Crowd Surfing, Clashes and Community: Slam Dunk Festival 2021 Review
Amidst the crowded shuttle bus to Leeds’ Temple Newsam Park, there was a buzz of eagerness that only Slam Dunk could produce, as punters from across the North swarmed to see all their favourite bands in a jam-packed day of heavy music.
Loathe, with a perhaps surprisingly early slot of 12.40pm, were the name on everyone’s lips, with the festival traffic ensuring it would be a close call to catch the Liverpool band. Luckily for fans, the band are touring with While She Sleeps this month, and have a full headline tour in December, with the excitement crystal-clear in vocalist Kadeem France’s face when I spoke to him after their set.
With a majestic Tudor house as the backdrop, the hilly site layout is much more accommodating with regards to the main stage, particularly given the chaotic nature of a festival which sometimes doubles its stages to accommodate more artists back-to-back. The view from above seems far superior to its Hatfield counterpart, yet the sound from the main stage definitely had a bit more breathing space to rumble louder into the distance.
In the press tent, US artists Mayday Parade and State Champs brought a welcome burst of energy, being some of the few to make the flight over for their first shows back. The latter’s vocalist Derek DiScanio spoke proudly of the unbreakable bond between pop-punk and crowd surfing, encouraging the audience to do so later on during their nostalgic opener ‘Elevated.’ Leeds locals For You The Moon, who opened the festival, told us of their love for The Band Camino and stories from their university days, where their career started out with a gig at The Lending Room.
When I approached the Jagermeister tent to catch my long-time favourites Trash Boat, I was stunned by the crowd size: a blessing with a curse that persisted across the festival, with the tent overflowing at points due to perhaps an underestimation of just how big some of these acts have now become. Skindred in particular most definitely belong on an outdoor stage, though their infamous ‘Newport Helicopter’ in a darkened tent was a sight to behold, led by their dominant frontman Benji Webbe.
The surprise of the day was no doubt Vukovi, who sounded colossal on The Key Club stage, even amidst some technical difficulties. Hailing from Scotland, their off-stage personalities complement their hard-hitting sound perfectly - they are a band who will win over numerous crowds in months to come. Normandie and co-headliners Holding Absence capitalised beautifully on the stage’s incredible sound quality, and I was truly blown away by the latter’s vocalist Lucas Woodland, who I was seeing live for the first time. To follow Normandie’s 2018 anthem ‘White
Flag’ is no easy feat, yet Woodland’s masterful belted vocals combined with his stage presence confirmed their status as the best set of the day.
And finally, for the headliners Don Broco. The setlist was near-perfect, with a balance of their cult classics alongside new material, and they truly conquered a slot they have deserved for so long. Frontman Rob Damiani will understandably take a few shows to once again fulfill his swagger of old, but the Bedford rockers did a sterling job of matching the crowd’s relentless energy. Their fanbase has always been one of dedication and togetherness amidst raucous mosh pits; with the only flaw in the set being the lack of ‘Thug Workout’ that was so desired by fans.
The day brought back a solidarity that has been so dearly missed for the past year, with every artist and fan so delighted to be back doing what they love. Artists swarming the guest bar later in the day demonstrates how friendly and intact this genre of music is, and always will be, at its unofficial home here in Leeds.
By Rishi Shah (Head of Music)
Photo creds: Rishi and Jo