After the last 18 months it was hard to imagine festivals ever returning, so walking into the hallowed grounds of Hatfield Park last weekend was truly a blessing. With big line-up changes from its first announcement and the cancellation of last year, the skepticism of some was, it has to be said, fairly high. But it’s Slam Dunk Festival… time to don the chequered shirt and the obligatory pair of vans and get it done!
After getting my bearings (finding the Fat Wreck Chords stand) we settled into the first act of Slam Dunk 2021 – Lizzy Farrall (7). I didn’t know what to expect after initially hearing she was playing Slam Dunk, however after seeing a few people walking around with her merch on it was apparent that there would be an excited audience waiting for her. I wasn’t wrong. Strutting onto the stage in the blistering midday heat, she certainly brought the soundtrack to match the weather.
I was pleasantly surprised by the synth 80s vibe, reminding me of the missing link between PVRIS and The 1975. A teary Farrall addressed the crowd, surprised by the size of her audience “I’m grinning, I’m normally a miserable c*nt”. I find that hard to believe with the summer anthems she pumps out during her short but sweet set. Closing her with her track Barbados saw full crowd participation. The one irk I had during the set was at some points her vocals were the lowest in the mix, but that is the joys of playing festivals. She is one to watch for sure. She is certainly in the right place for future stardom. NA
Next up on the Key Club stage was the hotly tipped band of the moment Wargasm (6). Again, like the first act I had very little knowledge in terms of their music. However, I had heard a lot of press and fan interest around this band. The energy was palatable even before they came on. Then at 3:35pm they came racing onto the stage like an angsty Bart and Lisa Simpson to one of the biggest crowds of the weekend.
Opening with the track Rage All Over was a firm crowd pleaser according to the amount of mosh pits and crowd surfers. They certainly are a breath of fresh air amongst younger music fans, I however cannot help but think they sound very similar to Die Antwoord (I know the bad press around this band so don’t want to associate them too much). Instrumentally the band are tight and sound huge however, the female vocalist’s toddler like screech grated on you or at least it does for me. Closing their set with the breakthrough track Spit the energy with the band and audience finally reached its peak, coming to a climax with a short excerpt of Metallica track Fuel.
After saying all this I totally get why they are liked by the masses and I get why they are breaking amongst audiences. Maybe I’m officially getting old and this type of music goes fully over my head but I’m sure they are destined for great things and are on the precipice of breaking through to the mainstream. NA
Watching Static Dress (7) is like stepping into a time machine to 2006. From frontman Olli Appleyard’s flaming red, nose-skimming fringe, to their gritty post-hardcore meets emo sound, they’re the kind of band you can imagine would have soundtracked your MySpace profile. Yet they manage to do it without feeling dated – while the likes of ‘safeword’ and ‘sweet.’ sound like they could have been early Taking Back Sunday cuts, they also feel like an injection of the kind of raw, youthful energy that rock music could really use right now. Has it been done before? Yes. Is anyone else doing it right now? Not really, and not with this much vigour. If you’re longing for those halcyon days of eyeliner and studded belts, Static Dress are leading the emo revival. LC
Surprise surprise, here comes the secret act of the weekend… however if you were at Leeds or on any form of social media you knew exactly who it was. Another tell-tale sign was the massive crowd that was forming at the Key Club Stage. Stepping on to the stage was mid 2000’s heart throbs McFly (8). The multi-platinum-arena-filling pop band looked up for the challenge of playing in front of a new audience (I say new audience but there definitely were fans that had bought tickets just for them).
But I guess when you have the catalogue of songs that they have it isn’t hard to please this audience, and boy did they do that. One song for the radio was the set opener and from the opening chord they had the audience in the palm of their hand. Strolling through a career spanning set Danny admitted how much fun he was having, to be honest the whole band looked like they were having a sensational time. Now if I said to you McFly had a huge mosh pit, you’d be thinking I haven’t taken my medication… However I can honestly say when the band kicked into breakthrough hit Five Colours In Her Hair the place went into a frenzy, mosh pits to rival the previous band Wargasm.
This performance didn’t look like a heritage act (only two years from celebrating their 20th year) resting on their laurels and going through the motions. They genuinely looked happy to see an audience and were thrilled to deliver hit after hit. And they certainly did that. NA
The sun is beating down over the Rock Scene stage as Creeper (7) make their appearance. “Yesterday was a fun time, but I have a feeling about today”, Will Gould grins as they open with ‘Hiding With Boys’. The set is a trip throughout the band’s discography – they even take it back to the early days with the punk-tinged ‘VCR’, which Gould fondly introduces as “the first song we ever wrote”. Sadly however, with the exception of soaring lead single ‘Midnight‘, which features some impressive vocals from keyboardist Hannah Greenwood, we don’t get to hear any new material from their excellent latest EP ‘American Noir’, which is a shame. Still, it’s a solid set of fan favourites, ending on the triumphant ‘Annabelle’, that feels over far too quickly. LC
For the next few hours nostalgia was the word and the band were Funeral For A Friend (8). After the 2015 indefinite hiatus announcement we thought we wouldn’t see this band live again. However, since 2019, after announcing special gigs to raise funds for a terminally ill friend to an April 2021 sold out tour, the band have well and truly come back. And oh how we have missed them. If you wanted to see a FFAF set to rival the breakthrough years, this one at Hatfield certainly was up there. It heavily featured material from albums Hours and Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation.
Opening with Rookie Of The Year you were transported back to early 2000s, the career spanning set filled with every hit you’d want to hear. The band sound like they never went away, tight heavy riffs, although they are rivalling Iron Maiden with 3 guitarists now… but it all makes them a solid unit. The sound of the audience in this tent was incredible, every line and phrase screamed back at the top of the audience’s lungs. Set finisher Escape Artists Never Die left a real air of excitement leaving everyone with a beaming grin on their face.
Welsh emo demi gods are full steam ahead! We can only hope this run of shows and tour leads to new album… a boy can dream… NA
Vukovi (9) pulled out all their heavy hitters in what was a near perfect set from the Scots. Right from the start we were told to expect “dirty fucking riffs”, and boy, did they deliver. Attracting a sizeable crowd at the Key Club Stage, they open with ‘Violent Minds’, one of the highlights from their most recent album ‘Fall Better’. Given that there’s just three musicians on stage, they sound nothing short of huge, with Janine’s powerhouse vocals some of the strongest on display today. The pop melodies of ‘C.L.A.U.D.I.A’ and the unmistakeable grooves of ‘Run/Hide’ sound phenomenal live, and both see pits opening up left and right. Before they depart, closing track ‘La Di Da’ sees a small army of crowdsurfers (including Wargasm’s Milkie Way, who briefly joins the band on stage) hurtling over the barrier. One of the strongest bands in the UK right now. LC
After a long six year wait the Chicago natives Alkaline Trio (6.5) graced the stage with their only 2021 UK appearances at Slam Dunk Festival. Understandably we expected Matt Skiba to come to back to Trio whilst his Blink-182 band mate Mark Hoppus undergoes cancer treatment.
Unlike in Leeds the band were not the sub headliner, but instead got a nice tea time slot just as the sun was going down. The band opened with the track hit track Private Eye from the album that was celebrating 20 years From Here To Infirmary. The band set the crowd up to keep firing punk hit after punk hit however due to technical difficulties the band lost that momentum. Dan Adriano seemed to be struggling with a broken bass cabinet and after this the band never really gained that momentum back. However, there was certain attempts that really did gain the confidence of the crowd. Hits like Mercy Me and Armageddon have the band and audience jumping along, especially when the chorus’s hit, singalongs galore. NA
Next up on the Punk In Drublic stage was Mr Frank Turner (8.5) and his merry band of sleeping souls. You could feel the excitement for his set long before he walked on stage, the amount of band t-shirts with his FTHC moniker on, was vast. Opening his set with an up-tempo reworking of Get Better, just from the excitement on the band and Frank’s face you could tell what it meant for him to be back gigging. The one thing we were certainly looking forward to was him introducing new tracks from the new album into his set, and from looking from previous set list he has been drip feeding us new tunes!
“The first time that beat drops in the bar, it’s gonna be biblical” is the opening line from the first single, The Gathering from the aforementioned new album and it rings true. Clearly it’s been around long enough for fans to pick up the catchy chorus as the singalong was deafening. The next track was Non Serviam (another new track from the new album). If these two tracks are anything to go by the next album is going to feature on the heavier side of Frank’s catalogue and we are definitely not mad about it.
As the sun goes down on a blisteringly hot Slam Dunk day in Hatfield Frank keeps providing the perfect soundtrack and energy making him the perfect warm up act for NOFX, especially when he cracked out an acoustic cover on Linoleum (as seen originally on B sides & rarities album- the second three years). NOFX think it’s better than their version and I really do get why they think that, it works so well as an acoustic troubadour number.
Rounding up his set was crowd favourite and all-around choir-like singalong to Four Simple Words which kicks off into a raucous mosh pit and Frank is flying round the stage whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Mosh pits and crowd surfers galore, even Fat Mike from NOFX was on stage slow dancing. The Frank Turner fanbase is something to be admired, loyal to everything he says and does on and off stage. If you haven’t seen him live, I’d strongly advise doing so! NA
Rounding up a wonderful day at Slam Dunk South is punk rock legends and stage sponsors NOFX (7.5). Walking onto stage Fat Mike announces “prepare to be disappointed”. Now, having seen NOFX prior to this I know this self-depreciation is just a regular occurrence at NOFX show… and they didn’t disappoint, so to speak. A rare treat for the band was Smelly messing up Dinosaurs Must Die but let’s be fair to them, they haven’t played together for nearly two years. The on-stage banter was flowing as per usual, for example Fat Mike explaining to a kid in the crowd who had been brought by their parents what snowballing is, before the aptly named track What’s Wrong With Parents Today?
Traversing through their set we get classics, deep cuts and new tracks which all fit seamlessly together… well NOFX’s level of seamlessness. The on-stage banter was rife with Fat Mike explaining why they will get cancelled in the UK. Yes their comedy is close to the knuckle… but honestly that has been the bands schtick for years, if you are getting offended you clearly haven’t seen the band enough.
Finishing with fan favourite Kill All The White Man rounded up their set nicely. Was this a set of NOFX firing on all cylinders? No. However the beautiful imperfect perfect nature of NOFX and their music what is adds to the charm of any gig you see of theirs. Would I want them to be a polished machine, definitely not. Don’t change NOFX, myself and many others love you. NA
We are so happy to have Slam Dunk Festival back and to see live music is a real blessing. Fingers crossed this is the beginning of normality for life post-Covid.
We have missed you live music! Please never change!
Words by Nick Allan (NA) and Lottie Cook (LC). Photos Jemma Dodd.