For the fifth year running, Slam Dunk Festival has graced Hertfordshire University for Slam Dunk South, a day-festival with over 50 acts across six stages. Between the congregation of fans, stages, merchandise stands, signing tents, and bars placed all around the University campus, the venue was, as with every year, absolutely packed, despite not selling out prior to the event.
The first bands begun before the entirety of the continually growing queue had been let in, but that didn’t seem to deter Blitz Kids, who had already gathered an impressively large crowd at the main (Jägermeister) stage, despite being in the first set of bands to play across the stages. No doubt influenced by the success of their January release ‘The Good Youth’, the surprisingly large crowd showed a large portion singing along to every song – we’re expecting Blitz Kids to be higher up on the bill at their next Slam Dunk appearance! Canterbury were next on the bill, who most of the crowd had waited for after Blitz Kid’s departure. The Surrey boys put on an energetic show, with impressive vocals and typically British jokes about the shocking state of the weather – after all, we had been lucky enough to see a bit of sunshine.
Over at the Macbeth stage, situated inside the University, Decade took to the stage, in front of a dense crowd that stretched out of the venue doors. Despite being a slightly lesser known band than some others on the bill, they certainly proved their worth at the festival – their crowd was jumping and singing in unison, clearly transfixed on the band. With sounds similar to You Me At Six and Man Overboard, Decade fitted in perfectly at Slam Dunk, and we’re expecting to see them at more Slam Dunk events in the future.
Later at the Cheer Up Stage, located in the attic, one of the smaller stages, it was the turn of Natives to impress the crowd. Having played Slam Dunk in previous years under the name of Not Advised, Natives have renovated their style and name, and due to their larger than ever before crowd, it seems to have been the right move for the Southampton boys. In keeping with their name, a tribal theme ran throughout the set, with use of tribal-style drums placed by both the drummer and the bassist. The smaller stage allowed for Natives to be one of the more interactive bands of the night, getting up close to the barrier and offering the microphone to the crowd to sing into, heightening the atmosphere of the set. It seems that they have removed any Not Advised songs from their setlist, playing entirely new songs, to the delight of the crowd, who enthusiastically sung along to new singles ‘Can’t say No’ and ‘This Island’.
Back at the main stage, We The Kings arrived to the prerecorded sound of tuning and static, before getting straight into ‘Skywalk Avenue’, taken from their debut 2007 release. Their set-list was nostalgia filled, primarily taking tracks from their earlier albums, when they were inarguably more popular, as well as covering Jimmy Eat World. With their intoxicatingly-happy brand of pop-punk, We The Kings generated one of the most involved crowds, with over-poweringly loud sing alongs, dancing, and plenty of people standing on shoulders.
Whilst the main draw to the festival for most fans are the bands, a DJ stage is also popular at the festival, with a steady crowd visible at the outside stage at any given point throughout the day. The ever-changing crowd could be seen dancing enthusiastically – and for some increasingly more drunkly throughout the day.
As with previous years, the placement of certain bands has been poorly planned, where some bands pull a larger crowd than their stage allows, meaning that not all fans are able to enter their set. Marmozets managed to fill the small attic to capacity, causing security to let fans in on a one-in-one-out basis, disappointing several fans. The Monster stage, situated outside the University and allowing for a narrow and smaller crowd than the main stage and McBeth stage, routinely drew enormous crowds throughout the day. Particularly for bands such as The Devil Wears Prada and I Killed The Prom Queen, fans swarmed to the stage, even surrounding the bus stop near the stage, in an attempt to get a good view of the stage.
Neck Deep also made an appearance at the festival, gracing the Atticus stage for a ten-song set with one of the most densely packed crowds of the day. We last saw Neck Deep at Portsmouth’s tiny Wedgewood Rooms, and the crowd difference was phenomenal, no doubt geared by the release of their first full-length album, which only added to their already cult-like fan base. Neck Deep pulled one of the most diverse crowds seen at Slam Dunk, with young teenagers and greying adults seen in the same glance, all screaming the lyrics back at lead vocalist Ben Barlow, who was enthusiastically throwing himself around the stage, much to the crowds excitement.
Several bands made appearances at signing tents throughout the day, including Motion City Soundtrack, We Are The In Crowd, and Neck Deep, all of which generated enormous queues throughout the campus. Despite not having an official slot, or even being at a signing tent, Tyson Ritter, lead singer of headlining band The All American Rejects, signed autographs and took photos for three hours. Standing on the pavement, Ritter posed differently in each photo and took time to record videos and speak to fans, truly a credit to himself and the band.
With a headliner on each stage, every year it’s a hard choice to make, and for us it was a toss up between Kids In Glass Houses and The All American Rejects – we went for the latter, as we’ll get a chance to see Kids In Glass Houses on their farewell October tour. The ever dramatic Tyson Ritter proved himself to be as theatrical as ever, speaking in the occasional British accent, falling over dramatical during ‘Falling Apart’, mimicking female voices, and parodying British slang. His erratic actions caused several of the crowd to vocally question his T-Total status, but the singer was not deterred, and continued to speak to the crowd, commenting on the enthusiasm from the moshing, jumping, circle-pit-creating audience. Ritter’s vocals were impressive throughout the duration of the show, even more so considering the energy and movement he was putting into each song.
The alcohol and nostalgia fuelled crowd made the last set on the main stage a truly atmospheric one, from the first (incredibly well received) song, ‘Dirty Little Secret’, through to fan-favourites ‘Mona Lisa’, ‘Stab My Back’, ‘Paper Heart’, and ‘Swing Swing’. The All American Reject’s 16-song set was primarily composed of their older music, predominantly taken from their first three releases. Their 2012 release ‘Kids In The Street’ was poorly received in comparison to each of their other albums, each of which have achieved either gold or platinum status, and the lack of representation of it in their live performance reflected this. The theatrics continued throughout the set, with the title track from their latest release being sung into a brightly lit microphone, surrounded by glow-rope wrapped guitars whilst bright white lights spun around an otherwise dimly lit stage. Despite the visually pleasing work, the crowd was obviously less than pleased with the song choice, with several calls of “boring!” echoing around the stage. This was swiftly remedied by a short cover of The Pixies ‘Where is my Mind’, beautifully suited to Ritter’s high-pitched vocals, followed by ‘Move Along’, one of the band’s biggest singles to date, bringing the crowd to their highest point in the evening, singing and jumping in unison with more energy than seen throughout the entire set. Drawing the evening to a close, the band vacated the stage, and the exhaustion of a packed day from the crowd was obviously visible.
Slam Dunk continues in Wolverhampton and Cardiff over the next few days, tickets available here. Slam Dunk Festival will make a return across the UK next May.
Review by Sophie Weller