Slam Dunk is a day festival that showcases some of the best up-and-coming bands in metal, punk, and alternative music coming out of the UK and America. The festival travels between Leeds, Cardiff and Hertfordshire, each time stopping for a day at university venues. I went to Slam Dunk South, which was held at the ‘Forum’ Student Union venues at the University of Hertfordshire.
I’ve been to Slam Dunk every year for the past three years, and each time it keeps getting better. As a fairly new festival, the bands are quite small unless you really know your alternative scene, but now as it gains momentum it’s able to pull in some of the bigger names.
The atmosphere at Slam Dunk was one of camaraderie, something which often happens with this kind of music. With the alternative scene there seems to be a kind of kinmanship between fans, which means festivals always give out great vibes.
The main outdoor Jager stage had the biggest names playing and the fact that it was outdoors gave it a really chilled atmosphere. Indoors some of the heavier bands played smaller stages giving the impression of a big London headline gig. The facilities at the University of Hertfordshire are absolutely fantastic, and the multiple nightlife venues of differing sizes allow for a number of different stages inside one big complex. The Atticus stage was my favourite, offering crappy pop-punk of the finest order, and some great acoustic sets, too. My favourites from the stage were Modern Baseball, Neck Deep and Real Friends, all of which played great singalong crowd pleasers. Unfortunately the huge windows in this room let in a lot of natural light which somewhat detracted from the atmosphere. The bands still all played really well though.
The Monster Energy stage introduced me to some really fantastic bands who I’d never had a chance to listen to before, like Heart of a Coward, who played far too early in the day for the kind of crowd they could have drawn. The Devil Wears Prada were fantastic as always, as were Letlive. Bury Tomorrow unfortunately ruined a fantastic set with the obnoxiousness of their front man, who decided to punctuate each song with a social justice message about suicide or domestic violence, all of which sounded incredibly phoney and detracted from the music.
The best new discovery of the festival for me was a British pop-punk band called Decade, who played the indoor Macbeth stage. Meanwhile, the biggest surprise was the headliner, The All-American Rejects.
The All-American Rejects is probably the biggest name Slam Dunk has ever had on the bill, with previous headliners being Kids In Glass Houses and Taking Back Sunday. Kids In Glass Houses actually played again this year, but were demoted to a smaller stage to make room for AAR, despite AAR’s recent decline since emo peaked and died along with shag bands. I was torn between seeing KIGH or AAR, but eventually was persuaded by my friends to stick with the latter. The last time I saw The All-American Rejects was when they supported Blink-182’s comeback tour in 2012. At that gig the frontman Tyson Ritter was absolutely off his nut and could barely string a sentence together. He insulted the crowd, writhed around on the floor and was just generally a mess. I was expecting much of the same this time round, but I was happily proven wrong.
I don’t know whether Tyson Ritter has been to rehab or whatever in the last couple of years but the whole set was airtight, Ritter not missing a single note and the whole show just obviously very well rehearsed and well thought out. Ritter wasn’t too creepy and his vocals, which are basically a carbon copy of the studio recordings, were a joy to listen to. Everyone was clearly expecting a total trainwreck and the fact that we were all proven wrong made it a real highlight to finish the day on, even though I sensed that everyone was just waiting to hear Move Along, Gives You Hell and I Wanna. The set made me go home and immediately listen to The All-American Rejects’ back catalogue. It was fantastic.
If you’re still stuck in your misunderstood teen phase like me then Slam Dunk is definitely the festival for you, although I encourage you to do your research on the lineup beforehand so that you come in with a good idea of which bands you want to see – otherwise you’re going to miss some real hidden gems. And, as I have learned this year, always give the headliner the benefit of the doubt, because they may just surprise you.