Performing at the tenth anniversary of its creation, the bands at this year’s Slam Dunk Festival did not disappoint. This review comes from the Midlands leg of the tour, which was coincidentally the last – though definitely had no effect on the infamously raucous vibe of the event. With seven stages and over 60 performers throughout the day, Slam Dunk was a welcome explosion of frantic bands, ranging from everything between metal and ska, to grace the intimate streets of Wolverhampton city centre. Desperado’s flowed freely, merchandise stalls and pizza trucks lined the pavements, and a buzz of anticipation and excitement was inescapable.
Dead Harts kick-started the event on the Impericon stage; providing a raw and intense set that got people moving despite it being one in the afternoon. Meanwhile, The Colour Morale were setting up on the Monster stage – for a set that would get people quite literally climbing the walls. Bursting with energy and a loud and noisy passion for their music, they encouraged patrons to climb trees, signposts, railings – anything to get a better view and intensify their angsty teenage music blasting out: much to security’s dismay. Simultaneously – the American pop-punk party that is Knuckle Puck and the heavily religious Being as an Ocean provided engaging and lively sets; getting great crowd reaction and playing favourites all round.
The highlight of the day had to come from Trash Talk’s ridiculous display of hardcore punk – still fairly early in the afternoon. Boasting countless moshers all vying to one up each other on the hard concrete of Wolverhampton’s grubby streets, it doesn’t sound the most pleasant of affairs – though this is exactly what made the set as brilliant as it was. Pumped full of energy, charisma, and a “screw you” attitude, Trash Talk provided the most entertainment at a gig that many can only hope to achieve over their whole career. Short and punchy songs from the band’s 119 and Walking Disease albums mixed with Lee Speilman’s aggressively intimate manner made way for plenty of crowd interaction, with him stopping numerous times to smoke and pass around a joint (again, security really didn’t have the best day) – as well as talking to and literally throwing around fans during the set – whilst somehow making time to sing in the midst of it all. With circle pits, crowd surfing and fans on the stage, it was great to witness a band that really wanted to mingle with the festival goers – this being especially true since they spent most of their time in the middle of them rather than on stage.
Next up were Thy Art is Murder, sporting a front man that could’ve dropped straight from a horror story. With eyes rolling into the back of his head visible through what can only be described as his mother’s zipped up anorak – the start of the set looked a little frightening to say the least. They soon got into the meat of their performance though, screaming their way through a lot of fan favourites, though a technical error meant the vocals were difficult to hear at first – which is a disappointment as they were on for such a short time. Deez Nuts played concurrently – ending their set with a visit from Architects‘ front man Sam Carter much to the delight of the crowd; a common feature of the festival being mashups and crossovers of many of the different bands’ members, due to the close-knit nature of their community, especially whilst on tour together.
Towards the end of the night, While She Sleeps provided an excellent prelude to Architects’ intensely fuelled set, with ‘This is the Six’ ringing out across the grounds. However, it is Moose Blood that stole the night in this time slot – playing on the small, close and sweaty Fresh Blood stage at the back of the main Civic. Wondering through a maze of turns and corners, Moose Blood could be found as the headliners of this particular stage, giving the most raw and openly emotional performance that could be seen throughout the day. With it being such a small room, every person there had knowledge of the band – singing back every single line to the teary four-piece with such belief in the words that it was amazing to be a part of. They really should have been put on a larger stage due to the large number of festival-goers bustling in to see them, though the intimate nature of the room did lean in their favour; as it created a lovely, close atmosphere for true lovers of the music.
Moving on to the big bands of the day – the main stage acts that really stood out were Neck Deep, Lower than Atlantis and Don Broco, topped off by headliners You Me at Six. Neck Deep in their pop-punk prime gave excellent renditions from their most recent album Wishful Thinking, pumping up the excitement for the next album drop in August – though that may have not been necessary judging by the amount of excitable fans and sheer force that was Neck Deep merchandise covering most of the crowds. Lower than Atlantis were wonderfully cynical – front man Mike Deuce suffering from a throat problem provided bitter entertainment throughout the set, which included some of their best work from the self titled album released last year – ‘Emily’, ‘English Kids in America’ and ‘Here We Go’ being the front runners. The only criticism that can be given was that Deuce’s disappearance for over half of ‘Here We Go’ put a bit of a dampener on the song – though being fair, he did power through the rest of the performance considering his discomfort with his voice. Don Broco took over the stage afterwards, a host of posh looking haircuts in loud shirts – giving a brilliantly energetic performance; that was seemingly effortless from the raw talent the band collectively have. They even did a throw back to ‘Thug Workout’, one of their very first tracks, which was a crowd pleaser to say the least; second only to ‘Hold On’ and ‘Priorities’.
Finally, You Me at Six took to the stage to end the night, recalling tracks from their golden days – Take Off Your Colours. Celebrating not only Slam Dunk’s tenth anniversary but their own also, this inclusion of their original album was lovely to witness. The only bitter remark that can be made was that ‘Save it for the Bedroom’ was missed from the bill – the one song every one knows, loves, and cringes at when they think of their 14 year old selves – though this was made up for by the fantastic encore of ‘Bite My Tongue’ and ‘Underdog’. Like all their songs of the evening they were accompanied by a beautifully crafted animated backdrop – it’s always a plus when you get visuals alongside the music, creating an interesting and engaging set.
All in all, Slam Dunk is and always will be a milestone in any rock, pop-punk or ska lovers calendar – and this year was no different. With an amazing selection of bands, feverishly energetic performances and an atmosphere hard to beat, Slam Dunk 2015 will struggle to be topped by most other small festivals. The only thing we can do is impatiently wait for the next one!