Slam Dunk Festival 2019 once again threw the biggest pop punk party of the year.
rated now to the National Rail society of train bits that we 100% had first class tickets and definitely didn’t accidentally cough up some hay fever shaped mucous and hide it under the seat… both of those things should be abundantly clear.
Anyways, it is here, on this precariously steamy locomotive that we start our noble quest, to the shire of Slam Dunkingtons, a cavern full of your idols, legends, and future nostalgians, not to mention us extremely groovy journalist slap bang in the middle, just waiting to affect your mood, one way or another!
Boston Manor show no signs of slowing down anytime soon
There’s a huge turn out in the muggy heat of the afternoon for Blackpool’s Boston Manor. Being no stranger to Slam Dunk Festival, the band set about laying waste to the Monster Energy stage as the blazing sunshine makes way for the arrival of lukewarm drizzle. Perfect. Having conquered stages on both sides of the Atlantic since their second album ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ dropped in the latter half of 2018, the huge turn out takes no time in getting a circle pit started as the fiery synth of ‘Flowers In Your Dustbin’ swell across the amassed bodies. Sadly, the majority of the stages are plagued not just by the changing elements but by a bout of bad mixes too. Nevertheless Henry Cox and co are undeterred from the bad sound, working their way to squeeze as much energy into their set in the form of ‘England’s Dreaming’, ‘Stick Up’ and ‘If I Can’t Have It No One Can’, while old timer ‘Laika’ ensures as many bodies make their way over the barrier, encouraged to clamber over as many heads as possible by the band who show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
We catch the first few songs of a set in the queue for the neighbouring tavern: a quaint little bar with a delightful white trim above it. ‘BAR’ it reads, and there it stood, in all it’s necessary glory. Whilst waiting with the rest of the peasants in an orderly fashion, I couldn’t help but think, completely unrelated: what has Manchester really got in the way of musical prowess? Oasis? Meh. The Stone Roses? The stone who’s? The Smiths? With a name like that we’re supposed to remember who they are. No. It’s time for something really serious, something that’s gonna come out of the wall like a motherflicking chameleon and get you all warm in your pants. The band we are talking about is, of course, Hot Milk.
Hot Milk and their hot rise to success
We find out very early that this is the kind of band that can have their co-lead singer wear a camo co-ord and not get instantly booed off the stage. That’s big dick energy in anyone’s books. A relatively new band, they seemed to be instantly at home on the big stage, filling the tent with tracks new and new. ‘Take Your Jacket’ is bounced and kicked around the oversized gazebo like an inflatable banana (of which there was a severe lack of) before the banana was popped and burst and left to fly around the place like a harpooned dragon (so topical, somebody stop me) by the absolute anthem that is ‘Awful Ever After’. As the crowd cried back to band “you know I can’t stay sober” we felt nuance and irony, and then the rush of blood to the head that comes with not staying sober, not necessarily in that order.
It’s a short but claustrophobic shuffle over to the next stage, which is located approximately 7 inches to the right of the last one. It’s quite hard to put into words how this next band took over so many lives back in 2002, which is annoying as it’s kind of our job. So, once upon a time there was a band, a band that crossed the divide between pop punk and mainstream pop that nobody knew needed crossing. A band so edgy they had lyrics in their songs about boobs but mainstream enough that your mum would let you listen to it in the car on the way to your Nan’s. This transcendent trio, hailing from arguably the greatest place on Earth, that’s right, it’s The Only Way is mothertrucking Busted!
Charlie, Matt and James come out to the most cathartically rapturous cheers and applause it sends shivers down spines. As they move swiftly into ‘Air Hostess’ those shivers turn very quickly to little globby beads of sweat coming out of our eyeholes. But gosh darn, to see all your solo bedroom sing-alongs come to life in front of you, from a band you never thought you’d get to see, is quite the moment. It’s a batch of old and new, separating the Busted posers from the real fans, (that’s right, I said it, they have a new album don’t you know, frauds!) with classics ‘That’s What I Go To School For’ and ‘Crashed The Wedding’ causing raucously friction-full bouncing, while lighters were mounted on fingers for the iconic, yes, iconic, power ballad ‘3AM’. ‘Shipwrecked in Atlantis’ was a fun furore into Busted’s present, the former new wave pop of the previous album significantly left behind for the fun loving Busted we all fell in love with all those years ago. They finish off with ‘Year 3000’, a song full of hope and promise, a much needed stark contrast to the world we’ve left ourselves looking at today.
Yep, I got serious at the end, because this music stuff is serious business. Almost as serious as Tigers Jaw are at having a nice time (pretty sweet segue that). The sometimes loungey sometimes shouty duo from Pennsylvania looked home at once, and yet somewhat awkward on the Dickies stage — the setup of which is akin to something you might see a cover band play at a carnival somewhere rural and suburban. But awkward and homely is kind of what you expect from Tigers Jaw, in the best possible way. An understated performance that lets you into the emotive little land that the Tigers Jaw family occupy, warts and all, just as they’d want it to be. It’s subtly intricate, basic by design, and as the sun shines down on this carnival cover band, a certain Bill Withers track comes into our mind and Tigers Jaw remind us why.
Queues, queues everywhere!
With queues for practically everything including the toilets, bars and food stalls turning Slam Dunk South into a battlefield trying to navigate across the site, Phoenix’s The Word Alive draw a substantial crowd over on the Jagermeister Stage. The band, who have been churning out their brand of sickly sweet metalcore for near on a decade now, rent through new stompers with as much excitement as a kid in a candy shop, and considering today is the last of a string of dates around the UK, The Word Alive don’t let on they’re road weary. By the time ‘Misery’ rolls around there’s a pit in full swing down the front, while vocalist Telle Smith demands the crowd to part for ‘Trapped’. “You know what to fucking do Slam Dunk!” screams Smith, and just like that, the tent erupts into chaos as a wall of death gives the band the that extra kick to take them over the finish line with closer ‘Why Am I Like This?’
Pagan will be a force to be reckoned with
Australia’s Pagan attempt to prove their chops on the Key Club Stage. Sadly, as with most of the performances within the tent today – the sound has been cursed with a bad mix. Barely making her guttural screams audible over the droning of guitars and bass that barely draw any punches, vocalist Nikki Brumen sets about winning us over with her…err…charisma. Xavier Santilli and Dan Bonnici grind away on their guitar and bass with avid confidence, and when they find their groove there’s a taste of magic that proves musically Pagan will be a force to be reckoned with.
Also marring their performance is regrettably Brumen, whose vocals are undeniably as brutal as they are commanding, but her conviction in her actions make for an uncomfortable watch. Beginning like a tiger luring her prey before death staring the audience into submission; by the time the third song in their set is reached the ceaseless dribbling of red wine down her chest and timid twerking on top of the drum kit feels like she’s sheepishly playing into the hands of so many behaviours fans of the pop-punk scene are trying to eradicate. Nevertheless at times there’s a spark of fierceness and inherent fun that makes Pagan’s brand of dizzying disco-punk-hardcore one of the most exciting sounds around.
It’s a complete nostalgia fest
To complete the nostalgia fest, it takes us to a band that are mocked by many, yet revered by so many more. We first felt this bands warm juicy coating on our first ever furore into the now sadly defunct Astoria. Simple Plan are a band that brought the emo’s and the pop punkers together: an alternative war-torn landscape had covered our community for too long, and Simple Plan decided to get all emo in the pop punkers, and that is how Lil Peep was conceived. Today, Simple Plan are magnetic and charismatic and everything that’s been great about them for the last two decades. Oldies but goldies ‘I’d Do Anything’ and ‘Shut Up’ invoke emotive teen angst we thought lay dormant, but now sits bubbling and simmering on the cusp of our hearts (which were consequently situated on our sleeves).
A real contrast follows as the beach balls come out to play in the sunshine with the Sean Paul duet ‘Summer Paradise’, before we descend into a terrifyingly troubling trio of tracks. Troubling because we are worried that the nostalgic part of our brain might cack its pants and all the glittery poops of my memories will spill out of my ears and leave sparkly slug lines on my already shuddering shoulders. Now back to that trio; ‘Welcome to My Life’, followed by ‘I’m Just a Kid’, which sees the unlikely scenes of drummer Chuck Comeau crowdsurfing and thankfully for the front row it was without his instrument. This is all left pale in comparison to the final crescendo of fuax-American accents belting back at Simple Plan as the acoustic-come-rock-ballad ‘Perfect’ closes the emo fringe curtains of a wonderfully sentimental set that played our heart like a puppet, tugging on all those heartstrings.
If you thought watching Hellogoodbye would be a complete throwback to the summer of 2006, well, you wouldn’t be wrong, but you wouldn’t be right either. Dressed so elegantly in a white suit, Forest and his band take us on a journey through hits and promising bangers – just as the heavens attempt to rain on our parade. ‘Finding Something To Do’ is positively lovely, as is ‘When We First Met’ which sees a carpet of pointing fingers reach for the sky in time to the melody while Forest clutches his mic like he had stepped out of a 1950s musical performance on the BBC. But it’s not until the first throbbing synths of hit ‘Here (In Your Arms)’ kick in that he turns the crowd from a pleased jigging mass into a clamorous mob entrenched in euphoria. It’s a glitter spangled affair (without any actual glitter) that gets the band so hyped they decide to run over their time and treat us to a short minute of ‘Touchdown Turnaround’, enticing a huge sing-along en masse. Positively lovely and all smiles in the pouring rain.
Atreyu are sonically triumphant
As with the majority of the bands playing on the Jagermeister stage at Slam Dunk South, Atreyu set about ripping the festival a new one. Despite missing vocalist Alex Varkatzas who sadly had to miss the UK leg of the band’s tour for health reasons, drummer Brandon Saller and bassist Marc “Porter” McKnight completely step up on vocal duties and slay their stand-in roles. With barely any room to get into the tent, there’s just enough time to squeeze into the swealtering press of bodies ready for ‘Becoming The Bull’. With voices screaming back at them in unison, new offerings ‘The Time Is Now’ and ‘House Of Gold’ still receive the same appreciation as the oldies, while the aural pummelling of ‘Ex’s and Oh’s’ and ‘Bleeding Mascara’ are sonically triumphant.
The Menzingers bring an all smiles end to Slam Dunk
There’s an emotional wrecking party going on and it’s arrived in Hatfield in the form of The Menzingers. Still riding high off their 2017 release ‘After The Party’, there’s no letting up in rampant sing-alongs today. With a penchant for delivering songs that transport you to a place of nostalgia and heartbreaks, watching The Menzingers you’re as much driving off into a fantastical sunset in the midwest as you are staggering around a field in the South of England with a warm beer in hand. ‘Tellin Lies’ has Slam Dunk eating out of the palm of their hands, and the sucker punch one-two of ‘Midwestern States’ and ‘Casey’ keeps everyone 100% there with them for the duration of their set. Of course the arrival of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore’ means the band are barely audible over the din, and by the time ‘After The Party’ rolls around there’s not a single person not off their feet as the sun finally dips behind the Dickies Stage and the heavens once again threaten to open. Promising the release of a new album later this year, The Menzingers ensure there isn’t a single person left without a smile on their face, and with a performance this good we can’t wait for them to return to our shores soon.