Slam Dunk may of had a few teething issues when it first moved to the NEC in 2016; but these were definitely ironed out in time for this year’s event, as we were welcomed to a new and improved festival site with a better layout, more signage and a greater selection of bars and food outlets than ever before. Because of recent events in Manchester, security had also been beefed up; but it seemed to be a case of ‘business as usual’ as the festival goers streamed into the site and continued to watch some amazing artists, eat, drink and be merry.
The first performance on the Jagermeister stage was a beautiful acoustic set from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Most will recognise Andrew as the frontman from Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin, and although he did perform acoustic versions of some of that material, today was prominently about his solo endeavour. Andrew may have self-confessed to have the quietest performance on the Jagermeister stage all day, but his set was certainly one that left impressions in the minds of those watching.
Crossfaith were next on this stage and offered a performance that was completely the opposite end of the scale from Andrew McMahon’s one. The band were bold, brash and ballsy as the room packed out with fans eager to watch a frenzied performance of their own unique brand of electronic infused metalcore. As frontman Kenta Koie brandished a Jagermeister flag to take to the stage, you knew that you were in for an intense set, and this intensity just seemed to grow throughout as the band dropped crowd pleasing song after crowd pleasing song. Two particularly great moments came during their cover of The Prodigy’s Omen and during Ghost in the Mirror, of which they surprised fans by bringing Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo on stage with them to sing.
Deciding who to watch next was quite a difficult one for me as Grumble Bee, Black Foxxes and Vukovi are all artists that I like; but were all on at around the same time. I opted for Grumble Bee on the Uprawr stage and saw an acoustic set that was actually one of my favourite moments of the weekend, as we were treated to some seriously inspired and original songwriting. Although still relatively early on in his career, Grumble Bee already has the makings of a true British talent; offering timeless sounding, genre-spanning songs with a genuine honest depth to them. Although a technical difficulty left him without a guitar for a moment, he did not let this phase him and continued singing, prompting a big and beautiful acapella singalong between himself and the audience.
After an interview in the press area, I quickly returned to the Jagermeister stage and caught the last few songs from We Are The Ocean. As a band that I have been a fan of throughout their career, I am actually pretty gutted that they are splitting and that this weekend’s shows are their last; but I am glad that I got to see them one more time; even if it was just for an emotional few songs.
From old favourites to new favourites, I moved across to the Key Club stage to see Aussie pop-punkers With Confidence. I was won over by the lads during their appearance at Slam Dunk last year, and it seems that many others were too, as they performed on this much bigger stage. The room was packed with an enthusiastic audience, who were ready for anything that came their way (including a circle pit), as the band energetically wowed with a set from debut album Better Weather.
Moving on to the Monster Energy stage, I watched US rock band The Maine; who are currently celebrating ten years together. In the light of recent world events, I feel that we could all do with some of this band’s feel good vibes and positivity. They seem to have mastered a charismatic way to keep audiences happy and their set was upbeat from start to finish. It is actually hard to pretend that you don’t like them during a live show, as one unlucky lad called James found out when he played it cool, but was promptly dragged on stage during a song to sing with the band.
Following this, it was time for some more pop-punk as I checked out the ever so colourful Waterparks on the Key Club stage. As the band played a set largely plucked from their debut album Double Dare, the youthful audience jumped around to their undeniably catchy songs. Frontman Awsten Knight also has a rather addictive playful and fun stage presence, which I couldn’t help but enjoy.
If there’s one band that were playing Slam Dunk this weekend that always get the party started, that accolade would go to ska-punk band Reel Big Fish. At the Fireball stage, I was really excited to be watching these guys again, as they were so much fun the last time that I saw them, back at Slam Dunk 2015. It is great to see that they are still the same tongue-in-cheek party band from then. Songs such as Beer and Everyone Else is an Asshole were played, loud shirts were donned and they certainly brought on the trumpets; so it was everything that you could possibly want from a ska-punk show.
Another band who are showing audiences how to have a great time are Don Broco; who pulled off a polished performance on the Jagermeister stage. Things seem to have really blown up for the lads from Bedford over the last few years, as they have gone from filling smaller venues to arenas, just like this one. The band performed a set of largely upbeat numbers from Automatic and Priorities and really worked the audience throughout; from Rob demanding that everybody sat down on the floor then jumped up, to creating a full blown circle pit that Matt and Rob disappeared into during final song, Pretty.
There were huge queues for headliner Enter Shikari’s performance to mark ten years of their innovative debut album Take To The Skies, so instead I opted to return to the Fireball Stage to end the night with a laugh watching Bowling for Soup. As the chant of “Bowling for Soup, hey! Bowling for Soup, hey!” played loud and proud from the speakers; everyone cheered excitedly as they got ready for the fun and frolics from the American punk-rockers. Whizzing through some of their back catalogue, playing tracks such as Punk Rock 101 and High School Never Ends, the band also threw in a brilliant cover of Stacey’s Mom by Fountains of Wayne just for good measure. Perhaps one of the best things about a Bowling For Soup show though, is simply the good humour; like the moment when frontman Jaret thanked the audience for coming to see the geriatrics on the Fireball Stage.
As Slam Dunk came to an end for another year, there were smiles all around as festival goers left or trailed into the afterparty for a few more hours of great music and catching up with their friends. I look forward to seeing what Slam Dunk 2018 brings.
Photo by Ben Bentley