It’s been less than a year since the last iteration of Slam Dunk and yet the festival scene is a decidedly different affair. Gone are the COVID passes, the potential postponements, the fear of a latent cough. Back are scrambling pits, arm in arm choruses and sharing ciggies in sprawling crowds. The 2022 edition of Slam Dunk, which takes place in the majesty of Hatfield Park, was another successful coming together of all things punk and punk-adjacent. For many of the revellers, this is an annual tradition and in all corners of the site it had the feeling of a secondary school reunion – complete with over-indulgence and sore heads in the morning.
A suffering Thameslink service meant that fans of both Sum 41 and Liam Gallagher (who’s gig in Knebworth on the same day put particular strain on travel services around Hatfield) were stuck in travel-limbo at Kings Cross from around midday onwards. Alternative routes were advised. Some jumped in Taxis. Others made their way north in the hope of catching the unreliable 614. Spirits on the bus from St. Albans were high – quiet local residents seemed impressed with the multi-coloured hair on show. Arrival in Hatfield Park was a relief to say the least.
First order of the day was MC Lars, MySpace rapper extraordinaire. It must be highly rewarding to see entire crowds spit back the (then?) viral hit Mr. Raven, a song that samples the now outcasted emo-starlets Brand New. The lyrics play out Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem. The song owes more to the Simpsons version of the great tale – all hyped-up, bit of bounce, bit of a sneer. It feels very much of its time but then that feeling of nostalgia is half of the reason why everyone is here today.
The Ska Revival is alive and well. The peaks and troughs of the genre have been well documented. It feels very much like we’re in the midst of a high and Slam Dunk continued last years ode to the skank by inviting Streetlight Manifesto, who’s set on the Dickies stage was all trumpets and trombones. Later on in the afternoon, the Interrupters would show that the modern two-tone flag carriers of Ska are still able to make the genre feel novel. Arguably one of the days biggest crowds arrived for them and then stayed for Dropkick Murphys, who took the ska rhythms and turned them decidedly Gaelic. Beer-sodden, loud, obnoxious but ultimately hearty – like a good Irish stew.
The sprawling nature of the festival site, and the tendency towards clashes, meant that hard choices had to be made across the day. Cancer Bats or The Vandals? Hot Mulligan or The Wonder Years? Neck Deep or Alexisonfire? Ultimately, individuals went with where they were nearest to. Over on The Key Club Stage, this decision was made easier with the Left and Right set up. Catch one great act on one side and then simply pivot to the other side once the set was over. The exceptional four band run of Smrtdeath, Hot Mulligan, Mom Jeans and then Lil Lotus was a callout to the new wave of pop-punk inspired emo. The sound was perfect, guitars cutting through, gang vocals heavy.
As night fell, it was time to pitch up for the two festival heavy-hitters, Alexisonfire and Sum 41. The former have always been staples of this scene – early albums Alexisonfire and Watch Out! helping to cement legendary status earlier. Their set was a fiery run through all that has made them darlings for so long. Crowdsurfers, shoes lost in pit – chaos at its finest. From this pent-up aggression to the iconic pop-punk of Sum 41 was something of a change in tone. It was fantastic to see Deryck Whibley in such high spirits as the band ran through the hits. Opener ‘Motivation’ set the tone – a blistering reminder of the power just three chords can do. With songs taken from across the discography, even as far back as debut ‘Half Hour of Power’, it was a set for the old-heads. The only sad thing that can be said is that it all went to quickly – much like the teenage years that these bands occupied in the timeline of our lives.
Words by Alexander Sarychkin. Photos by Aaron Jolly – @aaronjolly.jpg on Instagram.