The whole train ride to Hatfield for Slam Dunk, it was half anxiety half excitement. As it was the first festival I’d been to in over two years, I barely felt ready for it at all.

As we made our way across from the train station to the entrance, following the murmuring crowd and well placed signs, and anxiety faded away. The entrance was carefully split and kept Covid safe, as everyone’s vaccination or lateral flow result was checked, and once the wristband slid round my wrist, I felt a bit like I’d fallen right back to pre-pandemic times.

The sun had come out to greet us - as if a mosh pit isn't sweaty enough already! So our first port of call was getting a quick drink, and then we headed over to our first band of the day, Deez Nuts (grinning as always at their name!). They took very little time to get up to thrashing speed, the pounding bass and bounce of the crowd serving as a perfect intro back to the wondrous world of live music.

After a few songs, we headed off to circle round the site and passed Capdown on the Punk in Drublic stage as they drew the crowd in with their sax infused and ska inspired punk, reminding everyone of just how wide the genre really can be. The crowds we walked through were just as diverse as the music that carried through the air, from couples in their fifties to families with young babies in brightly coloured ear defenders.

We ended up right near the front of the main Rock scene stage as Creeper were getting into their set. They were on top form, between the melody of the band and the screams of crowd, any thought of the time without festivals had no space in your head. Playing both their recent and older hits, they carried the crowd higher and higher, and their lead vocalist Will Gould controlled the crowd with an expert hand.

From there, we headed back to the Punk in Drublic stage for our next band. Anti Flag are proper American punk rock. They’ve been around in their current iteration since 1996 pretty much, so despite being older than me their music still gets everyone in. They played all the old favourites but took the time to remind us just how well they know their crowd, amping up the pit and telling everyone to be good to each other. As they readied up for their final song of the set, they truly made their point clear about the rock community as they reminded the whole crowd about being a ‘community of empathy over apathy’.

They really proved that sense of community that their music carried to me with the crowd they drew in. Despite pulling possibly the most stereotypical possible crowd of mostly heavily tattooed  punks with liberty spikes and mohawks, it wasn’t at all uncomfortable for the less obvious fans of the music and still felt entirely welcoming; there was no sense of gatekeeping or judgement , especially when it came down to the mosh pit.

Next up was the secret special guest. In previous years, they’ve had bands such as Busted, so the crowds on site were definitely buzzing with possible options. When they walked on, the cheer was near instantaneous: it was McFly! They played a set taking us through their biggest hits from their debut album to more recent tracks, hitting the crowd right in the childhood nostalgia and reminding us of their well-deserved place in the arena of pop punk as much as the mainstream charts.

In the brief respite between bands we wanted to see, we got a burger which was very tasty, although they had suffered a brief tech issue, making the payment have to be cash not card. Luckily we were prepared for that possibility, so we enjoyed our dinner, fresh cooked in front of us.

After food, we saw Vukovi. They only released their debut album four years ago, and drew in a huge crowd for being on the festivals smallest stage. Although I wasn’t particularly aware of them prior to their joining the line up, I was really impressed, pulled in by the sheer energy they had. Their lead singer, Janine Shillstone, was amazing, working the crowd and running about the stage whilst singing incredible high notes, as the pit grew and crowd surfers flowed toward her. The crowd surfing throughout the whole festival was pretty varied in age and gender, unlike most previous shows or festivals I had been to, proving just how safe and welcoming a space Slam Dunk had made at this festival.

The final set we saw of the night was Boston Manor, a band that I was first introduced at my first ever Slam Dunk in 2017. They were the headliner of the Key Club stage, and drew the biggest crowd that the stage had got all day. From the first song, the whole crowds energy was electric, from the bounce of the ground from the thundering noise and the skilful work of the band, as they all moved with it. The lead singer Henry Cox was riding the high of it all, speeding round the stage and directing the crowd into the biggest mosh pit that I’d seen at their stage. As the band thrashed through older tracks from their sophomore album Welcome to the Neighbourhood through to their most recent track Carbon Mono, they held the crowd perfectly. By the halfway point of their set, Cox was giving the lead vocals whilst crowd surfing and then dropping right into the centre of the crowd for the chorus, drawing a mosh pit in and throwing himself into it all. The skill in keeping a song going in that breathless heaving mass will never leave me in anything but awe.

As my reintroduction to the weird and wonderful realm of live music and my first introduction to the joy of festivals in fields rather than exhibition centres, I can only call Slam Dunk South 2021 a near perfect event. From the truly welcoming community atmosphere to the phenomenal range of music, it really was the best event to remedy the loss left from themissed events of 2020, and well worth working up the sweat that properly enjoying the music deserved.