Monday, 16 June 2014

Gig Review: Slam Dunk Festival 2014

On Sunday the 25th of May Slam Dunk Festival did its annual invasion of Hatfield University. Slam Dunk Festival is a punk and metal festival that happens every year on the second May bank holiday weekend. It started out just in Leeds but over the years has expanded to Hatfield and Wolverhampton. This was my second year going and after last years I was beyond excited for this year’s festival. The line up was one of the strongest I had ever seen at a UK festival. No line-up will ever be stronger than The Fest’s in Gainesville Florida. I wanted to see nineteen different acts this year. They were The All American Rejects, Motion City Soundtrack, The Skints, Less Than Jake, The Ataris, Capdown, Zebrahead, I Am The Avalanche, Gnarwolves, Jesse James, Fandangle, Real Friends, Neck Deep, A Loss For Words, Modern Baseball, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Vinnie Caruana, Chas Palmer Williams and Rob Lynch. Obviously there was no way I could see all of those fantastic acts in one day so some hard decisions would have to be made.

At the start of the day I met up with my friends Smurf, Scouse, Moles, Emily, Charlie and Marilyn before setting off to Hatfield. I was in Scouse’s car with Smurf whilst the others were in Moles car. It was great to hang out with Smurf and Scouse; they are two of my closest friends and had been easily over a year since I’d spent any proper time with them.

The first band up for me was Camberley’s recently reunited ska punk heroes Fandangle. This was one of two bands I was especially excited to see as they split up before I got to see them the first time round and never expected to get the chance to see them live. Moles, Scouse and Smurf all came with me to see them I have to say it had been a while since I had been so excited to see a band. I’m sure not a whole lot of the crowd really knew much about them but Fandangle certainly won them over in a quick fashion. This was a fantastic start to the day.

The second band of the day was the band I was the other band I was especially excited to see, it was Jesse James. Jesse James were one of the first underground bands I loved when I first began to properly get into punk and ska music and their first album Punk Soul Brothers is one of my all time favourites. When they were announced as playing the festival I actually let out a little girly scream out of excitement. I had never even contemplated Jesse James playing any shows again. The time came but sadly the crowd was a bit small. Smurf, Moles and Scouse hung about to see what I was so excited about but sadly didn’t get into it quite like I did. I started a little skank on my own at the front as soon as Jesse James started playing. Eventually the boys decided they would go and see what else is happening throughout the festival. I didn’t care too much as I was having a great time. I looked around behind me to see a dozen or so people, mostly older people were also having a good skank and had massive grins on their face. The song Shoes drew the biggest reaction from the crowd; the video for this song had received television play on the old p-rock channel. This was nostalgia at its finest, even if the rest of the day was a bust I as on cloud nine, I had just seen some of my childhood heroes.

After Jesse James finished and briefly chatting to one of the other Jesse James skankees (may have made that word up) I went to find Moles and get some food. I tried for a while to ring him but was hard to get through, when I did eventually get hold of him and try and arrange a meeting place I bumped into my friend Sam. I say bumped into what actually happened was I walked straight past her and stopped when I heard someone shout Colin. In my defence this was my first ever time meeting her in person. After briefly saying hello I eventually found Moles and along with Charlie, Emily and Marilyn we got some food.
After some not very well cooked chicken Moles, Charlie and I wondered over to the main stage to see some of The Skints set. The Skints were a late but very welcome addition to the main stage. Their ska reggae style is the perfect soundtrack to a beautiful summer’s day and today, like everyone other time I’ve seen them they did not disappoint. Today they treated the crowd at the main stage with a selection of brand new songs mixed in with some old classics. The latest single “The Cost Of Living Is Killing Me” especially sounded fantastic in a live setting.

Sadly Moles and I had to cut seeing The Skints short to go and see Gnarwolves. If you have read by blog where I talk about Gnarwolves you’ll know how much love I have for this band. This would be my first time seeing them in a little while. I was supposed to once already this year but couldn’t get there because trains were all messed up. When Moles and I got back into the room they were playing in we were amazed by the size of the crowd; Gnarwolves have become so incredibly popular in the past eighteen months since I first saw them. Gnarwolves began their set and the crowd went absolutely crazy. This was definitely the rowdiest crowd of the day so far. Like The Skints before them their set was mixed with new songs and fan favourites. I don’t like to say classics because they are not really old songs. The new songs sounded fantastic and they give me very high hopes for their debut album. Hopefully it will be out very soon!

Gnarwolves finished and Moles and I went out to one of the smaller outside stages where we met up with Marilyn and Charlie to watch MC Lars. MC Lars is a veteran of Slam Dunk and was playing his fourth one in a row. I was surprised he was on such a small stage as the previous year he had had a pretty sizeable crowd on one of the bigger stages. This didn’t affect his performance though and gave a highly entertaining show featuring all of his laptop rap hits. The biggest highlight for me was his ode to ska punk This Gigantic Robot Kills.

After MC Lars we went back indoors for Orange County’s finest Zebrahead. Scouse and Smurf were due to meet us there but we couldn’t find them and couldn’t get through on our phones due to bad signal. I knew they were in the room somewhere so made sure I kept an eye out for them. As per normal Zebrahead came out to the Team American theme – American Fuck Yeah which drew a massive sing along from the room before launching into Sirens and then one of my favourites Hell Yeah! Something seemed off with Zebrahead today though; due to illness lead singer Matty’s voice wasn’t its best. This didn’t matter to us though, as the energy and enthusiasm Zebrahead are known for was oozing out of them in abundance. For the song Postcards From Hell they got the crowd to sit down ready to jump up when the song kicks in. Due to the lack of room I ended up sitting on a friendly mans lap. Only at a punk show would this be acceptable behaviour. Soon Zebrahead opened up the biggest circle pit of the day. I’m not really one for circle pits; I don’t really see the fun of running round in a circle. I stood back as the people ran past me, Moles had gotten very excited and jumped in and was running round, then all of a sudden I saw Smurf and Scouse go charging past me. Without a second thought I jumped in to say hello. Finding two of your best friends in the middle of a circle pit is officially the best way to meet people. I found the circle pit itself good fun as well and I sort of understand why people do now, you get quite a buzz from it. The rest of Zebraheads set flew by as I skanked, moshed and sung as loud as I possibly could with my boys. Zebrahead finished like they always do with Anthem, by this time Moles had made his way back to Charlie and Marilyn. As an outro I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston, without thought Scouse, Smurf and I had a big hug together. This was my highlight of the whole day, the only way it would have been better would have been if Moles was there with us.

Up next was another blast from the past from the UK ska punk scene, the kings of skacore – Capdown. Capdown were another band I never expected to see again after seeing them at was supposed to be their last ever show at Koko In 2011. Marilyn and Charlie wondered off to see someone else whilst the rest of us stayed to see Capdown. Capdown played through a couple of songs and I was thinking how much more aggressive they seemed tonight than they did a couple of years ago. Scouse and Smurf decided to go see another band so it was just Moles and I left. Capdown ripped through another set filled with nostalgia for the ska kids of Hatfield. I had spent the set watching from the sidelines as I was exhausted from Zebraheads set. Then as soon as my favourite Capdown song Ska Wars came on I found myself skanking along in the pit. This wasn’t the best set of the day but it was pretty damn good.

When the first wave of bands were announced for Slam Dunk one of the stand out bands was 90’s ska punk legends Goldfinger. I was super excited to see Goldfinger because I had never had the chance before. Sadly a few weeks before the festival they had to pull out due to one of their members needing an operation. I was gutted. The Ataris were announced as a replacement and despite being an Ataris fan I was left feeling slightly underwhelmed. Despite feeling underwhelmed by their announcement I still went along to see them, mostly because they were the only band I wanted to see at that time of the day. I talked Charlie into coming to see them as well as I thought he would like them. We took out place in the crowd and I noticed by friend Sam who I had bumped into briefly earlier in the day stood next to us, I quickly said hello as the music started. To my delight The Ataris played a set mostly comprised of songs from fan favourite album So Long Astoria. They played well and I was surprised at just how well I remembered the words to most of the songs. For me it was an enjoyable set but not really a stand out one.

Now it was time for the headline act, my favourite band on the planet – Less Than Jake! Everyone had left me at this point to go and see the other headline acts on the other stages. I wasn’t too worried by this though; I’m too used to seeing bands by myself. I was absolutely shattered by this point of the day; I had been standing and dancing for close to ten hour. I decided to stay back and just watch the show rather than get too involved with the crowd. This lasted for about five songs when they started playing All My Best Friends Are Metalheads and the next thing I knew I was skanking in the middle of the pit. I stayed here for the rest of their set (which lasted another hour, another fantastic hour) and did not care just how knackered I was. I was having the best time, dancing with random strangers, hugging and high fiving everyone and singing along to every word. There is no other way to finish a festival but to go and party with Less Than Jake.

The festival was finished and I was a sweaty mess. It had been a great day, I had seen some of my favourite bands but my biggest memories of the day will definitely be the time spent with some of my best friends.

Now listenting to: Radio #2 by The Ataris

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