I started off my Slam Dunk with William Ryan Key, as most people did, on account of his set being one of the first of the day. His set was aimed heavily towards fans of Yellowcard, comprising of 6 songs from their discography. Whilst this of course pleased most of the crowd, it didn’t feel like seeing William Ryan Key, it felt like seeing Yellowcard acoustic. The main issue with this is that no one in the crowd heard anything off of his new solo record. Whilst it may be quite different to the music Yellowcard fans have grown to love, leaving it completely out of the set doesn’t encourage anyone to go and listen to that that new music. After all, if you hear a song you don’t know live and you like it, it gives you the incentive to go and listen to more. It could also have intrigued the few people in the crowd who aren’t Yellowcard fans and were just seeing William’s set with their friends/as something to do (as is the way at a festival). Anyway, that’s my gripe over because he did perform well and he got most of the crowd singing before midday.
Next up for me was The Plot in You and they honestly left me with my mouth hanging open in amazement at some points during their set. Landon Tewers is a phenomenal vocalist, even more so live than on record. I heard multiple different vocal styles, the angry pop punk style, low notes, high notes, the screaming, and it was all spot on. Most of their songs (their newer songs anyway) have a slower element to them, meaning this is not the sort of show where you’ll be jumping or starting a pit, but if you want to see a solid talented band who do still have a strong heavy element to them, this is the band you want to see.
After Plot, I caught about 10-15 minutes of Anti-Flag‘s set. I definitely had mixed opinions about this set. The slower songs (as slow as Anti-Flag can get anyway) were pretty well done, but during the faster tracks I noticed what sounded like the vocalist straining (more so than normal in an Anti-Flag song). Whilst I wouldn’t write them off just yet I think in the next 5 years or so they might be reaching the dreaded “had their peak” time.
I then made my way to The Key Club stage for the “secret band”. There were rumours this was Busted, rumours that were only made bigger by the fact that the Slam Dunk app changed the name of this set from Secret Act to “Y3K” (aka Year 3000, a hit Busted song). However, I still had my doubts… I mean an arena sized pop rock band playing a tent at Slam Dunk …no way? But Slam Dunk did it. When Busted came out the screams were deafening. Through every song (even the 2 newer ones they played) everyone was singing every word; everyone was going nuts. The atmosphere was incredible. I haven’t experienced such hype at a show in a long time. But were Busted worth the hype? Absolutely. They played and sang as good as on record. They did their classic jumps. They were just as excited to be up on stage as the crowd were to see them up there. I would actually pay their arena prices to see them next time they tour after that performance. One final thought on this set: It was so great to be part of a festival that had no judgement on whether an act was too “poppy” or a “sellout”. Everyone was just there to listen to good music and have a good time. This is something a lot of festivals seem to be lacking nowadays but thankfully, Slam Dunk is not one of them.
Straight afterward Busted, Press to Meco began to play on the other Key Club stage (right next to the one Busted had just played at). I’ll be honest, I was not in much of a state to review this one as I had sweated and screamed and jumped way too much for Busted (so had everyone else though let’s be honest). The general idea I got from Press to Meco’s set was that they are a solid pop rock band. They were very good and it’s honestly a shame they followed Busted because any band after a crazy set like that seemed slow in comparison, but they intrigued me enough that I’d like to see them again.
I then decided to go back to my metal(ish) ways and see The Word Alive. Overall, I wasn’t a big fan of this set. It was average at best. The saving grace was the few times Telle did very intense long screams that made you go …damn. Whilst they by no means played badly or out of time, there was just nothing different or fun that made this set stand out in the day.
And so I went back to the pop rock side of things and went to see Seaway. I previously saw and reviewed Seaway last year (click here to read this review), and I’d give them an even better rating this time around. The best thing about a Seaway show is that it ends up being heavier than you’d expect considering how pop(ish) their music is. You can still sing along and have a good jump and dance like at any good pop rock show, but everything about Seaway live has a roughness too it, including lead vocalist Ryan’s vocals. The pits for Seaway were the biggest I saw all day and never let up. Just like my previous review, I suggest you all see Seaway live.
Story Of The Year were the next band I ended up seeing. I wasn’t too excited for this one, purely because I find their old stuff a bit too cringy to listen to now, and I haven’t given their new stuff a chance, but they nicely surprised me live. The old emo anthems that I thought I didn’t enjoy anymore …well having a good sing along to them live is actually pretty fun, and even better when the band can perform them to perfection. I would usually expect a band’s older songs to sound a bit different live, as the musicians have changed their style over time, but Story Of The Year sounded just like on record. Their newer tracks were also pretty good, a lot softer than their previous work, but good enough that I would definitely give it a proper listen now.
My 9th band of the day was Gallows. This one is tricky because they have a very distinct hardcore/brit-punk sound, which they don’t slightly waver from at all during their set, so if you don’t like that very specific subgenre then you would not enjoy Gallows live. They did sound better live than recorded, but I would still not rate this set very highly. There was a lack of anything new in this set and unfortunately their back catalogue doesn’t have enough variety to keep anyone who isn’t a die-hard fan interested in this set.
And just before the headliners were Atreyu. Now this set was interesting because lead vocalist Alex was unfortunately too sick to make the show. This left Brandon (drummer and co-vocalist) to do lead vocals with help from Porter (bass and backing vocals). Now although Brandon does do vocals, he has never done them entirely on his own before, so this was going to go one of two ways. Thankfully for all involved, it went amazing. There were of course times where Brandon struggled, but the crowd were singing along so loud it was barely noticeable. All the band had a great energy. They were determined to make the best of a bad situation and they did. They played a great set of new and old songs, and the guitar solos on songs such as Ex’s and Oh’s sounded as massive as you’d expect. This is a band that needs to be headlining arena’s soon. A personal highlight for me was the lead vocalist for Wage War helping with vocals for Bleeding Mascara. There was something extremely beautiful about one of the biggest new metalcore acts joining to help out one of the biggest old metalcore acts, proving that this particular subgenre has never got stale.
Headliner wise I had 3 options and I went for Bullet For My Valentine. The instrumentals were all excellent but there is a high pitch to Matt Tuck’s live vocals that really doesn’t fit right. When he screams, he’s still just as good as he ever was, but his clean vocals are almost whiney, which was the only downside for me. As far as headliners go, I believe there are better metal bands out there who could’ve headlined this stage, but Slam Dunk has always been about seeing your old teen faves with your new faves, and Bullet filled the teen faves headliner slot. Judging by the crowd I think they also brought more metalheads to Slam Dunk than ever before, which is great in regards to getting people to expand their music range.
As its first year as a big festival in a field I think Slam Dunk did well. My only qualm was that some stages were too close together meaning the heavier acts could be heard above the softer acts at times. Overall, Slam Dunk is a festival that brings together metal, punk, pop punk, pop rock, alternative, ska and almost every other subgenre of rock you can think of, and I’d suggest everyone gives it a go (even just once).
Until next year Slam Dunk!