Slam Dunk Festival
Monday 29th May 2017
Hatfields University, Hertfordshire
Hatfields University of Hertfordshire is the host for 2017's Slam Dunk festival. Now in its eleventh year, the Southern event is the final leg of a three day festival that sees the same line up play Leeds and Birmingham on consecutive days. Today the University is a school of Rock. And Punk. And Goth. And Emo. And Skaters, Haters and First Daters too. As the lineup shows, it’s a festival aimed at a younger audience, so a university campus is both fitting and effective. With 8 stages, both indoors and out, the music is varied and interesting. The younger audience revels in an atmosphere that is buzzing, but also feels safe. 14 year olds can feel free to wander as they please and parents can feel free to let them. And the parents can also find something to their taste. Handy if the youngsters need to borrow some money from bank of Dad. The bars were doing a roaring trade.
Each of the stages highlights something different. With the Jagermeister, Fireball and Monster stages outside showing the headline acts (have you spotted the drink theme yet?), the Key Club stage does so indoors. The Signature Brew stage is a smaller outside bundle of fun whilst the indoor Impericon stage is a nice Punk collection of aggression. With new talent on the Rock Sound Breakout stage and the eclectic Uprawr stage battering the earholes, the only escape to tranquility is the bar with small intimate acoustic sets. Any one of these stages would be excellent venues in their own right, we are lucky enough to get 8 of them, topped off with the obligatory merch, food and booze venues, this is a nice self-contained event. The sound and production is first rate. Each of the venues has their own acoustical challenges but the techs do their work well. And the organisation was also top drawer. Everything seemed to go off like clockwork, with the bands appearing when and where they were advertised. Entry and exit to the festival were good, although getting out of the car park at the end of the gig was a nightmare with local taxis blocking the only entrance into and out of the event. A well placed traffic warden would have alleviated that problem, and earned a bob or two as well.
Rocking the 10 thousand strong crowds are bands like Neck Deep, Bowling For Soup and headline act Enter Shikari. Not necessarily the 'big names' that you might find at Download or Rock am Ring but the fans are as dedicated and the festival is just as much fun. Which is what festivals should be about. It feels busier this year as the predominantly dry weather allows everyone to chill around the bars and stages. Queues as always for beers and burgers, but they move fairly quickly. Security are hi-viz and everywhere, as would be expected, but are friendly and helpful. Although busy, I saw no trouble. Which is refreshing for a festival of youthful drinkers.
Musical highlights are many and varied across the festival. In no particular order, Madina Lake battered the Impericon stage. Chicagan lead singer Nathan Leone got into the crowd, literally, by crowd surfing whilst tethered (just) to a large security man. It was touch and go that he didn’t get washed out to sea on the tide. Zebrahead grooved the Fireball stage with their own anarchic brand of Punk with hints of Ska and Hip-Hop. Surrey based Homebound brought some strong Rockier Punk music to the Rock Sound stage. Cute Is What We Aim For rocked the Monster Stage with an enjoyable set and Florida’s We The Kings staged a fantastic set, as did The Maine from Canada, both having fun with the Monster stage crowd. Three bands that I shall make sure I see again. Welsh rockers Neck Deep headlined the Monster stage and took to the stage to the sound of MCR’s 'Welcome To The Black Parade'. That got the crowd singing and raised the expectation levels which Neck Deep more than met. Influenced by bands like Sum 41 and A Day To Remember they are a great Pop-Punk band whose strong following jumped, sang and partied the closure of the Monster stage. Excellent stuff.
Bowling For Soup were headliners on the Fireball stage, following on from the trombone infused Less Than Jake. BFS spent as much time joking with the crowd as actually playing but were a hit. Somewhat of a Tenacious D feel about the whole thing which was a good thing. Plenty of toilet humour. A testament to them then that they were able to attract and entertain a huge crowd whilst Enter Shikari were on the stage next to them. We Are The Ocean performed their last ever performance on the main stage. They are calling it a day after 10 years much to their fans disappointment. A sad and joyous performance in equal measures. St Albans band Enter Shikari headlined the 2017 main stage, bringing to an end their special shows to mark 10 years since the release of debut album 'Take To The Skies'. Although not a "Big Name", they really ought to be. With dry ice and a fine laser show lighting up the night sky they attracted a huge crowd who were loving what was a polished and professional performance. These guys closed what was again an impressive event and sent the fans home tired but with some great memories.
It's another fine event this year. I will be back again next year to watch the young and beautiful people enjoying the best times of their lives. A heart-warming sight. And an ear warming sound.