Gig Review by Kirsty Hillyer with Gig Photos by Lee Allen

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Another year of Slam Dunk, another year of flitting between stages and attempting to avert the eyes from the tiny denim shorts and the flesh they are revealing in 80% of their wearers. Tattoos a plenty are on show. The boys are a mix of sleek quiffs, emo hair and long tresses, whilst the girls bring the colour to the hair from vintage rockabilly looks to straight up grunge, with a few corsets and heels for good measure.

The easiest of the Midlands alternative, pop-punk, hardcore festivals to attend see the young and old alike out in their droves. A few stage sponsors have changed this year and the acoustic and DJ stages have moved into the throng of the bigger and louder ones outdoors, in front of the Civic.

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From chatting to a few people in the queue I know that attendance was down to seeing old favourites and checking out some new bands they’d only heard good things about. For this reason I’ll give you a run down on ‘sounds like. . . ’ for some of the acts.

Light You Up

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Lightyouup (8 of 10)

First on our list to check out was Birmingham band Light You Up. Playing on what was the Vans Stage last year, it is the Atticus Stage this year. Sadly no freebies from the sponsor unlike last year’s foam fingers, badge and patch packs.

With a big cry of “Slllaaaaam duuunk” from the lead singer it is all followed up with a whole heap of chest beating. Standard issue pop punk but the vocals are all too American for me, from this British band. There is a fair amount of sing a long and a lot of support by this early doors crowd. They’re reminiscent of Yellowcard just without the violin. As the first act, on this final day of the rotating festival, the tone is clear from the outset. All acts will be suffering from hangovers and a lack of sleep.

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Whilst Light You Up aren’t gonna set the world on fire they are perfectly placed to warm you up. Three songs in and the singer can be found amongst the crowd and being picked up and paraded. As they said “Even if you hate what we do your still here watching us so thanks”.

Next saw a wandering glance at Heart of a Coward on the Monster Stage. These guys played last year; same time slot, same stage. Reflect on this as you will when you consider that Chunk, No Captain Chunk! and Gnarwolves are now higher up the bill and on bigger stages than they were last year. Same hardcore as last time just an angrier roided looking singer screaming into the crowd.

Fandangle

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Fandangle (2 of 6)

After that fleeting glimpse at the Monster Stage we were on our way to check out Fandangle on the Macbeth Stage (Wulfrun Hall). These guys have not been a band for 6 years and until I saw them on stage I really couldn’t place them or be fussed by seeing them. However, the instant hit of fun from these ska punkers and their bouncing, fun, horn section make me wanna dance. Already into the second song and a circle pit has opened. Never been a big ska-punk girl (give me misery in the height of summer), and maybe its down to my first drink of the day, but damn if I had less drink to drink I’d be in the circle pit skanking. An unexpected good time had and a lot of fun.

Modern Baseball

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modern baseball (2 of 5)

Sadly we couldn’t loiter for long at Fandagle as photographer for the day, Lee Allen, wanted to see Modern Baseball back at the Atticus Stage. They are not a band for me. I know this because I have their albums, and saw them with Real Friends and You Blew It! a couple of weeks ago. However, as a Hold Steady fan I know that Lee has been getting obsessed with these guys and I wanted to give them another shot. I am nothing if not fair, even if you think I’m a harsh, negative bitch about bands.

With whiny vocals that seem born from Fat Mike of NOFX and Craig Finn of the Hold Steady having their nuts crushed and vocal chords directly connected, oddly you can’t escape the sound of They Might Be Giants in their song writing. Imagine the feel for nerdy early Weezer in the Sweater Song Days with the latter combo of vocal and music style and you’re pretty close with the levels of awkward arrogance. I wasn’t impressed with these guys the first time I saw them, admittedly I could barely see them over the crowd in the tiny pub in Leicester. This time I would not recommend them to anyone for fear they will be massively disappointed.

With a big turn out for them I can’t imagine anyone came away satisfied, or any new fans converted. Their opener saw a mix of actual singing and a backing track of all their vocals. After that point there was no actual singing, just a couple of nerdy looking boys smiling at each other all goofily as they disappointed everyone. After 4 songs I couldn’t stand to watch them, maybe they bothered to sing. Who cares, you sucked. A trio of clever, talented boys who came across as a bunch of precocious, arrogant dicks. However, if you are a huge Modern Baseball fan, as is another reviewer friend of mine from down south, well he assures me they were awesome the two times he’s seen them early on in this tour. So, maybe its just the end of touring drudge of wanting to be home and not being arsed, not that it matters as they aren’t big enough or old enough for that crap and at such a big stage for this tour too.

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Blitz Kids are the first act on Kerrang Main Stage in the Civic Hall. I had hoped to catch more of these young British lads, sadly it didn’t happen. I’ve never managed to catch them on a tour, but they’re a solid band who have drawn a big crowd and are putting in a  solid performance. Whilst they aren’t the best band on the planet, they have some catchy melodies and work the big stage well.

Above these guys on the main stage are Canterbury, I didn’t get to see them so you may wonder why I’m even mentioning them. As I write this their video on MTV2 has just piqued my interest and not in a good way. As a big music channel watcher of the alternative ilk you may wonder why this is the first time I’m seeing their video and yet they are main stage. Hmm pay to play maybe? Seemingly this could be down to extensive support slots with Deaf Havana and Enter Shikari over the last 7 years and relentless touring. Sounds like a poor imitation Biffy Clyro at the moment, but as their video is doing the rounds they will probably end up on next year’s NME tour or something.

I Killed the Prom Queen

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Ikilledthe promqueen (5 of 5)

I Killed the Prom Queen on the ‘heavy’ Monster Stage got a quick look in. I have to say I massively disappointed by the lack of make-up. Not sure why I’d made that assumption but there it was. It felt like they were trying too hard, the drums were being hit to a mantra of “must hit them harder”, the bass was deep and booming and there were plenty of jump pauses in the song. Not as ferocious as I was hoping.

Decade

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decade (2 of 2)

Decade are in the Wulfrun and I was surprised at the size of the crowd they got in and the level of sing-a-long. Clearly a band that has paid its dues, they are a well-polished British rock group with some catchy, quintessentially British lyrics.

Natives

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Natives are our first band on the Cheer Me Up stage (back bar). There is a manufactured feel to them and maybe that’s cause of the tall, slick quiff haired beardy guy, whose the most enigmatic on stage compared to the rest of the scenester looking kids. Regardless of this feeling I held out a lot of hope upon seeing the big beating drum at the front that just weren’t quite realised. Within a few songs the request for everyone to get low and be prepared to jump is made awkward upon the singer spotting a girl in a wheelchair at the front.

Gnarwolves

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gnarwolves (5 of 5)

Gnarwolves have gone up in the world from the Vans stage outside, early doors to the Wulfren’s Macbeth stage. Last year I just thought they were alright, harmless pop-punk in the vain of a long time ago, British, band called Goober Patrol that were signed to Fat Wreck. Walking in mid-set and its time to hear some new stuff and this was where I became impressed. They sound bigger, dirtier and they’ve toned down the repetitive pop-punk riffs to focus on the more interesting “nu-metal” leanings towards the Deftones. With a dedication to Jason Butler’s beard of LetLive they know how to play the crowd and this crowd has given security the first busy show of the day. Fists are in the air, the crowd is awash with surfers and there is a lot of love for the British acts here today which is always nice to see.

I am the Avalanche

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Staying put in the Wulfrun for I am the Avalanche, which is one of three acts for me to find a spot and stay put for the whole thing. I love these guys and once again they left my ears ringing form the force, ferocity and impact of their playing. Having only seen them two weeks ago play a headlining show at Rock city’s Basement, you could be forgiven for thinking that this short set, and their last after a hard month long European slog before going home, could leave you disappointed. It didn’t and despite claims by Vinnie that his voice is a bit shot now, they killed it. For the first time on this tour they play ‘Young Kerouacs’ off new album Wolverines. This was the one song I really wanted to hear when I saw them the other week and it’s a storming track to hear live. A good mix of songs from Wolverines and Avalanche United, there were tracks kept back for the acoustic show.

I fear that a lot of fans of The Movielife are yet to catch on to Vinnie’s new/old venture, which is a shame. I recognise that I am no longer a 16 year old that can listen to pop-punk all day, I’m a bit too jaded for that. Avalanche is for those older punkers, now they’ve grown up but unwilling to abandon their music passion. With intelligent lyrics and metaphors that go beyond falling love, with more meat and bite on the bone they are my favourite band of the day. With the set-list finishing on simply the word ‘HOME’ there is a still an acoustic for Vinnie to do but with plans to come back in the Winter they can’t come soon enough.

In favour of seeing Avalnche I missed State Champs, still bought the shiny tie dye vinyl after much conversation with the merch guy. Imagine Less Than Jake without the horns by way of the vocals of Northstar.

Other bands that got a quick look in were Motion City Soundtrack on the main stage that saw a half full Civic and a mix of tracks from their back catalogue. As professional as ever with interesting pop punk to break the monotony of the fast rocking standard issue riffs being performed elsewhere.

Having missed Neck Deep on their recent UK tour, this British band are grafting away to quickly ensure they will be everywhere on the music channels and radio. As they say themselves they are ‘another generic pop punk band’, and yep I agree. However as I attempt to make my way through to check them out the raucous, rammed in crowd outside at the Atticus stage is crazy and I promptly escape. Just.

Aurora

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Replacing Landscapes on the bill is a British band called Aurora. A female fronted band with a bassist who looks oddly like a weird Keanu Reeves. Sadly, unlike Marmozets, they are a band that needs more work. As a female singer she neither commands the respect of the boys or girls in the crowd, swinging from high-pitched guttural screaming to sluty Brittany coquettish behaviour. If you’re gonna play the slutty, sex appeal look then you have to go full slut like Courtney and rock the outfit to pull it off. Sadly she doesn’t and would be better off just plumping for full on ugly screaming and she’d get more respect. If only Landscapes’ bus didn’t break down, more my cuppa tea and good merch was missed.

Marmozets

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Marmozets are the second of the full sets I wanted to see. I felt that there wasn’t enough substance to their early songs until their breakthrough single ‘Move, Shake and Hide’ that made everyone really take notice of them. Stepping out on stage and they hit us hard from the off. Ferocious energy, ballsy vocals and their whole bodies thrown into every note they play. Whatever the genre Hayley Williams from Paramore seems to have spawned a formula for front women. Thankfully Becca Macintyre is like an early PJ Harvey, all proportioned attitude and a humble nature. She’s not afraid to evoke every ounce of the lyrics and the music through the smallest quirk of an expression and movement of her body. She’s the kind of front woman boys and girls alike respect and find her all the hotter for her honest performance. Whilst its easy for all eyes to be on the front singer of any band, never mind a female fronted one, this isn’t the case with Marmozets where every band member oozes passion and energy into their performance. By the end of the set all members except for Becca are in the crowd, including the full drum kit. The drummer Josh Macintyre is swiftly lifted into the air, off his stool and paraded through the crowd. A shame it wasn’t as busy as it should have been in this tiny back bar stage, expect great things form these guys. As a family affair between the Macintyre’s and the Bottomley’s on guitars lets hope they keep each other grounded through the explosion of popularity they deserve. A slick performance of unbridled passion and commitment, this was my second favourite performance of the day.

Feed the Rhino

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Above Marmozets on the bill for this stage are Feed the Rhino, who are anticipated to be brutal. Ensue clashes with having photographers in the pit and a topless lead singer that is everywhere except the stage, attempting to strangle the crowd with his mic lead. If you like hardcore unashamedly straight up with no room to breathe then they are for you, expect a show where you’re not sure where to look next. A British band with two albums under their belt but maybe a bit too much chip on the shoulder.

The Ataris

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ataris (2 of 2)

To counteract the levels of aggression, and vitriol from the Cheer Me Up stage its over to The Ataris for a quick respite. I first saw The Ataris about 14 years ago in tiny back rooms when it was still The Ataris and not Kris Roe and friends. More recently I saw them last year in Rugby with ex founding members supporting in their new band and an acoustic from Mike Herrera of MXPX who was meant to play Slam Dunk and didn’t due to Goldfinger pulling out. The Ataris always put on a solid show that is well polished, for a long time listener that hears them open with Diary and not one of their most respected tracks off the album ‘Blue Skies Broken Hearts’ it felt a bit lack lustre. However the crowd was brimming with excitement and singing the words back and Kris manned his merch all day, chatting to friends. Didn’t hang around too long for fear I would get too jaded too quickly when invariably ‘Teenage Riot’ gets played. I was teenager when that came out am quite clearly waaaay passed that.

Rob Lynch

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My first stop at the ‘Antique Stage’ for the acoustic set of singer songwriter Rob Lynch just feels weird. Last year it was upstairs in what was the Little Civic, this year it’s at the bottom of the Atticus Stage under a gazebo on a little platform.  The gazebo causes all sorts of head bumping, not enough room to see the crowd issues, for every act on this stage. A talented young man that has cleaned up a bit since his scruffy, surfer look, support of Vinnie Caruana last year and extensive European touring. He’s just finished a UK tour with Koji and Geoff Rickley of Thursday and he’s pulled a decent crowd. The voice can be a bit marmite with a high-pitched London tone but worth seeing.

Letlive.

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Letlive. were the only band we were interested in seeing on the Monster Stage. With reports from the Hatfield show summing it up as carnage, with monitor and amp destruction, everyone was excited to see what Jason would do on a stage surrounded by ill planted trees.  Sadly it was a bit of a let down. It would seem I am never destined to see this band at their peak with full stage acrobatics. Then again it is a bit of a sideshow feeling of ‘lets point and stare at the front man’. A solid performance, perhaps I’ve just been fed too much hype.

Vinnie Caruana

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Vinnie (3 of 6)

The final performance I am set to see all of is Vinnie Caruana’s acoustic set on the Antique Stage. With a water bottle filled with Jameson’s and a beer in hand he is set for the deepening chill and drizzle of this weird stage. The set soon flies by with banter about his love for England, the level of weed in his system and how much his guitar doesn’t like the conditions. Playing most of his solo acoustic EP, a few Avalanche tracks including Green Eyes, which always sounds better acoustically and a few Movielife tracks from the ‘Gambling Problem’ EP and ‘48 hour Train Back to Penn’ days as a crowd pleaser. A solid set spanning his career and leaving you wanting more.

With enough time to catch a good chunk of Less Than Jake we head off to our next location, except we mixed up the stages and found ourselves in the Civic for the opening of All American Rejects. Kicking things off with ‘Dirty Little Secret’ they looked like they had returned to their early days when they toured with their first self titled album, except they were playing the Little Civic back then. Having caught them up with them a little bit later they were working their packed out hall and big stage show with vanity lights and strip lights around their guitars and mic like Tron. Slick set, shame their music became mainstream watered down Bowling for Soup with 30 Seconds to Mars thrown in.

To really end the night we did indeed watch the last 20minutes of Less Than Jake. Always a good time, it just can’t be avoided with all that enthusiasm and catch ska-punk hooks. Playing a mix of album tracks but with ‘All my Best Friends are Metal Heads’ and ‘Last One out of Liberty City’ they kept me happy with these Hello Rockview tracks. Not forgetting them playing the forever-killer track ‘Johnny Quest’ from over 10 years ago off Pezcore and later ‘losing Streak’. The opening trombone to this song gets you every time as it builds. Things did get a bit weird with their crowd interaction though. This is to be expected of LTJ. Dragging a Bieber haired lad, Richard (Dick), up whilst in a quest to get him laid and a girl on stage to snog him, they went through his resume of selling points. Three girls later after awkward runs and arm grabbing skanking, it was difficult to tell whether it was the girls resisting a full snog or Dick. He got a kiss in the end, and boy was he punching above his weight.

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Another Slam Dunk over and can’t wait for next year, however It would be nice if we didn’t get the school night day of the fest. To quote Lee Allen “It felt like the last day of school, as most of the bands have been touring hard”. An all round fun day with something for everyone and contrary to the Wolverhampton Chronicle’s beliefs it is not an alco-pop Metal head fest. There may be an alcoholic slushie or two in sight though.

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One Response to “Slam Dunk Festival (Midlands) in Wolverhampton, UK – 26th May 2014”

  1. scott Says:

    Heart of a coward didn’t play last year. Heart in hand did.

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