Slam Dunk’s status as the UK’s favourite pop-punk festival can hardly be contested. With a section for every genre, big-name sponsors lining the walls, and stages both inside and out – this year’s festival felt like the most professional yet. Continuing the move from Wolverhampton City Centre to Birmingham NEC, it settled into the second city with ease on its 11th anniversary, making all things bigger, better, and more boisterous in the process.
With eight stages to satisfy every music taste, there was something for everyone at Slam Dunk 2017. From the ska stylings of the Fireball stage, to the melodic emo-indie of the Signature Brew stage, to the heavier sounds of the Jägermeister stage – the festival offered range and quality in equal measure. This year saw the 10 year celebration of Take to the Skies, Enter Shikari‘s debut album and a corner stone of alt music as we know it – an exciting revisit to songs that many attendees grew up with. But before Shikari’s mainstage performance of all things nostalgic and political, there was a day of excellent bands providing some excellent entertainment, kicking off with You Know the Drill. The Birmingham based five-piece opened the Rock Sound Stage to a small but enthused crowd, upping the energy levels and getting the audience ready for the festival to come. Bouncing from the outset, their songs were the perfect pop-punk opener, with a nod to the Sum 41 anthem ‘Fat Lip’ as a cover towards the end of their stage time. Simultaneously, Fort Hope brought The Key Club stage to life next door, solidifying their step up from the newbie stage in 2015 and offering an insight into the advancement Slam Dunk can provide to an up-and-coming band.
Following this set on the Jägermeister stage was a performance from Japanese electronicore band Crossfaith who served up an insane set, with a light show NASA could probably detect in space. Insatiably energetic and with mesmerizing performances, each and every member on stage exuded showmanship, in their true intense style. Over at Signature Brew, Milk Teeth brought their A-game and gave a strong, yet subdued performance. Whilst second vocalist Billy Hutton was a bit manic to start out with, the band soon found their footing and meshed together impressively, ending on the effervescent ‘Vitamins’ to aptly round off the set. Back on the Rock Sound stage, newcomers VUKOVI got the crowd moving, though front-woman Janine may have over-done it on the squeals at some points, reading like a pop rock Miley Cyrus in her energetic commandment of the audience.
Returning to Slam Dunk once more, Beartooth came to the mainstage and gave a wholeheartedly brilliant performance. Crafting a set that had audiences jumping, dancing, and singing along in equal measure, to say that the hardcore-punk mashup was a crowd-pleaser would be an understatement. Returning the earlier favour and inviting Crossfaith’s Kenta Koie on stage for ‘Body Bag’, the singing duo riled the huge room up in preparation for a dazzling set. Playing the well-known and well-loved ‘In Between’ was a highlight of their stage time, with crowds going wild for the fan favourite – frontman Shomo even extended its ending for as long as possible with a singalong of its titular line. From heavy hardcore to irresistibly energetic ska, Reel Big Fish graced the Fireball stage with their presence for yet another flawless Slam Dunk performance – they were as special as ever leading up to the big-hitting headliners for the rest of the night.
After an excruciating decision between Bowling for Soup, Neck Deep, and Enter Shikari, it was impossible not to choose the latter’s 10 year celebration as the ending point for the night, though I am still bitter than arguably almost all the best bands were put in clashing slots on different stages. Shikari blew away any fear of missing out for any other bands with an out-of-this-world revival of their debut hits. ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’, as prophesied by anyone with any interest in the pop-punk genre at all, went down an absolute treat – with moshing, screaming, and clapping coming from all angles. The band had thoroughly packed out the massive venue, as would be expected, and turned the sea of bodies into one huge, very sweaty, force to be reckoned with. Frontman Rou took it upon himself to guide the crowd before him to his political agenda; considerably anti-Tory in his voice. I don’t think I’ve ever shouted so loudly in agreement before, and the same can be said of every other person around me. Bringing down Theresa May and requesting the lyrics sang back ‘with venom’ to the soundtrack of ‘No Sssweat’, switching their synths into overload for ‘Labyrinth’, and giving the famed album all the force of their 10 years together it deserved – Enter Shikari did themselves proud. Covering Oasis‘s ‘Half the World Away’ in tribute to those at Manchester, their love and unity for the music, fans, and messages never came across more potently than in that moment.
They ended the festival on a note of power, and addressed contemporary issues with an anger representative of their fanbase. Inspiring those in the crowd and getting those who can to take action (in the form of voting), the messages of Take To the Skies have never been more relevant, or more greatly delivered. Love those around you, fight for what you believe in, and have a good dance in the process. Or at least, that’s what I took from it.
Next year’s Slam Dunk has a lot to live up to. But there’s not a doubt that it will continue to get bigger, better, and badder in the process – I for one can’t wait to see that happen. Looking forward to 2018 already!