With the Spring Bank Holiday kick starting the festival season in the UK, thousands of rock fans descended upon Slam Dunk Festival. The travelling festival began the weekend in Birmingham on Saturday before taking over Leeds on Sunday. I headed to the finale on the Bank Holiday itself in Hatfield.
Once again engulfing the campus of the University of Hertfordshire, the spectre of last Monday’s horrendous attack on Manchester Arena loomed over those entering the arena. A heavy police presence, both armed and unarmed together with the festivals security team did a fantastic job at keeping the event safe. It must also be said that following complaints of long queues to enter last year, and despite the enhanced searches in place, everything ran very smoothly from what I could see.
This year the site saw the addition of the ‘Fireball’ stage, which at Hatfield was located outside next to the main stage. This new space was well utilised and provided a unique area to house the very best in ska and pop punk including Fenix TX who opened the day’s proceedings. It was a decent set by the cult pop-punk band and they would be the first band to acknowledge the reaction to last week’s terror attack, echoing the sentiment of many today that we will not let the terrorists win, and we will never stop enjoying live music.
There are eight stages at Slam Dunk and at Hatfield these are split between outdoors and indoors stages. This year, as the predicted rain fails to materialise to more than a light drizzle, I spend almost all of my time outdoors. I next strolled to the main stage for the excellent Crossfaith. Japans electronicore heroes did a great job at warming everybody up for what was to come, including their always epic cover of The Prodigy’s ‘The Omen’. An appearance by Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo was also a nice early surprise for the crowd.
A quick meander around the site then led me to young up and comers Milk Teeth on the ‘Signature Brew’ stage. Milk Teeth attracted a decent crowd considering how early it was in the day and from what I witnessed they didn’t disappoint. It was whilst enjoying them that I noticed the University now had a Subway sandwich shop, which was doing great business providing an alternative to the usual overpriced festival burger.
Sadly I had to leave Milk Teeth before they finished as my attention was required on the main stage for what appears to be the last ever show by Essex four-piece We Are The Ocean. I feel they deserved the chance to headline a stage for their farewell, but by playing the main stage they were greeted with a large crowd to say goodbye. A decent set followed with the highlights being ‘Good For You’ and ‘The Waiting Room’ as yet another great little band is forced to call it quits.
I then darted inside for the only time today and headed to the Universities music venue The Forum, which as always I loved as a venue. Playing were another young band gaining momentum at the moment, Boston Manor. What transpired over the next thirty of so minutes was delightful as the band and crowd made the most of their time. It was certainly one of the rowdiest crowds of the weekend and a top drawer performance by a band with big things in their future.
As I mentioned, at Hatfield we now have two large outdoor stages next to each other, and this positioning allowed me to flit between the two for the rest of the day, catching numerous acts in the process. Sometimes I could even listen to two at once as annoyingly the noise bleed could be quite bad at times. That however would be my only complaint when talking about the new stage.On the main stage next, Americans Beartooth demonstrated why they are one of the most exciting bands in heavy music with a fantastic performance. From start to finish they delivered, with Kenta Koie of Crossfaith returning the favour by joining in on ‘Body Bag’ to the fans delight. The finish of ‘In Between’ and ‘Hated’ had the large crowd signing along and showed why they are another band with big things in their sights.
I was then able to shoot along to the ‘Fireball’ stage and catch the end of what looked a fun filled set from John Feldmann’s Goldfinger with ’99 Red Balloons’ bringing his set to a close. Comparing the ‘Fireball’ stage all day was MC Lars, who would also perform in between acts. Following Goldfinger he treated the audience to a rendition of ‘Space Game’, which delighted his fans and bewildered those unacquainted with his work.
Deaf Havana made their return to the festival next over on the main stage, and proceeded to display their pride in their newest album. Having released ‘All These Countless Nights’ a couple of months back you would expect to hear a handful of tracks from said album. As for today, we got seven new songs in a set that consisted of ten songs. So not a typical festival setlist, however one that fans of the band, myself included, enjoyed greatly.
It was all about ska next, which is one genre that really helped Slam Dunk establish their brand in their early years. I headed back to the ‘Fireball’ stage for the end of Reel Big Fish followed by Less Than Jake. Both these bands have played higher slots at Slam Dunk over the years and their positioning under Bowling For Soup this year just went to show the strength of the ‘Fireball’ stage. Both bands were on top form and the large crowds for both lapped them up.
As with any multi-stage festival there will be times when you have to choose who to watch, yes there is no avoiding those dreadful clashes. Slam Dunk always provides huge choice due to the strength of their line-ups and this year is no different. Come the time for our headliners I have to choose between six bands, five I’d happily watch. This year for me though and winning the decision were a band from just up the road in St. Albans, Enter Shikari.
Enter Shikari were due to headline Hevy Music Festival in 2016; however the festival would never take place. Since then the band have progressed into arenas on their most recent tour and are clearly looking to establish themselves as a headline act. They were well received upon being announced as headlining Slam Dunk, despite being the first headliner without a foot in the pop punk/ska camp that the festival has been built on.
I therefore felt that this booking was an experiment on both the band and the festivals part. Thankfully having just witnessed the pure majesty of the bands headline performance I can confirm that this experiment was a rousing success. Now with Enter Shikari announcing another arena tour and Slam Dunk selling out two of the three days, eyes will be very much on the future and how all concerned can develop.
As for Enter Shikari’s performance, presented throughout with a stunning light and laser show, the band came of age with a career defining show. Billed as a ten year celebration of their debut album ‘Take To The Skies’ that album clearly dominated, but there were also nods to their other work as well, in particular their most recent release ‘The Mindsweep’.
There were political statements, and a tribute to Manchester by way of an Oasis cover, but it was the band’s music that really does the talking with ‘Mothership’, ‘The Last Garrison’, ‘Sorry, You’re Not A Winner’, ‘Juggernauts’ and ‘Anaesthetist’ my personal highlights.
So, it was another successful year for a festival that goes from strength to strength, always growing and always adapting. Even in a year when they have faced stiff competition from Download Festival’s new ‘Avalanche’ stage, they have produced a line-up that can almost completely sell out three huge sites. The addition of the ‘Fireball’ stage really has helped in achieving that and it will be interesting to see whether it returns in some capacity next year.
The final words though really should go not just to the fantastic staff and the police who helped this event go ahead in the wake of such tragic circumstances, but also to the fans. The fantastic fans that have refused to bow to the evils of the world and that have stood and sung in defiance. We will not be broken.
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