Doors at 1. Numerous Stages. Huge venue. Music until 11pm (Longer if you count the afterparty too...). May Bank Holiday… It can only be Slam Dunk Festival; the UKs answer to Vans Warped Tour. But better.
So, I get there for around 1, forgetting all about the increased security because I’ve been looking forward to this for months. Slightly silly of me. After the queues through NEC Hall 1 to exchange tickets for a wristband, and getting quite intensely (but completely understandably) frisked, it turns out I’ve missed the first bands, but managed to hear a bit of Fenix TX, who sounded incredible. I hope to be able to see those guys soon, if I’m lucky.
“Keep to the plan, Adam. It’s 2:10, you know where you’re going, right? Yes, the bar.” Yes, I talk to myself sometimes. I’m not that crazy. So, plan. Crossfaith, or Louise Distras? I’m lucky, in that I saw Louise Distras like 2 weeks ago (at Frank Turner's Lost Evenings), and will be seeing her when she’s next on tour. So, Crossfaith it is. I have seen Crossfaith before, so I knew what to expect. Or so I thought. They were on stage, doing all the checks, and busted out a massive instrumental song with ease. This is a well-oiled band. When they finally turned the lights out and made their entrance, the crowd was huger than I had anticipated. They entered to “System X”, one by one, each getting a rousing cheer, then Kenta bounded on stage, waving the Crossfaith banner. They blasted through “Xeno”, tore through “Monolith” and “Kill ‘Em All”, encouraging circle pits and crowdsurfing from the first chorus of “Xeno”. I say “encouraging” because they didn’t need to ask. It got mad fast. A huge circle pit opened across most the width of the Genting Arena, which was home to the Jägermeister stage for the day. “We have a special guest” came ringing out. The crowd seemed to buzz with anticip-
-ation. (great reference, right?) It’s only Caleb Shomo from Beartooth, to perform guest vocals on “Ghost in The Mirror”, as he does on the studio version. It’s truly a remarkable sight, to watch him bounce off Kenta and the rest of the band. Special mentions to Hiroki (bass) and Tatsuya (drums) for being absolutely insane with their energy, and a constant smile on their faces, and to Kazuki Takemura for the ball-kicking riffs. Terufumi Tamano gets his own special mention, for providing the screaming vocals that sounded like something from Game of Thrones or something truly gutteral. And the incredible sound of Crossfaith probably would not be possible without him. As I said, well-oiled machine. Extra special mention because the next song they drop would not have been possible without him… And it’s a doozy. The entire room shakes and the noise level gets to an almost deafening level, as “IT’S AN OMEN” punches you in the ribs. Chaos ensues, and I’ll be honest, Crossfaith’s version is my absolute favourite. They close out the set with “Countdown to Hell”, and promise to be back as soon as physically possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have an arena tour in the next year.
Right, so Crossfaith have broken me already, but let’s stick to the plan. I’ve got to go talk to With Confidence. I hadn’t planned for it to go so long, if we’re honest. I met Inigo, and we chatted for ages (coming soon, eyes out.) Still on the plan. Still going. I say my goodbyes and thank him, then head to go watch a band.
I get about a quarter of the way there before bumping into friends, some of whom I’d not seen in ages. Now, this is a music festival, I know. And some of you might think I’m being slightly unprofessional by not seeing bands to speak to friends. Although, if you’ve read anything I’ve produced in the past, or even clocked the Rocky Horror reference, you’ve probably come to expect it. I’m not usually a social creature, I love losing myself in the music. But this is something I love about Slam Dunk. You can meet people you’ve not seen in ages, and the people they’re with, and before long, you’re deep in conversation about your friendship and the stories with your old friends, and telling some of those stories to people who’ve never heard them before. It’s a sense of camaraderie that you don’t get in many places. In fact, I would say that it’s almost exclusively unique to this festival. Meeting people, having a laugh and a drink with them, and just having a great time with (who are effectively) strangers.
It turned into a group of us going “Let’s go see Cute Is What We Aim For, that album was basically our soundtrack in ‘07/’08.” (That’s a tad paraphrased. There were more expletives than that.) So out went the plan. Cute Is What We Aim For, as previously mentioned, were a huge part of the soundtrack to my younger, teenage days. Specifically, the majority of “The Same Old Blood Rush with A New Touch”. So, when “There’s A Class for This” comes on, I’m entranced and get a little lost in the moment, my mind back in the churchyard with some now distant friends, singing this at the top of my lungs, and losing all or any inhibitions for the time being anyway…
Let’s just call this what it is. This is a love letter to live music. Specifically, “alternative” music. It shaped everyone in attendance across the weekend, and it’ll continue to allow us to lose all worries, even just for a few hours. It’s why we pay to see bands, and its why bands play for us.
I find myself talking to Kenta from Crossfaith, and shortly after them, Louise Distras herself. Normally, conversations don’t really stick out in my highlights of a music festival, but hearing her talk about playing music, standing up for what you believe in, and basically being so passionate about life, it’s absolutely incredible. She’s so pleasant, so honest, and seriously an incredible woman, who deserves all the good things that can be afforded to her.
With Confidence are next up on the plan, which I’ve almost totally disregarded up to this point. And oh, my word. Incredible seems to be cropping up a lot, so I’m going to try use a thesaurus. Stupendous. That’s a great word to describe Australia’s hottest exports. They’ve put the work in, touring almost nonstop, giving up potential careers as doctors, architects, etc., to tour the world, playing songs that are incredibly powerful, but will have you jumping/dancing along within seconds of hearing them play. I’m not going to draw comparisons, because you can make your own mind up. Please, give these guys your time. They are worth your time. "Voldemort" is an absolute belter, and is guaranteed to have you smiling and dancing. Their latest release, "Better Weather", is on my playlist for sure.
The next band I want to see are on their debut in the UK. You’ll have seen their insanely popular cover of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” on your Facebook feed in the last 6 months, guaranteed. They have a brilliant piece of art in their album (which isn’t covers), and so I’m hyped to see I Prevail live. Except, I didn’t anticipate how many people would share my feelings. I headed to the stage with 20 minutes to spare, and still, I cannot get to a position where I can see anything but the side of the stage, and by that point, I’m told by security that it’s so full in that stage, they’re asking people to move back, for safety reasons. Absolutely gutted, and proud at the same time, I head away from that stage and back to the Jägermeister stage, to see Deaf Havana, via a pit stop at the Key Club Stage to see a bit of Waterparks.
Deaf Havana. I’d never really understood the appeal around them until about a year or so ago, when I started to enjoy them. They truly are a tour de force when it comes to emotions. It’s all so personal, and yet so big. Even Rob from Don Broco is watching them from the side of the stage, and it looks like he’s enjoying it too. This is going to take something to follow this set. Every word is sung back at them, increasing the emotion of the moment, and raising spirits across the venue. Absolutely incredible (I lost the thesaurus, sorrynotsorry), and I hope to see this band continue to find themselves and push the ceiling ever higher, maybe going so far as to be headlining stages in the next year or two. They’ve definitely got the back catalogue and the backing of fans, as well as the potential to hook new fans.
We have a slight issue now. There’s 2 bands that I cannot miss. But they overlap slightly. So, I’m going to attempt to control myself and see them both. Clever, right? 20 minutes of one band, then to the other. With the exception of Enter Shikari, these are the two bands I was most excited about seeing. Set It Off are on at 20 past 8, and Madina Lake are on at 20 to 9.
Set It Off start promptly, and honestly, they are an incredible outfit. If you EVER get a chance to see them, and you like music, you need to take that chance with both hands, and quickly. Cody is one of the best all round frontmen around, and things only look to improve. Dan, Zach, and Maxx can hold their own too, and it's just one of many reasons why I genuinely love this band. “Why Worry” sets the tone for this set perfectly. This is precisely what I love about this band, they’re fun, and the good times just fly by, so it feels like mere seconds before I leave after “The Haunting”, expecting (and sort of hoping) to be turned away from the Impericon stage again, to go catch the last Madina Lake show I’ll ever see.
That’s not the case. And from the entrance to “The Auspice”, I’m taken back to screaming the lyrics at TeenCulture in 2007/08 (Like a rock club, but for teenagers back in the day), and in my bedroom, much to the chagrin of my parents and probably neighbours, who must have thought I was committing unspeakably violent things to cats. It was like foxes at night, a horrible noise.
That whole album ("From Us, Through Them, To You") was a large part of the soundtrack to my ten year ago youth self.
The Leone brothers have grown up. Gone are the white mops with black streaks, replaced with contemporary hairstyles, that matched only in style, but not colour. Part of me was expecting them to be completely unchanged, like they’d been cryogenically frozen and thawed out specifically for this moment, whereby they could get on with their post ML lives. The nostalgia was quickly replenished as they tore through the album, and the crowd too. I lost my mind a couple of times, as I remembered songs and the memories associated with them.
I’d seen the size of the crowds 15 minutes before acts on the Jägermeister stage, so I decided to run and find a place in the middle, with a mind to exploit the inevitable circle pits and such, to get toward the front. I am a huge fanboy for the headline act tonight, and tonight was going to be even more special. It’s Enter Shikari on their 10-year anniversary celebration of the one that started it all; “Take to The Skies”. I can’t believe that absolute monster of an album is 10. I remember being in a record store a few days before it came out, and getting excited then. I never got a chance to see them on that album cycle, unfortunately, they were still playing the tiniest venues around, so imagine how excited I was to see that this was happening.
“AND STILL WE WILL BE HERE; STANDING LIKE STATUES!” rings out around me, like a battle cry, before Rob, Chris, Rory, and Rou take to their stage. “Stand Your Ground; This Is Ancient Land” begins the night’s proceedings, and from the first syllable, they don’t need to do anything at all. They could have just dialled in a set, did the old cliché of “sing it for me” and just strutted about the stage. Not Enter Shikari. Never Enter Shikari. Rou flits around the stage, climbing, swinging his arms round, going insane, like everybody on the floor in front of him. There are smiles on all the faces in the room.
“Mothership” follows “Enter Shikari”, but doesn’t have a “step” version, it is just straight into it. That’s surreal. Every time I’ve seen them live, “Mothership” has been extended with an incredible EDM based intro (called Motherstep). “Anything Can Happen in The Next Half Hour” is a welcome addition to the regressive levels of pure nostalgia that’s taking place right now. The first line is just shudder inductive, and I’m devoid of any inhibitions, or hydration in my body. It’s a big, loud, sweaty mess of bodies and human pyramids, set to a light show that is amazingly done, perfectly timed.
Arguably the biggest single from “Take to The Skies”; the incomparable crowd pleaser and hand clap inducer of “Sorry, You’re Not a Winner” is in the middle of 2 songs that are odd choices for a celebration of TTTS in “The Last Garrison” and “Juggernauts”. Don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely adore those songs, and they were amazing, just unexpected, as they’re not on TTTS. Odd may be the wrong word. But anyway. THAT CLAP! To hear that amount of people do that clap… chills. Serious chills. But back to the circle pits and crowdsurfing.
The introduction of “No Sssweat” into the proceedings was like lighting a candle with the exhaust port of a fighter jet at full pelt, adding another level of chaos to the already impending ritual of chaotic mayhem with a renewed vigour (do you get the idea yet? Enter Shikari shows are mad fun), and to hear however many thousands of people shout, “DO THIS ONE MORE TIME AND I’LL BITE YOUR F###### FINGERS OFF!” was another moment of clarity devoid of inhibition, like an out of body experience.
“Anaesthetist” gets a run out, in an apt moment, with the General Election coming up shortly, and the imploration of getting the youth to go and vote, to get rid of the tories, to stop the de-nationalisation and privatisation of the National Health Service, followed by “Today Won’t Go Down in History”, but the jewel of the set is the eternally resonant “Jonny Sniper”, which followed a rendition of “Return to Energiser” that is accompanied by a light show that puts Blackpool illuminations to shame, with lasers making the stage look like a giant neon hedgehog. “Jonny Sniper” is very rarely seen live, though I hope that’ll change, and to be honest, it had me in tears.
As I said earlier, this is a love letter to music. Live music is incredible. “It has the power to raise a temple and tear it down”, as Frank Turner sings in “I Still Believe”. Enter Shikari sing “This is all I need to feel alive”, which is, to me, exactly what live music should do. It should instil that feeling that you are unbeatable, as long as there is music. Which links nicely into the next part of the set.
If you're reading this, you will no doubt know of the the unfathomable actions of one man, and his twisted ideology, who decided that it’d be a good idea to kill 22 people, and injure over 50 more. That’s trivialising it, I know, but you will have already formed your own thought process about it. But those events, as tragic as they are, no matter how they get twisted by the mainstream media, in whatever form you get your news, have realised and reaffirmed something incredible. You cannot stop live music. You cannot stop a community who have left their differences at the door, and are here together, to live and love and enjoy life, even if it’s only an hour or two.
It’s a sentiment that has run through the entirety of Slam Dunk, but is really homed in by Rou Reynolds, who leads a tribute in the form of Oasis’ “Half A World Away”, which is a truly poignant moment, that in the midst of all the chaos of circle pits and the like, really stuns everyone to silence for a brief moment before joining in a mass singalong.
That segues itself into another poignant song in the form of “Adieu”. Another tear jerking moment, and a message that just makes you want to hold the person you love most and never let go. And seriously, if you’re lucky enough to wake up next to/near the one that you love, tell them you love them. Call your parents, tell them too. Anyone that you love and cherish, let them know, and make sure they know. Anything can happen in the next half an hour, after all.
Wow, the was a touch more emotional than intended. The band leave the stage, but not for long. Sgt. Rolfy (Rob) leaves his drumset and takes the microphone. There are words of thanks, a quick mention of the tour in November and then the encore starts.
“Redshift” is the beginning of the end, and calls for whatever voice you may have left, to join in with the massive singalong hook. “OK, TIME FOR PLAN B” follows it, renewing the venom and mayhem, before “The Appeal and The Mindsweep II” closes proceedings in the way that only Shikari seem to be capable of, with Rory and Chris (I think, I ended up quite far back by this point) in the crowd, and Rou’s guitar stuck in the lighting rig.
All in all, Slam Dunk was incredible More so than I had anticipated. The people, the bands, the atmosphere. In spite of everything that happened in the week leading up to it, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and there were smiles all across the day, with little to no issues anywhere, which was refreshing. Bring on next year's festival. I might have to buy a megaticket to see everyone I want to see.
All photos were provided by the incredible Hollie V Turner. If you use them anywhere, please credit her accordingly.