The very very best for pop-punk
Laviea Thomas
16:33 10th June 2022

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On Saturday we headed to Hatfield Park to catch Slam Dunk South, seeing a mix of rising emo, pop-punk stars Pinkshift, to venomous riffs from the one and only Nova Twins and gnarly vocals from The Amity Affliction. Across this day festival we caught a batch of the rock industries best on-the-rise acts, to some of its most acclaimed artists. 

This year’s Slam Dunk South was a special one to say the least, with Sum 41 finally making their debut at the UK festival (after three years of trying), to Neck Deep coming back with a headline slot at Amazon Music’s Rock stage. The industry has been gasping to bring this moment to life, and it’s fair to say: the end result was truly worth the wait.

A festival once run in the panoramic halls of North London’s Ally Pally is now scattered across a huge proximity of Hatfield Park. It’s hard to believe that Slam Dunk ever took place in such a relatively small venue: having gained an extra four stages since moving to Hatfield, Slam Dunk South seems to only be growing, and we cannot wait to see what’s next in store for the festival. 

Setting the tone for my first ever Slam Dunk festival are American pop-punk trio Meet Me @ the Altar. Jumping on stage with an additional two live members, MMATA bounce onto Amazon Music’s Rock Stage amongst a spooky voiceover announcing their arrival. “Slam Dunk what’s up,” shouts Edith, before being met with slamming drums from Ada. Meet Me @ the Altar thrash into their set with ‘Hit Like a Girl’. Having dropped their noted debut EP Model Citizen a year this August, Meet Me @ The Altar bounce into a handful of their best hits. As they transition into ‘Mapped Out’ Edith shouts: “as you can already tell, yes, we’re an all-girl band, make some noise.”

As the band slam into ‘Now or Never’, the tent is completely full, the energy is immaculate, and strobe lights are beaming across the venue. Playing a mash-up for their penultimate song, the gasp from the audience (including myself) was a communal shock moment, especially when they transitioned from Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff,’ and into Lit’s ‘My Own Worst Enemy’. Closing the night with ‘Garden’ — the track that sparked their stardom in 2020 — MMATA have skyrocketed as a female, poc pop-punk band to look out for, to signing with lead American punk record label Fuelled by Ramen, touring with Green Day and doing the Warped Tour. Their journey is one of the most successful we’ve seen in a while, and we cannot emphasise just how much they deserve this – the only way is up for them. 

Meet Me @ The Altar by Beth Miller.

Up next are Hot Milk, playing the exact same stage. As it is for most music fans, one of the best things about festival season is discovering new music, and Hot Milk, though a band who have been on my radar for a while, are one I hadn't yet seen live. I was adamant to see what kind of energy they’d be unleashing on stage — and I was not disappointed. “Alright Slam Dunk, are you ready to fucking move or what?” Han Mee screams in their penetrative northern accent. Opening with ‘I Just Wanna Know What Happens When I’m Dead', vocalist and lead guitarist Jim Shaw unleashes an unearthly shriek. Between lead vocalist Han Mee and Jim Shaw, the two’s vocals and energy are a perfect match. 

Now I'm scattering off towards the left-hand side of The Key Club Stage (powered by Marshall), to catch a glimpse of Baltimore rock band Pinkshift. A week ago Pinkshift dropped a brand-new single ‘Nothing (in My Head)’, a boisterous track encapsulating that helter-skelter feeling you get when you can feel yourself losing your mind over the smallest thing. Catching the group as they enter a moment of soaring guitar, hellish screams, and riffs at breakneck speed, frontwoman Ashrita Kumar shouts, “how we feeling Slam Dunk?!”

Saturday was Pinkshift’s first time ever in the UK, as Ashrita enthusiastically shouts, before playing a mixture of tracks off their 2021 EP Saccharine - including hit single ‘I’m Gonna Tell My Therapist on You’. A track that really stuck out to us across their set was angsty ‘Get Out of My Face’. Despite not drawing in a mammoth crowd, Pinkshift’s stage presence was big: at no point did their energy levels dip, they were just happy to be there, and as soppy as it sounds – this is exactly what it’s all about. Pinkshift still have quite a way to go but are on a great path.

Across the first three acts Slam Dunk has welcomed us with a vast selection of talent. One thing that felt really refreshing, straight from the get-go of arriving, was just how diverse it was, from the line-up to the fans, Slam Dunk really felt like a new home for the rock industry; a place that so many people have dreamt to feel seen in.

The thudding sounds of Pennywise covering Nirvana’s ‘Territorial Pissings’ are vibrating through my body as I cross the site. “Alright guys, thank you for baring with us,” says Aussie frontman Joel Birch after a short wait for The Amity Affliction. They slam straight into screamo heavy ‘Don’t Lean on Me' followed by ‘Feels Like I’m Dying’ and the audience are screaming the chorus right back at them. Despite having to come on late, The Amity Affliction really pulled through: between Joel, bassist Ahren Stringer, and lead guitarist Dan Brown, the vocals from all three of them were unmatched. It was nice to see a screamo band with a power dynamic set of vocals from not just the lead. Closing with their best track, ‘Soak Me in Bleach’ goes down an absolute storm.

Fortunately not having to move an inch, Ohio quintet Beartooth boisterously waltz their way onto stage next. Sparklers are shooting out the stage, flames are shortly followed, a shirtless Caleb Shomo beckons the audience, “Slam Dunk Festival.” Shortly followed by a thudding sequence on drums and some gnarly stank faces from the guitarists. ‘Devastation’ slams and is accompanied by a unison of devil horns from their angsty crowd. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger, Beartooth throw out ‘Hate,’ which – unsurprisingly – had everyone throwing hands, *respectfully*.

Beartooth by Eddy Maynard.

As we head back towards Amazon Music’s Rock Stage to catch Neck Deep’s set, The Story So Far are wrapping up their set, and this tent is FULL. With just tiny cracks you can slot into, The Story So Far have quite a notable stance in the pop-punk scene, however, were never a band I got into. Despite my lack of knowledge, their set was fun, I was shocked at just how committed their audience was; quite literally everyone in that crowd was reciting their lyrics back to them. Having finished their set, fans are glued to their places as they wait for Neck Deep. Some heavy bass wobbles and bright orange strobe lights later and they’re on baby! Opening their set with brand new single, ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ or “STFU, if we’re trying to keep it radio” as frontman Ben Barlow tells us in our interview (coming soon).

As most of you know, Neck Deep are a pop-punk band who’ve skyrocketed to critical acclaim across the last ten years. Seeing them headline Slam Dunk on Saturday was a truly magical moment. Praised as one of those bands who just get it right, Neck Deep are easily today’s most successful and quintessential bands representing the current pop-punk scene. Flowing into ‘No Vacancy', lead guitarist Matt West is quite literally doing spin kicks on stage – the energy, once again, immaculate of course. Closing their set with hit single ‘In Bloom’, fans are emotionally waving and singing the words. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of just how great this song is, no matter how many times I hear it live or on record. Neck Deep are a very special band. 

Pinkshift by Beth Miller.

For the most part, our day consisted of a lot of pop-punk. At Slam Dunk? Who would’ve thought! But at this point in the day, we’ve headed over to Rock Sound stage to catch 30H!3 for comedic purposes only, and let me tell you, they didn’t disappoint. Catching them in the mist of Nathaniel Motte beckoning each part of their audience, “my people on the right side how the fuck are you feeling right now? My people on the left, how are you feeling?” Before spinning into ‘Touchin’ on My', this set felt like a Year 6 disco. Respectfully, I had the best time. If 30H!3 taught us anything on Saturday, it’s that they are the only ones who I can accept to be spinning dubstep in the year 2022. Playing a handful of their classics: ‘Kiss,’ ‘I’m Not Your Boyfriend Baby’, and the one and only, ‘DONTTRUSTME’, Saturday marked 30H!3’S return to Slam Dunk festival — 10 years since their last.

Waltzing past the Key Stage, we caught a glimpse of Nova Twins, just as they hit into ‘Taxi’ with some annihilating riffs. Back to the Dickies stage for Sum 41, they're going all out for their set as a gigantic devil head is placed smack bang in the middle of their stage, and rocket bursts of smoke and flame shoot out from stage. “I’ve been waiting for you guys today; you know how to make a good circle pit?!” frontman Deryck Whibley says. Shortly adding, “we’ve been trying to play this festival for three years now, thanks so much for having us here.” I’m quite literally beaming at this point: 14-year-old me is genuinely quaking. Sum 41 are a band I’ve wanted to see live for years, and Saturday night felt like a complete dream. Some favourable tracks of the night include obvious hits, ‘In Too Deep' Whibley’s three second guitar debut with classic rock songs ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’ – to closing track, ‘Still Waiting’ which surprisingly after this, was no encore! 

Slam Dunk South, you were an absolute delight!

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Photo: Press (Eddy Maynard + Beth Miller)