The unexpected (but welcome) late summer sun is shining down on Slam Dunk, and it proves to be a good omen. With everything ranging from emo to metalcore via pop-punk there’s something for everyone spread across six stages as the stately grounds of Hatfield House are invaded by various tribes of alternative rockers.
The Jägermeister stage is where things get decidedly heavy and that’s where I decide to set up camp. With a sound guaranteed to blow away any hangovers Blood Youth kick things off in fine style. Hitting the stage to a wall of glorious feedback it doesn’t take long for a pit to erupt; it’s that kind of music. The musical equivalent of a bar-room brawl, the band aren’t here to take prisoners with tracks such as ‘Cells’ bearing the ferocity of Iowa-era Slipknot. This show proves to be the last with vocalist Kaya (although the band will continue) but they give him a good send off and set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the day.
With two stages inside the Jägermeister tent the bands come thick and fast and a simple 180 degree turn of my heels reveals sonic terrorists Hacktivist. Hailing from the badlands of Milton Keynes they fuse grime with metal and the result is pretty volatile mixture. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Blood Youth Jot Maxi and J. Hurley deliver a twin vocal attack while drummer Rich Hawking and bassist Josh Gurner deliver a rock-solid rhythm section over which guitarist James Hewitt scrawls all sorts of noise. Largely culled from their new album, Hacktivist deliver a well-received set of which both ‘Hate’ and ‘Armoured Core’ are definite highlights and turns the assembled throng into a sea of bobbing heads.
There’s a certain forward vision that unites the opening bands performing in the tent today and that’s best exemplified by Loathe. Not content to rest on past glories, they’ve deconstructed the whole metalcore genre and reassembled it as a whole new beast. With a drummer intent on nailing his kit to the floor and a singer alternating between clean and guttural growls, often barking lyrics like a colonel leading troops into battle, Loathe offer little in the way of redemption; from opener ‘Red Room’ to closer ‘Two-Way Mirror’ they deliver some of the sickest beats known to man. However, there’s plenty of variety on display with quieter passages tempering their rage but the band depart as they arrive, amidst a blast of sonic fury.
From the new school to the old, Welsh aggro-merchants Brutality Will Prevail certainly live up to their name. Hitting the stage like a feral street gang they initiate all sorts of mayhem in the pit; there’s plenty of windmill kicking and fists flying but it’s all in the right spirit. Vocalist Louis Gauthier should really be arrested for incitement to riot (!) and, not content with orchestrating the mayhem from the stage he makes several sojourns into the crowd to sing and surf. There’s a refreshing stripped back aesthetic to their performance that has the added benefit of bringing their songs to the fore. And with songs this good that’s exactly where they should be.
While the majority of UK festivals have gone for distinctly British and European line-ups Slam Dunk have managed to bring, all the way from Victoria, Australia, Deez Nuts. Formed from the ashes of metalcore band I Killed The Prom Queen drummer JJ Peters took control of the mic and melded hardcore with hip hop influences (think NYHC stalwarts District 9 as a point of reference). JJ stalks the stage and delivers some elongated between song banter, but this proves to be an Achilles heel. These raps break up the flow of the set somewhat and punchy songs like ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘Stay True’ should be unleashed like jabs from a prize-fighter, and in quick succession.
Pulling in the biggest crowd thus far are Sheffield’s Malevolence. Considering the buzz surrounding the band you’d be forgiven for thinking they were overnight sensations, but the truth is they’ve been putting in hard work for a decade. Famed for their incendiary live shows Malevolence hit the stage with an unbridled enthusiasm; it’s highly contagious and ripples from stage outwards and reaches all corners of the tent. Attesting to their crossover appeal the band recently tore up the Bloodstock and Download stages and now they’re having a similar effect at Slam Dunk. Like a well-oiled machine they fire off ‘Remain Unbeaten’ and ‘Self Supremacy’ (the latter causing a circle pit around the mixing desk) while set closer ‘Keep Your Distance’ should be made the official anthem to these crazy Covid times.
I make a break from the Jägermeister tent to catch Florida’s finest: Mayday Parade. The setting sun behind the Rock Scene stage makes the perfect frame for their bittersweet sound. Despite hailing from humid Tallahassee, Mayday Parade have a melancholic streak that adheres them to a British audience and their magnetic force pulls people in from all corners of Hatfield Park. The band deliver a career spanning set and it’s a delight to watch people’s faces light up when they play ‘It’s Hard to Be Religious When Certain People Are Never Incinerated by Bolts of Lightning’ (from 2018’s Sunnyside) and ‘I’d Hate to Be You When People Find Out What This Song is About’ (from their 2007 debut A Lesson in Romantics). It’s a flowing, 40-minute set that’s just long enough to sate our hunger whilst whetting the appetite for a promised UK tour in 2022.
Back in the Jägermeister stage to find Bury Tomorrow, bathed in blood red light and launching into opener ‘Choke’. They look afire, a musical bomb that’s primed and ready to explode and ‘Choke’ is the flame that lights the taper. Only the second time that ‘Choke’ has been played live, it’s sure to become a staple of future sets and certainly riles up the crowd. Vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates seems on a mission to cover every inch of stage and his growls add an extra dimension to an already weighty sound. The shifts in tonality the band employ effects people in different ways and ‘Knife of Gold’ even has the security guards manning the barrier grooving and throwing devil horns. Tonight’s set is primarily culled from their past two albums but that’s no hardship as both ‘Black Flame’ and ‘The Agonist’ have plenty of sing-along parts and the band don’t miss an opportunity to engage with the audience. Closing track ‘Cannibal’ finds waves of crowd surfers crashing over the barrier and ensure the band bow out on a high.
The quick turnaround between the two stages means While She Sleeps aren’t able to ramp up the tension as they would in a club date, but opener ‘Sleeps Society’ does a grand job of firing up a capacity crowd. In fact, a festival is the perfect setting to experience Aaran McKenzie’s chest thumping bass rumble and Sean Long’s and Mat Welsh’s down-tuned guitars that scythe through the air. Heavy as hell but with a melodic edge ‘Anti-Social’ only increases the insanity and has all but the mute singing along. Having just released a career defining album in the shape of Sleeps Society this show finds WSS on top form and playing with a confidence that only comes from a band at the top of their game. Subsequently, there’s very little time wasted on stage banter, only the rapid fire of tracks such as ‘Four Walls’ and ‘Silence Speaks’ delivered by a band who’re performing with machine like precision. The sonics shifts of ‘Nervous’ are replicated well and sets things up nicely for punishing closer ‘Systematic’ and there’s perhaps no better way to bring down the curtain on the Jägermeister stage.