Review: Alternative rock festival Slam Dunk makes a triumphant return

David Jackson looks back on this weekend's Slam Dunk South festival at Hatfield House Park, Herts
NOFX. Picture: David JacksonNOFX. Picture: David Jackson
NOFX. Picture: David Jackson

Punk rock shenanigans by NOFX, a not so ‘secret’ show by pop-punk favourites Busted and a headline set by hardcore icons Glassjaw were among the highlights of the Slam Dunk Festivalm which returned this weekend.

Having slimmed down to two sites across the UK this year, the festival arrived for its ‘south’ leg in Hatfield on Sunday.

For the uninitiated, Slam Dunk has been a regular on the festival circuit for more than a decade, growing steadily and attracting some of the best names in punk, ska, hardcore and all of the sub-genres in between.

NOFX. Picture: David JacksonNOFX. Picture: David Jackson
NOFX. Picture: David Jackson

Set in the grounds of Hatfield House, more than 65 acts played across nine stages, with three of these adopting a sensible ‘tick-tock’ staggering of set times which ensured there was rarely a quiet moment.

Any grumbling Midlanders, frustrated at having to head north to Leeds or south towards London, have to concede the festival’s outdoor setup was preferable to last year’s awkward affair of one-way systems and cavernous rooms.

Aside from the pop punk heavyweights including New Found Glory and All Time Low which led the charge on year’s main stage, Slam Dunk 2019 was notable for its Punk In Drublic stage, curated by headliners NOFX and named after their seminal 1994 album.

With so much on offer across the site, without a small army of reviewers and photographers it’d be impossible to give any kind of insight into the festival in its entirety.

Waterparks. Picture: David JacksonWaterparks. Picture: David Jackson
Waterparks. Picture: David Jackson

However, the following is a chronological race through some of our highlights of Slam Dunk 2019.

Among the first acts to get Slam Dunk under way were Californian quartet The Bombpops.

Perfect openers for the Punk In Drublic stage, they were quick to explain their honour to be beginning proceedings with a set of '00s inspired punk rock.

Likewise, over on the Impericon Stage, Angel Du$t were doing the same, fronted by Justice Tripp the band set about establishing the ‘hardcore’ blueprint from the day.

Simple Plan. Picture: David JacksonSimple Plan. Picture: David Jackson
Simple Plan. Picture: David Jackson

Over on the Dickies stage, Milk Teeth were doing their best to bring a slice of grunge to proceedings, coupled with excess quantities of dry ice which was regularly hiding singer Becky Blomfield.

Back on the Punk In Drublic Stage, Pittsburgh’s Anti-Flag brought their familiar blend of politically charged lyricism to the stage – along with ‘punk jumps’ later to be mocked by NOFX’s Fat Mike.

With many of the smaller stages already well into the swing of things, the Monster Energy Stage got proceedings under way with Liverpool’s WSTR.

Very much the epitome of pop punk in 2019, the quartet combined vivid hair colours, choreographed punk jumps and admittedly some catchy tunes.

Bad Religion. Picture: David JacksonBad Religion. Picture: David Jackson
Bad Religion. Picture: David Jackson

In the Key Club Stage, emo punk quartet Hot Milk pulled an impressed crowd, despite many packed inside for the subsequent ‘secret’ set of the weekend.

With Hatfield the second on Slam Dunk’s calendar, the secret was well and truly out by the time Busted took to the stage, playing under the name of Y3K.

The trio of Charlie Simpson, James Bourne and Matt Willis may be used to filling arenas, but had opted for an early afternoon set on one of Slam Dunk’s smaller stages.

A guilty pleasure for many attendees, the band’s set mixed new material along with classic hits including Air Hostess and What I Go To School For to a rapturous response.

Boston Manor arrived on the main stage with singer Henry Cox sporting a white balaclava with the band bringing a more rock feel to proceedings compared to their predecessors with set closer Icon easily their stand out track.

Meanwhile, one of the sets of the day was in full swing over on the Impericon Stage, courtesy of Turnstile.

Busted. Picture: David JacksonBusted. Picture: David Jackson
Busted. Picture: David Jackson

The Baltimore five piece’s groove laden hardcore packed the tent, with highlights including I Don’t Wanna Be Blind and Real Thing.

Over on the main stage, everything suddenly had a decisively green tint for the arrival of electro-pop punks Waterparks.

Frontman Geoff Wigington was sporting vivid green hair and an equally fluorescent ‘contractors’ high-vis jacket for the occasion.

Despite being mid billing on the main stage, the band pulled one of the biggest and loudest crowds of the day with Stupid For You among the standout tracks.

One of the highlights of the Jagermeister Stage were Canadian post-hardcore five-piece Silverstein.

With a two-decade career under their belt, they treated fans to some of their biggest hits including My Heroine, Smile In Your Sleep and Smashed Into Pieces.

Following Silverstein at the opposite end of the tent containing both the Jagermeister and Impericon stages was The Bronx.

No nonsense, hardcore from LA’s finest featuring regular circle pits and tracks including Heart Attack American and History’s Stranglers.

The Get Up Kids recently released their first new album in eight years and the influential emo-rockers played in front of a packed stage, mainly focusing on material from their latest album Problems and iconic Something To Write Home About.

By this stage of the day, all stages at Slam Dunk were moving towards the ‘business end’ of proceedings.

On the main stage, genre stalwarts Simple Plan and more recent torch-bearers Neck Deep both continued the power-house pop-punk party with hits including Addicted and In Bloom respectively.

Gallows may have been a dormant force in recent years, but the hardcore punks had little trouble following nicely on from where The Bronx left off.

Singer Wade MacNeil made an immediate dive for the front rows, leaning up against the barrier while vocally supporting the recent trend of using milkshakes against right-wing politicians.

Nothing in way of new material just a band concentrating on tracks from its first two releases.

In recent years, the once hip metalcore genre may have fallen out of favour but you’ve got to hand it to Atreyu for their perseverance.

Already hamstrung by an injury to frontman Alex Varkatzas which meant he could not travel for their shows, it was down to drummer and co-vocalist Brandon Saller to lead the charge, with help from Story of The Year’s and Wage War’s singers.

A cover of You Give Love A Bad Name featured among hits Bleeding Mascara and Right Side Of The Bed.

The Impericon stage was bought to a close with Long Island hardcore icons Glassjaw.

With the quartet based around core of singer Daryl Palumbo and guitarist Justin Beck, Glassjaw make up in influence what they maybe lack in output – relying firmly on quality over quantity.

Beck remained rooted to the back of the stage all set, with Palumbo leaning upwards clutching his microphone.

Tracks like Tip Your Bartender and Mu Empire were among the highlights along with the more recent New White Extremity.

There was little in the way of chat, other than Palumbo thanking fans ahead of set closer Siberian Kiss.

Slam Dunk was brought to a close on the Punk In Drublic stage by two titans of the genre – Bad Religion and NOFX.

Neither band really sought to exploit or be exploited by the mid-'90s punk explosion, but both are icons of the era.

Bad Religion returned with a new album recently but played a crowd-pleasing mix of tracks from across their four-decade career.

Fast paced, politically charged melodic punk masters, Greg Graffin led the band through the likes of Recipe Of Hate, Los Angeles Is Burning and American Jesus.

Veterans of the scene yes, but still as energetic and impressive as many other on today’s line up.

Over on the main stage, New Found Glory and All Time Low ensured the main stage had a triumphant ending, however, neither set featured as much dancing, light hearted trash talking, general chit-chat (or ham) as NOFX’s set.

NOFX arrived on stage to the Rocky Horror hit the Time Warp and not content with just using it as intro music, guitarists El Hefe and Eric Melvin and bassist Fat Mike proceeded to dance along to the song before proceeding to chat among themselves and the audience rather than launch into their opening song.

The thing is, NOFX shows have become as much about amusing anecdotes as the music.

The quartet have an incredible arsenal of material, like Bad Religion, dating back to the early '80s.

Across their 24-song set they played countless classics, including several from 1994’s Punk In Drublic.

Highlights included Six Years On Dope, their cover of Rancid’s hit Radio, Eat The Meek, Linoleum and set closer Don’t Call Me White.

However, there was much more to talk about, like when Mike, sporting a blue dress and leather jacket, spotted a leg of ham in the crowd and insisted it was brought to him so a security guard could hit him with it.

Exactly how punk rock are you unless you’ve been hit in the face with a leg of ham mid set?

Then was their mocking of Anti-Flag’s punk jumps – which Mike was only happy to ironically recreate - El Hefe’s quips in his mock British accent and Mike’s reminders of how frequently they made errors the night before in Leeds.

Renowned for having a comically small background banner, at one point they revealed an enormous replacement, which still seemed void of any reference to their band.

When they did concentrate on the music, Melvin was a swirling mess black and blue dreadlocks with drummer Smelly ensuring the band remained as tight as four punks needed to be.

It was another triumphant year for Slam Dunk. In slimming down the set up to two events, the organisers have been able to concentrate on doing what the festival excels at – bringing together one of the best one-day festivals the alternative scene has to offer.