Slam Dunk Festival Midlands, Birmingham, UK – 29th May 2016

Posted by Bianca on Sunday May 29, 2016 Under Festivals

Review by Kirsty Hillyer with Photography by Hollie Turner, Sophie Jones, Dave Musson, Chris Bowley and Steve Kilmister

Slam Dunk arrived and certainly left its mark.

The Midlands leg of this festival found itself a new home at the NEC complex, thanks to a refurb at its regular Wolves home. There was a vastness that felt sterile and dispersed the usual pent up energy, sweat and hormones synonymous with Slam Dunk. However, it didn’t take long for the crowd to make it their own, sit wherever they could find space and bring a festival scuzz to the shiny Genting arena.

Panic! At The Disco

My usual drive by review of as many bands possible was hindered this year by the scale of the event, thanks to the larger capacity increasing the crowd numbers. Dashing between stages was a mission not always successful.

First on the list to see was Coldrain. After 15mins of their allocated set time had passed without a start, tech issues on The Atlas stage saw their set cancelled with a well-timed mic cut out during the announcement.

So off to the main stage I went to join the masses for Moose Blood. With the seating zone cordoned off, it was standing room only in this space. The rolling drums and building guitar riffs of Swim Down sounded epic. Musically, this stage gave Moose Blood the space to create the spine tingling greatness of jangly emo riffs. Sadly the vocals translated across the room like Zed from Police Academy. The screaming girls however were primed to fall in love as earnest Eddie felt awed by the scale of the crowd they were playing to. Sadly these sound issues resonated across all the indoor stages except for the acoustic stage. Quick fire festival sound checking certainly isn’t an easy feat to conquer but this year it can only be reflection upon the venue being one used to big, precision timed, flashy stage productions with lengthy sound check and set up times.

Moose Blood by Dave Musson

Moose Blood

Moose Blood

Moose Blood

Attempt 2 for The Atlas stage was The Word Alive but as tech issues continued and the feedback broke the eardrums of everyone in the vicinity I gave up to go see WSTR at The Impericon stage.

The World Alive by Chris Bowley

The World Alive

The World Alive

The World Alive

Without clear stage signage to this warehouse pavilion space, I know some people never found their way inside. To an overflow of smoke, WSTR walked on with an intro that included Five’s ‘Slam Dunk the Funk’ countdown; and The Impericon stage quickly laid down the gauntlet as the fun stage. These guys delivered fast paced pop punk sending inflatables into the crowd to set the tone for the day.

WSTR by Steve Kilmister

WSTR

WSTR

WSTR

The Desperados and Kerrang Fresh Blood stages felt most like Slam Dunk. The Desperados stage delivered late 90s ska straight from the Moon Ska era of bands. This matched the older crowd skanking and drinking the day away on a Nostalgia trip as Capdown and King Prawn delivered as tighter sets as if they were still prolific touring bands.

Capdown by Dave Musson

Capdown

Capdown

Capdown

Real Friends by Hollie Turner

REAL FRIENDS 6

REAL FRIENDS 11

REAL FRIENDS 4

My one stop by the Kerrang stage was for Cane Hill. They serve up nu metal in the vain of early Korn with a smattering of Marilyn Manson on the top. With songs like ‘Gemini’ about fucking, the guitarists perform synchronised hair swinging in their cut down tees whilst singer, Elijah Witt, moves with a broken jitter. Witt commands the crowd with a demanding vitriol and the pit promptly opened up to last track ‘I am the new Jesus’.

Cane Hill by Dave Musson

Cane Hill

Cane Hill

Cane Hill

Cane Hill were a surprising highlight for the day and if you have a hankering for 90’s nu metal then these guys will deliver it in spades. For fresh ears these guys will nail it, for old ears it’ll make you nostalgic for the first time round whilst enjoying every minute of them.

A Slam Dunk regular for the last few years are the incorrigable French fivesome, Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! These guys continue to pack out the stages at Slam Dunk year on year and 2016 was no exception. With a 20 deep crowd converging on the doors there was a 1 in 1 out policy despite the space being only 2/3 full. Everyone was jumping from the off as they called the party atmosphere to arms.

Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! by Chris Bowley

Chunk! No, Captain Chunk!

The Keystage was positioned within the food court of the general Genting entertaining space. Never has it looked so big; seen so many people penned in bouncing whilst others navigate the food queues to the sides. The Keystage is jam packed with British pop punk and classic US bands with a wide eyed, teen crowd ready to respond with youthful obedient chaos despite a vocal fuzz creating a wall of noise for every band bar The Starting Line.

As someone who has a penchant for acoustic, melancholic, emo offering there is always someone I want to check out on the acoustic stage. Previous years has seen this stage go from a venue, to a pop up under a gazebo and this year it was the stage with the best sound and timed perfectly with the Keystage to enable an audience to turn from one end of the room to the other to check out something new.

Elder Brother were the band of the festival for me; side project of The Story So Far’s guitarist Kevin Geyer and Daybreaker’s vocalist Dan Rose. Dan Rose provides a biting wry wit both on stage and off, on their twitter feed.

‘Thanks Slam Dunk for letting me live out my dream of playing in a mall food court’ – Dan Rose

This short set included the songs ‘Any Sort of Plan’, ‘In my bones’ and a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘A National Acrobat’ and Archers of Loaf’s ‘Web in Front’ for his true punk test.

Having first been introduced to Elder Brother by Alcoa’s cover of ‘Who’s gonna carry you home?’ I was pleased to say the least, that this was included and clearly a fan favourite from the small crowd sing-along.

Ending the set with ‘Wish You Were Here’, the simplicity of songs striped down and the break from the cries to bounce is the reason why this stage exists at this festival.

As It Is by Chris Bowley

As It Is

As It Is

As soon as Elder Brother finish UK pop punkers As It Is opened with a chorus of a sing-a-long, crowd surfing sea of people but their on stage cloudy banners and twinkly lights offended the eyes too much to linger. So it was off to catch the end of Mayday Parade as they finished the set with ‘Jersey’ and one couldn’t help but wonder if singer Derek Sanders was still drunk from the night before as he lacked his usual crowd rallying and kinda seemed out of time.

Mayday Parade by Hollie Turner

MAYDAY PARADE 6

MAYDAY PARADE 7

MAYDAY PARADE 9

Weighing up the access issues to get into some stages I took the decision to make this the year of the main stage. Having never seen a band perform one album from end to end before I was unsure about the scheduling of Yellowcard to play Ocean’s Avenue in full. Defined as their breakthrough album I never felt it had the consistency of songs as their debut ‘One for the Kids’.

With technical issues seeing them only play 5 songs in Leeds this was their first performance of the whole album and they were hungry to deliver.

Yellowcard by Hollie Turner

YELLOWCARD 6

YELLOWCARD 11

YELLOWCARD 1

‘It’s our job to make you lose your voice before it’s over’ – Ryan Key – lead singer

There are no surprises to an album play through. With the title track being the third song instead of their usual encore track it meant that some of the crowd dispersed feeling satisfied to have heard the one song they knew and for me it’s an album that falls a bit flat after ‘Life of a Salesman’. Sadly this was certainly reflected by the diminishing number of crowd cheers as the set carried on. One of the joys of festival viewing is the delivery of ‘best of’ sets and few albums have full length staying power.

Despite this Yellowcard provide the best set of the day on the main stage and scored the best sound to boot. It was a rip roaring run through of their most acclaimed album, having not seen them play for so long the only disappointment that could be felt was by not hearing some of their other songs.

Set Your Goals were up against the UK’s love affair with Mallory Knox which saw them play to one of the smaller crowds of the day for the Key Stage; seeing the calls for a circle pit fall on deaf ears. Never the less a bounce-a-thon ensured that saw a circle pit erupt to ‘Goonies Never Say Die’ that included a posse Mario Kart fancy dress moshers. Singer, Matt Wilson joined in the fun wearing Wario’s hat and Lugi’s with a costume change a ninja would have been proud of. They end their set perfectly with ‘Mutiny’ and a pop of confetti cannons.

Mallory Knox by Hollie Turner

MALLORY KNOX 1

MALLORY KNOX 12

MALLORY KNOX 5

Taking ‘Set Your Goals’ advice I went to see NFG on the main stage, a far cry from the first time I saw them play their first Birmingham show at The Foundry. Opening with ‘See You’ the crowd were a mix between NFG fans and a female heavy teen crowd guarding their spot for Panic at the Disco; a sight not lost on Chad Gilbert.

NFG by Dave Musson

NFG

NFG

NFG

Singer, Jordan Pundik rocked a bleach blonde look that ssaw him rock so hard his head looked like it would fall off from where I was standing. That was the biggest challenge with the Genting Arena staging, without big screens the view beyond the mixing desk was of ants on a stage. As Slam Dunk Midlands was sold out everywhere bar from 2 vendors the scale of the festival on this site certainly needs the screens in place.

NFG certainly knew how to reminisce the 10yr anniversary of Slam Dunk and sadly, despite heir success and commitment to the scene, there was a certain hope amongst the fans that Hayley Williams may make an appearance. After playing ‘Kiss Me’ and Vicious Love in the first third of their set without an appearance you couldn’t help but hear the same conversation take place from groups around me.

NFG delivered a high energy, tight set that has to set them apart as one of the most hard working pop-punk acts, always promoting and supporting other bands on their tours and setting a high standard on stage. My only disappointment was bassist Ian Grushka not being a topless, body positive hunk of man and keeping the Harry Potter tee firmly in place.

NFG Crowd by Steve Kilmister

NFG-Crowd-1

Knowing what I would get from NFG and with the low visibility factor from the scale of the main stage I couldn’t resist the lure of The Starting Line. Singer Kenyy Vasoli has the unique honour of having made it big at such a young age that 10 years on his youthful energy and baby face still take you by surprise. The Starting Line took the honour of the band that totally killed it for me. Kenny rocked so hard that each time he jumped I envisioned him going through the stage, never mind breaking a string and playing through regardless. Opening with ‘Up and Go’ the smaller crowd certainly showed their appreciation. Losing out to NFG and ‘The Beat’, Kenny was appreciative of anyone turning up with his own hopes of seeing ‘The Beat’ himself.

There was an urgency and excitement to their set that I wasn’t expecting and it was the perfect slice of greatest hits and new track ‘Anyways’ off their latest EP. Their big hit ‘Leaving’ was dedicated to NFG and was met with such a sing-a-long the crowd managed harmonies and everything. The Starting Line achieved the perfect slice of pop punk scene love in that moment that was only beaten by Kenny’s shoulder, shimmy, body pop dance moves.

Panic! At The Disco were the headliners that drew a crowd that was in equal parts fans and those there for the spectacle. Man, was it a spectacle. With large scale video walls of water and Vegas light projections I cannot comprehend how this set was delivered at the other venues with the combination of black out silhouette lighting and pink spotlights.

Panic! At The Disco by Sophie Jones

Panic! At The Disco

Panic! At The Disco

Opening with ‘Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time’ Brendon Urie was a topless, suited, falsetto squealing modern Mick Jagger with the theatrics of Freddie Mercury.

‘Time to Dance’ was delivered at such high speed the whole set felt catapulted in a hyper real state combined with the stark, contrasting staging making it impossible to tell who was playing thanks to the ants view of the stage. Delivering a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody and finishing the set on ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ it was a performance that bulldozed me. I doubt another set will ever reach the heights of what was delivered by Panic at the Disco and I’m not saying that that is a good thing. I guess I’m still processing what I witnessed.

Panic! At The Disco

I love and hate Slam Dunk Festival in equal measure. After a day of calls to bounce every 5 minutes, you can easily feel exhausted. It makes me wonder as to the whether the empty alcohol calories win out over the bouncing burn off, punk rock exercise regime of the day. I’m sure there’s a research fellowship merited in that.

But it feeds enough of an old soul with so much pop-punk nostalgia it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, the conversations with like minded strangers remind you of why you love this scene and there is always a surprise of two that makes you discover new and revisit old bands.

Panic! At The Disco by Steve Kilmister

Panic! At The Disco

Panic! At The Disco

See the complete photoset here.

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