After a successful move to Hatfield Park last year, the historic park once again played host to Slam Dunk Festival offering up a taster of a whole host of different genres. Known for its predominant pop-punk past, Slam Dunk has diversified into other sub-genres of the alternative world and potentially opening itself up to a much wider audience.

For the earlier risers to Hatfield Park, Portland hardcore outfit Cruel Hand (3/5) made sure that everyone was awake with their groove-heavy riffs and energetic frontman racing around the stage like the energiser bunny. It only took two songs for the first mosh pit of the day to open up in the Key Club tent.

Opening up the Impericon stage was Angel Du$t (2.5/ 5) whose set seemed to get off to a bit of a disjointed start, but when they began to play tracks from the latest record ‘Pretty Buff’ things seemed to fall into place. The band got their biggest reaction closing out their set with ‘Toxic Boombox’ which saw bodies starting to jump around.

If there were still any doubters that Slam Dunk was trying to shake its pop-punk reputation all then Kublai Khan (3/5) clearly got rid of it. The bands down-tuned guitars and vocalist Matt Honeycutt’s imposing presence were certainly not pop-punk friendly, and by the time ‘The Hammer’ closed the set the crowd was very much on board with this new Slam Dunk approach.

To top off a very hard-hitting morning, Knocked Loose (5/5) brought arguably the largest crowd of the day to the Impericon stage. The Oldham County outfit has grown from DIY hardcore band to one who is at home commanding a huge crowd, with the crowd responding to very instruction from guitarist Isaac Hale.

For some punters, the Jagermeister stage was seen as a bit of a throwback, but Wage War (3/5) showed they were far from that. The sound of pinching guitars cut through the tent and vocalist Briton Bond’s heavy scream was the perfect foil to the chaos which was going on around him.

When people think of hardcore music the world flawless may not spring to mind, but when you throw Turnstile (4.5/5) into the equation it is hard to argue. In the past 12 months, the band have made themselves a mainstay of festivals across the globe and it is clear to see that they have just transferred the energy of a basement show on to a much bigger stage.

After a lot of heavy music, it was a welcome change of pace to be serenaded by the sweet tones of Tigers Jaw (4/5). The band structured their set perfectly for a festival setting, playing all the hits, from ‘Chemicals’ to ‘June’. It was everything that a Tigers Jaw fan would want.

Whereas most bands will play their ‘big song’ later in the set. But for Saves the Day (2/5) the choice to open with ‘At Your Funeral’ was a ballsy move as it was the song most people knew. Unfortunately, it was a bit of an uphill struggle from here on in for the casual spectator, but for the die-hard fans there was a little something for everyone.

One of the days most anticipated sets came courtesy of Melbourne four-piece Pagan (4/5). The quartets mix of disco beats and blast beats offers something extremely fresh. That combined with the high energy of the band and the mesmerising stage presence of vocalist Nikki Brumen meant that Pagan won over a lot of fans in Hatfield.

For a while it took Shvpes (1.5/5) a while to shake the tag of “Bruce Dickinson’s son’s band” but they clearly have forged their own path. However, hearing the vocalist Griff Dickinson calling people who don’t mosh pussies and then saying “of course Employed to Serve fans aren’t clapping their hands, they don’t know how to have fun” wasn’t exactly endearing himself to anyone.

But fans of one of the UK’s hottest metal bands showed they can have fun as Employed to Serve (4.5/5). In recent times the five-piece have honed their live performance, coming out in matching windbreakers there is now, more so than ever, a sense of unity in the band. When playing material from new record ‘Eternal Forward Motion’, the band’s energy was matched by the crowd, with ETS arguably the heaviest band of the festival managing to hold their own.

When Slam Dunk announced the return of Gallows (3/5) there was a lot of anticipation around their performance. As soon as the band kicked into ‘Misery’, vocalist Wade MacNeil was straight in the crowd making them feel part of the performance. By the time the band closed out with ‘Orchestra of Wolves’ the stage was full of friends and family and the set did feel like a coming home party.

As the rain started to come down at the Dickies stage, Touché Amore (4.5/5) could have been worried that their set was going to be a washout. But within seconds of the band starting there were smiles on the crowd and bands faces alike. It didn’t take long for the spectators to be singing along with vocalist Jeremy Bolm. At this stage, it is probably more difficult for TA to have a bad set than not have a good one.

There was a bit of sad news coming out of the Atreyu (3/5) camp, with vocalist Alex Varkatzas having to pull out of their EU/UK  run at the last minute. But that didn’t stop the rest of the band powering through. It was a pure nostalgia trip when they played ‘Right Side Of The Bed’ and ‘Bleeding Mascara’ but the rest of the set was maybe not suited for the wider audience.

Closing out the Impericon stage was Glassjaw (3/5). The band has a bit of a reputation of which version of the band will show up. At Slam Dunk, it most certainly was a more reserved take on the band, with no real deep cuts into their arsenal. Guitarist Justin Beck’s volume was so loud that at times it drowned everything else out, but rather than it just being noise, it emphasised what songs were being played.

With a mixture of songs from ‘Material Control’ and ‘Worship and Tribute,’ there was a broad range on display to showcase why Glassjaw still have such a loyal following. Songs like ‘Tip Your Bar Tender’ and ‘Ape Dos Mil’ got the largest reaction as Daryl Palumbo sauntered across the stage with ease. The only time the vocalist took a break to talk was to say thank you before the band closed out the day with ‘Siberian Kiss’.

Although Slam Dunk‘s origins lay firmly in the pop-punk sphere, it’s clearly evident from this year’s outing that it has confidently shaken off that tag, proving to be a celebration of alternative music. Across the eight stages, there was something for everyone and the festival showcased how it is not only the site that had grown, but its audience.

4/5

Words by Tim Birkbeck (@tim_birkbeck)


View more of Already Heard‘s coverage of Slam Dunk Festival 2019 here.


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