Live Review: Slam Dunk Festival North 2023

The Offspring 2023 Slam Dunk Festival
Photo Credit: @StateofLoveandrustalex / Slam Dunk Festival

As someone who’s been attending the Slam Dunk Festival for the best part of 15 years, I’ve seen it go from the multi-room confines of Leeds University to taking over the city’s Millennium Square to its current incarnation via brief forays down South and into the Black Country. In that time, I’ve seen bands rise from openers to stage headliners, and bands emerge, split, and then reunite, as well as those flash-in-the-pan acts. More importantly, I’ve seen Slam Dunk become a big f*cking deal in the UK rock festival calendar.

Slam Dunk Festival North returned to Temple Newsam, Leeds for the fourth time (my third time). While the price of food and drink is expected to be ridiculous; after all it’s a UK festival, getting from stage to stage hasn’t been a major inconvenience in previous years. Yet it can’t be ignored that Slam Dunk proved to be a major attraction this year, bringing in a wide demographic of teenage moshers to old-school punks, and everything in between. While it’s a credit to the festival organisers to grow Slam Dunk into what it has become, I can’t help but mention the elephant in the room – Slam Dunk North was busy. Very busy. Sure it was packed and getting about the festival site wasn’t ideal, but that shouldn’t distract from the reason everyone was there – the music.

Sincere Engineer

My day started off with the first of several ventures into the Kerrang! tent, where Chicago indie-punks Sincere Engineer have pulled a decent crowd to witness a set of shouty-but-catchy songs. Humbled by the curious crowd, they hit their stride a few songs in with recent single, ‘Fireplace‘, highlighting Deanna Belos’s melodic ability.



As the crowds pile into the festival grounds, a walk down the hill to the Amazon Music Rock Scene stage sees a strong crowd waiting for Vukovi. As a band who have been grinding their way up and down the UK for years, it’s a credit to the Scottish outfit to be where they are now. Today’s outing comes just two days removed from bagging a Heavy Music Award. Opening with ‘NULA’ album highlight, ‘HADES’, frontwoman Janine Shilstone’s vocals are sultry and compelling, backed by Hamish Reilly’s explosive guitar. ‘LASSO’ and ‘C.L.A.U.D.I.A’ keep the momentum going with visceral energy. While Shilstone commands the admiring crowd with ease. Feeding off one another, Vukovi deservedly show why they’re one of the UK most celebrated underground rock acts. Their trajectory will certainly continue.


Movements Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Photo Credit: Apertunes / Slam Dunk Festival


Back in the Kerrang! tent, Movements provide a satisfying set made up of longtime favourites (‘Third Degree’ and ‘Full Circle’) and material from their upcoming ‘RUCKUS!’ LP (‘Lead Pipe’). While new material has hinted at a band expanding their sound, the Californian’s style is firmly rooted in emotional post-hardcore.  Vocalist Patrick Miranda has a presence as the mass crowd sings back during ‘Colorblind’ and later on set closer, ‘Daylily’. For a band who haven’t been on these shores for quite some time (just like a few acts today), this was a welcomed return for Movements and a reminder of what makes them so appreciated; emotionally powerful and compelling.


Spanish Love Songs

After a brief wander that involved watching Millencolin close their Dickies Stage set with ‘No Cigar’ (aka the only Millencolin song I really know because of ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’) and some over-priced chips, I’m back in the Kerrang! tent waiting for Spanish Love Songs but Hawthorne Heights’ frontman J.T. Woodruff is delivering some rallying, nostalgia-tinged and defiant speech that “emo music is and was never a phase” (or something to that effect) before launching into Ohio is for Lovers’.

Nevertheless, at the other end of the tent, Spanish Love Songs are in fine form with their doom and gloom-laden brand of emo punk. Returning to the UK for the first time in three years, their set is dominated by 2020’s ‘Brave Faces, Everyone’ record, allowing the dedicated crowd to collectively become a cathartic release of self-loathing and angst. While the inclusion of ‘Haunted’ from the forthcoming ‘No Joy’ album fits seamlessly in. By the time Dylan Slocum sings the final words of ‘Brave Faces Everyone,’ it’s clear how important SLS are to this crowd (myself included). Thankfully, they’ll be making up for lost time with UK dates in September.


Photo Credit: Bethan Miller / Slam Dunk Festival

Holding Absence

Another visit to the Amazon Music Rock Scene stage sees Holding Absence being their usual best. The Welsh outfit has continually been a beacon in the UK scene with reliable vocalist Lucas Woodland delivering a soaring and powerful display. Recent single, ‘A Crooked Melody’ easily fits in alongside the towering ‘Afterlife’. With just time for seven tracks, Holding Absence‘s emotional sing-a-longs leave the large crowd wanting more. Don’t be surprised if they’re back headlining a stage or a tent within the next few years.


Trophy Eyes Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Photo Credit: Apertunes / Slam Dunk Festival

Trophy Eyes

If you’ve heard the singles Trophy Eyes have been dropping leading up to the long-awaited return, ‘Suicide and Sunshine’, then you may think the Aussie group may have gone considerably soft. However, having witnessed their Kerrang! tent stage set, that’s certainly not the case. In short, they’ve not lost their punk edge as vocalist John Floreani sings and screams throughout their set. Packed with memorable cuts from 2016’s ‘Chemical Miracle’ alongside favourable previews from Suicide and Sunshine’, Trophy Eyes deliver a rousing and anthemic set that ends with the mass sing-a-long that is ‘You Can Count On Me’.


Underøath Slam Dunk Festival North 2023
Photo Credit: Apertunes / Slam Dunk Festival


It’s somewhat surprising Underoath have never played Slam Dunk before, but they soon made up for it on the Amazon Music Rock Stage. From the moment ‘Breathing in a New Mentality’ served up an adrenaline shot straight into the classic ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’, the metalcore group were in ferocious form. They’re firmly in their stride as ‘Down, Set, Go’, recent single ‘Let Go’ and ‘Hallelujah’ sound enormous, even sitting on the hill. While it’s a welcomed return to the UK for the Floridians, the expected set clashes occur and I make my way back to the Kerrang! tent.


The Menzingers

It’s here where I catch Four Year Strong wrapping up their set triumphantly with ‘Wasting Time (Eternal Summer)’. It’s a bitesize reminder of how much of a blast Four Year Strong can be live; energetic, catchy, and heavy. Next, The Menzingers opened their set with ‘Irish Goodbyes’, a beloved deep cut, setting the buoyant vibe of their packed setlist. Having built up an arsenal of songs for over a decade, the Philadelphia favourites are able to easily serve up a whole host of favourites; ‘I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore’, ‘House on Fire’, and the one-two punch of ‘Good Things’ and ‘Burn After Writing’. Throughout, a sea of dedicated fans sing back each anthemic word to duel vocalists Greg Barnett and Tom May. While a new song called ‘No Place In The World For Me’, gets a public outing, showing The Menzingers are never a band to rest on former glories. As the quartet depart to rapturous applause after closing with ‘After the Party’, it’s safe to say this was a highlight of the day for many.


As I head back outside into the open, it’s clear there are a lot of people here, perhaps too many. Nevertheless, Less Than Jake are doing their best to keep people’s spirits high as they celebrate 25 years of ‘Hello Rockview’. You know what you’re getting with LTJ; straight-up ska-punk songs with a fair bit of humour in-between. Likewise ‘All My Best Friends Are Metalheads’ gets one of the biggest responses from the packed-out crowd.


Days removed from announcing their third album, ‘Sanguivore’, Creeper open their set in their usual theatrical manner as keyboardist Hannah Greenwood holds up a sawn-off model of vocalist Will Gould’s head. Don’t worry, he’s ok as he joins his leather-clad wearing bandmates. Ever since emerging out of Southampton in 2014, Gould’s charisma and presence have grown with the band’s reputation. From the moment ‘Ghost Brigade’ erupts, he darts around the stage, leading the crowd with its soaring chorus. ‘Cyanide’ is delivered with swagger, and the new cut, ‘Cry To Heaven’, seamlessly fits into their brand of goth-tinged punk rock, albeit with more grittiness. However, this is far from the ‘Will Gould Show’, ‘Crickets’ allows Greenwood along with guitarist Ian Miles to take the spotlight in a pure and raw manner.

If you’re like me and needed a reminder of Creeper‘s anthemic prowess, then you’re in luck as ‘Hiding With Boys‘ and ‘Annabelle’ do just that. On the latter, the crowd serve their purpose by playing the role of the choir, yet the biggest sing-a-long of the day was left for ‘Misery‘. Here. Gould stands back and lets the masses take over before closing their set in a jubilant fashion, with purple streamers erupting.

No matter how much Creeper evolves from their goth-punk origins, they continue to prove to be a special band; compelling, dramatic, and certainly satisfying.



A 180 degrees turn round sees a wave of eager fans waiting for Yellowcard to make their Slam Dunk return. However, the ghost of SDF’s past soon haunted the quartet (and touring drummer Jimmy Brunkvist) as tech issues caused their headline set to be delayed (technical issues affected their SDF North appearance in 2016). Nevertheless, once they finally did kick off their set, it lived up to expectations as they delivered ‘Ocean Avenue’ in full. ‘Way Away’ and ‘Breathing‘ are delivered in quickfire fashion before vocalist/guitarist William Ryan Key comments how the album’s title track normally closes the band’s set.

While you may think some may depart after hearing “the hit”, Yellowcard and ‘Ocean Avenue’ (the album) clearly mean a lot to those in the Kerrang! tent. Standout tracks such as ‘Only One, ‘Miles Apart’  and ‘Twentythree’ see Yellowcard in fine form, with an abundance of energy, and Sean Mackin’s violin constantly adding a rich quality to the band’s pop-rock sound. ‘View From Heaven’, and later ‘Back Home’, provide sentimental and reflective moments, highlighting Yellowcard‘s ability to be emotive and not just bold pop-rock hook-makers.

Although it’s a set swept in nostalgia, you can’t help but enjoy the longevity of these songs. As Key said, ‘Ocean Avenue’ changed their lives, taking them from a garage band to playing shows across the world, and now being celebrated here 20+ years later. A victorious finale.


While I could have ended the day watching The Offspring or Enter Shikari, the number of people here, along with persistent traffic issues, led me to make an early exit. I’m sure both bands lived up to their billing but after 15 years of attending Slam Dunk, I’m sure I can be forgiven for missing the occasional headline act.


So was Slam Dunk Festival North 2023 a success? Well… nearly. As always, it offered plenty of noteworthy bands and acts that you’re inevitably going to miss someone. Musically, it didn’t disappoint and gave the platform to discover new acts, breathe new life into some bands, and give fans the chance to celebrate and watch their favourites.  However, as I’ve mentioned, the issues of crowds, traffic, and food and drink vendors have hindered what was a good day. Undoubtedly, the organising of Slam Dunk Festival could’ve been better, and you hope these mistakes are learned from for 2024.



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