Often plagued by horror stories of their former site buckling under the weight of a thousand sweaty moshers, Slam Dunk South’s decision to move things outdoors for the 2018 could’ve gone one of two ways. As NME arrive on-site to blazing sunshine and a packed-out field, it’s clear they’ve pulled no punches in providing the perfect locale for the countless mosh pits and energy drink chuggings a Slam Dunk weekend always promises.
The Dangerous Summer open proceedings with their earnest take on alt-rock, returning from a brief hiatus to sunny skies and a seemingly bright future. It’s then Can’t Swim’s turn to drag things back to earth, with their heavy punk wares sizzling in the obnoxious midday heat. The main stage then plays host to Creeper, whose grandiose, ornate take on punk-rock feels destined for festival stages far bigger than even this one. Highlights from last year’s ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’ LP are flung forth, with ‘Poison Pens’ igniting the widest circle pit of the afternoon. There’s space for more reflective moments too, though – ‘Crickets’ finds Hannah Greenwood’s yearning vocal take centre stage, before a set-ending run-through of ‘Misery’ sees frontman Will Gould hand over vocal duties in the chorus to the crowd, who belt every word back at him. It’s a set that proves Creeper are more than just a back-patch-stitched cult – they’re well on their way to being the most important band in British rock.
As the evening draws in, the baton is handed over to the older guard. Despite mainstream rock’s reliance on the nostalgia circuit, however, every older name tonight proves they’ve still got fight in them. Comeback Kid surge through their near two-decade long canon of hardcore pit-starters in the Impericon tent, before Taking Back Sunday welcome the darkness with their heart-rending emo. The older likes of ‘Timberwolves At New Jersey’ and rock club anthem ‘Cute Without the ‘E’’ sit comfortably alongside newer cuts like ‘Flicker Fade’ and the swaggering ‘Tidal Wave’, as frontman Adam Lazzara flicks his microphone around by the lead in a way so many young, heavy-fringed teens once tried to emulate in their bedrooms. “This song’s from our first album, which we wrote when we were eighteen – five whole years ago!” jokes Lazzara before the former two hits: “We’re just 23 years old, and we’ve never looked better!” While they might admittedly be somewhat older than their emo breakthrough, Lazarra and co’s set proves they’re more than worthy of such high billings – far from the ‘woe is me’ theatrics of their earliest guises, the Taking Back Sunday of 2018 are a rock juggernaut; dodgy, Alex Turner-esque fake Texan accents and all.
A trio of headliners causes clashfinder headaches for everyone – Good Charlotte thunder through their sugar-coated pop rock, while Jimmy Eat World’s alt mastery comes backed by a literal lightning storm. Both are subsequently spoken about as highlights of the day. It’s hardcore heroes Every Time I Die who close out the night in the most stunning style, though. Now twenty years into their career, this evening is proof that Keith Buckley and co. have easily become one of heavy music’s absolute finest outfits. As guitarist (and moonlighting professional wrestler) Andy Williams strides on stage to the sludgy opening riff of ‘Roman Holiday’, it lights the spark on what’s sure to be one of the most explosive sets of 2018’s whole festival season. There’s chaos both on- and off-stage, as a tent-wide pit opens up immediately, filled with hardcore dancers, moshers, cartwheelers and the occasional over-eager punter on his mate’s shoulders, who soon comes clattering to the ground.
“Thank you for spending your night with us – there’s a lot of great bands playing right now,” notes Buckley, “But I feel like everyone in this tent has drunk the most alcohol.” Party anthem ‘We’rewolf’ might be testament to that fact, but elsewhere the senses are far from dulled, the searing likes of ‘Romeo A Go Go’ and ‘The Coin Has A Say’ hitting like a bullseye.
Slam Dunk’s move to outdoor climes might have raised some eyebrows, then, but as the evening draws to a close, it’s proof it’s the best move the festival’s made in years. For every piercing bore who cries over the diversification of Reading & Leeds’ lineup year in year out, we’ve finally got an answer. You want rock? Get to Slam Dunk – they’ve got every base covered.