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For the uninitiated, Slam Dunk Festival began life as a popular Leeds based club-night, bringing together lovers of emo, punk, ska and those at the heavier end of the musical spectrum. Spreading their wings, 2006 saw organisers launch what has rapidly become the Holy Grail for alternative music lovers. Those early days were somewhat removed from the behemoth the festival has now become, in 2006 hosting one stage in the heart of the city of Leeds with pop-punk heroes Fall Out Boy at the top of the bill.
What followed was an unparalleled evolution. Jumping to Leeds University and taking over their vast dining hall, the following year stuck to the one-stage formula, with celebrated appearances by the then breaking Paramore and a headline turn by ska veterans Reel Big Fish. That year also saw national treasures You Me At Six open the festival, a band that launched Slam Dunk Records and that instantly cemented the festival’s equal focus on new music.
Almost quite literally enveloping Leeds University with stages in every bar, room and seemingly store cupboard, it wasn’t long before Slam Dunk had outgrown its comparably humble surroundings. In 2010, with the line-up now spread across eight stages, Slam Dunk Festival moved south, with outings in both Leeds and Hatfield.
This year, despite it passing on its Midlands location from the previous six years, Slam Dunk Festival celebrates its biggest yet. Switching its three locations for two of huge proportions – taking to Leeds’ Temple Newsham Park and Hatfield Park – 2019 sees Slam Dunk become the true festival it has seemingly always been destined to become.
In Hatfield, spread across its vast site are eight stages, most offset against the next one for a continual onslaught of huge names in alternative music. In the far corner of the site lie the Jagermeister and Impericon stages, parked at opposite ends of a vast tent for a quick turn of the head once one band is over. A similar set-up can be found in the Key Stage – host of a jam-packed almost-secret set by true pop-rock crossover arena favourites Busted – and on the Dickies and Acoustic Stages, the latter of which welcomes a crowd-pleasing opening set by Yellowcard vocalist William Ryan Key.
Slam Dunk Festival is built for true ease to take in as much live music as possible. Be it the punk infused tones of Stateside underdogs Tigers Jaw, whose sun-kissed melancholy is perfect for the rays breaking through the overcast sky, or the all-out force of Dickies Stage headliners The Menzingers who arguably deliver the set of the day, cast under the glow of a perfect rainbow.
The festival’s main stage welcomes a huge turn by headliners All Time Low as the sun begins to set on a crowd of pop-punk aficionados, clearly in awe of Alex Gaskarth and co’s run-through of some of their biggest hits to date. Elsewhere, pop crossovers Hellogoodbye turn a nearby bar queue into the festival’s best part as they blare out the generation defining Here (In Your Arms).
Continuing it’s dedication to the breadth of the UK and international alternative scene, fans of crushing guitars aren’t left out. Touche Amore bring their emotionally charged hardcore to the Dickies Stage, while acclaimed troupe Turnstile dominate the nearby Impericon Stage. Perhaps the biggest beatdown of the weekend is saved for Cancer Bats‘ ever furious cover of Beastie Boys’ Sabotage.
That’s before mention of the traditionalist punk dream, the Punk In Drublic Stage, welcoming a headline set by NoFX, as well as Slam Dunk favourites Less Than Jake, Mad Caddies, Anti-Flag and more.
As Modestep provide the soundtrack to some final drinks and the sun firmly sets on the Hatfield site, the festival celebrates another huge milestone in its growth. With no signs of slowing down just yet, Slam Dunk Festival looks set to continue as rightful UK home of punk, ska, metal and so much more.