Festival Review: Slam Dunk Festival (Four Year Strong, All Time Low, The Wonder Years, Polar Bear Club)

Cemented as one of the best one-dayers in the UK, Slam Dunk Festival brought a stellar lineup of homegrown and international acts to Hertfordshire University in Hatfield this year.

The sun was shining (finally), the tickets were sold out, and the crowds of teenage girls in All Time Low and Pierce The Veil shirts were swarming the campus, eagerly awaiting the opening of the gates. During this wait, a Monster Energy truck pulls up at the side of the road and the passengers begin handing out free cans of the disgustingly sweet, suspiciously coloured rocket fuel. I’m assuming everyone’s seen Dawn Of The Dead, right? Or any other zombie film for that matter…. Well you know there’s always that bit where somebody accidentally opens a door, or thinks it is completely safe to run into that petrol station and collect supplies, and before you know it there are a thousand zombies running towards their exact location , arms stretched out to desperately grab their target? Well this was exactly like that. Terrifying. Truly terrifying. Not necessarily the kids themselves, but the fact anyone could be that excited about some shitty poison that’s gonna give you a banging headache after half an hour in today’s heat. All I can think about is getting in and drinking that first pint of cold lager. I’m a hypocrite, so what? Beer is better than that mental-juice.

Once we’re in I have a quick browse of the stalls outside. Kerrang! Magazine, Macbeth Footwear and The Keep A Breast Foundation (who host the acoustic marquee and sell “I Love Boobies” t-shirts as their way of supporting breast cancer research) are all in attendance, along with merch stalls for the individual bands. It’s worth mentioning here that if I were to have adhered to the Slam Dunk drinking rules that were floating around Facebook in the build-up to the event, I would’ve been completely battered before any of the bands even started on account of the amount of ‘DEFEND POP PUNK’ shirts I’ve seen already at this point.

I headed over to the Monster Energy stage to await openers Heart In Hand, who have made quite a name for themselves on the UK hardcore scene with their relentless touring and solid debut release, “Only Memories”. A couple of songs in and after a bit of encouragement from vocalist Charlie Holmes, we see the first bit of pit action of the day. Their tight and well received set culminates in Charlie crowd-surfing his way across half of the tent and back.

Over at the Vans stage, Brighton punx Gnarwolves are being eagerly awaited by an enormous crowd. Opening their set with a small tease of the “Raining Blood” riff before firing into “History Is Bunk”, it kicks off in the jam-packed room straight away. This gives everyone their first taste of how crazy today is going to be, the crowd-surfing begins immediately and the security have their work cut out for them as they try and collect the bodies piling over the barrier. New songs “Limerence” and “Tongue Surfer” go down brilliantly and plenty of people are belting the words back at them despite the “Funemployed” EP not having been released yet. They finish with a cover of Green Day’s “Basket Case” followed by the excellent closer, “Coffee”. It’s only 3:00pm and already I’m thinking that it’s going to be difficult for any of the bands on the bill to top this performance.

I caught a small bit of Tonight Alive on the main stage when I went to buy a really expensive burger. I have no idea who they are, but judging by the large crowd, they’re a relatively big deal. What I heard just sounded a bit like Paramore (female vocalist included), although I’m sure I’ll get a lot of abuse if heard saying that in front of any of their fans!

Next up for me was The Story So Far on the Macbeth stage, the biggest of the indoor arenas. Having missed all of their UK tour dates earlier in the month I was really looking forward to this, and they didn’t disappoint. In fact, they were fucking amazing. Easily the best band of the day, in my opinion. Fans singing every single word of every single song went from the front row all the way to the bar at the back. They opened with “Roam” and followed up with newer track “Right Here”. Their set consisted of mostly tracks from debut LP “Under Soil And Dirt”, all of which are pure crowd-pleasers. During their last song, “Quicksand”, Gnarwolves bassist Charlie Piper hits the stage and takes over on vocal duties for the final singalong. Like I’ve just said, The Story So Far were by far the best band I saw all day. It’s obvious why these guys are one of the biggest things in pop-punk currently.

One my way to go and catch Chas Palmer-Williams (vocalist of defunct ska-core act, Lightyear) I pop into the Vans room and get to see five or so minutes of fellow UK skankers, [spunge]. Getting to hear “Skanking Song” for the first time in years will bring a smile to anyone’s face, and I’m instantly reminded of my fourteen year old self drinking cider at my local skate park. [spunge] must be getting on a bit now, but they sound spot-on and the room is full of energy.

Chas Palmer-Williams’ humorous solo material is perfect for the outdoor marquee, the crowd is sparse but it doesn’t stop him putting on a great show. Song such as “I Feel Like A Million Zimbabwean Dollars” and an almost depressing but still funny track about a funeral that included the lyrics “Jager for you, for me, formaldehyde”, have everyone pissing themselves. Chas stops one of his numbers half-way through so that he can burp, then states that he can’t believe he had just apologised for burping considering he used to end up naked by the end of every Lightyear show. For his last one, he invited (and in one case physically dragged) some friends and other ex-Lightyear members on stage to play as an air band for his rendition of Lightyear’s “Pack Of Dogs”. That’s right, he had an air guitarist, air drummer, air bassist and and air brass section all pretending to play their parts.

Me Vs. Hero were on in the Vans arena shortly afterwards, I only stayed for a few songs because I wanted to see Allister, who’s set overlapped with the Blackpool pop-moshers. These guys will blatantly do pretty well for themselves, but I feel like they sound just a bit too much like Four Year Strong.

Allister are one of a few ex-Drive-Thru Records names on the bill today (the others being Senses Fail, The Early November and Something Corporate frontman, Andrew McMahon). Allister’s UK tour sees them playing their most important record, “Last Stop Suburbia”, in it’s entirety. I went to the Brighton leg of this tour just a few days previous to Slam Dunk, but still felt like I needed to hear it again. They have a huge crowd, which actually surprised me considering a vast amount of the people in attendance today are probably not even old enough to remember the Drive-Thru era. Allister sound better in 2013 than I ever remembered them to be, and I had seen them at least three times in my teenage years. Like a fine wine, American pop-punk just seems to get better with age!

Back to the Vans stage and Polar Bear Club are in full-swing. The room seems to have emptied out a bit compared to the last few times I had been in there, but this is probably a result of the fact Sleeping With Sirens are playing on the main stage (no? Me neither). “Screams In Caves” gets a great reaction, as does “Bug Parade”, which was played upon the request of a fan they bumped into earlier in the day. How lovely, eh? Nobody punches the air quite as enthusiastically as frontman, Jimmy Stadt. He’s truly great at working the crowd and just seems like an all-round nice guy. A few days after the event I was looking at YouTube videos from the festival and found one of a Polar Bear Club circle pit, with Jimmy stood in the middle singing, but I missed this because I needed to make sure I caught the whole of The Wonder Years’ set.

With new album, “The Greatest Generation”, being the first record to see The Wonder Years hit the official UK charts, the Philadelphia sextet are really on form at the moment. Again, another band that I have been meaning to see for a while now but not had the chance, and they were everything I had hoped and expected. They begin with new single “Passing Through A Screen Door”, and other early highlights include “Local Man Ruins Everything” and “Woke Up Older”. Dan “Soupy” Campbell takes a moment to reminisce of the time that he climbed onto the speaker stack during New Found Glory’s set at Slam Dunk 2010 to get a look at what it would be like to perform in front of the Forum’s massive crowd. It says a lot about how far they have come in recent years when they have completely rammed the very same room, and the sound of kids singing along is close to deafening. They play “Came Out Swinging”, which I think is one of the greatest pop-punk songs ever written, and then finish on “My Last Semester”. Can’t wait to see them again!

Now, you would’ve thought that most people would’ve stayed put for the next band, The Early November, even if it was just to secure a decent spot for when Four Year Strong followed them. However, the room has become half-empty by the time Ace Enders and co. take the stage (OK, it was half-full – I know some of their songs are pretty sad, but let’s stay positive here!). This might have a little to do with the age of a lot of the Slam Dunk crowd. The Early November are hardly the first name on any young emo fan’s lips, and they haven’t even played in the UK for something like eight years, but they really deserve their place this high up the bill. For those “in the know”, The Early November play an incredible set that includes “Something That Produces Results”, “Every Night’s Another Story”, “Baby Blue” and the beautiful “Ever So Sweet”. It seems everybody that is watching them is really into it, and it gave me an opportunity to get a little closer to the front without thinking I’m going to collapse from the sweaty heat (not the ten pints I’ve drunk by this point).

When it came to the headliners there was a choice of All Time Low, Cancer Bats, King Prawn,Four Year Strong, Your Demise, Andrew McMahon or Caspa (yes, there was a dubstep room). I opted for Four Year Strong, who started “The Take Over” and by this point had the Macbeth room absolutely packed. Now you were struggling to even see the stage from the bar, and it seemed like the band were miles away. Figuring there was no chance of me getting as close as I wanted to, I watched half of their breakdown-filled set from afar before deciding it was about time I went and got some fresh air. Stopping off briefly at the Monster Stage to see what the fuss was all about, I wasn’t especially impressed by Your Demise, who are apparently only playing a few more shows before calling it a day. All Time Low had a ginormous crowd, and since it was now dark outside, the main stage had a real summer festival vibe going on.

Overall, my first Slam Dunk was brilliant. The organisation was spot-on, which is something I’m aware they have struggled from in the past, and I only missed a couple of bands that I wanted to see as a result of clashes. It might have taken me until 6:00am to get back to Brighton, so I’ll definitely be staying in a Hertfordshire hotel next year, but it was totally worth it. And I didn’t even hear one person use the phrase “Slam Drunk”, which I’m sure would’ve annoyed me immensely.


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6 Comments

  1. venomoushipster
    Carson Winter6/16/2013 10:46 AM | Permalink

    Wow, that’s Hot Topic as shit.

  2. chris-biggs
    Chris Biggs6/17/2013 2:25 PM | Permalink

    was a quality day. cheers for reading guys!

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