Words by Sam Dignon, James Halstead, Fran Dignon. Photos by Rachael Griffiths.
It was the second bank holiday weekend in May and for UK festivals that can mean only one thing – it’s Slam Dunk time! Team Rock Sins was out in force to descend upon The University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield for the final part of the Slam Dunk triple header, Slam Dunk South. Here’s what went down.
Opening the main stage, Moose Blood (7) get the day off to a good start. Starting with new single Honey was a bold move but judging the reaction fans have already fallen in love with this song. Based on sets like this it’s clear why Moose Blood look ready to be the next UK rock band to break through in a big way and they are already comfortable playing on stages this size. Moose Blood aren’t quite the complete package yet and need a few more massive tunes but there’s no denying how promising the future is for them.
Young Guns (6) suffer from so poor sound but push on through to deliver a solid set. Playing a mix of old and new material keeps the crowd engaged at the start but midway through they drop an unreleased song from their upcoming album and this just kills the crowds energy and hurts the momentum of the set. The song itself wasn’t bad but the crowd just don’t respond. Still Bones eventually picks things back up for Young Guns. Their set ends up being fairly enjoyable but the band are certainly capable of better.
For many people, the highlight of Slam Dunk every year is the Ska stage. Bands here always have a huge crowd that just don’t stop dancing and as always this is proven again with [spunge] (6.5). It’s nearly to watch this band and not have a smile on your face as they fire through their set and keep the crowd constantly moving. There aren’t many things that make a group of drunk ska fans happier than a song about kicking pigeons in the park.
Miss May (7) are, as usual, more adequate than distinguished. ‘Hey Mister’ is a real highlight and they certainly go down well but are far from a highlight of the day; especially considering what is to follow from bands with far less experience.
Gnarwolves (7) won’t ever put in a bad performance. But today does certainly suffer from being a little sterile, considering they’re currently one of the most vital rock bands in the UK, is somewhat disappointing. Something just didn’t quite connect, even at Slam Dunk, a festival that could justifiably be called home turf for Gnarwolves.
We Came As Romans (5) pull a huge crowd to the Atlas stage who seem to love their nice guy brand of Metalcore. While this initially seemed impressive the appeal wears off very quickly. There’s just no guts behind their newer material that even calling it Metalcore feels wrong. It just feels so watered down to the point where the heavier bits lack any crunch and the choruses just aren’t big enough. They might still appeal to a lot of people but We Came As Romans music just isnt exciting anymore.
Back on the main stage Mayday Parade (3) are even worse. Their pop rock is so dated and boring that it’s just baffling how they’ve manage to pull such a huge crowd. Still the lack of energy from the crowd suggests a lot of people are here purely for nostalgia. When it comes to nice rock songs, Moose Blood just took Mayday to school earlier in the day.
Fortunately Yellowcard (9) came to make everything better. Playing albums in full might be a bit overdone now but it’s clear lots of people were excited to hear Ocean Avenue in full. Even after the title track was played third the energy levels never dipped and it was a treat for fans to hear rarer songs like Empty Apartment and View From Heaven. Life of a Salesman sees a nice circle pit opener up as well as a few crowd surfers and Yellowcard are having just as much fun on stage. Sure there’s a slight reliance on nostalgia here but that’s just a product of playing a classic album in full. Still Ocean Avenue is a very consistent album that still holds up well so it doesn’t have the lulls that album in full shows can often fall victim to. This was easily the best set of the day so far.
Over on the Impericon Stage Hacktivist (7) are just starting and within seconds it’s clear they have this crowd in the palm of their hand. Within seconds the entire room is bouncing around and shouting along and with not a dull moment today definitely proved that festivals like this might be the prime setting for a Hacktivist show. With their debut album finally out it seems like Hacktivist have rekindle that initial buzz they created on their first EP and even with only an album and EP they still have enough songs to pack 40 minutes with nothing but bangers.
While the Kerrang fresh blood stage might have been fairly empty for them, that didn’t stop Hellions (7) from giving it a good kicking. The Australian mobs melodic hardcore is packed with aggression and it’s cleaner moments never take away from that. Perhaps it was because they were a last minute addition to the line up but it’s a shame more people aren’t around to watch Hellions.
Following this, Boston Manor (7) pack out the room and deliver 30 minutes of fun pop punk sing alongs. There’s just enough punk present to keep things from feeling too tame but the band never really do anything exciting or new either. Still the room never stops bouncing for the entire set and this energy stops things from ever dragging on. It’s a very solid showing from the band and they certainly show a lot of potential. Boston Manor could follow in the foot steps of other recent UK pop punk successes.
From a band who were entertaining but rarely exciting to one of the most exciting young bands around right now, it was time for Creeper (9) to come and deliver the standout set of the day so far. The band don’t even have an album out yet and they can fill a 30 minute set with better material than several bands at this festival. The opening run of VCR, Black Mass and The Honeymoon Suite is ridiculous and the energy from the crowd is insane the whole time with tons of crowd surfers and a huge part of the room being taken up by a circle pit. At the centre of it all is Will Gould who is easily one of the most charismatic and entertaining frontmen around right now but the rest of the band don’t let him have all the glory and are just as exciting to watch. Misery is undoubtedly the highlight of this brilliant set. With the queue to get into the room stretching through a large portion of the building it’s confusing why Creeper were stuck on such a small stage but it’s very clear that they won’t be playing these smaller stages for much longer.
On the acoustic stage, Rob Lynch (8) was possibly the biggest surprise of Slam Dunk this year. Especially at such a bad time of the day for clashes, it was hard to predict how this set was going to turn out. Fortunately Rob Lynch put on a fantastic performance and it was excellent to see the room was packed out with smiling faces all singing back to him. His acoustic pop punk tunes helped to create a real summery vibe in the room and it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving this set disappointed with what they saw.
Cancer Bats (9) are one of the most consistent and reliable live bands around but tonight they seem intent on being more than that. Opening with a cover of Children Of The Grave was a cool start but following it with Hail Destroyer, Sabotage and Lucifers Rocking Chair was just ridiculous. Cancer Bats just avoid playing the typical setlist this time and it adds an extra bit excitement to their set. The band were as brilliant as they always are and the insanity in the room just never stops. Even with dropping their biggest songs right at the start, Cancer Bats still fill their 45 minutes with some of the best punk and metal songs around.
Of Mice and Men (8) put in a solid headlining set on the Atlas stage. CO2 cannons embellish the musical climaxes while Austin is a ball of energy; even more impressive considering this is one of their first shows back after a year away. It’s a competent performance and one backed up by some really great songs. There’s a bit of a lull in the middle and Of Mice and Men clearly don’t have enough truly brilliant songs to keep up a 75 minute set but it’s still a strong performance, and one that nicely rounds out the day for the large crowd that gathers to watch them.
Finally it was time to Every Time I Die (9) to wrap things up on the Impericon Stage. And what better way to end the festival than with one of the best live bands around. Whilst Every Time I Die are more suited to smaller venues they still manage to decimate bigger stages with ease. Tonight they pretty much deliver a greatest hits set but there isn’t a single disappointing moment with every song resulting in mosh pits and a swarm of crowd surfers. The combo of We’rewolf and The New Black is arguably the highlight of the set. Even when they decide to play a brand new song people lose their minds. Keith and Jordan Buckley are certainly the ring leaders of all the chaos tonight with Jordan in particular climbing something at every possible moment. Every Time I Die close out Slam Dunk festival in style and remind people why they are one of the best bands around.
As well as this review of Slam Dunk 2016 we also have an enormous exclusive photo gallery from the days’ action courtesy of our excellent photographer and assistant live editor Rachael – please check it out.