ So much so, in fact, that their early evening billing down on the GoPro Stage feels like something of an undersell. Fortunately, the Californian metalcore heroes are always at their best when playing the underdog, and white-knuckle nuggets like Engine 45 and The Great Unknown are doled out with no shortage of bite. Almost a decade on from the bus crash that could’ve ended them – and left drummer Andrew Tkaczyk with one leg – there are still moments where their ferocity is staggering. A no-holds-barred Pressure Point, for instance, gets stopped to evacuate a wounded mosher from the crowd. But arguably more impressive is how they’ve moved on, reconfiguring themselves as a populist heavy band, able to appeal to energetic newcomers and chin-stroking passers-by as convincingly as their own hardcore fans. By the time a furious Avalanche collapses into the massive Aftermath, one of the biggest crowds of the weekend are showering on the applause. (SL)

State ChampsSlam Dunk Stage, South

State Champs and Slam Dunk are like Wimbledon and strawberries and cream – not just a quintessential pairing, but one that’s the essence of summer. In the spirit of that, their front-to-back celebration of 2013 debut The Finer Things is an absolutely joyful experience, and feels like a love letter to a festival that’s raised the Albany pop-punkers up in the last decade. Between the spirited Elevated, the crunching Nothing’s Real and a bonus airing of Secrets that lifts the energy several gears, they’re on slick form. “We’re all here for the right reasons – to celebrate life, music and friendship,” says frontman Derek DiScanio and truly, he’s hit the nail on the head. This is what Slam Dunk is all about. (EW)

La DisputeKey Club Stage, South

With 2024 marking 10 years of La Dispute’s finest album Rooms Of The House, it’s no surprise – and a welcome treat – that the Michigan post-hardcore favourites dedicate more than half of their all-too-short set to their third full-length. And while they may be on the smallest stage of the festival, a dedicated, die-hard horde has turned up to bask in the melancholy, as Jordan Dreyer’s gut-punch poetry gives Slam Dunk something more emotive to latch on to than just hooks. Indeed, for a brief moment, the Key Club Stage exists as an oasis of deep, human connection, trapped between the bombast of the main stage and the trombones of the Monster Stage. Although they have surely earned a bigger crowd, those here today are leaving with that winning combo of dry throats and wet eyes. (LM)

Pale WavesKerrang! Stage, North

The festival gods smile on Pale Waves in Leeds. With a biblical deluge beginning just as they step onstage, the Manchester crew are faced with a tent that’s crammed to the canvas-stretching limits of its capacity. Not that Heather Baron-Gracie or her bandmates seem in the least bit overawed. Rather, You’re So Vain and Television Romance unfurl almost with a sense of assurance that crowds this size are what they deserve: alt. rock that’s perfect for sipping beer and swinging arms with your mates.

In truth, although the band’s newest material – Unwanted, Lies – steers hard into the kind of electric pop-punk that’s perfect for Slam Dunk, older songs like Unwanted and Fall To Pieces feel a little insubstantial now, lacking punch when held up against what’s on offer elsewhere. But there’s a shimmering magic about even those compositions that has virtually all of the massive crowd transfixed, still there to help belt out the killer chorus to closer Jealousy long after the rain has passed. Trans-Pennine rivalries be damned: next time, they’re going to need a bigger stage. (SL)

L.S. DunesKey Club Stage, South

Watching L.S. Dunes on the Key Club Stage transports you somewhere else, away from a field in Hertfordshire to the best club basement you’ll find. There’s a jagged, loose energy to the supergroup’s proceedings reminiscent of a far newer band, yet it still has the slickness that truly seasoned professionals bring. Opener Bombsquad is delightfully barbed while the rugged How Dare You gets the punters in the pit jostling, and later on the anthemic 2022 is a suitably colossal closer. This is an electrifying half-hour and the sense of intimacy makes it all the more special – for one thing, how often do you get to see Frank Iero of all people on this small a stage? (EW)

Palaye RoyaleKerrang! Stage, North

What could’ve been a landmark set for Palaye Royale ends up feeling like something of a sneak preview. “We’ve just announced our biggest-ever show!” grins shirtless frontman Remington Leith, stalking the stage with feline tactility, flanked by brothers Sebastian Danzig and Emerson Barrett grinning like cats about to get the cream. “See you on November 9 at Wembley Arena!” The Las Vegas troupe’s somewhat divisive brand of art rock means that there are noticeable pockets of empty space in the tent for this festival show, but the swagger of songs like You’ll Be Fine, Fucking With My Head and Just My Type feels more than enough to draw in and bowl over 12,500 folk at north London’s biggest room come the end of the year. There’s a preening pedigree about them – part My Chemical Romance, part Panic! At The Disco, part Guns N’ Roses – that suggests they might actually see arena shows like that as just stepping stones to the world’s stadia. But the undeniable way they give every ounce of themselves to Mr Doctor Man and Fever Dream, then soak up every drop of adulation cried out in return, confirms there’ll be no resting on laurels along the way. (SL)

I PrevailGoPro Stage, South

I Prevail are on the precipice of something huge with their GoPro Stage headline slot, but there’s a hurdle to clear. They’re one man down with clean vocalist Brian Burkheiser still recovering from surgery, leaving Eric Vanlerberghe and guitarist Dylan Bowman to sing his parts.

Despite his absence, however, they remain absolutely dauntless. With its charged atmosphere and dramatic visuals on a video screen behind them, it feels like they’ve squished an arena-sized set onto this stage. They’ve even incorporated some interludes spoken in a disembodied voice, as overwrought as they might be (“Perception is reality and reality is perception…” – what next, ‘We live in a society’?). When they get down to the business of riffery, however, the results are explosive. The hulking Bad Thing is lean, mean and hits like hot saucepan to the face, the huge Hurricane lives up to its name and Eric summons the crowd to “break your fucking necks” for the demonic Choke. They chuck in “that fucking cover” of Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, which the crowd hungrily lap up, before they throw in some monstrous riffs to take the sour taste out their mouths (“That was for you, this is for us,” Eric quips). It’s a lithe, muscular set from a band prepared to conquer, even without one of their own in their ranks. (EW)

The Wonder YearsKey Club Stage, North

It’s hard to think of many bands more definitively Slam Dunk than The Wonder Years. Getting emotional as he sings praises of the festival this evening, frontman Dan Campbell remembers how their first time there in 2010 changed the group’s career both in the UK and further afield, transforming them from the kind of lads who’d take a gig at the Watford Rugby Club to the beloved cult favourites we’re reunited with today.

In fairness, they’ve been handed a tough billing in return for their climb to Key Club Stage headliner status. Clashing with heavyweights I Prevail, You Me At Six and The Interrupters, the (still-sizeable) crowd for their sundown set is comprised solely of well-indoctrinated fans. As Dan talks about how much he’s learned from the world of pro-wrestling while introducing WWE-commissioned recent single Year Of The Vulture, it's easy to see that punchy attitude writ large. Modern classic compositions like Washington Square Park, Local Man Ruins Everything and Passing Through A Screen Door are simply more than a match for those being played elsewhere, for one thing. By the time some mates show up onstage for throat-wrecking closer Came Out Swinging, it feels like a classic end-of-show run-in, smacking the crowd with a proverbial steel chair, off into the night with warm hearts and broad smiles plastered across every face. (SL)

WaterparksKerrang! Stage, South

Less than 24 hours since Waterparks sent their fans into a frenzy by teasing a new record (and a day before they release surprise new banger SOULSUCKER), they headline the Kerrang! Stage to a rapturous reception. As Awsten Knight bounds onstage with sparkling red masquerade mask for Watch What Happens Next, the energy in the tent shifts up about five gears. It’s a fitting opener, the title acting as something of a prophecy as the Texan trio show Slam Dunk exactly what happens when one of the hardest-working bands in pop-punk roll up to headline.

Awsten himself is on top form and in pure showman mode, breezily chatting with the front row between songs and giving a shout out to the Chicken & Fries stall that’s just within eyeshot of the stage. And while those within the big blue top are hanging on his every word, and losing their collective shit to all-out bangers like SNEAKING OUT OF HEAVEN, Magnetic and FUCK ABOUT IT, the tent isn’t as full as it deserves to be, most likely due to their set clashing with All-American Rejects’ first UK show in 10 years – a set that Awsten admits was what he wanted to see most on the bill. But for the Waterparks faithful, it’s a joyous, wondrous journey through some of the most colourful and infectious weapons in their arsenal, climaxing on the one-two of Turbulent into REAL SUPER DARK to close the Kerrang! Stage for another banner year. Come back soon, guys. (LM)

The All-American RejectsSlam Dunk Stage, North

Ten years since they last set foot on UK soil, The All-American Rejects pull a headliner-worthy crowd to make their grand return. Beige trench coat, polka dot shirt and scruffy tie at the ready, frontman Tyson Ritter – who comes onstage looking somewhat dishevelled – springs into life, sauntering around the stage. From the opening chords of Swing, Swing right through to Move Along, this feels like the first proper band of the day – turning the Temple Newsam hilltop into their dominion for an hour. Save for a perplexing cover of Coldplay’s Yellow and some questionable noises to herald in Dirty Little Secret, The Rejects are masterful from top to bottom – perhaps staking their claim to return as festival headliners. (RS)

The InterruptersMonster Energy Stage

As the unmistakable strains of Ghost Town ripple out, The Interrupters arrive to a thunderous welcome – albeit 15 minutes late. But those extra few moments spent sound-checking are well and truly worth it, as on a stage plagued by issues all day, the ska-punk sluggers sound absolutely huge. Clearly not used to the British weather, Aimee Interrupter initially keeps her rather fashionable big coat on before the fire is well and truly lit, and the LA natives barrel through a greatest hits set featuring the scene staples Title Holder, She Got Arrested and She’s Kerosene.

Going up against You Me At Six on their final festival dates is no easy task, but for a band who’ve always felt like underdogs, they’re more than up to it, and for the skanking contingent of Slam Dunk it’s the perfect end to a sun-soaked day of boozing and brass. Huge hits like Take Back The Power lift spirits even higher, as does their former-viral cover of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, surely winning over any remaining sceptics in the crowd. But there can surely be none, as this is a veritable punk rock clinic. Like the song goes, ‘Fight like a title holder, stand like a champion,’ and this is certainly a decisive victory. (LM)

You Me At SixSlam Dunk Stage, North

No summer ever felt complete without You Me At Six on one line-up or another, but it’s time for the stalwarts to bring the curtain down on their festival career in the thick of the mud bath at Slam Dunk North. Tissues at the ready, ’cause this is going to be emotional.

Of course, Save It For The Bedroom kicks things off – the fundamental breakout song from this band’s utterly stacked discography. “You Me At Six will always be your band,” bellows Josh Franceschi, midway through Reckless, getting the formalities out of the way to turn his attention to delivering the greatest show of their career. While most punters opt for a hillside view, the mosh-pits hit full force by Bite My Tongue, as reality sinks in to everyone: it’s the last chance to dance, Sixers.

Somewhat of a throwback setlist that pays homage to their roots and their long-standing relationship with the festival, Always Attract and Kiss And Tell receive rare outings, alongside The Consequence – where The Blackout’s Sean Smith pops up on stage for guest vocal duties. Room To Breathe is nothing short of godlike, and fan-favourite The Swarm cooks up a storm, the volume cranked up just a notch.

Josh’s vocals are on point all night, well and truly doing justice to the occasion. “Somewhere out there is the future headliner of this festival,” he assures the crowd, reminding everyone how he once stood in their shoes. No song defines their story more than Underdog, which poetically brings things to a close alongside Beautiful Way. It’s not quite the end – that will follow at Wembley Arena next April – but nevertheless a stunning manner for You Me At Six bow out from the festival circuit, at the pinnacle of a genre that they’ve helped shape. (RS)

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