The end of May has been a slur for many political slogans with the upcoming snap election but for those excited about the approach of the festival season, it is read in a more literal sense as the inevitability of the award-winning Slam Dunk festival’s return, starting off with the Midlands date located in and around Birmingham’s NEC arena.
Entering the site, it was immediately noticeable that the alterations in stage location and set-up had rapidly reduced the huge congestion endured from 2016’s Midlands date. Meaning, it was incredibly easy to reach the first destination of the day, which was the Monster stage.
Opening for the day in the vicinity was none other than the Canadian punk rock entourage, Like Pacific. Stepping out in front of their audience, vocalist Jordan Black immediately began performing high leaps into the air, in an attempt to build adrenaline as the rest of the band has their backs turned in meditation before following him in an energetic stride. Tracks like Distant and Richmond are surely nothing short of fine, un-tampered slices of pop punk, and were a pleasure to see performed with Chris Thaung calling out individuals as he swung his black Fender back and forth, plugging thick bass licks as the band soldiered on through a triumphant set, opening the day on a successful note.
Moving through to the Signature Brew stage, the lines for drinks were expected to be a long drawn out nuisance but the separate queues for card machines were stacking up to be the same length, leaving loads of patrons stuck tediously waiting for some extra cash and missing the early afternoons music selection.
Sorority Noise’s Adam Ackerman may appear to be in an emo indie rock band, but his wonderful stage presence suits that of someone who should be plugging insane metal riffs in Download festival. It was a rarity when his beautiful Gibson axe guitar stayed by his waist as it was lifted high in a defiant metal horn manner, while Cameron Boucher serenaded the cold crowd with No Halo.
The huge hall for the Jagermeister stage was already filled with the eager music community, and it was only half two in the afternoon. The reason was simply because Crossfaith’s reputation for owning any platform they cross had spread fast and far, with no exception for their incoming performance. The dramatic violin introduction of System X soaked the air of the arena in anticipation, before the mammoth electronicore anthem Xeno raised pulses and the public quite literally off the ground as they pounded the speakers with bold guitar riffs and impressive drum work.
The intensity of the atmosphere seemed to act as a catalyst and filtered through to every crevice of the event, with live shows growing in passion and diverse musical arrangements. Counterfeit were one such example of a group who have been rarely known to disappoint their audience. Not three songs in to their set and frontman Jamie Campbell Bower was already attempting to tear his way from the other side of the barrier, acknowledged to take great pleasure in the close proximity. Slight sound problems at the beginning were quickly resolved for the five-piece to thoroughly deliver a knock-out concert.
Walking around the corner from Impericon, the Rocksound Breakout stage had been offering some of the best new acts currently appearing from across the UK and Nottingham outfit Area 11 were ready in the wings to prove their worth. The Contract exemplified Sparkles’ singing range and the rich blend of synth and hard rock the quartet wield, flowing straight into the catchy Versus. Also dipping into their debut album All The Lights In The Sky, those pressed against the barrier certainly received what they had come to see.
Evening was slowly setting in and although members of the throng were slowly feeling the effects, it was time to enjoy rolling waves of crowd surfers and a razor-edge beatdown of political-fuelled hardcore. Stray From The Path’s Tom Williams rang out the memorable opening notes of Subliminal Criminals‘ first track The New Gods and all at once, hell broke loose with the words “How can you justify all the lives you fucked up?”.
Latest single The House Always Wins on the latest presidential election and Badge & A Bullet pt 2‘s on-the-nose revolution forced mosh pits to open and followers to scream the lyrics in insubordinate tongues. Regardless of Rou Reynolds not making an appearance for his feature in Eavesdropper, this band remains a powder keg itching for the match.
No one has quite created the groovy rock vibe that Don Broco have progressively developed but it is a trait that is now associated heavily with the group and their iconic sound. It can be a difficult choice when it comes down to what song to start a gig with but Everybody was the perfect song to not only demonstrate their love for a bopping beat but to also send the huge mass of slam dunkers into a dancing frenzy.
Rob Damiani was certainly all smiles as he bounced around the stage and leapt down to the barrier to embrace those who were singing their hardest, whilst Tom Doyle and Simon Delaney plucked away at their instruments with pink and yellow lights wrapping around everything they touched. Matt Donnelly was a pleasure to watch play as his striking vocals burst out while beating drums with a number of tracks, such as the exceedingly catchy Money Power Fame.
The long Saturday was coming to a close and was ushered in by the bass reverberation that heavily blew over the speakers and launched into the vast hall, surging a deafening cry of excitement from front to back before the stage lights turned to black and suddenly illuminated four figures, waiting to begin their celebration of Take To The Skies.
Enter Shikari consistently prove that no matter where they play, it should be to a larger capacity and a location that meets their insane talent, performing the quintessential album that catapulted their careers light years forward. From the epic synth orchestra of Labryinth, to the rock club regular Sorry You’re Not A Winner, the electric ambience was lifted to such a height that it eventually epitomised the title of the contemporary catalogue that was accompanied by one remarkable lightshow of lasers and god lamps.
Although the last sets of the night were finishing up, one band from everyone’s childhood were beckoning the exhausted remnants to join them at the Fireball Stage, to indulge in debauchery, scandalous affairs and to enjoy “the greatest band ever to have lived”.
Bowling For Soup’s Jaret Reddick sported a black shirt simply reading ‘Manchester’ in big, bold text as he strummed his patriotically painted Music Man Axis guitar with finely tuned precision and severe sarcasm. Among a million small qualities that make these four men such a unique pleasure to watch, the band members have a tendency to get carried away with their conversations (which is certainly responsible for the majority of their humorous aspect). Discussing random, warm and wonderfully vulgar topics such as genital lice, apple-scented hangovers (tasting Strongbow for the first time), penis sizes and Chris Burney’s birthday, it proved to be one of the most intimate and outlandish acts of the day.
When you have a setlist that comprises of The Bitch Song, Emily, High School Never Ends and Punk Rock 101, it is difficult to fathom a disappointing evening but to hear them in a faster tempo compared to their original recordings, it was like listening to ska versions of the classics that graciously dragged out the last traces of energy from its occupants. Finishing on 1985, the band unexpectedly stopped mid-song, put down their instruments and moved to the barrier to pose for photographs with their drinks.
Watching people wrestle for their phones may have been quite amusing but the respects given for the recent Manchester atrocities were heart warming to say the least. Honoured by many different bands over the day, there were two which proved to be the most touching. Enter Shikari’s moving Oasis cover of Half The World Away and Bowling For Soup’s unexpected serious and sincere point of music uniting so many, closed the Midlands date on a faultless note.
Slam Dunk 2017NEC Arena, Manchester - May 27 2017
Photographer: Nathan Roach - Coal Poet Photography