The sun is shining, the drinks are flowing and pop punk can be heard blaring out across the quiet little town of Hatfield. Yep, it’s that time of year again… It’s time for Slam Dunk South!
The music is spread across six stages within the Hertfordshire Uni campus. It’s a fairly small site but if, like me, you’ve never been before then it takes a while to get your bearings and work out where everything is. The majority of festival-goers can be found outside at the Kerrang! / Jagermeister stage, clutching a pint and basking in the bank holiday sunshine. Despite being hidden away from the sun in the university’s main forum building, The Vans, Macbeth and Tiger stages are slowly filling up, as are the Monster Energy and Keep A Breast marquees, which can be found nestled among an array of merch stands, signing tents and burger vans.
While Gnarwolves, The American Scene and The Summer Set kick things off on the main stages, I head over to the Tiger stage to catch local band, Leagues. These guys secured their spot at the festival after winning Slam Dunk’s local bands competition and from the moment they take to the stage, it’s easy to see why! They grin as the crowd whoop and cheer, then launch straight into pounding drum beats and upbeat rock riffs that get fans singing and dancing along in no time.
They play relentlessly, giving it their all and really proving just how much they deserve this prestigious opening slot by warming the crowd up ready for a host of huge bands such as Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!, Devil Sold His Soul, Senses Fail and Cancer Bats. After their set, I catch up with Leagues’ drummer Josh, who seems pleased with the band’s performance: “We didn’t expect that many people to turn up and watch us. Overwhelmed is an understatement!”
“Last year myself, David and Rhys came to Slam Dunk South. We took a photo next to one of the stages and said “This time next year boys, we’ll be playing!” It was just a light-hearted joke, but now here we are…!”
“When they announced the winners we hit the roof, running around screaming our heads off like kids! Dave didn’t even believe we’d won, he was driving back from London at the time and refused to believe that what I said on the phone was true! We really never thought we’d win, but we’re insanely grateful for the opportunity they gave us.”
“Our next step is to go on tour around the UK as much as possible. We have a few bands we’ve made friends with and we’ll be announcing it all soon. We’d love to play Slam Dunk again, that would be amazing! Hopefully next year we’ll earn ourselves another slot, but who knows…”
Next up, it’s time for Tonight Alive who bound onto the main stage grinning from ear to ear.
There are a few hardcore fans screaming their lungs out in anticipation for the Aussie band, but you can tell what everyone else is thinking; surely a female-fronted pop punk band can only mean one thing… But these guys are not just another Paramore! Ok, so maybe they sound a little bit like them, but they’ve got loads more energy and a lead singer that looks like she’s just stepped off of a surfboard rather than a skateboard. She jumps around the stage like she’s on springs, treating the crowd to an energetic, powerful performance and setting a perfect example of just how good, honest pop punk should be.
Pierce the Veil follow suit with a spectacular high-energy performance, complete with head-banging, crowd sing alongs and a huge explosion of neon confetti.
It seems quite early in the day for a band with such huge stage presence to be making their mark on the festival but regardless, anticipation has been mounting all afternoon for these guys and they certainly don’t disappoint. Their energy is infectious, making the crowd jump around enthusiastically before eventually going completely mental as Sleeping With Sirens’ heartthrob Kellin Quinn joins the band on stage for a flawless rendition of closing number ‘King For A Day’.
I make a quick dash back to the Tiger stage to catch Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! Only to be met with hoards of eager fans being denied access to the tiny room, which is already full to bursting. France’s answer to A Day to Remember have taken the UK by storm in recent months, but it seems that the event organisers have underestimated just how big they’ve become.
After being told by a security guard that I would literally have to fight through the crowd if I wanted to get in, I decide to pop next door and watch the end of Aussie rockers Hands Like Houses’ set on the Monster Energy stage instead.
The tent is fairly empty and the small crowd that has gathered are very static. The band sound incredible but since they’re still relatively unknown over here they don’t get the response they deserve, making it clear that they should have swapped stages with Chunk.
After grabbing a greasy festival burger, it’s time to head over to the Tiger stage once more for Yashin.
Again, there are far too many people trying to cram themselves into such a tiny room, meaning that even more fans are being turned away by security. It’s a shame because these guys would probably be more at home on one of Slam Dunk’s bigger stages, but instead they make the most of what little space they’ve got, jumping around, head-banging and launching themselves into the crowd.
Every song prompts a mosh pit, causing the fans that have managed to squeeze themselves in to go absolutely mental. Yashin’s set is chaos from start to finish, so much so that the crowd emerge bruised, battered, sweaty but smiley… Always a sure sign of a good show!
Way back in the summer of 2008, I was introduced to Kids in Glass Houses and their debut album, Smart Casual.
For the sake of nostalgia, I decide to go and catch their set over on the main stage, fully expecting to see a poppy but predictable performance from the South Wales-based five-piece. It’s a nice surprise then to see them burst out onto the stage with so much energy.
Lead singer Aled throws himself around, belting out lyrics as if his life depends on it. He has the crowd in the palm of his hand as he prompts them to join in with the ‘woah’s and the ‘do-do-do’s that make their songs so ridiculously catchy. Their music makes for the perfect soundtrack to a sunny day and their performance proves that although they’ve been away for a while, these guys are still more than worthy of gracing the main stage.
Over in the Monster Energy tent, Woe, Is Me are just as impressive.
The crowd don’t seem to know what’s hit them as the band explode into the room and waste no time in taking over the stage with their insane metal-core melodies. Effortlessly blending screams with beautifully clean vocals, they keep the crowd on their toes throughout the whole set and leave everyone in the room wanting more.
For most bands, it’s hard to choose which tracks to open and close with but it’s very rare that their choices make an entire crowd look confused, which is exactly what happens as Deaf Havana begin their set on the main stage with a rendition of Robbie Williams’ ‘Let Me Entertain You’. Some people are laughing; others are baffled, while the rest seem to assume that they’ll launch into their own material after a few lines of the cheesy pop cover… But they don’t, and sadly it’s a sign of things to come.
I’d heard so many good things about Deaf Havana’s live shows, but today they show no signs of living up to the hype. Just as the disappointment is starting to set in, lead singer James croaks into the mic to explain that he’s lost his voice. My disappointment soon turns to admiration as I realise that it would have been all too easy for them to pull out of the festival, and decide that a slow, croaky set is better than no set at all.
There’s no messing about with dodgy covers for Memphis May Fire, though. Instead they get straight down to business, roaring into the microphone, thrashing around and driving the crowd wild. The Monster tent is completely rammed and it’s not hard to see why. With their attitude, their rolling hardcore drum beats and their raw, powerful vocals, these guys are absolutely incredible.
On my way to watch the final acts of the day, I stop to take a quick peek into the Keep A Breast stage, which reveals that Jonny Craig is sounding better than ever. After a recent spell in rehab, he’s back on top form and it’s clear that the crowd are fully aware of how far he’s come. The tent is packed and it’s impossible to get anywhere near the front. It doesn’t matter though, because no-one’s really watching Jonny Craig.
Instead they’re all staring into space, mouths wide open, captivated by his beautifully unique, powerful voice. It’s refreshing to see so many people quietly appreciating live music, especially when you consider that just a few months ago these people would have been more interested in what was going on in his personal life than on the stage in front of them.
Back on the main stage, excitement is mounting for one of the festivals biggest headline acts. Matt Barnes and Max Helyer of You Me At Six have been DJing in between bands all day, but as the screams from teenage girls and chants of “All Time Low! All Time Low!” get louder and louder, it’s hard to hear what they’re playing.
The cheers are deafening as the band burst onto the stage, sporting their trademark spiky hairdos and cheeky grins. As bras and beach balls come flying towards the stage, they launch into a set that’s pure pop-punky awesomeness from start to finish. They crack jokes, bounce around and get everyone singing along to both new and old songs alike, making it clear that these Baltimore boys know exactly how to get the crowd going. All Time Low go out with a bang and all too soon an awesome day of sunshine, cider and spectacular live music is drawing to a close.
Slam Dunk might be over for another year but the coverage continues here at The Alt Entertainer, so stay tuned for videos and interviews with some of the day’s top acts!
Words and photography by Liz Murray