In 2013, Slam Dunk made its Midlands debut in Wolverhampton and this year the festival made its triumphant return to the Civic on the second May bank holiday. For those not familiar with the festival, it prides itself on bringing together some of the finest pop punk, punk and metalcore bands all together in one place – it is the English equivalent of Warped Tour USA. This year’s line-up was no different, blending some of the most exciting new acts with some old favourites.
Kicking off the day were Birmingham’s own Light You Up [6/10] on the Atticus stage; one of the smaller outdoor stages. Though they were better than when they played Birmingham a couple of weeks ago supporting The Wonder Years, they are definitely capable of better things. With a debut album to be released later in the year, they will probably benefit from the release of new material, as they are brimming with potential. Kicking off the main stage were Blitz Kids – due to clashes we only caught the opening song, however they sounded good and raring to go. To their favour, they also arrived on stage to the entrance music of legendary WWE wrestler Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Modern Baseball [9/10] were next up on the Atticus Stage, whose quirky lyric-driven rock music was a perfect fit for the festival. Tracks such as ‘Your Graduation’, ‘Tears Over Beers’ and ‘Re-Do’ lead early afternoon sing-alongs and their on stage banter was enjoyable, as the band gave repeated shout-outs to the All American Rejects and also to nature for not raining and being generally lovely (for Wolverhampton). The whole set really showed everyone in the audience, particularly the people who had never heard of them before, that this is a band to look out for.
Light You Up kick-starting the festival on the Atticus Stage
Over on the Macbeth Stage, the relatively unknown Fandangle [7/10] were the first to represent the considerable ska-punk scene at this year’s Slam Dunk. Despite the early afternoon slot, the excellent brass section featuring an enthusiastic red trombone and a couple of lively trumpets really struck a chord with the audience (many of whom had just got a few pints in). Though the crowd was small, the music was fun and bouncy, and there was a great deal of two stepping and general terrible dancing. At last year’s festival, Gnarwolves [9/10] kicked off the day outside in the rain, but this has done nothing to dampen their fast-rising spark in the twelve months since. The band’s fast paced punk rock sounds as good live as it does on record, but the real highlight is their entertaining stage presence – dedicating songs to such things as Jason Butler’s Beard and Salmon (the fish). This year’s performance was also on the thankfully warm and dry Macbeth stage, and as the crowd rammed in, it was clear that they could have easily played a venue twice the size.
A huge band that has certainly played many a massive stage was up next however; legendary reggae outfit The Skints [9/10] on the Main Stage. The undoubted kings (and queen!) of modern genre-spanning punk, these guys always deliver, no matter the weather or the venue. With plenty of songs off Part & Parcel, as well as a few classics like ‘Bright Girl’ and ‘Culture Vulture’, the band brought some reggae sunshine into the otherwise grey day. Though most of the other bands of the day focused on getting the audiences jumping, moshing and generally causing a rock n’ roll ruckus, The Skints exuded an air of serene calm, whose influence was clearly visibly on the hordes of fans rhythmically swaying and skanking slowly to the beat.
Going back outside into the slightly drizzly daylight, there were big expectations for State Champs [7/10]. However despite having just come off tour with The Wonder Years where they almost stole the show every night, they just didn’t quite deliver. The set sounded slightly laboured at times, and it was obvious that weeks of hard touring had taken the toll on the band, as they were all visibly exhausted.
New York pop-punkers State Champs
Over on the Kerrang! Main Stage, Florida pop-rockers We The Kings [6/10] were also going through the motions. While they are considered a big deal in America, that success hasn’t really translated well to this side of the Atlantic. Though ‘Check Yes Juliet’ still managed to sound massive, there was a feeling that the majority of people were watching them to see bassist Charles Trippy (of YouTube vlogging fame), as there was an abundance of CTFxC and Internet Killed Television t-shirts in the crowd.
The fact that Neck Deep [8/10] had pretty much sold out of merch even before today’s festival highlights how popular they have become in the last six months. Playing this festival has felt like a coming of age for them, in a set that was a mix of songs from Wishful Thinking and various EPs went down a storm in a heavily partisan crowd. In particular tracks such as ‘Crushing Grief’ and ‘A Part of Me’ caused mass sing-alongs and gratuitous crowd surfing.
Travis Clark and Charles Trippy from We The Kings trying to bring Florida’s sunshine to Wolverhampton through the medium of song
Over on the Main Stage, Motion City Soundtrack [7/10] proved that they are one of the most underrated bands about. One of my personal highlights of the whole day was hearing ‘Her Words Destroyed My Planet’ however the band seemed a little lost on the crowd – they would have been better on a smaller stage. In between bands on the Main Stage, expert DJing was provided by The Blackout’s Sean Smith, which was a great interlude as he played a mix of all genres from rock to indie, and there was more crowd participation to old school Panic! At the Disco songs than with the entire Motion City Soundtrack set. Back outside on the Atticus Stage, Real Friends [8/10] brought all of the emo feels as the sun was setting. While the intimacy that the band usually brings to their live shows was missing due to the outside setting, ‘Late Nights in My Car’ and ‘Dirty Water’ still sounded incredible.
Also playing through the sunset were Zebrahead [5/10] and Capdown [6/10] on the Macbeth Stage. Zebrahead seemed a little unsure of their place, as they usually tour with ska-punk giants Less Than Jake or Reel Big Fish who generally command a lot of attention; however they still put on an enthusiastic show. There seemed to be something a bit off with their sound set up, as none of the melodies were really coming through and all the crowd could really hear were the drums and vocals, but this didn’t stop the crowd singing along to huge songs like ‘Anthem’. However Capdown had really nailed down their unique blend of politically-charged lyrics with ludicrously danceable ska rhythms to perfection. ‘Ska Wars’ was the highlight of the set, as it is both the most well-known song as well as being an excellent piece of musicianship, especially considering that most of the song consists of brass solos and “ah-ah-ah-ah beduppyduppy-do!”
In the mysterious and hard to find back room in the Civic Bar that was the Cheer Up Stage, Marmozets [8/10] were warming up after a brief delay. Though their allotted time was for some reason very short (perhaps to do with the short notice cancellation of Natives and replacement scheduling of Great Cynics), they still managed to put on a hell of a show. After a noisy older song off their previous EPs, they blasted in with their two massive hits ‘Move, Shake, Hide’ and ‘Why Do You Hate Me?’ which resulted in one of the most violent pits of the day (Shoutout to the guy in the Lamb of God t-shirt punching everyone in sight who was then wrestled to the floor by a huge guy dressed as a wrestler, to the applause of all). After a couple of new songs off their upcoming album, the title of which is a closely guarded secret, Marmozets finished in a similar vein to their warm up shows – by moving their young drummer to the centre of the pit, and letting absolute chaos ensue. Go and see this band now while they’re still under the radar, so you can claim to have seen them “before they got popular”.
We Are The In Crowd [7/10] were yet another fantastic pop punk band playing this year’s festival. With Best Intentions now successfully released, which it hadn’t been back on their February tour, it meant the band could play more songs from the new album. The band sounded far better than earlier in the year, and if their set was any indication, they could easily grow to the size of Paramore in the next few years.
We Are The In Crowd’s hugely talented frontwoman Taylor Jardine
On the Monster Stage in the fading light, letlive. [7/10] took to the stage to rapturous applause. The small stage was crowded to the very edges, with people standing on walls and climbing trees to get a better view of eccentric bearded singer Jason Butler. The band powered through their heavy repertoire of songs, ‘Renegade 86’ in particular induced huge levels of moshing and ceaseless waves of crowdsurfers. All the while the raw scream-filled set was punctuated by the singer’s wild stage performance, such as climbing the rigging, singing from the top of the speaker stack, and flinging his microphone so high that it got stuck over a beam and had to be rescued by several techies.
Letlive’s Jason Butler who wins the award for the festival’s best beard and also craziest person. He will do anything in order to put on an incredible show.
Finally, Less Than Jake [10/10] closed the festival on the Macbeth Stage, and completely filled the small room to the point that it felt quite intimate (and very sweaty). The band is made up of such lovable guys who clearly enjoy performing their music that it’s very difficult to find fault with any of their set. As always, they did not disappoint the crowd and played all of their greatest hits from Hello Rockview’s ‘History of a Boring Town’, to ‘Look What Happened’ from 2003’s Anthem. New classics ‘Good Enough’, ‘Do The Math’ and ‘John the Baptist Bones’ from latest album See The Light also went down very well with the audience – though it may not have been long enough for the album to sink fully into the LTJ consciousness, it will get there one day. Throughout the middle of the songs, the band tried to get a few hapless members of the audience to kiss, but it always ended in the (un)lucky couple just dancing around on stage and having the time of their lives. In the inevitable encore, the pace was abruptly changed with the short punchy ‘Last One Out of Liberty City’ which incited a mosh pit half the size of the room. The band then closed with a luxuriously stretched out ‘The Science of Selling Yourself Short’, then threw out all their guitar picks, setlists, and random trash and cups into the audience, leaving triumphantly.
Overall Slam Dunk yet again proved that they are one of the best alternative festivals in the UK. The festival should be applauded for its incredible layout; having conveniently clustered stages without feeling constantly on top of people. The festival have yet again set themselves up with a big task to top this year’s festival, but we thoroughly look forward to returning next year.
Words by Anna Lim and Sam Taylor, Photos and Video by Sara Thomas