Saturday, 4 June 2016

Gig Review: Slam Dunk Festival South at Hatfield University 30/5/16

Slam Dunk Festival is a day I have looked forward to every single year. The festival, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, always manages to get a great collection on the biggest and brightest bands from the world of alternative music. This would be my fourth year in a row that myself, as well as my pals Dan, Emily and Marilyn, were making the journey from Colchester to Hatfield for the festival.

We arrived fairly early hoping to get a good parking space to be able to get away quickly at the end of the day, as last year it took us over an hour to get out of the car park. After getting parked up I immediately regretted not checking for the weather for the day, it was quite chilly and I was just in my Ducking Punches t-shirt and my trusty gig shorts. We joined the queue and (sort of) patiently waited to be let in to the festival. Whilst waiting I naturally indulged in some people watching. Because Slam Dunk books such a wide range of bands from the alternative music world you get a wide range of different people. Personally I'm always really amused by the kids and their "alternative clothes." Where I come from alternative means different yet all the people who are going out of their way to look different look exactly like the person that they're standing next to. So people watching and being amused by this is what helped kill time while I was waiting to get in to the site. I'm also realising that I'm getting quite old and not really "getting" the kids anymore. Nevertheless, eventually we made it into Slam Dunk South.

We still had half an hour before the first band we wanted to see came on, so we had a wander around the site to get our bearings and work out were all the stages were situated this year. Eventually we made our way to the main stage to see Moose Blood kick off the day. We only watched three or four Moose Blood songs because of unfortunate clashes but I thoroughly enjoyed their set. It has been a while since I last saw them but the confidence they now have on stage is incredible. A very big crowd had gathered at the main stage to see them and it seemed as if they had a good number of people singing along to their emo tinged pop punk songs. I would have liked to stay for a bit longer but The JB Conspiracy were due on at The Desperados Stage and I knew that wasn't a set that I wanted to miss. The Desperados Stage was serving as the ska stage for the day and would be where I would be spending the majority of my Slam Dunk. The JB Conspiracy are one of the very best of the current crop of bands in the ska scene and never fail to disappoint. Despite suffering from some terrible hangovers the seven piece (which today featured Sean Howe from Random Hand on keyboard) put on yet another fantastic performance. Starting out with a relatively small crowd which grew more and more throughout the set, JB played a varied set of songs from their previous two albums along with a brand new one which sounded fantastic and has got me quite excited for a new release. JB are always excellent.

I have mentioned many times before how [Spunge] were a gateway band for me into the world of underground punk and ska. When they were announced I was of course beyond excited to see them. It had been too long! I nice sized crowd gathered to see the band who for me would begin a day of what would mostly be for me a day of nostalgia. If you've ever seen [Spunge] you will know just how much fun they are live. They've been together for so long now they are so completely comfortable on stage together and their whole set is flawless. This was actually the band's fifth show in the space of forty-nine hours so a performance of such quality I thought was pretty impressive. Of course the majority of the crowd went nuts for the older tracks (old people don't like new things) but I also really loved hearing some of the songs from their newest album Hang On? Something I really liked about Slam Dunk this year was the longer gaps between sets. This allowed plenty of time to wander round the festival to check out other stages or get some overpriced food and drink. The catering companies must make a absolute fortune! After grabbing a pricey, yet admittedly tasty pizza I took my place in the crowd in anticipation for a band I never ever expected to get the chance to see. It was Catch 22! It has been a while since the release of their last album Permanent Revolution and as far as I was aware they haven't been especially active since then, so I figured they had split up. Happily I was wrong and we were treated to a fantastic set of classics from all of their studio albums as well as a new song. As you would expect the crowd were mostly from the older spectrum of the Slam Dunk crowd but this did not stop people having a good skank to the band. Everyone was very keen to make the most of this rare appearance. It was an absolute pleasure to hear some of my all time favourite ska songs live for the first time. Songs such as Point The Blame, On and On and Keasbey Nights got some amazing reactions. This was wonderful!

After Catch 22 I was feeling very parched so went and paid £2 for a bottle of water and went to the Impericon Stage to see Gnarwolves. This stage was situated in Hatfield University's refectory and is a pretty big room so imagine my surprise when I wandered into the room to find that I could barely get in. Soooooo many people turned up to see Gnarwolves. Unsurprising really given their meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years. It did feel weird watching the three piece from so far away as I've gotten so used to being able to see them much much closer but they still put on a fantastic performance finishing with the now classic Limerence. After another fantastic Gnarwolves performance I headed back to the ska stage to see King Prawn. King Prawn! King bloody Prawn! This was very exciting – a band that has influenced so many of the current crop of UK ska bands playing some rare gigs. I was quite surprised by some of the crowd when I got back to the stage. There was a big group of young girls there who had no business really knowing who King Prawn actually are. I guessed they were there just to check out a different band. As King Prawn took to the stage I noticed a new face in the band. Russell, the trombone player for Ghouls, Imperial Leisure and more recently The JB Conspiracy was now playing for King Prawn. He's a very busy man. I have to say King Prawn were the best band of the day for me, they were unbelievably good. For a band that plays such a small amount of gigs you could forgive them for being a little rusty but they played like a band at their peak. It's been a little while since I've properly listened to King Prawn and to be honest I had forgotten just how many classic tracks they have in their back catalogue. Songs such as Dominant View, Bitter Taste, Bring Down The House and Day In Day Out were all greeted with big sing-a-longs and a lot of skanking. King Prawn front man Al Rumjen was in fantastic form, instantly getting the crowd in the palm of his hand. He took a little time out between songs to talk about how the band weren't there to "fuck shit up" but to spread a message of peace, love and unity. Which for me is a much better message. King Prawn were nothing short of outstanding.

After catching a little bit of Yellowcard playing their classic breakthrough album Ocean Avenue in full it was time for another legendary band from the world of UK ska punk – CAPDOWN! Let the nostalgia continue! Milton Keynes' kings of skacore drew another huge crowd and preceded to knock everyone's socks off. Like King Prawn, Capdown don't play a lot of shows but when they do they put everything they possibly can into the set and the crowd responds the same way. By far the biggest pit of the day opened up and bodies began to fly around. Capdown have one gear – fast. Every song is played at a rediculous speed and is so ferocious in delivery. Lead singer and saxophone player performs like a man possessed and is so entertaining to watch on stage. I liked how he took the time during the set to acknowledge Gnarwolves and proclaim that they are the real deal. Hearing classics such as Pound For The Sound, Cousin Cleotis and of course Ska Wars is always a massive pleasure. As I said earlier this was my fourth time at Slam Dunk Festival and it was the third year in a row seeing Zebrahead. They're becoming the festival's house band. Last year I decided it would be a good idea to jump in the pit for them and managed to get myself kicked in the head so this year I decided to hang out away from the pit. When the Team America theme – America, Fuck Yeah! the crowd were getting ready to lost their minds. Even as someone as who watched from a safe distance, the whole set is a blur to me. Zebrahead hit the stage like a whirlwind blowing through the festival, cause a lot of chaos and you're left to survey the damage at the end. But in the most fun way possible. Things I do remember from the set are another massive circle pit and one of the Zebrahead crew being dressed in a pink bunny onesie being crowd surfed in an inflatable boat and being joined by someone in the crowd. Standard Zebrahead! As I watched Zebrahead I thought about the crowd a bit. There is such a big age range in Zebrahead fans. The band has been going for twenty years now and still manage to find a way to connect to new fans after all this time. That's pretty impressive.

After Zebrahead we went to watch some more pop punk royalty in the form of New Found Glory. As you would expect the crowd at the main stage for the Florida based quartet was absolutely huge. New Found Glory have pretty staggeringly been around since 1997 and are still as popular as they've ever been. The energy the band displayed during the set was nothing short of outstanding. Jordan, Chad and Ian were barely still for a second throughout the whole time we watched them. As I've gotten older I haven't really followed New Found Glory's career that closely but it was cool to hear old favourites like Dressed To Kill and My Friends Over You live. Something else I enjoyed from their set was when they called a member of the audience named Phil on to the stage. They asked him to pick a song that wasn't on the set list for them to play and invited Phil to sing along. The song picked was At Least I'm Known For Something. Phil certainly wasn't someone who was lacking in confidence as he shouted out the song much to the bands delight. Things like this are why I enjoy live music so much, the spontaneity of it all. The whole thing could have gone horribly wrong but it worked and was a delight to see. After New Found Glory finished their set and we bought really expensive burgers we made our way back to the Desperados Stage to finish the day. When we arrived legendary 80's ska band The Beat were just finishing their set. I wish I would have seen more of their set as what I did see seemed like a hell of a lot of fun!

Headlining the Desperados Stage were the King Blues. It was kind of weird to see the band on stage on the stage as the only original member left is frontman Itch. Part of me kind of felt like this wasn't right but as soon as the band launched into opening song Let's Hang The Landlord all of those feelings disappeared with my excitement to hear so many of my favourite songs live for the first time in years. Itch is a man that really polarises the punk community but it's hard to deny how good he is as a songwriter and a frontman. He instantly gets the crowd in the palm of his hand and during the first song of the set he's stood on the barrier really getting the crowd at the front nice and rowdy. I really enjoyed how varied the set was. There were plenty of songs from the bands first three albums (Under The Fog, Save The World, Get The Girl and Punk & Poetry) as well as a handful from the band's fantastic new EP Off With Their Heads. It was especially good to see the songs from the new EP getting big reactions, the title track in particular is a perfect live song with its angry, shout along chorus. One special highlight for me was when the Catch 22 horn section came on stage to play We Ain't Never Done and The Future's Not What It Used To Be with the band. I love stuff like this – seeing two bands collaborate on a song. These are the sort of moments that I really remember from a festival or gig. The King Blues were great even if it was only Itch and some chaps in suits, they completed a day that was filled with nostalgia quite brilliantly.

Slam Dunk is a fantastic festival where the organisers always manage to pull of some amazing line ups. After ten years it continues to grow in to one of the biggest alternative festivals in the UK and I would recommend it to anyone as a great day out. The only downsides are the prices of food and drink but that is a big problem at almost every festival you're likely to attend, which is a shame and despite getting back to the car less than five minutes after the festival finished it still took us 45 minutes to leave the car park. This seems like something that needs to be worked on. To end on a positive – I got to see so many of the bands that got me into punk and ska music and that made the day quite special. Thanks Slam Dunk.