Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Gig Review: Slam Dunk Festival (South), Hatfield House 26/5/19

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.

The day arrived for Slam Dunk South at Hatfield House and I was pretty excited. We jumped into the car and made the forty-five minute drive from Bedford, looking forward to going to a gig that was actually pretty local for a change. As we arrived at the festival and saw the queue of cars we were slightly worried that we might not make it in quickly enough for the opening band. To our delight, and surprise, though we were actually able to get parked up, into the festival grounds and use the toilets pretty quickly. Using the programme to locate it, we hurried over to the Punk In Drublic stage for The Bombpops but not before bumping into all our pals from the New Cross Inn in South London.

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.

Changing things up dramatically on the Punk In Drublic stage were California's Mad Caddies. We'd popped off to quickly get some delicious vegan food and got back to find our group having a great time dancing to the classic Leavin’. It feels like ages since I've seen the Caddies but it was like putting on an old pair of comfortable shoes, singing and dancing along to so many of my favourite songs. The Caddies are approaching twenty-five years as a band so have so many great tracks to choose from. It was actually a pretty old school set with songs like Monkeys, Weird Beard and Road Rash really getting me dancing. They teased playing Macho Nachos before going straight into either Shoot Out The Lights or Brand New Scar from Dirty Rice. Last year the Caddies released a covers album and we were treated to a great version of Propagandhi's ...And We Thought That Nation-States Were a Bad Idea. Ending with the long version of All American Badass was the best way to finish a really fun set. I'm dying for the Caddies to play a small pub show next time they’re over, at the New Cross Inn obviously. That would be all the kinds of amazing.

The Interrupters are perhaps the most talked about band in ska punk currently. Last year’s Fight The Good Fight album put a lot of eyes, mine included, on them and there was a lot of excitement for their set. As soon as Aimee Interrupter and the Bivona brothers took to the stage and started A Friend Like Me the crowd were off into a skanking frenzy. I can't remember the last time that I've seen a band connect with their crowd like The Interrupters do. This LA quartet are ridiculously tight and extremely well drilled in their performance. It feels slick and fun but not too over-rehearsed, with plenty of songs about unity, friendship and family that really resonated with the Slam Dunk crowd. Never a band to ignore their connection to Rancid/Operation Ivy's Tim Armstrong, they played what's become a now expected cover mashup of Time Bomb and Sound System which I loved and danced along happily to. The highlight for me though was when they finished with This Is My Family. It was extra meaningful being surrounded by so many of my chosen punk rock family.

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 then headed back to the Punk In Drublic stage where Swedish skate punk legends Millencolin were already in full flight. I only had time to stay for a few songs before running off to check out Saves The Day (as I'd never seen them live before) but it was good to see Millencolin seemingly on top form. This made it increasingly difficult to pull myself away. Among the songs I did get to see were Fox, Twenty Two and True Brew which was very nice. Hopefully Millencolin will be back over for their own tour soon enough so I can see them properly.

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.

Without a doubt the hardest clash of the festival for us was Bad Religion and The Menzingers. We decided to watch the first half of Bad Religion before heading back to the Dickies stage for The Menzingers. We decided it would be best to hang around the back of the crowd as we would need to dash across the festival site to get a good spot for The Menzingers. Bad Religion have now been a band for thirty-nine years and have released seventeen full length albums. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to put together a setlist from so many songs. They manage it though and it's banger after banger. Greg Graffin continues to have one of the best voices in the game and the harmonies are forever on point. We only had time for the first nine songs but it did include favourites such as Fuck You, Generator, Stranger Than Fiction, I Want To Conquer The World and 21st Century Digital Boy. Looking at the setlist afterwards, it seems we missed Los Angeles Is Burning, Sorrow and American Jesus but we had places to go, bands to see. There's a reason Bad Religion are known as the godfathers of punk rock and it's not just because of how long they've been around – it's because they're still the among the very best.

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.

For our last band of the day, we headed back to the Punk In Drublic stage where NOFX would be closing Slam Dunk. I approached the set with a lot of trepidation as the last time I saw NOFX they had sucked – and not in a fun and charming way, they were really bad. I know NOFX can be very hit or miss live but it really put me off them as a band and it had me feeling like I couldn't really be bothered to go and see them again. I'm glad I didn't just go home after The Menzingers though and I did stick around for NOFX because on this night they reminded me just why I loved them so much. This was the best I'd seen them in years. Starting out with 60% and then (almost) going straight into Dinosaurs Will Die it was clear that this would be one of those NOFX sets that just clicked. Of course, it wouldn't be a NOFX set without a good amount of talking between songs but for once it didn't take away from my enjoyment – Fat Mike was on top top form. The highlight was some good natured ribbing of Anti-Flag's Chris #2's punk rock jumps. #2 later joined the band, after a little encouragement, to perform one of his jumps. Much like pretty much every other band on this stage, NOFX has a lot of songs to choose from for their set but somehow managed to pick the majority of my favourites. Obviously classics such as Linoleum, Bob and The Separation Of Church And Skate got played. It was also great to hear Perfect Government, Stickin' In My Eye, Eat The Meek and The Brews. One of the most emotional moments of the day happened when they played I'm So Sorry Tony, a song about NUFAN's Tony Sly, somebody I'm sure everyone playing the Punk In Drublic show had some kind of relationship with. Finishing the set with Lori Meyers (where they were joined by Poli and Jen Bombpops), Kill All The White Man and then finally Don't Call Me White, this was my favourite ever NOFX performance. It really did reignite my love for the band.

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.

This gig review was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew.

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