With exam season in full swing there are very few ways university students would rather avoid studying than getting plastered on overpriced Desperados and receiving kicks to the face from overzealous pop-punk fangirls sporting Pokemon thigh tattoos. Thankfully the good people at Slam Dunk Ltd took note and delivered a line-up, set to appease any brand of hardcore fan, to various locations across the UK over the bank holiday weekend including an on-campus stop at the University of Hertfordshire. With friends studying at the university, Slam Dunk felt more like a student loan fuelled bender than a major music festival. Another opportunity to head down to the student union and unwind excessively from strenuously not revising, just this time with bands that are actually relevant and worth paying to see. Being the only day of Slam Dunk to fully sell out proved that this campus party drew in more than just students which was convenient as i’d recognised many of the on-site volunteers from house parties the night before, greeting us to the festival with wristbands, hungover smiles and declaring that “only two more hours of this and I can get wasted”.
They had done a pretty good job of turning this learning environment into a makeshift festival for the day. Three large outdoor stages were positioned in-between different buildings, each one catering to progressively heavier crowds and accompanied by its own bar. The cafeteria of The Forum, a large venue situated on campus, was converted into the third of three indoor rooms hosting the best hardcore, ska and underground music Slam Dunk had to offer. The only gripes were the bottleneck pathways in-between stages, forcing thousands of people to tackle a solitary staircase or squeeze past a bus shelter in frantic attempts to make the next set in time.
After unearthing a bottle of undisclosed spirits, strategically placed within a tree the previous evening, we took our early afternoon buzz to kick off with Trash Talk on the Impericon stage. Despite a couple of line-up changes the band had lost none of their fire with frontman Lee Spielman being as confrontationally commanding as ever, intimidating the crowd into taking a seat with him before diving off anything that could qualify as a stage. Wandering through the festival site demonstrated just how varied the line-up really was. I witnessed a 6’6 shit brick house of a man shamelessly flailing his ginger dreadlocks around, laying out oblivious kids to Thy Art Is Murder a mere 50 feet away from a horde of girls venting the frustration that their parents voted conservative to pop-punk hot shots Neck Deep. The consistent change of pace led us into necking too much tequila and dancing around sombreros to the sounds of Mariachi El Bronx until we took the convenient 15 minute walk back home to top up on cheap cider and cheaper burgers only to pass out on a pile of sofa cushions with the gas still on.
Keeping up Appearances
The hazy saunter back to the festival site highlighted the encompassing nature of Slam Dunk. Walking through crowds of hairy metal heads shotgunning beers and fist bumping each other, passing those cool parents that take their 13 year old kids to see their favourite bands before calling it a night at 8pm, the gang of hardcore kids encouraging each other to overdo it and not being allowed re-entry, it reminded me of so many different memories made at so many different festivals catering to so many different types of music. The fact that a day festival can attract a broad range of fans of diverse genres without any conflict is a testament to the organisers understanding of punk and hardcore and the fans understanding of each other. Intoxicated with a sense of nostalgia and whatever the hell was in that bottle, I was drawn towards the Taking Back Sunday set taking place on main-stage, a throwback to mine and pretty much everyone’s high-school years, but eventually had to convince myself to salvage some punk-rock dignity and went to see The Bronx’s blistering closing set instead.
With next years line-up being anyones guess it’s hard to say whether or not i’ll be returning to Slam Dunk next year, but as-long as the festival remains as unpredictable and eclectic as ever it’ll continue to bring in returning and fresh patrons for years to come.