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Vol. 39

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Live Reviews

Slam Dunk Festival

Hatfield Park

Saturday 25th May 2024

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In the event programme You Me At Six frontman Josh Franceschi talks about the bands affinity with Slam Dunk Festival and the aptness that the festival acts as their final UK Festival appearance. Indeed it is fitting, but as well as looking back at the twenty year career of our headliners, it also puts into perspective the journey that the festival itself has been on.

Starting out as a single day event in Leeds back in 2006, You Me At Six first appeared in 2007 as the festival made Leeds University its home. The indoor university campus set-up expanded to include Hatfield in 2010 and would eventually take in a third day in the Midlands between 2013 and 2018 when the Hatfield event first moved outside to Hatfield Park.

Since then the event has become the two day fully outdoor event that has become something of a monster. The now traditional festival season opener has flown high, but last year a little like the story of Icarus, the event flew a little too close to the sun. As the events welcomed their biggest ever crowds, the infrastructure buckled under the strain and the festival was forced to acknowledge their failings with promises of lessons learnt this year.

Funnily enough the parallels to You Me At Six could be applied here as well, as again Franceschi admits within the programme notes that the band previously tried too hard to achieve success, made mistakes and needed to re-evaluate and return to their roots. For both the band and the festival, this approach has paid off, because from first arrival to departure this year at Hatfield goes off without an organisational hitch (although as we type this, Leeds has already run into problems!).

Slam Dunk has always been a festival where the music is at the forefront and we dive straight into festival season at the ‘GoPro’ stage with As Everything Unfolds smashing through a brilliant set as the sun shines down. ‘Ultraviolet’ rightly dominates the setlist and it’s clear that the band have something special. As we bid farewell to a regular headliner tonight, if organisers are pondering the headliners of the future then they may well wish to keep an eye on this band!

There are just the five stages this year as the festival scales back somewhat in order to refocus on the original spirit of the event. The site is more spread out this year which helps with people traffic flow and we take a stroll to the ‘Monster’ stage for a glimpse of old school punk favourites Snuff and to the ‘Kerrang’ stage for a beginnings of upstarts Honey Revenge. This is a great example of the dichotomy on offer under the genre-umbrella of the event.

The main stage will capture most of our attention today however and another band with a big future, As December Falls, pull a big and heavily engaged crowd to the stage early on. With their latest effort ‘Join the Club’ also glowing today, the future of this event does appear to be in safe hands!

Young and fresh artists have always featured prominently at Slam Dunk, but so have blasts from the past and the organisers have always had a knack of pulling out rare UK appearances from groups. Head Automatica are the first such act today, although they suffer a few technical hitches which takes the shine off of their set. That said, ‘Beating Heart Baby’ still elicits one of the biggest sing-a-longs of the day.

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The ‘Key Club’ stage is positioned a tad too close to the ‘Monster’ stage which does cause some sound bleed at times. Good luck to anyone out-noising Pennsylvanian hardcore breakthrough group One Step Closer. The group come out and smash through their set with controlled ferocity, leaving those present in little doubt that they are amongst the very best new bands on the circuit.

Meanwhile the technical gremlins continue to plague the main stage as We The Kings have their set cut down to just five songs, although that does include another huge sing-a-long for ‘Check Yes Juliet’.

As well as rarities, returns also feature prominently this year although oddly two of the biggest clash (but it wouldn’t be Slam Dunk without the clashes!). The Blackout perform seminal album, ‘The Best in Town’ in full over on the ‘GoPro’ stage and pull quite the crowd, although like us many depart twenty or so minutes in to head back to the main stage.

That’s because for the first time in some seven years Mallory Knox are back with vocalist Mikey Chapman! A handful of carefully chosen intro tracks highlight the momentous occasion before they deliver a career-spanning performance which delights their passionate fans. Despite some mic issues for Chapman, it’s fantastic to have his signature voice back at the helm of a band once heralded as the next big thing. With a tour lined up this autumn, perhaps that prophecy can still be fulfilled!

The Ghost Inside then lay waste to the ‘GoPro’ stage in another moment of celebration considering everything that they’ve been through. From there we head back to the ‘Kerrang’ tent for Pale Waves which again demonstrates the variety on offer even within the limited gene pool of Slam Dunk. Pale Waves say that they didn’t know what to expect, but what they get is a huge crowd singing every word back of what may be the best set of the whole day!

We are at the business end of the day now but there is still plenty of business to be taken care of! Another rare booking which elicits scenes of glee and sing-a-longs galore is that of Boys Like Girls who deliver the goods including hits ‘Love Drunk’ and ‘The Great Escape’.

Holding Absence frontman Lucas Woodford can then be found fronting a special performance from Funeral For A Friend on the ‘GoPro’ stage, with Woodford more than up to the task.

Then it’s back to the main stage for former headliners The All-American Rejects who are in the UK for the first time in ten years! Sadly the sound is pretty damn iffy throughout but the sing-a-long moments continue and more than compensate for their poor sound. Fans will be praying that it isn’t another ten years before they get to hear the likes of ‘Swing, Swing’, ‘Dirty Little Secret’, ‘Move Along’ and ‘Gives You Hell’ again!

We then catch the solid beginnings of The Wonder Years set as they close out the ‘Key Club’ stage. Elsewhere stages are headlined by I Prevail, Waterparks and The Interrupters but we naturally finish at the main stage with the festival farewell for You Me At Six.

The atmosphere is celebratory before the band even arrives on stage but when they do and immediately burst into ‘Save It For The Bedroom’ the place goes crazy for their heroes. Thankfully the sound is great for the headliners and the string of hits and fan favourites flies by, which is always a good sign.

The party lives up to the hype and You Me At Six are able to give a great account of what has made them such a special band whilst simultaneously showing what makes Slam Dunk what it is. Even at the end of a long, exhausting day the fans are more than willing to sing back every word of the likes of ‘Take on the World’, ‘Underdog’ and ‘Beautiful Way’.

After a year of negativity about the event, it’s great to see Slam Dunk (at Hatfield at least) firing on all cylinders, because there truly is no better way to kickstart festival season. Fans meanwhile will have one final chance to say goodbye to You Me At Six next year, and on tonight’s showing, you’d be foolish not to!

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