15 Things We Learned At Slam Dunk Festival

We headed to Slam Dunk South to chronicle the chaos of the UK's first major summer festival for all of you unlucky enough to miss out…

15 Things We Learned At Slam Dunk Festival
Sam Law
Eddy Maynard and Barnaby Fairley

Another year, another Slam Dunk Festival in the bag. The British festival season is now officially here and our bodies are bruised enough to prove it (damn you, Gallows!). To usher in another summer of hedonism and heavy music, Kerrang! travelled to Hatfield House Park to check out some of the biggest and best bands in alternative music today.

Here's what we learned from Slam Dunk Festival 2019…

Punk Rock Is A Broad Church

There are 20,000-odd punters at Slam Dunk South as we step onsite, and though that old cliché – that no two fans are ever really the same – applies here as much as anywhere, it really does feel like we’ve got the full spectrum of punk-rock on display. From the glittered-up pop-punk glamazons on the Monster Energy Stage to the neon-haired old-schoolers getting messy over at Punk In Drublic, and from the ageing emos enjoying Saves The Day to the new bloods losing their minds to the likes of Employed To Serve and Pagan, to the bruisers getting beaten up with Cancer Bats and The Bronx, it truly does take all types to make the best sort of party.

No Pain No Gain

They say that agony is just weakness leaving the body. If that’s true then we really ought to be capable of some superhero shit after one day at this year’s festival. It’s all our own fault, of course, but when you have bands like Turnstile, Knocked Loose, The Bronx and Gallows throwing down, it’s impossible to resist jumping in the pit… and emerging with a fresh catalogue of injuries. Twisted knees. Bruised biceps. One particularly gnarly knockout elbow to the temple. And that’s just counting the knocks we clocked up during four minutes of Cancer Bats’ Hail Destroyer.

Face Tattoos – The Jury Is Out

Sure, if you’re Wade MacNeil fronting Gallows then having a double dagger running down the side of your face looks fucking badass. But that doesn’t mean injecting ink to your cheeks is automatically a good idea. Roaming through a rogue’s gallery of extroverted tough nuts and wannabe fashionistas, we saw a few genuinely bonkers specimens. A quick note: there’s a thin line between looking dangerous and being confused for that bloke who’s fallen asleep at the house party, only for his mates to get a little enthusiastic with their Sharpies…

Busted Rock

When the ‘secret’ band over on the Key Club Stage were teased as ‘Y3K’, it didn’t take the quickest of minds to clock that those infamous Essex pop-rockers might be making an appearance. The reactions – obviously – ranged from outright disgust to whispered admissions of guilty pleasure. Charlie Simpson might’ve performed with Fightstar and solo at the festival before, but the impact and energy levels generated during Air Hostess, What I Go To School For and Year 3000 truly did catch us on the blindside.

Brendon Yates And His Buddies Are Getting Hardcore Pumped

At this stage, we all know that Turnstile are the real thing. As part of the broader Maryland family changing the face of hardcore – including Angel Du$t (also in attendance) and Trapped Under Ice – their impact is proving inestimable. From open-armed attitude and high-fashion attire to levels of uncompromising energy that border on something from a fitness regime, there’s been a tangible shift in the audience clocking-in to get knocked out. Basic bruisers need no longer apply.

The Game Is Changing For Festival Food

Okay, okay, we don’t want to be the granddads telling kids at festivals they don’t know how good they have it, but back when we first hit the hallowed turf you were lucky to break up the feast of bands and beer with a half-cooked, cardboard infused burger. At Slam Dunk this year, foodies could have filled their day just taste testing the smorgasbord of delights on offer, with the festival only half-jokingly declaring a ‘Festival Of Food’. The best thing we had? The fresh-smoked ‘Surf ‘N’ Turf’ chicken and shrimp with Cajun fries. Goes well with The Bronx.

Music Is Still The Best Weapon Against Fascism

On the day that the EU election results began to trickle out showing an anticipated – albeit still alarming – lurch towards populism and the hard-right, it was reassuring to see so many bands still willing to fight the good fight. He might not be Rage Against The Machine, but Canadian rapper grandson's calls for ‘Peaceful but forceful demonstrations of anti-fascist, anti-hate rock’n’roll resistance’ felt like the sort of rational rallying cry we’ve all been waiting for.

Cash Is Still King

“You take cards, right?” Everyone does nowadays – until they don’t. Unfortunately, with mobile internet that was proving patchy at best, the tap-and-go revolution stalled hard at Slam Dunk. With many vendors simply unable to process plastic purchases, there were plenty of disgruntled punters and a round-the-block queue for the onsite ATMs. The lesson learned? Keep a cash stash tucked somewhere safe for those festival purchases you really need to make. We found it out after having to forego picking up As It Is’ sick retro Facing The Reaper shirt because we’d spunked our wad on a round of strawberry daiquiris from the cocktail bus.

There’s No Substitute For Good Mosh-Pit Manners

If someone falls down, you pick them up. If someone’s in trouble, you help them out. If someone shoves you, you shove them back. And, hell, if a bro wants to risk life and limb crowdsurfing towards an open mosh-pit, you better put your back into getting him up. The standards of throwdown etiquette at Slam Dunk were next level, though, with numerous punters visibly risking their own safety to help out fallen comrades and several getting down on hands and knees to provide less experienced moshers with human launch pads. Special shout-out to the lad who clocked our Cancer Bats shirt and tapped our shoulder between songs to politely ask if we knew what time they were on – then spin-kicked us in the chest the second that next China cymbal hit…

Ska Punk Continues In Rude Health

With festival wristbands dispensed in a variety of chequered designs, there were ska-band jokes aplenty across the site, but the show of good natured strength from punk’s brassiest sub-genre was truly rousing for anyone who’s spent way too long air-tromboning along to All My Best Friends Are Metalheads. From relative newcomers like The Interrupters to storied veterans Mad Caddies and Less Than Jake, there was more than enough material to skank the day away.

There’s Fuck-All Wrong With Growing Old Disgracefully

There’s a meme doing the rounds at the minute with Bad Religion's Greg Graffin (sober, relatively clean-cut) and NOFX’s Fat Mike (well, looking like Fat Mike…) in conversation captioned: “It’s just a phase son, you’ll grow out of it…” The punk veterans are atop the Punk In Drublic bill today, the former’s politicised fire still burning while the latter are every bit the scatalogical legends they’ve always been. With a rainbow ending at the neon-stained punk platform, it felt like a most excellent affirmation that there’ll be no fading of the genre’s brightest lights.

We Wish Our Dads Were As Cool As Lee’s From Gallows

In the spirit of that last point, we really do have to take our hats off to Gallows drummer Lee Barratt’s dad who executed perhaps the most picture-perfect stage-dive of the day, before shoving us out of his way and charging fearlessly into the no-holds-barred violence unfolding in the pit. We’d echo the thoughts of several in the tent who declared him “Slam Dunk’s real MVP”.

Never Forget To Pace Yourself

Late in the day, we took a stroll over to see what was up in the relatively peaceful seclusion of the acoustic stage to find a gaggle of worse-for-wear punters passed out under Hatfield House’s sprouting saplings. The age-old banter of posing for photos with their lifeless figures aside, it served as a cold (beer) warning for any punters unfamiliar with the basics of festival going: drink irresponsibly if you must, but at a one-day event you really should take care to stay vertical and not miss the artists you’ve come all this way to see.

The Menzingers Are Just The Best

Alright, maybe this is less new learning and more reinforcement of existing knowledge, but it bears saying regardless. Tucked away headlining the Dickies Stage and clashing directly with the festival’s box-office heavyweights, the majority of folk at Slam Dunk aren’t there to catch The Menzingers’ outrageously good performance: that irresistible combination of raw emotion and true grit they’ve got down to a tee across tracks as timelessly irresistible as Gates and After The Party. Indeed, the Philly lads are fast becoming one of the most consistently brilliant live acts around, and we strongly suggest that the thousands of folk who missed them this weekend make the effort to catch them next time they’re in town.

One Day Is Not Enough For This Many Awesome Bands

Even with the excellent innovation of having the smaller, similar stages (Jägermeister/Impericon, Dickies/Marshall, Left/Right Key Club) staggered to avoid clashes, we’d still have had to clone ourselves five times over to catch the full sets of every band we wanted to see this weekend. Sure, it’s a festival fact of life, but decisions like The Interrupters vs. Tigers Jaw, Glassjaw vs. Bad Religion and All Time Low vs. NOFX vs. Bullet For My Valentine tore us apart like Tommy Wiseau in The Room. An idea: would it be possible to split the bands over two days and rotate between North and South sites Reading & Leeds style? Not that there’s any chance we won’t be back next year.

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