Though I’ll always have a soft spot for the Galleria and the afternoons spent browsing TK-Maxx for blink-182 t-shirts, Hatfield’s true allure is the annual Slam Dunk Festival. Nestled away in the quiet surroundings of Hatfield Park, Slam Dunk caters for those of us who still want to hear guitars. In a year where Reading Festival seems to have given itself over to soulless boardroom pop music, Slam Dunk has stepped in as a true rock festival. It’s a chance for families to pass on Dickies and Vans to a new generation and it’s worth noting that Slam Dunk was incredibly family friendly, a common sight being tiny heads smothered by gigantic ear defenders. It was a perfect day with excellent acts and already excitement grows for the 2022 edition, taking place in both Leeds and Hatfield on the June 3rd and June 4th 2022 respectively.
With the sunshine making its final September appearance, Slam Dunk kicked off early with a resounding opening set from Blood Youth. As kick-pedals thundered and pinch harmonics squealed, I was struck by the realisation that this was the first live music I’d seen since Molchat Doma in February of 2020. Blood Youth’s Slipknot inspired sound cut straight through the crowd and reminded us all of the importance of live music. You just can’t replace that feeling no matter how many Zoom gigs you go to.
Making our way around the Slam Dunk site, we were drawn towards the trumpets. There is no doubt that Ska is back and back in a big way. You only have to see the positive reception to Jeff Rosenstock’s Ska Dream to see that a genre that seemed momentarily set to languish in the depths of cringe has now found a resurgence amongst a new generation of skankers. The tight and tidy Popes of Chillitown were the best of the bunch – their upbeat rhythms getting feet moving early, the crowd clearly blind to their necks burning in the heat.
The day’s first hit of sweet nostalgia came from Hellogoodbye, a band I first discovered on MySpace in around 2005 with their hit ‘Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn.’ On that charming Sunday they were crowd-pleasers entirely, playing a blistering set that pandered to all our desires for a singalong. Drinking Johnny Walker Black Label at one in the afternoon and screaming out the lyrics to Touchdown Turnaround, frontman Forrest Kline was enigmatic, alluring and all-round entertaining. It was an early highlight, the songs themselves being entirely timeless.
Keen to see (but not partake in) a good old fashioned wall of death we headed over to Malevolance. In my notes for the day I wrote: ‘The beatdowns that don’t quit. A relentless barrage of noise. A circle pit round the desk. Sub drops. 808s and elbow-drops.’ Try and listen to these lot and not make the kind of face you do when you smell a particularly grim alleyway in a back-corner of Camden. They were, frankly, excellent and a reminder that British Hardcore is alive and well, just so long as the venues that welcome this testosterone heavy music don’t all disappear.
Onto Funeral for a Friend. What more can be said about one of the most influential British bands of the last twenty years? In a set that leant heavily on Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation and Hours the band held the packed out Jägermeister tent in the palm of their hand. Every song a singalong, every singalong an emotional outpouring. It was everything I’d hoped for and more, perfectly whetting the appetite for their headline shows in the new year.
At this point, with the sunshine slowly fading, and some gaps in the schedule emerging, we took to the arena, taking in the sights and sounds as people grew increasingly lubricated. As alluded to earlier, Slam Dunk is a very kid friendly festival and whilst there were clear pockets of debauchery, particularly around the Jägermeister van as it gave out free liqueur, generally the night time brought only good feeling. Singalongs to Alkaline Trio’s Radio flung out over the bodies as brothers-in-arms locked in biceps for big bellowed choruses. In a choice between concluding our evening with Don Bronco or NOFX, the latter won.
Look, NOFX have been touring since the mid-eighties and they’re still incredible. Fat Mike is an icon of punk rock, a man who truly doesn’t give a shit about what people think. He’s got a timeless catalogue to back up the clear arrogance and anybody with an interest in seeing the greats should catch NOFX. Their set drew from across their great records, with particular stand outs being ‘Leave It Alone’, ‘Franco Un-American‘ and all-time classic ‘Kill All The White Man’.
As we left Slam Dunk in a swathe of bodies, we smiled. It had been a great reminder of the power of music. Really, this is the kind of festival anyone with even a passing interest in punk rock music should attend. It has a real community atmosphere, and doubtless all the kids on the shoulders of their parents will, in time, come with their own children, passing on that energy in Hatfield Park.
Until next year Slam Dunk!
Find out more about Slam Dunk Festival on their official website
Review by Alexander Sarychkin