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Are There Any Grown-Ups Who Still Like Pop Punk?

I visited Slam Dunk festival at university campus in Hatfield to find out.

29 May 2014, 2:50pm

All photos by Adrian Choa

Dairylea, calling things "gay", UK hip-hop, cumming from hand jobs: there are certain things you just grow out of. Pop-punk should be one of those things. It's forgivable when you're in year 6 and need a way to tell your parents that you don't want to shop at Gap Kids anymore, but by the age of around 14 most people have left the boardshorts behind and have found new ways to look cool like reading Junk and smoking. Your only interaction with pop-punk as an adult should be when someone puts on Blink-182's "I Miss You" at a house party and you and all your mates sing the "Where are you? Cause ayeeeem so sorrrry" bit, because that always feels fucking rad.

Of course, there are always going to be some people who can't cope with change. Recently, I met up with my best friend from primary school, just to see what he was like. Guess what? His favourite band are still Bowling For Soup. He showed me a photo of him meeting them last year. And he's not the only one: New Found Glory are releasing their eighth studio album this year, Blink-182 are headlining Reading and, next month, Reel Big Fish play The Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes (tickets are still avaliable at the low low price of £17.50).

Britain still has its own pop-punk festival. Slam Dunk has been running since 2006 and is a pint-sized UK equivalent of the Warped Tour - hosted in Hatfield, Leeds, and Wolverhampton. I wanted to work out who these people are and how they’re finding their place in a world where footshufflers and Essex lads rule the cultural stomping ground. So I visited the event in Hatfield to find out more about pop-punks surviving fanboys.

This was the first dude we encountered when we stepped off the bus. He was ridiculously enthusiastic for someone handing out flyers for a rock “summer ball” and looked like he had seen it all - from the Pete Wentz dick pic to Electric Six’s debut album being certified gold in 2003.

The festival was staged around the campus of the University of Hertfordshire and getting to the backstage area meant trying to navigate our way around the bowels of the economics department. I wondered how punk rock’s elite were dealing with their relative fall from grace, I mean some of these bands use to play arenas. It turns out they were pretty chill about it, reading copies of the Kerrang mobile app on their phones and drinking £4.50 cans of Carling.

I hadn’t learnt much about the current crop of pop-punk fans, but then again, I’d only stepped off a bus and walked around an educational establishment. It was time to go rogue. I spotted off at the official Slam Dunk merchandise stand. This sort of thing used to be filled with sweatbands and oversized hoodies but the tie dye tees and rucksacks felt like a cursory attempt to find relevance in the Wavey Garms era.

This years line-up was puzzling. It featured a lot of the same bands that were Kerrang favourites in the noughties - All American Rejects, Hit The Lights, Chiodos - but also featured DJs, the type of people who play music that would turn most emo kids into a social pariah if they ever admitted to liking it. The resident DJ and compere for the main stage was The Blackout singer Sean Smith. He played “Party Hard” by Andrew WK but, sadly, no one seemed to notice or care he was even there.

Pop-punk fans used be defined by their fashion choices but Slam Dunk proved the stereotype has crumbled into an amorphous mess. This guy looked like he’d got lost on his way to the Whitesnake reunion. I never thought I'd say this but you need to get yourself down to Fat Face mate.

The next stage we came across was called Uprawr; a dance stage positioned in-between the indoor and outdoor punk stages. DJ Karistokat - the girl with blonde hair - had been allotted the biggest set time for the day. This was used to play tracks like “Battle For Middle You” and “When A Fire Starts To Burn”. Maybe this is how pop-punk fans have adapted - they listen to Disclosure too.

This group of fans were from Gatwick - the place, not the airport, obviously. They told me they were regular attendees of the dance stage because “it keeps you motivated and upbeat”.

Walking back inside, this guy confirmed the elimination of fashion trends from the scene. Hawaiian hula skirt, Jagermeister bandana, face paint and drawn-on six pack - my man knows how to have a good time. We saw Zebrahead together, a band who, despite releasing ten albums, have only been known for one song, “Anthem”. It was kinda fun, if your idea of fun is waiting half an hour to watch a worse version of something you can hear on your iPod at any time of day. We then moved outside to catch We Are Kings - a band who have collaborated with Demi Lovato and are on Hollister soundtracks nationwide. I guess that's how pop-punk survives.

Devil Wears Prada - a band who play face-shredding metal - were on stage outside. This dude started a mosh-pit by booting his friend in the shin.

I don’t know what came over me - maybe it was the Red Stripe I'd drunk three hours earlier or my inner pop-punk self finally emerging - but the sight of a circle pit got my juices flowing again. I didn’t want to get too involved though. I was wearing my new Nike Roshe Runs and stood on the periphery, half-heartedly pushing people from time to time.

This guy wasn’t even posing. He was contemplatively looking into the distance, like he was greeting customers at an imaginary Abercrombie & Fitch. It turns out he’d made the pilgrimage from Eastbourne - a solid two hour trek - to see Mallory Knox, but admitted that “personally I’d rather go to Creamfields”. I wondered whether he’d still be shirtless at the afterparty. “Probably, yeah”, he said.

I bumped into Zebrahead. “Anyone of all ages loves to party and Zebrahead love to party”, Matty told me. I told him that everyone who parties here does “molly” (we used the American term for his benefit) and goes to raves instead of rock shows.

“Doing what?”, he said. “Molly… MDMA, Mandy, E, washing powder”, I replied. “I don’t even know that that is. I have no idea what you’re talking about”.

While queuing up to watch The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, this guy thought it would be a good idea to use everyone’s heads as a trampoline.

It was time for the headliners: The All-American Rejects. Unlike some of the other bands - Zebrahead and The Ataris - the crowd mostly consisted of 14 year old girls and people that would have been in nappies when “Swing Swing” was released. This was strange - I didn’t understand how they found out about the band. But then again, I guess when you’re a model for Gap and have beautiful cheekbones, people will seek out your music regardless. The set was okay but mostly I sat on the barrier feeling sorry for myself.

It was nearly time to go home and we decided to visit Uprawr one last time. We were greeted by DJ Yoda, who was on stage playing watered down d’n’b. Everyone in the crowd seemed to be digging it.

On the way home we witnessed a group of people playing a drinking game called Slam Drunk. I couldn’t work out the rules but, judging by this guy, it works.

Slam Dunk was strange. I'd arrived expecting to meet stunted, immature thirty-year olds - and I did. Matty from Zebrahead insisted that "partying is the only thing that keeps them going" and I witnessed a couple of older guys stuck in a bubble where bleach blonde spiked hair was still "rad". But actually it was a mixed bag of style and ages; most of the fans consisted of people that no longer care about concreting their cultural territory. The scene has since aligned itself more with the cultural movements of the day, with the concession of a dance stage and tie-dye merch.

I guess pop-punk was always for outsiders, a way to feel like you were part of something when actually you were still in your bedroom dreaming of what that thing might be. Most people replace this music with things like friendship and getting laid, but today I met the minority who have let it become part of their life. They're not Amish, they understand that the world has changed and they're happy to change with it, but deep down they just wanna put on some checkerboard Vans and lose their shit to Alien Ant Farm.

Follow Lev on Twitter: @LevHarris1