“Mate, can I slam dunk it?” says a strapping young lad in a basketball vest, before blasting a ball of rubbish into an outstretched binbag. The litter-picking volunteer’s bemused features follow every rippling sinew, every bulging muscle.
There’s nothing else to do. Thousands of ill-dressed music fans lurk outside the University of Hertfordshire, their flappy ear tunnel things whistling in the wind. Goose-pimpled in their sleeveless shirts, starved of music and five minutes away from a celebrity-endorsed charity appeal, the Slam Dunk faithful shuffle through the gates as though Hot Topic were sponsoring March of the Penguins. There’s more queueing inside. The queue was for another queue. It’s queueception.
Soon, though, ska-punks Spunge are having it large on the Desperados Stage. Alex Copeland tells knob jokes that make All Time Low look like Stewart Lee, jumping around and insisting: “You can’t go wrong if you skank along.” Having been stood in a queue for hours and with only gory stumps remaining with which to skank, the back half of the crowd disagrees.
The poor lads in Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! appear to be geographically challenged. “Fuck yeah, London!” they shout. “How you doin’, London?” they ask the Hatfield crowd. The ludicrous turnout for their early slot on the Impericon Stage ensures maximum crowd participation and the band’s spasmodic, slightly jarring meld of pop/metal/hardcore/everythingelseyoucanthinkof is much stronger live. Still doesn’t make a lot of sense, mind.
Miss May I get the pit going, rolling out Relentless Chaos to tidy things up at the Atlas Stage. A heavy-set chap – a young rhino, a baby bulldozer, a wrecking ball made of bubble-wrap – charges through the toilet queue and sprints across the campus before the song ends. A woman waiting for the toilet gives up and just marches into the gents’. Good on her.
The University shop is selling festival essentials. It’s clever, because they’ve marked single cans of Budweiser up to £5 to comment on the filthy state of retail within the confines of festivals. Actually, no. Turns out it’s £5.
“Let’s try King 810 again but dial up the Korn influences and ditch the marketing strategy that was interesting but ultimately kinda screwed them,” says Cane Hill’s publicist. Probably. The Fresh Blood Stage hosts the band’s intense, violent brand of metal, where they’re essentially serving the same shit on a different plate: groovy, ‘90s nu-metal metal riffs with hip-hop swing, topped with a vocal that’s David Gunn in a cheese factory. We’ll wait until the full-length, ‘Smile’, to cast judgement.
Yellowcard are delivering their platinum pop-punk classic ‘Ocean Avenue’ in full on the Main Stage and, y’know what, it’s actually an album worth celebrating. We are at the point where Wheatus can tour their self-titled record and have it deemed an occasion, so the public has started to realise that the ‘playing [insert name here] in its entirety’ shtick is in dire need of quality control. But ‘Ocean Avenue’ is fully banging and, to be honest, you could watch it without ears and still have a lovely time. Sean Mackin is somewhere between Chas Smash and a third of Slipknot for most of their set, dicking about while wielding a violin and occasionally playing it.
A queue that leads to about three of the stages sprawls, giving zero thought to stage times or personal space. A wall of humans closes in. That scene with the squid in the garbage chute from Star Wars appears a breeze in comparison. The Starting Line are on but, given the rate of the queue’s progress, they’ll probably have split up, had mediocre solo careers, reformed for a lucrative sum of money and released a crap comeback album by the time anyone gets in to see them, so it’s straight up to the Fresh Blood Stage for Boston Manor. There are pits, there is pop-punk and a promising barrage of energy exuding from the Blackpudlian five-piece and, with only an EP and a brace of singles under their belts, it’s bloody wonderful to see so many punters supporting upcoming, home-grown talent.
And that theme continues with the next act: Creeper. We’re two years into their career and everyone knows every word. Stagediving is conducted as though there’s a pot of money and some Grindstore vouchers over the barrier. The entirety of Misery should really be called ‘Misery – Creeper ft. Audience’ and Will Gould is a right superstar, conducting the crowd, headbanging, grinning and basically succeeding in being all eras of Gerard Way packed into one convenient package with an extra sprinkling of sass.
Creeper’s three EPs are each incredible slices of goth-tinged pop-punk with lofty, grandiose ambition punching from the speakers. It’s Meat Loaf, it’s AFI, it’s Misfits. It’s fresher than salad served straight from a bush. The band’s ascension may have caused some scepticism but Gould and guitarist Ian Miles have been in bands together since they were teenagers. This is no overnight success. This is a musical behemoth and it’s going to steamroll through the planet like an iron-plated train covered in stickers of bats. Get on board.
Cancer Bats further indulge their Bat Sabbath alter-egos, opening with a cover of Children Of The Grave. It’s huge and, followed by Hail Destroyer, it’s astonishing when you realise how far the Bats have come since ‘Birthing The Giant’. Liam Cormier bounces around, shaved head vibrating, screaming every syllable as though it’s blocking his windpipe. Everything’s heavier – even the early, punkier material is beefed up. It’s Black Sabbath. It’s Discharge. It’s crushing, and a real shame that the Slam Dunk audience isn’t packing out the Impericon Stage for this proper, genuine band.
Brendon Urie’s shirtless. Of course he is. Brendon Urie does a backflip. Of course he does. Brendon Urie adlibs Every Time I Die’s Organ Grinder. Of course he does. Panic! At The Disco is now essentially ‘Urie & Friends’, but when it sounds this great…do you really care?
The band’s latest record, ‘Death Of A Bachelor’, is essentially what Fall Out Boy tried with ‘American Beauty/American Psycho’ but, well, it actually works. Its massive pop songs are cut with smatterings of Queen, Sinatra and the like. New ones Hallelujah and Victorious receive two of the biggest reactions of the night and, for a band as established as Panic!, that’s no mean feat. But only one song from ‘Pretty. Odd’? Boo.
BANG. Fire erupts from the Main Stage. There are some more backflips. There are flashing lights and strobes and it all looks proper lovely. There’s that cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that really shouldn’t work but kinda still does. Urie’s got a cold but that doesn’t matter – his high notes are still ludicrously perfect, his energy levels could power your house until you die and, for a man with a hacking cough, he’s one hell of a gymnast. Panic! are finally heading to bigger UK venues this winter and, judging by this outing, they’re going to own it.
There’s a massive queue for the shuttle bus back to the train station. Well, shit.