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Ben Ray on what’s next for Slam Dunk Festival

In an interview with IQ, the promoter reviews this year's UK edition and offers an update on the brand's European expansion plans

By James Hanley on 31 May 2024

Ben Ray

image © Eddy Maynard

Slam Dunk Festival promoter Ben Ray has run the rule over the brand’s recent UK edition and European expansion in an interview with IQ.

The UK festival took place across two sites last weekend, with the southern leg held at Hatfield Park on 25 May and a northern leg in Temple Newsam, Leeds, the following day.

Artists at the 30,000-cap pop-punk, emo, metal, and alternative event included You Me at Six, I Prevail, The All-American Rejects, Funeral for a Friend, Boys Like Girls, Asking Alexandria, State Champs, Mallory Knox, The Ghost Inside and The Interrupters.

But while the Hatfield leg went to plan, the Leeds site was hit by heavy rainfall ahead of the show, prompting organisers to issue an emergency weather update and close the event’s car park.

“Hatfield was amazing,” says Ray. “We were faced with a few challenges last year and worked very hard to resolve those, and the fact that Hatfield ran so smoothly was testament to all the effort we put in. But towards the end of the day, we were made more and more aware of the state of the site in Leeds, so everything that worked so well in Hatfield turned into worry about the next day.

“Ultimately, the event happened. The only issue that we faced was around car parks – we knew there would be a very high risk that some people wouldn’t be able to get out – so we advised them to park in the city centre and get onward travel to the site via the shuttle buses, and we scrambled around and managed to get more shuttle buses on to transport people across.

“The main complaint was the length of time that it took to get shuttle buses at the end of the day. It may have been a little longer than people wanted, but it was still within a reasonable amount of time, so it was the right decision to take and the vast majority of the fans were happy with that.”

“Although these numbers would have been a massive success for us in previous years, we’ve not done great financially because of the rising costs”

While Slam Dunk UK sold out for the first time last year, attendance for the 2024 festivals dipped to around 20,000 per day. Ray believes the economic climate was the driving factor in the decline.

“There was talk last year of a cost of living crisis, but at that point we’d sold out, so it wasn’t affecting the festival market,” he notes. “Although people were having to make cutbacks in daily life, I think they still had the desire to have something fun to look forward to over the summer.

“This year, we really started to feel the effect of the cost of living crisis. Our sales weren’t as good as last year, but that was the first year we’d sold out and we knew we weren’t going to sell out again. But we sold over 20,000 tickets for both sites – so over 40,000 in total – which would have been a good year for us before last year.

“Like all festivals, we’ve seen a massive increase in production costs now, and unfortunately a lot of those came in after we had gone on sale and had set our ticket price, so we didn’t pass a lot of the increased costs on to the customers. So although these numbers would have been a massive success for us in previous years, we’ve not done great financially because of the rising costs.”

Another challenge centred on booking the bill due to the logistics not adding up for certain top-tier acts – particularly those from the other side of the pond.

“The genres that Slam Dunk feature are quite US-heavy, and there were a lot of US artists that chose not to tour because it would have been so expensive to come over,” explains Ray. “We were paying artists a lot more money than we had previously and that was not them being greedy; it was their agents or management coming back to us and saying, ‘This is what we’ll need to cover our costs because they have gone up so much.’

“Some, obviously, did come over and play. Others, we couldn’t get because it was either too expensive for them to come over, or they were going to stay in the US and tour in that period because it was more financially viable.”

“We are looking at other European markets, but we’re not pushing it”

Ray also gives an update on Slam Dunk’s ambitions outside the UK, where the brand launched in 2006, following its debut in France and Italy in June 2023.

Promoted in partnership with AEG France and French Independent promoter Opus Live, Slam Dunk France premiered in Lyon, topped by The Offspring, Simple Plan, Billy Talent, Zebrahead and Oakman. Slam Dunk Italy, meanwhile, was a co-promotion with booking agency Hub Music Factory and was held in Rimini on the Adriatic coast, close to Milan, headlined by Rancid, The Offspring and Sum 41.

“They were massive successes,” reports Ray. “We got very lucky in the fact they were the week after the UK, so we were able to repeat a lot of the lineup. France was a one-day indoor event at Halle Tony Garnier, which I would describe as similar to Ally Pally. That was one stage and 16,000-capacity, and we did over 13,000 for our first event.

“At the same time, we had Slam Dunk Italy, which was outdoors in a seaside resort just outside of Rimini, and that took place over two stages, one of which was actually on the beach, over three days. It was 10,000 capacity, and we sold close to that each day.”

Slam Dunk France will return on 22 June with the likes of Sum 41, The Interrupters and Palaye Royale, but there will be no Italian edition in 2024.

“Very honestly, we couldn’t get the headliners and I didn’t want to feel the pressure of doing the event every year without fail, no matter what bill we could get,” says Ray. “We made the choice to skip a year and not have the worry, but we are planning to [stage Slam Dunk Italy] again in 2025.”

And Ray is keeping an open mind regarding the prospect of further additions to the Slam Dunk portfolio in the future.

“We are looking at other European markets, but we’re not pushing it,” he adds. “We started Slam Dunk in 2006 and it took us a long time to get to where we are in the UK. We’ve changed cities, we’ve changed sites, we’ve change formats and we’ve built slowly. We’ve never tried to take on too much, which is very important.”


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