Since its conception in 2006, Slam Dunk Festival has grown from a small scale event used to promote the works of Slam Dunk Records, to becoming the annual highlight for nearly every punk and metal fan in the country. Starting from very modest beginnings, the event now boasts seven stages that aim to cast the widest net of musical talent possible. With its dual location set-up, with Leeds hosting the Saturday leg while Hatfield accommodates the Sunday, the single-day festival has had many comparing it to the once rock-focused Reading & Leeds Festivals. But with those stalwarts moving to a more commercially-focused target audience, Slam Dunk has managed to attract both the artists and fans that would have normally forked out more than £200 for its more established counterpart.
In its early days, Slam Dunk was more about representing the cutting edge of the alternative scene. Hosting new and emerging talent across its line-up, the festival gathered a cult following which has grown enormously in the last few years. With acts like Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Good Charlotte and others gracing its main stage in previous years, the event was certainly gunning for the crowds turned off by Reading & Leeds' new direction. But this year, they went all out not only to accommodate the wishes of their core fans but attract the older generations of music fanatics as well.
This year's line up saw their most multi-aged and multi-genre selection ever, with new acts like Neck Deep, Boston Manor and Waterparks providing much fun for the youth, it also boasted more established names like All Time Low, New Found Glory and even Busted for those of a certain age. But better yet, those of us whose younger days were far behind us still got to appreciate having NOFX, Bad Religion and Less Than Jake showing all the younger lot how it's done. But while the festival's punk credentials are never in doubt, the metal stages were also given a huge boost this year, thanks to appearances from Bullet For My Valentine and Atreyu taking place. And while that may sound like a lot to squeeze into one day, the site's ingenious stage set up is what keeps the momentum going.
While dance festivals have never had a problem with moving onto the next artist, thanks mainly to their more portable equipment, rock festivals have always had the issue with changeovers. With every band that finishes, they then have to pack down, and move their equipment off stage while the next group brings out their army of sound technicians to set up for the next show. The process can sometimes be in excess of half an hour, and as fans, we usually just have to sit and wait for everything to happen. But Slam Dunk seem to have figured out the solution by letting many of their stages share the same crowd space. In both the Jaegermeister and Impericon Stages, as well as the Dickies and Marshall Stages, the crowd could watch from the very same spot, with the former sharing a tent and the stages set up at either end. Meaning that once a band had finished, you could simply turn yourself around 180 degrees and be greeted by one just starting at the opposite end. Not only did this provide an endless conveyor belt of music to enjoy, but also kept the festival site nice and compact. So rather than find yourself legging it across a field to catch the next act, you could easily stroll from one end of the site to the other in under ten minutes.
And despite its new and emerging status, Slam Dunk have managed to figure out all the pitfalls of arranging a festival a lot sooner than most other events in their size. While we still hear reports of crowd-control becoming an issue at up-and-coming festivals, Slam Dunk have a solid flow around their site, which makes getting through the crowds a lot faster than most. While their car park situation at closing time was close to a tactical nightmare, on site there was never a moment where you found yourself boxed in. Not only would this make it one of the safest festivals going, it also means that a day is all you need to experience it in its entirety.
Normally I'd go on to talk about what bands were the best and which could have been left off, but given how much of an enjoyable experience the whole thing was, it seems pointless to detail exactly what they were all like. Slam Dunk has this incredible atmosphere that is now attracting so many different people, there is likely multiple things you can enjoy there. Whether you are yet to turn 18 or thundering towards middle age, the line up reflects this, and at no point during the day would you find yourself with nothing to watch. While so many festivals are looking to grow bigger and more elaborate, Slam Dunk are keeping themselves tightly honed. Packing as many high-quality artists into just one day and appealing to a varied mix of audiences is clearly a winning formula for the event, something that Reading & Leeds might need to take on board before Slam Dunk swallows their alternative crowd whole.