On Saturday 27th May, having flown into Birmingham Airport the previous day, I headed to the NEC for day one of Slam Dunk Festival 2017. Having attended the Midlands date in the NEC the year before (the review for which you can view by clicking here) I was very excited for this year’s event and had been looking forward to it, very impatiently, ever since the dates were first announced. This year we were also attending the North date in Leeds as we felt that one day was simply not enough the year before.
We made sure to get there early to avoid ques, particularly in light of the horrific attack that had occurred in Manchester earlier that same week, which had resulted in a heightened security presence at the festival, every precaution was being taken to ensure the safety of attendees, as we made our way through the NEC towards the festival entrance we had our bags checked by armed police. We got to the festival entrance just after 11.00, the queuing, security check and wristband collection were all surprisingly quick. This year some of the outdoor portion of the festival site was open early and acted as a waiting area, some of the merch tables were already set up too, which was a plus for fans looking to buy merchandise early. Unluckily the weather was not great, it was windy, cloudy and it looked like it was going to rain, a complete shame as it was boiling in Birmingham the day before.
As 1.00 hit the rest of the festival site opened, after a quick look around some of the outdoor site to familiarize ourselves with the locations of the stages we would be seeing bands play on later in the day, we made our way back to the stage closest to the entrance, the “Monster Stage”. The first band on the stage was Canadian Pop punk band Like Pacific and they had drawn a decent crowd. After they had finished playing their first two songs frontman Jordan Black addressed the crowd “thanks for giving a shit and coming out early. I’m in a different country right now, this is sick.” Throughout their set, he gave shoutouts to other bands playing the festival, including Seaway, Trophy Eyes and Boston Manor. Despite how early it was in the day they got a great reaction from the crowd, from the onset of the set a group of people near the front were singing-along, during their 2nd song “Richmond” I spotted the first crowd surfer of the day and more followed throughout the rest of the set, and a circle pit even got going during “Distance.” Before playing “22a”, Jordan spoke to the crowd about his Grandmother and how the song had been rewritten lyrically shortly after she had passed away. Like Pacific are a genuine band, as shown by Jordan interacting with the crowd plenty throughout their set. It was an early but strong performance: 8.5/10.
Next, we made our way to the “Rock Sound Breakout Stage”, which was a small stage that upcoming bands were playing. The first band we were catching there? Upcoming Welsh emotional hardcore band Casey, of course. Casey are a band that already has what you could call a “cult” following, as the large crowd they had drawn so early in the day could attest to, with a large amount of them decked out in Casey merchandise. Their performance was incredibly atmospheric. There were issues with the smoke machine on stage but the band didn’t let that interfere with their performance in any way. Their songs simply flowed into each other live, the heart wrenching “Fade” faded into the melodic “Darling”, which was followed by an intense performance of “Teeth.” “Passion Flower” showcased the bands range of sounds with its vocals mainly consisting of spoken word verses. The emotional “Hell” resulted in a big sing-along from the crowd, and its ending felt like a sudden ending to the set, which felt strangely appropriate. Casey are a band that you should know about. They pull off their intense, emotional, and simply breathtaking sound perfectly live: 9/10.
We headed to the “Jagermeister Mainstage”, hosted in the NEC arena itself, for We Are The Ocean‘s set. The three Slam Dunk sets that weekend were We Are The Ocean’s last sets before their breakup, due to this the arena’s standing area was already pretty full. They kicked off their set with “Trouble Is Temporary, Time Is Tonic” before a big sing-along came in the form of “What It Feels Like”. Truthfully I am not a huge fan of the band’s releases after vocalist Dan Brown left the band in 2012, and during the next two newer numbers frontman Liam Cromby’s voice seemed notably weak. “Good for You”, the only song in their set off their last album “Ark”, sounded a lot stronger, showcasing a good display of Liam’s vocal range, and a decent portion of the crowd was singing-along, clearly not everybody had forgotten about the band after Dan’s departure. The crowd sang the opening line, “I won’t pretend that I did the best I can”, of “Runaway” solo. A lot of the crowd produced their lighters and phone lights during “Confessions”, lighting up the room. “Confessions” was a big song that almost sounded like it was made for arenas, despite being written so early in the band’s career. “The Waiting Room” into “Nothing Good Has Happened Yet” made for an incredibly strong ending to the set. Liam addressed the crowd just before finishing “Nothing Good…” by saying “thank you for coming tonight and sharing this with us,” and then the crowd finished it by appropriately singing the final “just let me go” on their own. A bittersweet set that showcased the lows and the many highs of We Are The Oceans career: 7.5/10.
We headed back to the “Monster Stage” for American Pop punk band Cute Is What We Aim For. They were playing their first UK shows in 9 years and were playing their debut album “The Same Old Blood Rush with a New Touch“, released back in 2006, in full, as part of their 10th anniversary tour for the album, which was sure to be a serious nostalgic highlight of the festival for a lot of attendees. By the time they kicked off their set the area in front of the stage was packed full of people (as the photo above shows) despite it still being early in the day, which showed just how much people still cared about the band. From the moment “Newport Living” started a huge portion of the crowd was singing along, at points almost completely drowning out vocalist Shaant Hacikyan, and the crowd only got louder as they started to play “There’s a Class for This.” Before “Finger Twist & Split”, Travis from We The Kings came out with a drink for Jeff Czum, who had turned 21 the last time the band had played the UK and who had turned 30 this time. Shaant explained how their first UK tour was in 2006 supporting Paramore and then said that “this is super surreal, thank you so fucking much.” He mentioned how he got drunk at the pre-party the night before, before “The Fourth Drink Instinct”, during which the crowd sang the “she thought that she could buy happiness by, by the bottle” part of the song solo. Afterwards, Shaant said “fun fact I was electrocuted throughout that entire song” and continued on with the set. Before their biggest hit “The Curse of Curves”, Shaant stated that it was probably the explanation for why they were even there. During “The Curse…” the crowd was expectantly at their loudest singing-along, some got on the shoulders of their friends, and Shaant shook the hands of the security personnel in front of the stage. Shaant interacted with the crowd throughout the entire set and his enthusiasm was infectious and the nostalgic songs that so many people in the crowd knew the entire words to were played perfectly. It had clearly been far too long since they had last played the UK because the crowd seemed to love and appreciate, every second of their set: 9.5/10.
We headed to the “Impericon Stage” for English punk rock band Counterfeit. Counterfeit features actor Jamie Campbell Bower, who is best known for his roles in films like Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, The Twilight Saga and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. We arrived late to the set but it turns out so did Counterfeit as times were running late for the stage, Jamie declared that they had to cut four songs from their set. Counterfeit wasted none of the brief time they were given on the stage; a wall of death got going during “Romeo” and a sweat soaked Jamie entered the crowd and stood in the centre of a circle pit during set closer “Enough.” Even though they were short on time, Counterfeit pulled out all the stops and gave the set their absolute all: 9/10.
I quickly made my way to the “Jagermeister Mainstage” to catch the end of American hardcore band Beartooth‘s set. I caught the end of “In Between” and “Hated.” The mainstage area was absolutely packed full of people singing-along and watching Beartooth play songs that sounded like they were made to be played in arenas.
I planned on catching rising American metalcore band I Prevail play the “Impericon Stage” next but truthfully things got a lot bit too chaotic and uncomfortable for me. Slam Dunk clearly made a mistake putting I Prevail on such a small stage. Due to the power of social media, I Prevail have amassed a huge following, not just in America but in the UK too, a lot of it on the back of their hit cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” which at the time already had over 30 million views on YouTube. As it was their first ever UK performance, in fact their first ever performance overseas too, there was an insane demand to see them live, to the point where tonnes of extra security personnel had to be called to the area to block the entrances to avoid it getting even more full of people. The above is a photo of people trying to see I Prevail despite the stage area already being blocked off by security. Future festival headliners?
I made my way early to the “Rock Sound Breakout Stage” for American metalcore band Sylar‘s set, staring in awe at the huge crowd that was attempting to get into the stage next to it to see I Prevail. Truthfully Sylar had a rough spot, the start of their set overlapped with some of I Prevails and as such the crowd was small to start with but grew larger after I Prevails set ended. The small crowd Sylar had at the start of their set was a dedicated one though and most of them were singing and screaming along from the moment “Gambit Rogue Delight” kicked off the bands set. Sylar made an interesting choice to play an older, heavy track next, “Golden Retreat” off their first album “To Whom It May Concern”, which got the crowd headbanging. A more mellow track, the title track off their latest album “Dark Daze”, followed before “Live / Breathe” during which vocalist Jayden Panesso got the crowd to scream the repeated “I don’t know anymore” part solo. Jayden is an incredibly solid frontman, he interacted with the crowd throughout the entirety of the set and dedicated the set to the people who were singing along. Latest single “Soul Addiction” made an appearance and they finished the set off strong with “Assume.” An all too easy: 9/10.
We headed to see American rock band We The Kings set on the “Monster Stage” next, they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut self-titled album but weren’t playing it in full. We were pretty late but it turns out that they had only just finished the 2nd song of their set, multiple stages were clearly running late with stage times. Before playing “Secret Valentine”, vocalist Travis Clark stated that it was the “song I wrote after I first had sex.” They played the chorus of “Say You Like Me” to, in Travis’s own words, be able to say that they did. The band finished their set off by playing “Check Yes Juliet”, easily their most well-known song, for a second time, which the crowd seemed to be entirely okay with as they spent the entirety of it singing so loud that they drowned out Travis’s vocals. We Are The Kings are simply a fun band live: 8.5/10.
We caught some of American band The Movielife‘s set on the same stage, another band playing the festival that was invoking nostalgia in some fans, but sadly did not seem to have drawn a large crowd compared to other bands that we had seen playing the stage so far that day. Next we made our way to the “Fireball Stage” to catch some of American ska punk band Less Than Jake‘s set. The band has been around for a very long time, since the 90’s, and their fans had seriously filled out the large room and were actively singing along. They let slip that they thought they were headlining the stage until somebody told them that Bowling for Soup was. “Overrated (Everything Is)” sounded perfect live and I was very glad that I caught it.
We made it back to “Impericon Stage” for most of American alternative rock band Madina Lake‘s set. Madina Lake had reunited for a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their debut album “From Them, Through Us, to You” and their set mainly consisted of material off it. They were easily the band at this year’s nostalgia heavy festival that invoked the most nostalgia in me as I had started listening to them only a few months after they released the album, which feels like a life time ago now. We caught the very end of “House of Cards” and it was followed by the lyrically dark “Pandora.” The next two songs “One Last Kiss” and “Let’s Get Outta Here” had the crowd singing along before the band broke out an unexpected cover of Blur’s “Song 2.” It is pretty questionable to play a cover song when you are meant to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of your debut album and playing songs off it that don’t normally make the cut live, but the cover went down well with the crowd. They finished their set with the expected anthem that is “Here I Stand” to a huge applause from the crowd. Nathan Leone’s vocals seemed notably weak throughout the set but he seemed to be incredibly energetic otherwise and kept throwing himself into the crowd during the set. The band sounded a bit out of practice but otherwise, they delivered a serious throwback of a set: 7.5/10.
We made our way back to the “Monster Stage” for the final time that day to catch stage headliners Neck Deep, a Pop punk band from the UK. At this point, it had gotten pretty dark out and the only lights illuminating the area surrounding the stage were those on stage, so it was a good thing that Neck Deep had brought plenty of those. They started their set with a new song that had only been released a few days before Slam Dunk, “Happy Judgement Day”, which sounded great live. “Gold Steps” followed and the crowd sang the “I’ve been moving mountains…” bit towards the end. Before “Lime St.”, vocalist Ben Barlow, asked the crowd to jump up and down, he then dedicated “Losing Sleep” to anybody who was there with friends. “Serpents” resulted in a very loud sing-along with the crowd. Ben said that the next song played, “Crushing Grief (No Remedy)” off their debut album”Wishful Thinking”, was “for anybody who has followed us since the beginning” and Jordan from Like Pacific came out to do guest vocals during it. Ben said that “we are taking it way back” before playing “Tables Turned” off their second EP “A History of Bad Decisions”. The crowd shouted along to “Kali Ma” before they played another new song off their upcoming album “The Peace and the Panic”, “Where Do We Go When We Go” which was a big one live. Ben took a moment to talk about how he used to go to the festival as a kid and now his band is headlining a stage at it.
They turned off most of the stage lights and stripped things back for “A Part of Me”, almost the entire crowd sang along to it, and afterwards Ben said “Slam Dunk that was beautiful. This is the longest set we’ve ever played.” Then he proceeded to talk about how they released three versions of the next song they were going to play “December”, they played the full band version of it and it generated easily the loudest sing along of the night. Ben pointed out how everybody watching them was missing Enter Shikari’s set to be there, so the band played some of “Sorry You’re Not A Winner” to make up for that. Then he mentioned that they had just announced a headlining UK tour. They finished their set with “Can’t Kick Up The Roots” with the crowd jumping along to most of it.
Neck Deep’s first time playing a full length headlining set surprisingly never felt like their first one, a strong setlist, well-played songs and an engaging frontman made for a very enjoyable set: 9.5/10. Now bring on Dublin in October.
We managed to leg it to the “Fireball Stage” for the last two songs of American Pop punk band Bowling for Soups set, and they were exactly the two we wanted to hear; “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” and “1985”, which made for a perfect ending to a jammed back day of music.
Stay tuned for part II of my massive Slam Dunk Festival 2017 review, when I review Slam Dunk Festival North.