LIVE: Slam Dunk Festival 2014

By Chris Marshman

It’s that time of year again… Slam Dunk is consistently one of the best weekends of the year and is typically the festival we look at to kick off festival season properly in the UK. We decided to spend our time at the South event this year (with Lais being super hardcore and doing both North and South) and here’s our review.

We had a fucking fantastic couple of days and we’re already counting down the days to Slam Dunk 2015.

There’s a fair share of ska-punk on this year’s Slam Dunk line-up, but Fandangle’s incessantly energetic brass-filled affair is arguably the most authentic. With trumpets, trombones and saxophones underpinning the sound, their international line-up makes for a distinct air of British with a stateside twist. Frontman Adam Bantz controls the stage with ease, and the crowd throw themselves into it enough to incite an early morning circle-skank-pit. Even if ska isn’t your thing, it’s impossible to deny just how much fun this is. [BEN]

There’s always a danger when bands who rely so heavily on their melodic sound take to an outside stage such as this. Ultimately though, there is no need for worry. Other than some questionable echoed effects on Luke Prebble’s microphone, Canterbury sound as majestic as they do in an intimate setting. Frontman Mike Sparks hits all the right notes, and the particularly rousing tones of ‘Expensive Imitation’ or ‘Think It Over’ perfectly accompany the sunshine. [BEN]

It’s immediately clear that Decade have come a long way in recent months, particularly in terms of their stage presence. Alex Sears toys with the audience, traversing the stage with an almost arrogant swagger. Even their delivery is accomplished, managing to sound crisp and clean in the comparably large Macbeth Stage. Despite all of this, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that this hasn’t been done before. In a live setting more so than on CD, there isn’t a standout track to break from the pop-rock-punk formula that’s been rehashed by many before them. There’s nothing inherently wrong, but at least for now, Decade are missing that all-important edge. [BEN]

A Loss For Words are my first band of the day and for me, there was no better way to kick it off. The band are incredibly fun live, whether it’s a frienzied singalong to ‘Wrightsville Beach’ or a reflective moment during ‘Mount St. Joseph’ A Loss For Words are bloody excellent today. [CHRIS]

Second only to todays headliners, State Champs easily draw the biggest crowd of the Atticus stage. Their brand of pop punk seems to have hit a chord and the band look set to be the next big pop punk band out of America. Today’s performance perfectly shows why. It’s outstanding. It’s energetic and tight. The band exude enthusiasm and the crowd send it back tenfold. The set ending ‘Elevated’ sees the band and crowd take it up a notch for crowd surfing galore. [CHRIS]

Set of the day. So so so fucking good

A video posted by Chris Marshman (@chrismarshman) on

The crowd is initially thin for I Am The Avalanche but the beauty of Slam Dunk is that as soon as one band finishes the crowd are ready to see another and by the time Vinnie Caruana and co. take to the stage, the Macbeth stage his filled out respectably and those in attendance witness something awesome. I Am The Avalanche are professional fucking rock stars and they show it here, every song sounds huge, especially ‘Holy Fuck’ and ‘The Shape I’m In.’ IATA are always an absolute incredible joy to watch and this is no exception. [CHRIS]

Real Friends are still garnering the biggest reaction from any crowd for their ballad, ‘I’m Giving Up On You’, and their late-afternoon set on the Atticus Stage is no different. Still, there’s something particularly electric about a room belting back every word, and there’s certainly no absence of enthusiastic crowd surfers and mosh-pitters elsewhere in the set. Not quite pulling in the huge crowd that State Champs did earlier in the day, it’s frontman Dan Lambton’s exuberant expression and the neigh on perfect pop-punk that should see the band graduate to bigger festival slots in the years to come. [BEN]

Feed The Rhino don’t get a fantastic turnout to the Cheer Up stage up North today, which is a damn shame because they absolutely rip it up. Frontman Lee Tobin is like a mad ball of rage, hurtling himself around the stage and throwing himself around the room. Feed The Rhino thrive at intimate shows and every single person in the room comes away feeling like they’ve seen an electric live band. [LAIS]

Chatting with Motion City Soundtrack in the sun to kick off the interviews today! #ptslamdunk

A photo posted by Punktastic (@punktastic) on

Sunshine and fresh air just after finishing our interview duties for the afternoon is a perfect match, and listening to consistent crowd-pleasers from Motion City Soundtrack was more than just the icing on the cake. There aren’t many better ways to spend your time at a festival, and despite being a little hampered by the patchy sound from the Jager stage, they did not disappoint. Instigating interspersed dance parties across a very busy field with their fully loaded hit machine that blasted the inimitable “When You’re Around”, “Her Words Destroyed My Planet” and “Broken Heart” and many others right at the crowd was exactly what we needed to kick the evening off. Lovely stuff. [JESS]

Singalongs were the order of the day thanks to Rob Lynch and his now-traditional stint on the acoustic stage. Predictably sweltering, the greenhouse that is the Stylus pushed most towards the bar for refreshment but nothing stopped tunes being belted out by Rob and wide-smiling crowd alike. [JESS]

Making his UK debut over Slam Dunk weekend is Ben Liebsch of You Me and Everyone We Know who people have been waiting to see for a very long time. Liebsch’s voice is incredibly on point throughout with the crowd doing their bit and filling in on the missing trumpets from the likes of “The Next 20 Minutes” as he reaches the end of the set Liebsch is cajoled into an encore of sorts providing a great rendition of “A Little Bit More” which goes down an absolute storm. Fantastic set. [CHRIS]

We Are The In Crowd are playing on the main stage this weekend, and despite the rain outside, they manage to bring some sunshine to this room. Frontwoman Taylor Jardine is fantastically energetic and a pleasure to watch, as always. The only slight flaw is that her vocals aren’t perfect tonight, but fellow vocalist Jordan Eckes sounds spot on. His strong voice carries the performance. Tonight’s highlight is WATIC’s massive banger ‘The Best Thing (That Never Happened)’. A lot of fun. [LAIS]

Now definitely no strangers to stages of this size – if anything, the Jagermeister sponsored Main Stage is looking tiny compared to their significant festival jaunts last summer – Mallory Knox deliver their standard onslaught of catchy melodic rock. Setlist stalwarts such as ‘Death Rattle’ and closer ‘Lighthouse’ push the onlookers into a near-frenzy, and the appearance of ‘Ghost In The Mirror’ adds a new element to their performance despite it being comparably unknown to many in the crowd. The questionable appearance of ‘1949’ knocks the mood a little, but for melody driven Knox, ballads are always going to be on the cards. It’s a great performance, but then that’s what we have come to expect – now is the time for some punchier material. [BEN]

The Ghost Inside seem to be gathering some deserved hype at the moment, because they are one of the best live bands around. They play the Monster stage today, and the sun shines down on them and their furiously moshing audience. With songs like ‘The Great Unknown’ off their fantastic album ‘Get What You Give’, it’s no wonder that people love them. They tear the stage into shreds today, and it’s clear that more people need to realise just how great they are. [LAIS]

Letlive. have established a reputation as one of the best live bands around, and it’s completely justified. Frontman Jason Butler is an absolute lunatic onstage (in the best way possible) and it’s almost impossible to tear your eyes away from him. Tonight they play in the Monster tent and it’s an incredibly sweaty affair. A combination of riproaring songs and meaningful words, Letlive. are compelling as always. [LAIS]

There are few bands better than Less Than Jake to finish off a festival with, and many of team Punktastic did just that. Their unrivalled approach to the bouncier end of pop punk remains an absolute blast, and left nothing to be desired. Between calling the big lads called on stage for a dance and crowd-based shirtless elite left using their tees for a terrible towel interpretation in the crowd, many of us were left without doubt where the party was at Hatfield. [JESS]

Kids In Glass Houses released their debut album ‘Smart Casual’ in May 2008. Six years on, they’re playing it in full at their last Slam Dunk North ever. The band will split for good after their last shows in October, so every show they play is a meaningful one for everyone involved. Tonight they headline the Atticus stage, and it’s an unbelievable performance. ‘Smart Casual’ was (and still is) an utterly incredible album, and it’s amazing to see some of the album tracks performed. Tonight’s highlight is probably the wonderful ‘Lovely Bones’, which hasn’t been played enough. They play the full album to rapturous applause, before playing a couple of songs off second album ‘Dirt’ and ending on the anthemic ‘Matters At All’. Nights like tonight emphasise just why Kids In Glass Houses will be missed when they’re gone. Long live KIGH.[LAIS]

Considering Bury Tomorrow clash with festival headliners The All-American Rejects (not to mention Kids In Glass Houses etc), they draw an impressive amount of people to the Monster stage tonight. With new album ‘Runes’ out this week, they are set to gain even more fans. Despite the sound being a little dodgy tonight (the joys of outdoor stages), Bury Tomorrow are on fire as always. Making the crowd do a wall of death from the front to the back is incredibly entertaining, and people mosh so hard the trees are swaying from start to finish. Ending on the fantastic ‘Royal Blood’ is a great choice, and everyone goes away satisfied. Bravo. [LAIS]

Closing things down on what has been a pretty special day is a pretty special set from Vinnie Caruana on the acoustic stage. The set spans his career ranging from his solo work and I Am The Avalanche to a few songs from The Movielife. Everybody in this room knows just how much of a veteran Caruana is and each song gets a great reaction with Caruana himself beaming from ear to ear for the duration of the set. An absolutely perfect way to round off an incredible day. [CHRIS]

The All-American Rejects have been subjected to some criticism (justified or not) over the last few years. ‘Kids In The Street’ was welcomed by a mixed reception, and their support slots for blink-182 in 2012 divided the crowds. Come Slam Dunk, and they are likely to do the same. Frontman Tyson Ritter berates the audience with offensive remarks, and a challenging distaste for women, fame and his career – all the while under the eye-rolling watch of his fellow bandmates. It’s difficult to separate his cringe worthy “banter” from what is in essence an excellent performance.

Ignoring his outbursts, set opener ‘Dirty Little Secret’, ‘My Paper Heart’, ‘Swing Swing’ and various other singles have the expected effect on the predominantly inebriated audience, and even initially odd setlist choices such as encore opener ‘Gonzo’ match the mood perfectly. More importantly, it’s largely note perfect – both from the musicians and from Ritter, who himself has drawn most of the controversy in the past. It’s impossible to forgive him for his awkwardly backward take on life, but musically, this is an excellent way to close off the day. Performance wise, this wouldn’t go amiss on one of the larger festival’s main stage. [BEN]