Festival Review: Slam Dunk Festival - South, Hatfield 26/05/2019
Slam Dunk 2019, more than anything, was an unparalleled experience. After months of anticipation, we travelled to Hatfield to witness something incredible.
Our day in Hatfield started off with rock great Willian Ryan Key, from the band Yellowcard, perform an acoustic set on the Marshall stage. Striking a solitary figure on the small stage, he was phenomenal; racing through tracks from the entirety of Yellowcard’s discography, he had the crowd singing every word: a host of classics were played, from 2003’s ‘Way Away’ up to 2012’s ‘Southern Air’, and after promising a return in the near-future to play his soon-to-be-released debut solo album, he breaks into the opening chords of ‘Ocean Avenue’. Everyone knew every word and no-one could stop smiling!
Next up came one of our must-see bands, on the Jagermeister stage: the brilliant The Plot In You. The sudden silence of the tent announced their opening: ‘Landon Tewers’, striking a figure buried by the weight of the world, slowly walked onto the stage before breaking out the melodious ‘RIGGED’ from their latest album, ‘DISPOSE’. Soon joined by drummer Mathis Arnell, their set slowly starts to ramp up, the darkness of the lyrics reflected by the vitriol in his voice, and then the rest of the band came on, and the set truly began. They never seemed to take a break, with their album mostly consisting of their new album (apart from the incredible ‘Take Me Away’), before it was time for the final song, ‘DISPOSABLE FIX’; a slower song which breaks into a heart-tremblingly powerful bass and drum combination at its climax. Two incredible bands to kick off the day!
After this, we raced back to the Monster Stage to catch Boston Manor’s set. Coming on all at once, with Henry Cox wearing a white balaclava reminiscent of Twenty One Pilots, the crowd wouldn’t stop screaming; it didn’t help when they launched into ‘Flowers In Your Dustbin’ and ‘England’s Dreaming’ from 2018’s ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’. Their ridiculously energetic set didn’t end there though, blazing into crowd favourite ‘Laika’ from 2016’s ‘Be Nothing’. A brilliant set, but one that for me was cut short with the time slowly creeping forward: it was time for the secret set in the Key Club Stage: Y3K.
Year Three Thousand. Or, rather, ‘Busted’.
It would have been anyway, if we hadn’t massively misjudged the size of the crowd, filling up the tent for both the Left stage and the Right stage, as well as spilling out maybe five rows deep from all sides. We were able to get into the tent but no further! Sadly, then, we only saw two songs: ‘Air Hostess’ and ‘Shipwrecked in Atlantis’, before calling it a day and moving onto a stage where the band would be visible — though we will say that from the roaring of the crowd, with everyone belting out each and every word, Busted were certainly a crowd favourite.
Next for us were Trophy Eyes, again on the Marshall stage. Having already performed once that day on the acoustic stage, frontman John Floreani couldn’t stop smiling throughout hit set, opening with ‘Friday Forever’ from their latest album, ‘American Dream’; a brilliantly (and surprisingly) fun song about the idea of loneliness — how, even if surrounded by friends and family, you can still feel isolated and alone. When asking the crowd whether they’d seen Trophy Eyes before, at least half roared in approval, and by the end of the set we reckon the other half regret having missed out all these years. They flew through their set: highlights including ‘Lavender Bay’ and fan-favourite ‘Chlorine’, before ending with the anthemic sing-along ‘You Can Count On Me’.
As soon as Trophy Eyes finished we was running to the main stage to catch some of the iconic — and comfortably the most colour co-ordinated band of the day — As It Is, with the stage prominently displaying a vivid red, lightning-bolt esque graph on a black background. Possibly the most photogenic band we’ve ever seen, front man Patty Walters was honestly a delight to be hold. Comfortable as anything, he had complete control of the crowd. At one point, he went offstage to grab an acoustic guitar, before elaborating: “We’ve been trying to change it up a little. Yesterday in Leeds we did the hardcore version of this song, so today we’ll do the acoustic version” he said to his adoring audience, before getting ready to play. Or maybe not: “ah fuck it, we’ll do the hardcore version for you guys too’, he screamed at his legions of fans, before completing the true rock star image by smashing the acoustic guitar on the floor until it was just splinters and string and launching into a heavy version of ‘The Question, The Answer’, which had the crowd smashing together, launching off of each other and having the time of their lives. When they finished, lead guitarist Ronnie Ish grinned manically at the crowd: “who’d have thought As It Is would be the heaviest band on the main stage!” Incredibly good fun.
Before finishing, though, Patty explained about the guitar: a £30 one from Argos, it’s remains are to be signed and sold off for charity! For any instrument lovers out there aghast at his treatment of the poor music-maker.
After, we moseyed on back to the Jagermeister stage to see The Word Alive, who recently featured on a song League Of Legends, following in the footprints of music heavyweights Zedd, Against the Current and Imagine Dragons for years previous. They didn’t do this one live, sadly, but what they did do was epic enough. Having five studio albums to their name, they had loads to choose from — and they did well cherry-picking the highlights, blasting through fan favourite ‘Lighthouse’, which had the crowd roaring with approval; the thunderous ‘Misery’, a song about toxic relationships; and the ferocious ‘Trapped’, before ending on ‘Why Am I Like This?’, a powerful song to end a powerful set.
We then raced once more to the Monster stage to catch some of Simple Plan; the best thing about them is that they were the perfect band after some of the heavy bands that we had been seeing. We loved them, as did the crowd — even at the outskirts everyone was singing every word — but the highlight for us was just how chilled they were. ‘Summer Paradise’ had the crowd kicking Simple Plan-emblazoned beach balls into the crowd, bouncing from side to side and front to back, while ‘I’m Just A Kid’ featured drummer Chuck Comeau swapping with lead singer Pierre Bouvier to achieve his “life long dream of being the lead singer in a rock band”, leading to him crowd surfing, an outstretched angel touching his adoring public. An energetic set that raised everyone’s spirits to almost celestial levels.
Next up was Story Of The Year on the Jagermeister stage once more. Probably the heaviest of the day (that we had had the pleasure of watching, at least) they were something to behold. After, those same crowd members remarked that they had comfortably been the highlight of their day.
Then came a short stint of staying in the Key Club stage, for grandson, Lights and I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, all of whom were on our list of must see acts. Let us start by saying Jordan Benjamin, also known as grandson, is an insane talent. The anticipation was oozing out of his antsy audience, and then he walked on stage, straight into new release ‘Stigmata’; a dark, vitriolic song with a messy, heart-pounding chorus. To be honest, most of his songs could share that description — but that’s not to say they’re not all equally brilliant. Admittedly I might be biased as a fan, but every song, old or new, had the entire tent leaping into the air with the fury that his lyrics inspired; to anyone who would try to stop them from speaking out: then the final song started, and everyone went mental. ‘Blood // Water’ live is something special.
Almost immediately after, on the other side, came Lights. The first thing we have to say about Lights, before I mention her music, is her hair! In the smoke swirling around her, her hip-length, vividly vibrant red hair cut through the haze and framed her silhouette as she broke into songs both old and new. And also not hers, in the case of Cher’s ‘Believe’, which had everyone in the crowd singing along, some knowing the words even without realising it (ourselves included!). Opening with ‘New Fears’, she was a breath of fresh air to the otherwise (for the most part) punk-rock dominated festival. With the crowd’s energy and love of the brilliant performance going on stage, the set truly came alive.
Back to the left side to catch IDKHow. Their set was littered with a selection of covers, old material from their original band The Brobecks, and tracks from their recently released ‘1981 Extended Play’, such as ‘Social Climb’, ‘Absinthe’ and ‘Choke’. An incredibly unique and eclectic band, their 80s-influenced sound is obvious. A tremendous frontman, Dallon Weekes had the crowd at his feet. He could have just spoken for the forty minute slot and the crowd would have lapped it up. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Then it was time: All Time Low. What’s there to say about them that hasn’t already been said before? Their live performance was top-notch, as everyone expected. Their banter both with each other and their huge crowd was unparalleled; sparklers, smoke machines and stupendously anthemic songs galore. Their set spanned the eleven or so years since the release of ‘So Wrong, It’s Right’, although heavily featuring the new ten-year old ‘Nothing Personal’, as an anniversary show of sorts. It meant that fans both new and old could enjoy themselves, and some more than others; during ‘Time-Bomb’, the band had a selection of fans on stage dancing their hearts out and living the rock-star dream of performing in the headline slot of Slam Dunk. One of the most enjoyable headline slots of any festival we’ve ever been to and we are still buzzing.
And that was the end of SD19!
Slam Dunk is a phenomenal festival. It’s use of dual stages in one tent ensures that no time is wasted between bands coming on, not to mention that less time is wasted for festival-goers having to cross from one stage to another, and somehow every stage seemed intimate. Even the headliners, which for us were All Time Low, seemed as close to the crowd as they could get. Every act on a stage big enough had mosh pits and crowd surfing, every single person at the festival loved it. Far away for Slam Dunk would be considered intimate in some of the bigger festivals — by which we mean ones with the insanely large crowds by the end of the day, such as Reading and Leeds, or Community, rather than ones that are necessarily bigger in terms of acts or awareness — and it made each act extra special.
We for one can’t wait for next year.
Words by James O’Sullivan and Photography by Megan Smith