Gig Review by Kirsty Hillyer with pictures from the day by Helen Williams

Slam Dunk you beautiful festival, you did it again. A week ago today I was writing a piece about my Slam Dunk picks when the events in Manchester unfolded and so it remains an article left unfinished. With these events in mind the security at Slam Dunk was understandably stepped up; with armed police, a wider cordon and security dotted everywhere. Parents took great reassurance as they left their children to embark upon a day of raucous escape from the world. Once inside the inner sanctum of fencing, the Slam Dunk atmosphere of misfits on the kerbs remained, drunken shenanigans and singing your hearts out with your friends ruled the day.

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It’s SD’s 2nd year at the Genting and the lessons learned from last year are evident; from the banks of port-a-loos, to the whole street takeover running right up to Resort World, allowing more space for the masses to navigate safely between the stages. A huge shout out goes out to the team for what they’ve achieved this year, and sadly I fear it cements the Genting arena as the continued home of Slam Dunk in the Midlands. As a staunch lover of the Wolverhampton vibe, and site, it is not an easy concession to make, but a great achievement on their part to ensure the continued success and growth of the festival.

All good festival line-ups mean some clashes are to be had and that’s where the festival app and its scheduling ease made planning the day easy. First up on the Jägermeister Main Stage was Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness. No-one was any more surprised to be opening this stage, on such a scale, than Andrew himself.

“This’ll be the quietest band you’ll see on this stage all day but it doesn’t mean you have to be the quietest audience” – Andrew McMahon

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Opening with ‘Fire Escape’ he delivered a career spanning set that included the Jack’s Mannequin track ‘Dark Blue’ and Something Corporate’s ‘I Woke Up in a Car’ with just Andrew on piano, accompanied with an extra set of keys and percussion, he recognised it was a weird place to play acoustically. As the goose bumps tingled I was filled with regret and guilt that I don’t listen to this incredible storyteller more; as the tinkle of the keys rang throughout the vastness of the Genting arena it was quite the opener to the day and I applaud the team for this staging call.

Connecticut’s Sorority Noise was my next stop on the Signature Brew Stage. With members from Prawn and Old Gray they offer a smattering of indie rock laced with grungey, Weezer guitar riffs and Starting Line pop punk infectiousness. As a fan of Prawn and the splits they’ve put out with the likes of Somos and TWIABP I’m surprised that I’m not more on board with this band. I was hoping to be more convinced by seeing them live. Cameron Boucher’s vocal delivery falls within the spoken word manner of the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Listener and the Front Bottoms’ Brian Sella, which I find often resonates more with men and it certainly proved true by the sea of  faces surrounding me, chanting along. The band’s laidback aesthetic falls at odds with guitarist and vocalist Adam Ackerman whose posturing, gestures, and solo styling exude a cockiness and arrogance that is superficial when contrasted against the messages of loss and mental health laced through the lyrics of their songs.

 

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After such a relaxed start to things it was time to amp it by seeing Crossfaith on the main stage. As festival regulars, it was great to see them elevated to this slot. I’ve always felt this band to be stadium worthy, and as they took the stage one by one, lead singer Kenta Koie brandished a large Jägermeister flag to set the tone for the scale of what they would bring. These Japanese, electronicore mongers set the stage ablaze with the perfect light show to their infectious beats; alongside calls of ‘Are you ready for us mother fuckers’ from Kenta. Ever the showmen, drummer Tatsuya twirled his sticks and threw them mid drum solo on Monolith. For ‘Ghost in the Mirror’ they were joined by Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo and it would be an understatement to say the set elevated to a whole new level at that point. Caleb’s added aggression brought an extra hunger and intensity to the rest of the set. During their cover of The Prodigy’s ‘Omen’ Kento managed to command the nearly full arena to get down, ready to leap, when it kicked back in. If ever there was a band to ignite the energy in a festival then this is it.

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Crossfaith by Ali Horton

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After such intensity it was back to the Signature Brew Stage for Milk Teeth. The homemade ‘Be nice or go away’ banner draped across the amps felt at odds with the confident and relaxed band I saw before me. Having last seen these guys supporting  Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes a couple of years ago, a change in band member wasn’t the only thing new to this band’s stage presence.  Gone is the slightly abashed and awkward lead singer Becky Blomfield and welcome to the confident, ballsy front woman with added drawl to her vocals. This is a band having fun, so much so that even drummer, Oli Holbrook’s deliciously aggressive drumming is tempered by the fun. Bringing more girls to the front, I can only say good things about this band. Playing ‘Owning you Okayness’ for the first time, and enabling a circle pit to ‘Brain Food’, as Becky fumbled the words, all without the big posturing calls to the crowd, only served to warm the cockles even more. Finishing on ‘Vitamins’ and with a wall of death too, resulted in a set ending with chants of ‘Milk Teeth’ resonating across the pit. They killed it.

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Milk Teeth by Ali Horton

With some time to kill between my must see bands I went in search of the newly located ‘Impericon’ Stage and ‘Rocksound’ Breakthrough Stage. This was the only part of the festival that didn’t work as well logistically. Capacity was an issue at Impericon, resulting in many trying to watch from beyond the pit zone. Oceans Ate Alaska were my pit stop for the one song ‘Covert’. For these local lads it was sadly the singing of Jake Noakes that caused me to walk away, whilst his guttural screams could be clearly heard his penchant for pulling the mic away throughout any singing resulted in zero sound being heard. It was however the perfect Mystery Science theatre redubbing moment.

And so, I swiftly rounded the stage divider, of a wall of plants, to check out Vukovi. This was my first and last visit to this stage. The plant divider failed to effectively mitigate the sounds from the Impericon stage. It was difficult to discern the reality of the music from the Impericon remix. Having released their debut album back in March, this Scottish four piece draw upon a wide range of inspirations from Sia, to RATM, but with the metalcore riffs of ‘Oceans Ate Alaska’ permeating their sound I couldn’t determine if they were laced with nu-metal undertones and promptly gave up.

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This year the Uprawr Stage became home to the early doors acoustic sets before transitioning to the space for dance off and fist pumps. This worked perfectly and a great improvement on the mini stage at the back of the food court of last year.

Vinnie Caruana of The Movielife offered up a smattering of solo and I Am The Avalanche tracks for his acoustic set on the Uprawr stage. Opening with IATA’s ‘Symphony’ he was his usual funny and gregarious self, acknowledging that their traffic laden journey meant he was enjoying his first beer of the day on stage, and therefore the first time in years he was performing perfectly sober.

Despite technical issues resulting in an inability to hear one of his strings, the set traversed tracks such as ‘Somehow the World Keeps Turning’, ‘Green Eyes’ and a brand-new track harkening of missed kisses and reasons for returning home. Regaling stories of burnt apartment buildings and drug laden apologies, he closed the set with a raucous sing-a-long to ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’ after claiming to be the bearer of the sunshine.

Having seen Turnover support I Am The Avalanche back in 2014 I was excited to see these guys from Virginia again. After completing their own UK headline tour and support slots alongside the likes of Moose Blood, their graft at building a UK fan base was evident from the full crowd in attendance. Earnestly delivering fan favourites ‘Cuting my Fingers off’ and ‘New Scream’ their dreamy, borderline shoe gazey American indie is certainly not your typical Slam Dunk band. The scheduling of the Signature Stage this year signals an acknowledgement of being more inclusive to the wide musical scope of the scene and makes me excited for next year’s line-up of a similarly billed stage of emo, US indie to punk rock; bringing balance to the pop punk and metalcore.

On my way to the Fireball Stage I popped my head back into the main stage to check out Beartooth. Their delivery was so loudly visceral and in your face that Caleb’s call to ‘Sing till your fucking voice is gone’ sums up the very intent of Slam Dunk Festival. Opening the set with ‘Aggressive’ fans were running into the pit and the seated zone was filling up for the first time too.

The Fireball stage was home to ageing ska-punk, having missed the likes of Fenix TX and knowing I’d miss Less Than Jake due to clashes, I popped by for Goldfinger or rather John Feldman and friends. The average age of the crowd here was probably 35 (as a soon to be 35 year old I do not make this statement lightly or offensively) meanwhile we stood in awe of the 50 plus years, John Feldman, as he scissor kicked, whilst suited and booted, and threw guitars high in the air to be caught by his guitar tech. Ever the showman John was joined by Cyrus of NFG, Mike Herrera of MXPX and Philip Valjean from Story of the Year for this all-star show, with guest horns from the Reel Big Fish guys. It was a crowd pleasing set list that included The Cure’s ‘Just like Heaven’, ‘Here in your Bedroom’, ‘Spokesperson’ and of course to ending the set on ‘Superman’.

Reel Big Fish followed and they certainly upped the suit game, entering the stage to the souds of ‘The Final Countdown’. Opening with ‘Everything Sucks’ they bounced through a greatest hits set that included ‘I Want your Girlfriend to be my Girlfriend’ and ‘Where have you been?’ and they littered the whole affair with the expectant bad jokes.

It was back to the Signature Stage to check out Frank Iero’s latest venture Frank Iero and The Patience. The latest incarnation of Frank Iero and the Celebration this version offers up meaty, frenetic, gutsy punk with overtones of some shoe gaze moments. There was no messing around, they kicked ass and solidly rattled through the set with the smallest of light hearted banter about the weather and familiar faces. This latest musical exploration by Frank brings the perfect accomplished mix of his singing voice and erratic, and raw annunciations which blur into emotive, guttural sounds.

The Monster Energy Stage was the heavy hitting pop punk stage, which was next on my list for The Movielife. The crowd was littered with a front row of expectant Neck Deep fans arriving early doors to ensure their place at the front for the headliners. The tiny teenage girls across the front row didn’t know what hit them as the Movielife fans screamed their lungs out from the opening bars of ‘Walking on Glass’ to the closing set’s ‘Jamestown’, and even more so as middle aged male bodies crowd surfed above their heads. One female crowd goer was promptly removed after throwing a can at the stage, which failed to hit the mark and sprayed security instead.  Despite a new album out in September, there was no new tracks, just a run through of fan favourites and affable conversation from the most British of all Americans, Vinnie Caruana.

Enter Shikari headlined the main stage with a laser light show extravaganza and flood lights that left flash burn before your eyes as the arena went from blackout to blinding lights. The skull imagery from ‘Take to The Skies’ was a beacon of glowing fun, high above the stage. Opening with ‘Enter Shikari’, celebrating 10 years since the aforementioned album, the crowd chanted anthemically in response. Inciting multiple circle pits and taking the opportunity to address social issues including our current political climate and calls to get out and vote. Their set was operatic as their tracks built to crescendos and the base traveled viscerally through the body. Slam Dunk Festival certainly know how to maximise the scale and scope of this space in their headliner choices over the last couple of years.

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Enter Shikari

To end the day I left high energy antics of Shikari for the Floridian punk rockers Against Me!

Opening with ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’ it was an unrelenting, rip roaring, rocking set that saw fans facetime their loved ones to watch and sing-a-long too. There was a feeling of warmth and solidarity across the crowd as Laura sang out ‘I was a Teenage Anarchist’ before the clap along anthem of ‘Pints of Guinness Makes you Strong’.

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Against Me by Ali Horton

Upon initially seeing the Slam Dunk announcements I felt ambivalent to the line-up, but this year has firmly won for my best Slam Dunk yet. Huge kudos to the work of the team in curating another great festival and for pulling off an awesome weekend of music when faced with a week of great last minute adversity and planning. The sense of community and friendship never ceases to make me leave a Slam Dunk festival with all of the feels.

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Slam Dunk by Ben Bentley

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