LIVE: Slam Dunk Festival 2023 @ Hatfield Park

By Aaron Jackson

Sold-out and stacked with some huge names, 2023 marked the now iconic Slam Dunk’s biggest event to date. Fans sardined in caused plenty of teething problems on the day, but did the music deliver? Silly question, of course it did.

Words: Aaron Jackson [AJ] and Yasmin Brown [YB]  Images: Penny Bennett


Let’s get the cliche out of the way – it’s no mean feat to open a festival. However, this feels particularly pertinent after experiencing alt-pop wildcard ZAND’s performance on the Rock Scene Stage. Before the clock had even struck midday, demonic laughter echoed through the flush of summer sunshine as the Blackpool-born, self-proclaimed “ugly popstar” brashly rattled through their bass-drenched hits. Unflinchingly confrontational in everything they do, ZAND’s set was delivered with unbridled conviction. Regrettably, fans had to do without ‘Slut Money’ as Slam Dunk cut the slot short. Regardless of the abrupt ending, ZAND had kicked the day off with a boldness which stood unrivalled for the remainder of the festival. [AJ]


Next up on the Rock Scene Stage were Scottish duo VUKOVI. Fresh off the back of receiving their first Heavy Music Award the night before for Best Production on their latest effort ‘NULA’, the spring in their step was plain to see. Vocalist Janine Shillstone swept across the stage, working the audience with vocals that fluctuated from delicate to intensely powerful at the flick of a switch. Meanwhile, Hamish Reilly relished the points in their set in which he had a licence to take the crowd to riff city with his guitar. New cut ‘I EXIST’ boasted a particularly impressive breakdown that was executed with aplomb. Provoking motion in and amongst the spectators, VUKOVI more than played their part in wiping away any cobwebs that might have gathered in those pesky queues. [AJ]


Relative to some of the veterans on this year’s bill, Movements have earned a calibre of adulation from their audience that much older artists still pursue. Of course, the highlights came in the singalong moments, with ‘Full Circle’ marking the point in the set that the Californian quartet really seemed to find their feet. The Kerrang! Tent was teeming with eager fans bellowing every word back to frontman Patrick Miranda, and this didn’t let up as they launched straight into ‘Colourblind’. Sure to give attention to the ‘Outgrown Things’ EP which put them on the map back in 2016, Movement’s rendition of ‘Kept’ was as sincere as ever, demonstrating the strength across their whole discography. Newer tracks like ‘Lead Pipe’ and ‘Barbed Wire Body’ may not have hit as hard on the heartstrings, but they were still expertly performed, with a special mention to Austin Cressey on bass who held it down exceptionally. Bowing out with the powerful ‘Daylily’ marked a poignant end to a set to remember. [AJ]

Spanish Love Songs

Sad summer season is here, baby. Taking to the stage with a complete air of modesty, there was little fanfare as frontman Dylan Slocum slipped straight into ‘Routine Pain’ after a brief soundcheck. Their flowers came in the form of the loudest singalong that had been seen up to that point. The ultimate form of sonic catharsis, there appeared to be a genuine relief on the faces of the band who unfortunately had to withdraw from the previous lineup. As Slocum recalled how that this time last year he was stuck at home with COVID, it must have felt incredibly gratifying to perform at what they called the “best festival” that Spanish Love Songs have ever booked. What’s more, the future looks incredibly promising for the band, with their newest single ‘Haunted’ not letting the team down as a huge portion of the audience managed to recite every lyric, despite the song only being out for a couple of weeks. [AJ]

Holding Absence

Holding Absence are a band who have found themselves steadily but surely rising up the festival ranks, today appearing proudly on the Slam Dunk main stage. The band bring all the energy we’ve come to expect from a Holding Absence set, but unfortunately for them, their first opportunity to show off music from their upcoming album falls flat – through no fault of their own. The sound on the main stage is lacklustre at best, meaning front man Lucas Woodland’s usually ferocious voice is lost, as are screams from guitarist and back up vocalist Scott Carey, and the drums hit fiercely by Ash Green fail to reach your chest in the way they usually do. As a result, chatter among the crowd can easily be heard, with fans barely having to raise their voices to ensure words reach their friends – words that we usually wouldn’t want to utter as a result of being so lost in the amazing music of this unique, “one to watch” band. It’s hard not to feel as bad for the band as you do for the fans, neither one quite getting the experience we deserved. [YB]

Trophy Eyes

“We just got here” mutters drummer Blake Caruso sheepishly into his mic. Indeed, Aussie four-piece Trophy Eyes were one of multiple artists to experience significant delays upon entering the festival’s site. Not ideal after already travelling over from the other side of the world. Nonetheless, this really feels like a period of rebirth for the band. All three of the singles released to this point from the forthcoming LP ‘Suicide and Sunshine’ featured proudly on the setlist and were met with a rapturous response. Naturally, the cuts from 2016’s flawless ‘Chemical Miracle’ stepped it up a level, with ‘Chlorine’ especially sending the crowd into a frenzy. Unfortunately, Trophy Eyes were also victims of a prematurely cut set, causing fans to miss out on the anthemic ‘You Can Count On Me’, much to the visible disappointment of the band. Music aside, it was impossible to ignore Floreani’s fighting form as he shadowboxed his way through the set. He’s no Vulkanovski, but it still wouldn’t be wise to get in the way. [AJ]

Real Friends

Fundamentally built for this festival, pop-punk mainstays Real Friends wasted absolutely no time in whipping their crowd up into a frenzy. The already-packed Kerrang! Stage descended into a blur of flailing limbs and aggressive finger pointing syncopated with frontman Cody Muraro’s singing. To the delight of all involved, the most feverish of fans flew above the crowd and were sent sprawling over the barrier (hopefully safely). It should go without saying that, as one of the true anthems of the scene, ‘I’ve Given Up On You’ was the standout hit from the set and left the most lasting impression. In their element and loving every minute, Real Friends dropped a set packed out with their brand of all-out pop-punk hits. If it ain’t broke… [AJ]

Boston Manor

Cool as ice, Boston Manor take to the stage with a confidence that commands respect and attention. Going by the amount of festival goers adorned in BM clothing, and the sheer volume of people in the tent during their set, it’s fair to assume that, for plenty, this was the most anticipated performance of the day. Certainly one to catch in person, the Blackpool quintet’s brand of moody, industrious alt-rock sounds infinitely beefier in a live setting. Naturally, this is at the sacrifice of some of the atmosphere that is curated in the band’s conceptual approach to their releases, it’s an entirely different experience, but one that shouldn’t be missed. Featuring a stellar live debut of ‘I Don’t Like People (& They Don’t Like Me)’ and the colossal ‘Halo’, during which frontman Henry Cox demanded “one hundred crowd surfers”, there were plenty of high points in this performance. It is a shame, however, that Boston Manor seem to have left behind anything released before 2018’s ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’. Nonetheless, progress waits for no one, and Boston Manor show no signs of slowing down. [AJ]

Four Year Strong

Four Year Strong instantly reminded everyone why they are one of the most steadfast pillars in the alt/pop-punk scene. Bouncing through their chug-tastic selection of aggressive, yet catchy hits, this performance highlighted just how strong the band’s discography has become over the years. Hits spanning from their debut album ‘Rise of Die Trying’ through to 2020’s ‘Brain Pain’ offered fans a blend of reminiscence and excitement. ‘It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now’, ‘Out of My Head’ and ‘Wasting Time’ created an excitable vigour among the crowd, while exhilarating covers of Green Day’s ‘Jaded’ and ‘Brain Stew’ went a long way to win over first-time listeners of the band. The triumphant opening riff to Heroes Get Remember, Legends Never Die summed up the set and was met with one of the biggest roars of the performance – washing the hundreds of fans in the tent with nostalgia before they resumed hurling themselves towards one another. Beards. Chugs. Sing-a-Longs… in that order. [AJ]

The Menzingers

Perhaps one of the last loud and proud rock and roll bands, The Menzingers have been flying the flag for some time now. With six full-length albums under their belt, there was a healthy spread across their discography on offer, with considerable love especially going to 2012’s ‘On the Impossible Past’. Fans were also treated to the live debut of a brand new song titled ‘There’s No Place In This World For Me’ which was respectfully observed by a crowd of fans who will no doubt relish the reveal of new music from the Scranton four-piece. Their formula is tried and tested, but The Menzingers deliver every time and this performance was no different, executed with seasoned expertise. Is there a better band to sip a beer in the sun with? Doubtful. [AJ]


Fronted by superstar talent Lynn Gunn, it’s clear that PVRIS held a core of devoted fans at the festival, who met the band’s walkout with awed cheers and applause. With a setlist featuring a healthy spread across the artist’s esteemed discography, this was a true showcase of the many facets of PVRIS’ dynamic. Gunn’s vocals were hauntingly fragile at points, demonstrating her remarkable range. The louder, more electrifying songs such as ‘Monster’ and ‘Fire’ were unfortunately dampened by what felt to be poor mixing. The heavy peaks were sucked from the stage and disappeared into the open air and, even more disappointing, Gunn’s efforts often fell into the background. Despite a sound quality that left some wanting more, PVRIS performed with spirit and were clearly relishing every minute on their platform. Maybe some of the crowd were feeling the heat by this point, but there was a palpable outpouring of passion coming from that heartbeat of fans who were with PVRIS every step of the way. [AJ]


Back with a theatrical bang as multi-instrumentalist Hannah Greenwood strides onto the stage wielding frontman Will Gould’s severed head (not really), it was fitting that Creeper’s time came as an early hue of dusk began to bleed across the sky. The goth/glam/punk outfit boast an aesthetic that is infectiously cool, oozing with horror iconography that gorgeously decorates a sound equally as evocative. Creeper are a band that know how to make the most of their instruments, with the synths adding a particularly effective texture. It initially felt as though Gould’s voice suffered through the skulking verses of ‘Ghost Brigade’ and ‘Born Cold’, but once the band flew into the choruses, Gould absolutely soared. Complete with a (successful!) on-stage proposal before ‘Hiding With Boys’, this set had everything to make a lasting impression on fans both existing and prospective. Wrapping up with ‘Misery’ demonstrated just how powerful this band are, completely abandoning all instruments and microphones for the final chorus, leaving the crowd to shine. They went above and beyond, marking an emotional end to a landmark moment of the festival. [AJ]

Enter Shikari

The festival’s headliners never fail to deliver fireworks, on this occasion, quite literally. Visually stunning, the stage is drowning in digital flames, and LED lava, before Enter Shikari even walk out. Complete with the sun setting behind the stage, the atmosphere was already bliss. Launching into ‘(pls) set me on fire’ commanded attention from a crowd that had been eager for this moment all day. Such is the pull of this band, it’s no wonder they were billed as the main attraction. For years now, Shikari have been at the cutting edge of the scene, pushing boundaries and redefining perceptions of noise along the way.

A glaring downside to the performance, through no fault of the artist, was again the poor sound quality coming from the Rock Scene Stage. The mix was all over the place and resulted in the band’s music, which is consistently so impactful, falling disappointingly flat. One of the finest live acts this country and scene has ever produced were regrettably disserviced by the stage setup on the day.

Nonetheless, a setlist packed with the highlights across their seven-album strong discography served as a reminder, as if one was needed, just how much value can be found in a Shikari performance. London duo WARGASM joined the band onstage for a special run-through of the recent award-winning single ‘The Void Stares Back’, an apt celebration for both artists involved. All things considered, there’s no better band for the occasion, Enter Shikari closed out a challenging festival to the best of their ability, and those standards could not be higher. [AJ]

A spectacular firework display capped off a day of mixed emotions. On one hand, the music on offer was, to an artist, fantastic. Slam Dunk has comfortably graduated from being just a pop-punk festival and hosts a sprawling lineup of some of the scene’s most elite artists, all of which delivered. However, it’s impossible to look past the shambolic organisation of the event. Hours wasted in standstill traffic and queues, leading to numerous acts missed for many, not to mention the countless health and safety red flags. That’s just scratching the surface of what went wrong with this year’s Slam Dunk Festival. Plenty of discourse can be seen across social media as patrons are justly frustrated and disappointed with the festival’s execution.

Let’s just say that Slam Dunk have a lot of work to do if they are to make reparations and restore the faith of a fanbase so loyal and passionate.