The end of May is the best time of year, because it means it’s time for Slam Dunk festival! Out of every festival I’ve been to, Slam Dunk has always been my favourite. The line-up always improves, the weather’s (normally!) beautiful, and nothing ever goes wrong. It’s a magical place. This was my fourth time attending Slam Dunk festival, but my third time reviewing. Check out my reviews from 2015 and 2016!
I started off the day with a visit to the signing tent to meet With Confidence, before heading over to see Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness open up the main stage. Andrew, better known as the frontman of both Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin and for his tireless work with The Dear Jack Foundation, is something of a legend.
Normally, solo acts – both piano-driven and acoustic – perform in the bar. Andrew was extremely thankful to organisers for giving him such a lucrative spot, thanking them from the bottom of his heart for “letting us come up on this big stage”. Joking, “I know we’re the perfect opening act for Crossfaith!” he was genuinely grateful to everyone taking the time to check him out. Despite the fact that he’s been an active artist for almost twenty years, he didn’t seem to expect the reaction that he received.
His crowd was quite small – being the first act on a lot of people were still feeding through the wristband exchange – but he poured his heart into his performance. Recent single ‘Fire Escape’ is the perfect festival song, summery and sweet, while performing throwbacks from Jack’s Mannequin (‘Dark Blue’ and ‘La La Lie’) and Something Corporate (‘I Woke Up in a Car’) gave old school fans something to sing along to as well. The perfect mix of old and new, this was a wonderfully fun start to the day.
Walking in My Sleep
I Woke Up in a Car (*)
So Close (*)
La La Lie (*)
Cecelia and the Satellite (*)
I couldn’t resist meeting Waterparks in the signing tent, so I was a little late to Decade‘s set. I’ve seen Decade quite a few times over the past couple of years, and they’ve come remarkably far since the release of their debut album, ‘Good Luck’, but this was my first time seeing the Bath quintet since sophomore album, ‘Pleasantries’, was released back in February.
Decade have always felt like British rock’s best kept secret. The last time they played Slam Dunk, back in 2014, their crowd was sparse but their choruses were some of the catchiest across the entire line-up. Entering at the end of ‘Turn Off Your TV’, I was struck by how tightly packed the room was: it’s the first time I’d seen them play to a crowd who chanted every word back to them.
My only complaint about Decade has been that some of their songs sounded overly similar, but with the addition of the material from ‘Pleasantries’ that criticism is null and void. I wish I’d caught the beginning of their set because ‘Human Being’ is my personal favourite on the album (followed closely by ‘Daisy May’, which had raucous singalongs and has obviously become a fast fan favourite). Judging by the half of their set that I saw, Decade are finally getting the appreciation that they deserve.
Human Being (*)
Turn Off Your TV
Seeing We Are The Ocean live for the last time was an emotional experience for me. They were the first band I saw (outside of a festival environment) when they opened for The Blackout in Swindon back in 2009. Since then, everything has changed for the band. Co-vocalist Dan Brown departed, and after signing with – and being dropped by – BMG, calling their career a rollercoaster would be an understatement. I wasn’t surprised when they announced their split, but I was saddened.
We Are The Ocean have appeared at Slam Dunk more than any other band, playing the festival seven times in the past nine years. Organiser Ben Ray appeared during their set, awarding them a trophy to celebrate their achievement, admitting that he’d “lost count” of how many times they’d played but guessing it was “either five or six times”. His gift made frontman Liam Cromby extremely emotional: he kept it together while they were playing, but this poignant moment had him on the verge of tears.
There was sobbing from most members of the crowd during their set (me included!). Throughout their ten years as a band, the Essex four-piece have been treasured by a huge amount of people, and they obviously treasure their fans too. Liam dedicated ‘Confessions’ to Adam Clarke, a huge fan of the band who sadly committed suicide six years ago. He shared that the band had attended a charity gig for Mind the night before, yelling, “If you know the words, sing ’em loud so he can hear them up there!”. Anyone who wasn’t crying by then definitely had tears in their eyes after hearing that speech.
They might not have had the biggest crowd of the day, but they had the most passionate. ‘What It Feels Like’, ‘The Road’ and ‘Young Heart’ (which Liam dedicated to his dad) had the crowd singing at the top of their voices, while the moshpit for ‘The Waiting Room’ cemented the fact that this wasn’t a funeral, it was a celebration. At the end of their set Liam thanked the crowd “for being there for the best moments of our lives”, and I’d like to thank We Are The Ocean for being there during some of the best moments of mine.
Trouble is Temporary, Time is Tonic
What It Feels Like
Good For You
The Waiting Room
Nothing Good Has Happened Yet
I saw the first song in Ice Nine Kills‘ set, and if they hadn’t clashed with Cute Is What We Aim For I would have happily stayed longer. That’s the only bad thing about Slam Dunk: the stage times can be deadly. Vocalist Spencer Charnas was stood on the crowd by the end of ‘Communion of the Cursed’, roaring furiously as a circle pit exploded at his feet. You don’t often see that much confidence so early in a set. When you think about the fact that this is only the second time the band have visited the UK, it’s astounding. Next time they tour I hope I can get to a show, because their set looked as though it was going to be ridiculously energetic.
At the end of Cute Is What We Aim For‘s first song, ‘Newport Living’, vocalist Shaant Hacikyan shared that it had been “nine fucking years” since the band last came to the UK, when they supported Paramore back in 2006. Because they’re currently celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their debut album, ‘The Same Old Blood Rush With a New Touch’, that means they never returned after releasing second album ‘Rotation’. Most people attending the festival were seeing Cute Is What We Aim For for the very first time, after a lengthy wait.
Shaant encouraged the crowd to sing along, saying “We just wanna have a great fucking time. If you know the lyrics, sing them, if you don’t then make something up!”. It’s telling of how catchy these songs are, because everyone in the courtyard could remember every word a decade on. Not many bands remain relevant after a ten year absence, but Cute Is What We Aim For’s fans have stayed loyal (and many more have joined their ranks). Their loyalty was demonstrated during closer ‘Teasing to Please (Left Side, Strong Side)’, when Shaant managed to make the crowd open a pit up, chuckling at them and saying “I’m kidding! There is no pit!”. He definitely didn’t anticipate the response that he got, and when he dived into the crowd the cheers were ear-piercing.
Taking the time to shout out to a few of the other acts on the bill, Shaant shared the love for Andrew McMahon, The Ataris, We The Kings and The Maine. Reminiscing on the fact that We The Kings first time in the UK was with Cute Is What We Aim For and Boys Like Girls, it was full speed ahead on the nostalgia train.
Despite the fact that (almost all) of their peers have continued constantly and they’ve lagged behind, things seemed to have stepped up a notch since the band reformed – for the second time – towards the end of 2016. Admitting, “we were very young when everything happened and we didn’t know how to deal with the pressure of success, but luckily we have people like you who remember us,” the band are obviously in a better place after their break. Shaant turned thirty in November, meaning the last time they were in the country he was only 19: not many people would be able to deal with that level of success so early in their life. The members obviously believe in the songs that they wrote, because if they didn’t stand by them they wouldn’t have bothered returning, and that would have been a crying shame.
Considering the size of their crowd, I can’t imagine that they’ll delay returning in the near future. At the end of their set Shaant seemed emotional, saying that they “legitimately wanted 200-300 people” to watch their set, but over 3000 attended on the first date of the festival. “After taking years off and fucking up your entire career before 24, you realise that this is the fucking dream, man,” he shared, and with the other members of the band nodding their heads it seems they all felt exactly the same way. Hopefully they won’t squander this opportunity, because the fans are clearly rooting for them.
There’s a Class For This
Finger Twist and Split
Sweat the Battle Before the Battle Sweats You
The Fourth Drink Instinct
Sweet Talk 101
The Curse of Curves
I Put the ‘Metro’ in Metronome
Teasing to Please (Left Side, Strong Side)
A lot has happened in camp With Confidence in the past year. Having played the Kerrang! Fresh Blood stage at Slam Dunk last year, in June they released their debut album, ‘Better Weather’, before headlining shows across the UK (on two separate tours, no less) and supporting State Champs on an extensive tour in the US.
The room was filled to bursting thanks to all the hard graft they’ve been putting in. The crowd they had last year was sizable, but they’d easily doubled that number. Echoing every word back to them, it’s safe to say that these guys are adored by their fans. With Confidence are the next big thing, and they couldn’t deserve it more. Having been announced as the main support for Mayday Parade’s ‘A Lesson in Romantics’ anniversary tour across Europe and the UK in September and October, they’re not planning on resting any time soon.
I’m glad I made the trip upstairs to see a few of their songs, even if I couldn’t see their full set. You can’t have a bad day when you’ve seen With Confidence because they’re so much fun. Their banter is more cringe than cool, while their songs are so sugary sweet they’re cheesy, but I’m proud that they’re my guilty pleasure. If you’d like to get a look at how fun a With Confidence show is, check out the music video for ‘Archers’, which is stuffed with live footage.
We’ll Be Okay
London Lights (*)
This was The Maine‘s first time playing Slam Dunk, which is hard to believe. They’re the quintessential Slam Dunk band, with an impeccable mix of nostalgia and relevancy which gets people coming back for more. They’re entertaining, they’ve self-funded their past four albums and meet their fans come rain or shine. The Maine are a hard band to beat.
Frontman John O’Callaghan is charisma personified, easily getting the crowd to step closer by enthusing “We have hot dogs up here!”. Everything he does is effortless: from remarkably awkward yet compelling dancing to swooping high notes, he swaggers around the stage as though he was born there.
When you consider the obstacles that The Maine have faced, it’s heart-warming that they’re still going strong. New album ‘lovely, little, lonely’ contains some of their strongest material, but it’s not until you hear songs like ‘black butterflies + deja vu’ and ‘Bad Behaviour’ in a live environment that you truly appreciate how comfortably they fit in with the older material.
Throwing it back for set staple ‘Girls Do What They Want’, they always invite a member of the crowd onstage to help them perform it. When talking about the Leeds date, John shared that it had all been a bit of a disaster. “His name was James, James was his name. […] The young man two days ago, he was not a fan of me,” he admitted. “He was not a fan of my band. I had to drag him up here against his will…”. Ironically, the man he picked from the crowd at this date was called James, which had him yelling, “Be the better James!” in the poor boy’s face. He took his moment in the spotlight and he absolutely owned it, making the most of his time onstage and utterly delighting John.
After Slam Dunk, The Maine announced that they’d be returning to the UK and Europe in September. I’ve already bought tickets to two dates: hopefully I’ll see you there! For any American readers, they’ve also announced the ‘Modern Nostalgia’ tour, where they’ll be playing both ‘American Candy’ and ‘lovely, little, lonely’ in full. If you gets tickets to one of those dates, I’ll be jealous…
black butterflies + deja vu
Am I Pretty?
Like We Did (Windows Down)
Girls Do What They Want
Diet Soda Society
Do You Remember? (The Other Half of 23)
Another Night on Mars
Of course, because I wanted to see The Maine’s full set, I had to sacrifice watching the first two songs that Waterparks played. I’ve made educated guesses as to what those could have been, but if you know what they actually were leave a comment down below!
Waterparks also played Slam Dunk last year, and they quickly became one of my favourite bands. In the past twelve months I’ve seen them six times, playing their first UK headline show, supporting Good Charlotte and All Time Low and appearing at Reading festival.
I was lucky to get into the building to see the Houston trio. I Prevail were playing downstairs, and because their room hit capacity security had no choice but to stop people entering the building. Their set was easily the most highly anticipated of the weekend: they could have filled the owned the main stage, despite this being their first visit to the UK.
Sadly, this made Waterparks crowd the smallest the Key Club stage hosted all day. Vocalist Awsten Knight mentioned that they’d played the festival previously, saying, “It’s just like I remember, except there’s a lot more people!”, but they deserved a bigger crowd. They would have gotten it, too, if it weren’t for those pesky set clashes.
Awsten on top of his game with the between songs comedy. Not only that, he also managed to get all of the security guards in their room doing a synchronized dance to ‘Dizzy’. After mentioning that he’d seen a couple of them nodding along to their songs, he was determined to be the band that they’d remember. When he saw them dancing he yelled, “Holy shit!”. “Who needs backup dancers?” he asked. “We’ve got fucking security guards!”.
With the release of full-length album ‘Double Dare’, it seemed that Waterparks had put their heavier influences behind them, but that didn’t stop a huge mosh pit breaking out during ‘Dizzy’. I do wonder how much the dancing security guards encouraged the fans! Once the energy level peaked, it refused to die down. There was so much bouncing during ‘Royal’ it’s a wonder the floor didn’t collapse.
Waterparks are headlining shows in the UK in September, and I can’t wait to see them again. With three months until the tour starts, it’s already almost entirely sold out. Saying it’s going to be huge is an understatement…
Hawaii (Stay Awake) (!)
No Capes (!)
Stupid For You
Mad All The Time
I had fun during We The Kings‘ set, but I found myself confused. When the band were announced for Slam Dunk it was implied that they’d be playing their self-titled debut album in full, which didn’t happen. While they did play a selection of material from their debut – including the infrequently played ‘All Again For You’ – it was nowhere near complete. Instead, they focused on playing a selection of material from their back catalogue, surprisingly choosing to disregard their most recent release, 2015’s ‘Strange Love’.
But, as I said, I had fun anyway. We The Kings cheery pop-punk always puts a smile on your face, even if they were playing when the rain reached its zenith. It’s testament to how much love people have for this band, that even in the pouring rain the courtyard was still full. The Floridians appreciate their fans, too: that’s why they decided to play fan favourite ‘Check Yes Juliet’ twice. Oh, and a cover of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’. Because what’s more pop-punk than that?!
We The Kings last played Slam Dunk in 2014, on their last visit to the UK. Vocalist Travis Clark hinted it won’t be too long until they return. Let’s hope they bring Cute Is What We Aim For back with them. It’s not fair that the US had such an amazing tour all to themselves!
Check Yes Juliet
She Takes Me High
All Again For You
Just Keep Breathing
Say You Like Me
I Feel Alive
The Middle cover
Check Yes Juliet
There aren’t going to be many opportunities to see Don Broco live this year. In fact, when they revealed that they were headlining Alexandra Palace in November it was advertised as their only UK headline show this year (but they’ve since announced a small show in Dover as a warm-up for France’s Main Square festival). I wanted to see the entirety of their set, but having already seen them play their back catalogue in full, I couldn’t resist sneaking off for a few minutes.
Running across to the Key Club stage, I managed to see Set It Off perform one song. Based off of opener ‘Why Worry’, I wish I’d been able to stick around for more. Vocalist Cody Carson is a powerhouse. It’s magnificent to discover his voice is as strong live as it is on recordings. Next time they tour the UK, I’m going to put attending a headline show at the top of my priorities.
Talking of ‘Priorities’, let’s get back to Don Broco. I only missed two songs in the middle of their set (I wasn’t kidding about the running), so I made it back for ‘Thug Workout’. If you’re not familiar with ‘Thug Workout’, watch this video and thank me later. Of course, the Bedford lads have gone up in the world since their first release. They no longer have to play in children’s parks; now they invite their friends over to perform with them during career-defining festival slots.
Their first guest came in the form of hardcore vocalist Dani Winter-Bates, who spends most of his time being frontman of Bury Tomorrow. ‘Thug Workout’ is the heaviest song Don Broco have ever released, making this the perfect guest appearance. With Dani growling at the crowd to open the pit up, vocalist Rob Damiani begged him to repeat it, joking, “It never sounds that cool when I say it!”. As the main stage hosted heavier bands, including Crossfaith and Beartooth, throughout the day, it was no surprise that the crowd were eager to get their mosh on.
Their second guest appeared during closer ‘Pretty’. Again, if you’re not familiar with the music video, take a second to experience it. As a marketing scheme, the band had masks with Rob’s face on specially made for the weekend. Encouraging the crowd to wear them during the final song in their set, Rob said, “I don’t know if you know this, but I know this and it’s been freaking me out… There are a lot of Rob masks in the crowd tonight!” and that was the only incentive needed. Within seconds, thousands of Rob Damiani masks fell into place, making the frontman visibly cringe.
‘Pretty’ was released at the start of May, making this my first time experiencing the song live. It’s far heavier than I’d anticipated, the bass line thrumming in your veins and making it impossible to stay still. Before the final chorus Rob paused the set, calling for “all my boys who are experienced in pit” to get to the front of the crowd. Drummer Matt Donnelly stepped out from behind his kit, joining Rob at the front of the stage and being replaced by With Confidence’s Josh Brozzesi. They stepped down into the crowd, attempting to incite a huge moshpit, but the crowd had other ideas. Rob called it quits after a few moments. “This isn’t going to work!” he admitted. “We’re just gonna have to circle pit it.”.
It was a damp ending to an otherwise buoyant set, coming closer to train wreck than triumph. Fingers crossed that things will be better at Alexandra Palace, because this moment should have been explosive.
You Wanna Know
Hold On (*)
Thug Workout (ft. Dani Winter-Bates)
Money Power Fame
Pretty (ft. Josh Brozzesi on drums)
Madina Lake called it a day back in 2013, but they couldn’t stay away for long. Originally reuniting to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of ‘From Them, Through Us, To You’, it looks as though the band may be back for good. They’ve hinted towards writing new music, and they seemed invigorated by the time away.
The band haven’t formally acknowledged the absence of drummer Dan Torelli, but he wasn’t holding his sticks at this show. Whether he’s involved behind the scenes and is choosing to sit the live shows out, only time will tell. Vocalist Nathan Leone introduced their drummer as Chris Mason, who I’m assuming is the drummer for Super Happy Fun Club (a band who also hail from Chicago, and who Madina Lake have taken on tour multiple times in the past).
Based off of the chemistry between the band members, you’d never know that they’d taken a four year break. They’re naturals on stage. Nathan refuses to stand still, bouncing from one side of the room to the other, even leaping into the crowd at a few points. His twin brother, bassist Matthew Leone, shares his energy as well as his face. When you put them together they’re a hurricane of movement, whipping the crowd up into a frenzy.
Madina Lake finished their set late, because they squeezed in a cheeky cover of blink-182’s ‘What’s My Age Again?’. ‘Here I Stand’ is always their closer and people started leaving the second it finished. However, as soon as that distinctive riff started playing they were flooding back in. It was certainly one way to make their set memorable!
In Another Life (*)
Never Take Us Alive (*)
House of Cards
Now or Never
Song 2 cover
Let’s Get Outta Here
One Last Kiss
Here I Stand
What’s My Age Again? cover
I only saw the beginning of Enter Shikari‘s set, but they proved themselves worthy of headlining. Playing fan favourites ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’ and ‘Juggernauts’ back to back was genius, and I was glad I was there in time to hear both of them. If it hadn’t been my first time seeing Bowling For Soup, I would have loved to have seen their whole set.
The first thing anyone discovers about Enter Shikari is that they’re political. Frontman Rou Reynolds was using the platform to the best of his abilities, encouraging everyone to vote in last week’s election. “We now have a choice,” he enthused. “An actual choice! We can choose to have a country who cares about community, who cares about global warming, who cares about climate change”. He recommended that everybody visit www.tactical2017.com, a site that helps people vote tactically based off of their postcode. He explained that it helped you find “the most likely party to beat the Tories, to kick out the Tories,” stating simply, “That’s what we need to do.”
I’m sure that Rou was at least partially responsible for the surge in youth turnout, which catapulted from 40% to an estimated 72%. It’s heart-warming to see artists using their following to make a change.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Bowling For Soup, it’s this: they wave. They wave a lot. “We’re the band you can wave to,” shared vocalist Jaret Reddick. “Against Me? Though I love them, they don’t wave. Enter Shikari? No waving!”.
Bowling For Soup are comedians. Yes, they play novelty rock songs, but they’re also funny people. Stopping in the middle of ‘Punk Rock 101’, the band put down their instruments and stepped to the front of the stage. “For the first time ever, accompanied by Enter Shikara” – yep, pronounced exactly like that – “this is your musically accompanied Bowling For Soup photo opportunity!”. For the next two minutes, the band proceeded to pull hilarious poses, standing first at one end of the stage and slowly moving across to the other. “Just when you thought we couldn’t get any better, we added choreography to the show!” Jaret announced, “And fucking fire!”.
I’ve never laughed so hard before in my life. Slam Dunk can be exhausting, but Bowling For Soup were a refreshing end to the day. Covering ‘Stacy’s Mom’ by Fountains of Wayne and quipping that the band “have got fucking yacht money. They were on a Pepsi ad!” and telling more fat jokes than I could count throughout the evening, the quartet are not afraid to take the piss out of themselves and others. Instead of making inappropriate and over-sexual jokes, all of their humour was innocent and family-friendly: hilarious, considering that they were one of the oldest bands on the line-up.
They also weren’t afraid of joking about their seniority. “This is the geriatric stage,” Jaret admitted, sharing that every band on the Fireball stage’s line-up had “a couple of members over 40”. “If we keep this up, someone will have a stroke,” he said, before announcing, “That’s why Slam Dunk is only three days. Otherwise someone on the punk stage will die!”.
Light-hearted joking comprised the majority of their set, but the band weren’t afraid to get serious. The Hatfield date of Slam Dunk was exactly a week after the terror attack at Ariane Grande’s concert in Manchester. Jaret shared his love for the UK, saying, “You’re so fucking amazing, supporting your other cities and supporting live music”. The band have obviously been affected by the events, which is why they now have matching bee tattoos in tribute to the victims. Encouraging the crowd to chant “Manchester!” as loudly as they could, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could hear it at over Neck Deep’s set.
Closer ‘1985’ was a punk stage family affair. Jaret invited out the horn section from Reel Big Fish, announcing, “You’ve seen them in every other band today!”. I didn’t spend much time at the Fireball stage, but they deserve an award for doing that many guest appearances! It was certainly a fun way to end a spectacularly exciting set.
Jaret shared that the band are returning to the UK in 2018. It’s confusing, because they played their last ever shows in the UK in 2013… But who isn’t making a comeback these days?!
The Bitch Song (*)
Ohio (Come Back To Texas)
High Schools Never Ends
Today is Gonna Be a Great Day (Phineas and Ferb)
The Last Rock Show
Punk Rock 101
Stacy’s Mom cover
Girl All the Bad Guys Want
(*) setlist courtesy of setlist.fm
(!) presumed setlist, unconfirmed
I’d like to say a huge thank you to the promoters and organisers of Slam Dunk. Every single year, this festival is utterly superb. It’s no surprise that members of both Waterparks and With Confidence shared that it’s their favourite festival in the world! Bring on Slam Dunk 2018. Any bets on who the headliners going to be?!