Slam Dunk Festival has become a highlight of the alternative music calendar in the UK since its inception in 2006. The festival has grown bigger and bigger over the years and this year was the first time it featured two completely outdoor sites. I went to my first Slam Dunk in 2013 and went for the following four years. In 2018 we decided not to go as the price continued to go up and, to be honest, the line-up wasn't doing it for me as much as in previous years. Plus I'm not overly keen on outdoor festivals. I was happy with the decision not to go in 2018 and didn't expect to go in 2019. Then the Punk In Drublic stage was announced and we quickly changed our minds.
I had already seen California four piece The Bombpops playing a small show in New Cross a few days before so it was really interesting to see them on a much bigger stage with a much bigger crowd. It was nice to see that so many people had arrived early to see them, something they seemed extremely thankful for. The Bombpops are definitely a band I prefer live compared to on record. The sugary sweet harmonies from Poli and Jen have a bit more snarl and attitude to them live, making it feel much more punk than pop. They owned the huge stage, clearly not daunted by the size of the crowd they were playing to. It was great to see these two magnificent women kicking all kinds of butt on a festival that has been known to have a reputation for having a very male heavy line-up. I feel like it must have been very empowering for the women in the crowd watching. What a great way to kick off the day!
Following on from The Bombpops were Pittsburgh political punk legends Anti-Flag. It says a lot for the quality of this bill that Anti-Flag were on so early in the day. I wondered if the early start might mean people might not get into it as much as they might have later on in the day. This wasn't the case as Anti-Flag remain one of the very best live bands around. From the opening cries of "you gotta die, you gotta die, you gotta die for the government" the crowd were off in a full-on sing-along which also included plenty fists in the air, moshing and crowd surfing. Anti-Flag played what was basically a best of set with favourites such as Turncoat, The Press Corpse, This Is The End and Fuck Police Brutality all getting great receptions. Bass player Chris #2 is a fantastic ringleader, really involving the crowd in the set and giving us all a sense of being in it together as one. Some lovely feelings of unity. In true Anti-Flag style, the set was finished in the crowd with a great rendition of Brandenburg Gate.
After The Interrupters we took some time to wander away from the Punk In Drublic stage to go and see Lightyear's Chas Palmer-Williams on the acoustic stage. After almost walking down a stretch of bushes that seemed to have become a makeshift urinal area, we found the acoustic stage which was amongst a quaint little tree-ed area on a tiny stage that looked like something you might find in a posh garden. Slam Dunk did a great job of making this stage feel more intimate. Chas's set was a lot of fun if not a bit of a shambles. It was a glorious shambles though, played with a lovable charm that I have come to expect whenever I see Lightyear or Chas. Mostly playing songs from his solo album, American Smile, British Teeth, Chas thoroughly entertained the crowd. At one point of the set he started a conga line lead by someone dressed as a cardboard Nigel Farage. For his final song he played the Lightyear favourite Pack Of Dogs and somehow ended up with Nick Horne of Sonic Boom Six playing kazoo and a chap from the audience providing backing vocals. Like I said, it was a shambles but it was so much fun.
We made our way over to the Dickies stage where a big crowd were already in attendance. New Jersey's Saves The Day were wowing the crowd with their emo pop punk stylings. Sadly, for me, it didn't really live up to what I thought it would be. I really enjoyed hearing Shoulder To The Wheel live but other than that it didn't really stick. I don't know if there was something up with the vocals or if it was because I wasn't as familiar with the songs they played but for me it was a little bit of a letdown. From the look of the crowd though, it was just me who felt like this. There were plenty of people who were enjoying themselves.
After a quick toilet and food break, we made our way back to Punk In Drublic for Lagwagon. I've now seen a good number of Lagwagon sets over the years and this might go down as one of the best yet. Playing a career spanning set with so many favourites, it was just a joy to be stood in a massive field singing along to so many songs of my youth with plenty of like minded people. When Lagwagon are on it, there aren't many bands from that 90s skate punk era that I enjoy more. Never a band that stands still, it was great to see guitarists Chris Flippin and Chris Rest and bassist Joe Raposo bouncing around the stage. Playing big favourites such as Violins, Falling Apart, After You My Friend, Razor Burn and, of course, May 16, this was exactly what I wanted from a Lagwagon set.
Up next were one of the bands I was most excited about, Gainesville ska punk kings Less Than Jake. Less Than Jake are big favourites at Slam Dunk, this was their fourth time playing the festival and the beginnings of a rain shower did not prevent a massive crowd from gathering. Unfortunately long time trombone player Buddy couldn't make the festival but what a stand in they had with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Chris Rhodes. Starting the set with Gainesville Rock City immediately got the crowd going wild. They joked that they would be playing all of their fast songs as they were at the Punk In Drublic stage. They weren't lying either as they blasted through Nervous In The Alley, Plastic Cup Politics and Short Fuse Burning. It was a bit of a relief when they did decide to slow things down for The Science Of Selling Yourself Short (where they were joined by Billy Kottage of Reel Big Fish and, for this tour, The Interrupters). Of course, this got a huge sing-along. It was a newer Less Than Jake song that was my probably my highlight of the entire weekend however. Halfway through Whatever The Weather, the sun finally began to pop out from behind the rain clouds. Less Than Jake bringing the Florida sunshine with them – eventually. Finishing with Look What Happened, Last One Out Of Liberty City and All My Best Friends Are Metalheads ensured the set was finished in a big way. My goodness, Less Than Jake continue to put on one hell of a show.
Philadelphia's The Menzingers were given the task of closing the Dickies stage. If you have seen The Menzingers before then you know this was something they were more than capable of doing. In the build up for Slam Dunk I'd seen in various social media groups that this would be a lot of people’s first time seeing The Menzingers – they would be in for a treat! Beginning with the excellent Tellin' Lies, this was the start of an hour of big sing-alongs – perhaps some of the biggest of the entire day. Playing a set that only consisted of tracks from their last three albums, it very much seemed as if this was a set designed for newer fans of the band but it certainly didn't prevent any old schoolers having the time of their lives. It's hard not to enjoy yourself singing along to so many favourites such as The Obituaries, Good Things, After The Party, Casey, Burn After Writing, Gates and Lookers. We were also treated to newer song, The Freaks, possibly from the band’s upcoming new album. As had been a theme for the entire evening, the weather was a mix of sunshine and showers. At one point during The Menzingers set a double rainbow occurred which had everyone turning away from the stage to see it – after Tom May pointed it out. I turned round and had the pleasure of getting to see the chap behind me using a plastic up as a portable urinal, oh Slam Dunk people you are a lovely bunch. I'm assuming that the weather was causing a bit of bother for the electrical equipment at the stage as during the band’s final song, Nice Things, the sound cut out. It didn't prevent the crowd from having one last massive sing-along to finish the set however. We are already looking forward to seeing The Menzingers again when they next come to the UK.
I had had a really fun day out at Slam Dunk Festival. I was really impressed with my first visit to the new site. I know there was some trouble with the queues at some of the bars but for the most part I didn't find I had to queue for anything for longer that fifteen minutes and found it very easy to get around. The bands were fantastic but, for me, the biggest highlight was being able to spend time with so many pals from all over who were at the festival and just seeing them all having such a lovely time.