Thursday, 16 June 2022

Gig Review: Slam Dunk Festival 2022 at Hatfield House 4/6/22

Slam Dunk Festival 2022 has come and gone and it was another great day of friends, fun, food and fantastic music. After a train journey where I accidentally got on the wrong train and brought some strangers with us, Emma and I arrived an hour before the opening band was due to start and met up with our group. Once everyone had gathered, we made our way into the festival. After getting through the ticket barrier, we were held in some kind of holding area before we were allowed in to the main festival arena. We later found out there was a problem with the card reader machines at the bars so the organisers made the decision to get people to wait outside for longer before they let us in.

Once inside we made our way to the Dickies stage, where we would spend the majority of our day, to see opening act The Suicide Machines. Their set started at 11.40am which was pretty silly but showed just what a stacked line up the stage had in store for the day. This was the band’s first time back in the UK in almost twenty years and it was good to see a nice sized crowd gathered early to see them. When the band appeared and began their set you could certainly tell from the crowd’s stillness that it was still oh so early for a punk show. So, after playing one song, the band’s lead singer Jay Navarro climbed into the crowd and decided to spend the rest of the set there. This was a masterclass on how to control a crowd, as from then on the set got rowdier and rowdier. Jay was passing the microphone around the crowd giving plenty of people the chance to have a sing and it was a lot of fun. I was really impressed with how smoothly things ran despite the chaos that was happening. They played a mixture of old favourites such as Break The Glass, High Anxiety and of course New Girl, alongside some songs from their most recent album, Revolution Spring. This was the perfect way to start the day and I was pumped to see them do a full set the next night at the New Cross Inn.

After Suicide Machines we made our way to the Rock Scene stage for Meet Me @ The Altar. Meet Me @ The Altar are one of the most exciting new bands in the scene and I was keen to check them out – it was great to see that I wasn’t the only one as the tent was very busy. Playing a mixture of pop punk and easycore, MMATA were the perfect Slam Dunk Festival band, displaying plenty of energy on the stage as the band jumped around the stage. This energy poured over into the crowd who responded in kind. One of the highlights of the set was when they played Hit Like A Girl and dedicated it to all the women in the crowd. This lead to a couple of ladies in the crowd getting on their friend’s shoulders. Then a chap also decided to do this, I get that he was having fun and enjoying the band but perhaps read the room, mate. The band also did a fun and slightly cheesy cover song medley where they played Sweetness by Jimmy Eat World, My Friends Over You by New Found Glory, My Own Worst Enemy by Lit and Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit. This was a fun moment that was a nice nod to the band’s musical roots and something very fun for the crowd. This was the band’s first time in the UK but I expect that we’ll be seeing them many more times in the future.

Next on the agenda was seeing a bit of Hot Water Music. We had a while to kill before then though so decided to grab some food. I enjoyed a delicious vegan hot dog before heading back to the Dickies stage. We had only planned to see a bit of Hot Water Music as they clashed with another band but we did manage to get four songs, including my personal favourite HWM song Wayfarer. The band had had some issues with their airline misplacing their gear but thankfully they were able to borrow stuff from the other bands and the show was able to go on. The band sounded in top form and it was difficult to pull myself away to go see and the next band.

Pinkshift were one of the bands I was most excited to check out. We headed over to the Key Club tent, a tent with two stages dedicated to the newer bands on the scene, as the band were just about to start. Pinkshift were another band who were making their first appearances in the UK and I was very pleased to see the size of the crowd that had gathered. It was also a super enthusiastic crowd which is always great to see. Pinkshift play a fun mix of 90s grunge and 2000s pop punk that works wonderfully well. I was under the impression that the band was a three piece but for the tour they have become a five piece which gave them a massive sound. Their front person Ashrita Kumar was extremely powerful onstage, I struggled to keep my eyes off them. With a big voice and an endless supply of energy, they put everything they had into the performance and it’s so pleasing to see. The same can be said of their bandmates who bounced around the stage throughout. Pinkshift are the future of pop punk. They’ve just signed to Hopeless Records so expect to hear some exciting new songs soon!

After Pinkshift, we headed back to the Dickies stage for the band I was probably most excited for – actual punk rock legends in the form of The Vandals. I’ve been wanting to see The Vandals for the best part of twenty years and have never managed it. They were the last of the bands I loved when I was getting into punk rock that I was desperate to see live but never have. I had kind of resigned myself to the fact that I was probably never going to get the chance. I was very happy to be proven wrong. When they took to the stage I left our group of friends who were hanging out by the sound tent and near enough ran down towards the front to get the best possible position. Now, I said in our preview podcast that I was fully expecting to be disappointed by the set, as I had hyped it up to myself so much and I wondered how well their humour would translate in 2022, but I was very pleased to see my concerns were unwarranted. The Vandals were everything I hoped they would be. They played a set full of my favourite songs, played really well and cracked me up. Any band that has Brooks Wackerman playing drums for them is going to be super tight and I was so impressed by Warren Fitzgerald’s incredible guitar playing whilst also being the silliest person at the festival. The Vandals are all about having as much fun as possible and the crowd responded really well to them. I assume there were a lot of other people in the crowd who had waited years to see the band and everyone lapped it up. Highlights of the set included People That Are Going To Hell, It’s A Fact, Oi To The World, I’ve Got An Ape Drape, My Girlfriend’s Dead and cover Don’t Stop Me Now where Warren took over lead vocals and hid behind a banner having off the side of the stage. It was wonderful and I hope it’s not so long before The Vandals return, hopefully for their own tour.

Streetlight Manifesto were next to take to the Dickies stage and there was an excitement in the air. Streetlight are another band that rarely play anywhere and haven’t been to the UK for a long, long time. We’d gone for a quick lap of the festival site to stretch our legs between the Vandals and Streetlight Manifesto sets but made it back as the band were soundchecking. It seemed as if they had been having some trouble with the sound which I think delayed the start of their set. However, as soon as the band started the set with A Moment Of Violence, all of the waiting was forgotten and the crowd went off. It felt like everyone around me was not only singing along to every word but every horn line as well. I stood in awe witnessing the technical proficiency that the band play with. I’ve been fortunate enough to watch some very skilled bands over the years but not many come close to touching Streetlight. If it’s possible, they’re potentially too good. Streetlight aren’t a band that talk much between songs (which was a big contrast to The Vandals), instead they focus on blasting through their set. If I’m being completely honest, this took something away from the set for me as it felt too well rehearsed but, as the songs are so long, I guess it meant they could squeeze more in to the set. And let’s be honest, we see Streetlight for the music not the banter. Dan #2 and I spoke on the CPRW Podcast about how next time we see Streetlight we hope it will be at their own show rather than a festival so we can get more deep cuts in the set, hopefully that’s a thing that will happen again one day.

Mom Jeans were next on our itinerary. The four piece were playing on the Key Club stage and we made our way over as soon as Streetlight Manifesto finished their set. Earlier in the week Emma and I had been in North London for The Flatliners gig at Tufnell Park. Before the gig we stopped in Camden for some pizza and passed the Underworld where Mom Jeans had been headlining. They had a huge queue waiting to get in at around 6pm and from everything I’ve heard from friends who went it was a very special night. I had listened to them a bit in preparation for Slam Dunk and enjoyed their take on jangly emo/pop punk so decided I would go and check them out. This was a fantastic decision (well done me) as they put on a fantastic show. Despite not knowing the songs they played well at all, I felt super included in the set just from the fantastic atmosphere that the crowd had created. We were all there to see a top band do their thing and have a great time. Festivals are always a great opportunity to go and see bands that you perhaps wouldn’t normally and I’m very pleased I caught Mom Jeans. Also the best dancer of the weekend award has to go to the band’s bass player, supplying some sick and dope moves.

After a brief comfort break, we headed back to the Dickies stage to see the end of Pennywise’s set. We caught Society, their cover of Stand By Me, Fuck Authority and Bro Hymn and that was enough to keep me happy. Pennywise are such a good festival band, they have such a big following and they always play the big hits that’ll keep their fans happy. Even if you don’t know much of Pennywise’s back catalogue, there’s no doubt you know Fuck Authority and Bro Hymn and will have sung your lungs out with the band to the choruses of both songs. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Pennywise and I’m glad they never change.

I think one of the bands our group was most excited to see was The Interrupters. The Californians have played a huge role in making ska punk cool again and are one of the best live bands in the world at the moment. They’re also an absolutely perfect festival band with their songs about family, friendship, unity and empowerment. Being surrounded by so many friends and likeminded people seeing The Interrupters is a special feeling, especially with the content of their songs. After the last couple of years, these messages hit home harder than ever. With only forty-five minutes for their set The Interrupters powered through, seemingly trying to squeeze as many songs in as possible and I personally really appreciated it. We got to hear so many favourites, a couple of brand new songs and I nice covers medley. I’ve seen them play a similar covers medley before where they teased playing songs from bands from San Francisco. They’ve now changed this up a bit where they teased playing songs from Epitaph Records releases instead. They played intros to Keep Em Separated by The Offspring, Linoleum by NOFX and Ruby Soho by Rancid, before settling on playing a full cover of Sorrow by Bad Religion. I’d love to hear a recorded version of the cover. This was my fourth time seeing The Interrupters live and something that’s always seriously impressed me was how tight and slick the band are, there aren’t many better at the moment. They’re back in the UK for a full tour in a couple of months and they’ll have UK ska favourites The Skints and Bar Stool Preachers as support. Those will be special nights.

We headed back to the Dickies stage next to see The Flatliners. It was kind of weird to see the band play this tent as it seemed to be more of a new band stage and The Flatliners are anything but new. After seeing them play a full headline set a couple of days earlier we knew they were in top form and were looking forward to seeing the band playing more of a ‘best of’ set. And that’s exactly what we got. Songs such as Resuscitation Of The Year, Carry The Banner, Count Your Bruises, Monumental and set closer Eulogy sounded as good as ever. Chris Cresswell has one of the most consistently brilliant voices in punk rock. In the space of a few days I’d heard him sing in a venue, outside with Hot Water Music and then inside a tent with the Flatliners. All three times he sounded brilliant. The Flatliners provided half an hour of pure sing-along joy before we headed back to the Dickies stage.

When we arrived at back to the Dickies stage Boston’s Dropkick Murphys were already in full swing. We met back up with our group and all quickly realised something was not right at all with the sound. We were stood very central with the stage and all we could really hear was the bass. Admittedly, from looking at the set list from the day before, we knew that we wouldn’t know many of the songs they were playing (the majority of our group were a bunch of old school DKM fans who hadn’t listened to a lot of the band’s newer material) so that didn’t help but even songs like Worker’s Song and Barroom Hero sounded off because of the loud bass. I had theorised that the setlist was as it was because lead singer Al Barr hadn’t been able to make the tour due to important family commitments so you’ve got to commend the rest of the band for soldiering on without him. Unfortunately, I did find this set quite disappointing and I don’t think I was the only one. Maybe I should have taken the time to really listen to the band’s latest album Turn Up That Dial before going to see them.

While most of our group stayed at The Dickies stage for headliners Sum 41, we decided to head back to the Key Club one last time to see Nova Twins before catching the end of the Canadian pop punk legends. Nova Twins are a band from London who have been making waves in the UK alternative scene. I didn’t know much about them other than the bit of research I had done for my preview but I was looking forward to witnessing them live. As they confidently strode onto the stage it felt like something big was about to happen. Despite Sum 41 playing just two minutes away, I was impressed by the size of the crowd that gathered. I also enjoyed how diverse the crowd looked. There were folk from all walks of life ready to party with the band. Mixing punk, hip hop and rave music, the set offered something for everyone. It was a powerful set which I have no doubt moved a lot of people in the crowd. Whether you were a long time fan of Nova Twins or you popped in because you didn’t fancy watching Sum 41, I am certain you were transfixed on what was happening on the stage. The band’s singer had this great swagger about them whilst the bassist gleefully hopped around the stage with boundless energy. Coming away from the set I was of the opinion that, of all the bands in the UK at the moment, Nova Twins should be band that the mainstream press should be really getting behind. Not only are they an excellent band but they feel important and something the alternative music scene really needs right now.

After Nova Twins, we made our journey back to the Dickies stage one last time for Sum 41. Sum 41 are a band I grew up on as a teenager but had never seen live. We arrived back at the stage as the band were halfway through their set. We attempted to get back to the spot we had been in all day with our friends but it was so crowded there was no way of getting back in. Unfortunately, we were really far back and struggled to get any kind of decent view. We could see that the band had a massive inflatable devil on stage with them as well as fire and a full light show. It looked to be a very impressive sight and it was nice to have something interesting to look at, as I could barely see the members of the band. I think this was part of the problem of having no real clashes for the headliner. There were sooooo many people there. From what I’ve heard from friends after the festival, Sum 41 put on a superb show and showed why they have achieved all they have in their career. The songs I did get to hear the band play included In Too Deep, Queen’s We Will Rock You, Fat Lip and Still Waiting. Some top tier Sum 41 and a classic cover.

After Sum 41’s set, everyone in the festival made the slow walk back to the buses and trains in an attempt to get back home. This sadly proved harder than we had hoped due to disruptions on the train line but we eventually made it home after what was a fun filled day. For whatever reason, Slam Dunk does seem to get a lot of stick from people. I’m sure a lot of the time it’s warranted but I always see Slam Dunk as a great day out with my friends watching bands we perhaps wouldn’t normally go and see. No doubt you’ll see me back at Hatfield House in 2023.

This review was written by Colin Clark.

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