LIVE: Slam Dunk Festival 2017

By Glen Bushell

Slam Dunk is one of the UK’s most successful and loved alternative festivals. Held over the May Bank Holiday weekend, the festival travelled from Birmingham to their hometown of Leeds down to Hatfield with a plethora of new and exciting bands, ready to make their mark on this festival, as well as with established artists who were raring to carry on the party.

The Punktastic team headed down for the last date, held at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, to see what went down.

Words: Jess Tagliani, Christopher Lee, Becky Mount / Photos: Penny Bennett

The Fireball Stage is a far from gentle reminder to never underestimate the popularity of ska. Not that we ever did, but it’s 2017 and people are still losing their mind the moment Goldfinger break into ‘Superman’. Can you blame them? Because, you know, that snare. And what’s great about the Fireball Stage is its unrelenting dedication to nostalgia. How else do you explain Fenix Tx opening with ‘Phoebe Cates’. It may have been 15 years since they first disbanded (and with only two full lengths under their belt) but the response is nothing short of impressive. It’s a short but sweet return for Fenix Tx but all is forgiven thanks to the sentimental singalongs that were absolutely the best way to start our weekend. [BM]

One of the first bands to kick off the festival on the Breakout Stage are Casey, and this quintet bring their own, unique brand of emotional poetry to the stage. It’s heart-wrenching to hear the strangled lyrics of ‘Little Bird’ but the meticulous and perfect guitar work offsets Tom Weaver’s plaintive cries, while the piano-led ‘Teeth’ is an incredibly dark and haunting track. [JT]

‘La Di Da’ is a shot of energy from VUKOVI; the adrenaline throughout this song is nothing short of incredible and intense. Janine is a natural front-woman – full of charm and wit, with bags of talent to boot. Her vocal range is fiery, complementing the thunderous riffs that are the driving force behind the likes of ‘Weirdo’. Bouncy and quirky, VUKOVI deliver a very fun set indeed. [JT]

In what is surely one of the most chaotic performances of the weekend, Japanese metal crew, Crossfaith, bring with them an unparalleled energy. From the first minute to the last, their furious set is matched by the huge crowd who have come to bear witness to these crazy but insanely talented musicians and to lose their minds along with them. Frontman Kenya Koie almost commands the crowd through their set as each track comes and goes to a backdrop of mosh pits and jumping, but the highlights come in the shape of Beartooth’s Caleb Shomo joining the guys on stage for a rendition of ‘Ghost In The Mirror’. The place descends into chaos as they power through an expert cover of The Prodigy’s ‘Omen’, much to the delight of all here. It may only be a short but sweet set, but Crossfaith have done what they do best and delivered 35 minutes of pure electricity. [CL]

He’s a legend in his own right, and John Feldmann did well to put to rest any thoughts about the future of Goldfinger. Their 45 minute set is fit to burst with the hits, so to speak, and yes that does include two covers. Not many bands could get away with it yet they slot in perfectly with the almost-exhausting energy of the band and act as a little sweetener to the inevitable (but welcome) anti-Trump rhetoric. There’s a reason Goldfinger have been around since the dawn of time. [BM]

In the most emotional performance of the day, We Are The Ocean return to Slam Dunk for not only the final time but alas, the last time they will ever grace a stage anywhere ever and from the outset the Essex lads give us a glimpse of just what we’ll be missing out on once they’re gone. Much to the delight of everyone, the masses have turned out to see them off and are given a treat as frontman Liam Cromby’s vocals are as exquisite as ever as they roll back the years with a career spanning set full of fan favourites. There’s even time for festival organiser Ben Ray to make an appearance on stage to deliver a trophy to the guys for being the band to hold the record for most appearances at Slam Dunk. As the final ever set draws to a close with a powerful rendition of ‘Nothing Good Has Happened Yet’ there isn’t a dry eye on stage or in the crowd. Thank you for the memories We Are The Ocean, we are in your debt. [CL]

Reel Big Fish. Not a lot more needs saying, really, you already know where this is going. The heavens open for the first time this weekend but no amount of rain can stop the Hawaiian shirts or brass section. They’re certified Slam Dunk veterans and yes, it’s a tried and tested formula of ‘Beer’, ‘Everyone Else Is An Asshole’ and high tempo covers (an unofficial ska rule, apparently) but it’s infectious and it’s fun and that’s what we’re here for. [BM]

Blackpool’s finest, Boston Manor, up the ante on the Key Club Stage with their raw and emotional pop-punk. Huge sing-alongs can be heard throughout the room as the likes of ‘Lead Feet’ reverberate around the walls. These guys know how to do slick riffs and awe-inspiring drum work – each track is absolutely huge. Boston Manor’s slot on this stage is incredibly well-deserved and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if they were bumped up onto the Main Stage in the very near future. [JT]

London rockers, Counterfeit, make their debut at Slam Dunk and they’ve arrived with one goal and one goal only; tear the Impericon stage a new one. Save for a section in the middle, the packed room take a song or two to get into their rhythm but once there they let loose as do the band. If you’ve ever seen Counterfeit before you’ll know that they very rarely confine themselves to the stage and today is no different. Smashing through their set with a raw energy that has earned them an army of fans and set them apart from their peers, the new kids on the block more than prove their worth. There’s barely a second to breath during their 35 minutes which is filled with tracks from their recent debut album ‘Together We Are Stronger’ which concludes with a topless Jamie Bower performing in the middle of the crowd surrounded by their fans. Counterfeit have cleared yet another hurdle on their quest to become on of the UK’s premier rock bands. [CL]

Norfolk rockers Deaf Havana return to play a monumental set on the main stage this year. Having released arguably their best material to date with their new album, ‘All These Countless Nights’. And true to form they power through no less than seven tracks from it during the course of their set. Who could blame them though; this album has seen them become one of the UK’s premier rock bands and fortunately for the packed crowd at the main stage they’ve got the skills to expertly deliver an equally exceptional live set. Vocalist and Guitar player extraordinaire, James Veck-Gilodi, has a way of capturing your attention with his harmonies that seem to penetrate deep into the soul. With every single member of the crowd singing along at every given opportunity, few in attendance will be forgetting this set for a long time. [CL]

Every time Turnover take to the stage, it’s easy to forget it’s only been four years since they dropped their debut full length. With their sound having evolved fairly quickly, it’s no wonder that the majority of their (brief) set is lifted from ‘Peripheral Vision’ but are we complaining? No. Everything still sounds just as hazy and just as beautiful as it did two years ago when we first heard it. Sure, that post-punk, shoegazer tag is thrown a lot these days but Turnover show that even in the confines of an oversubscribed subgenre they shine brighter than most. [BM]

On the Jagermeister Main Stage, Bury Tomorrow crush speed and aggression together to bring tunes such as ‘Earthbound’ to the festival. It’s always a welcome sight to see this utterly brilliant quintet grace the stage at Slam Dunk and this year is no different. ‘Sceptres’ burns with power, and the vocal interplay between Dani Winter-Bates and Jason Cameron is jaw-dropping. One of the best and brightest metal bands of the UK scene, Bury Tomorrow have brought the party today. [JT]

Having recently signed to Rise Records and finished recording their debut album, The Gospel Youth have set about capturing the hearts and minds of the rock community. To their credit they’ve taken this new chapter in their stride and seem to feed on the love that they receive from their adoring fans. Sub headlining the Breakout stage is a perfect fit for the guys as the self proclaimed kings of sadness & sassiest fill up the room easily, there’s even a number of people unable to get in which while it may suck for them is testament to just how good these guys are. Sam Little’s rasping vocals are undoubtedly a major factor for this however his ability to deliver them with finesse coupled with their lyrics that touch on the vulnerabilities of the human race are something some bands out there could only dream of creating. They now swap England for the United States as they spend the summer on the warped tour but we certainly can’t wait for them to get back and treat us to another emotionally charged set. [CL]

Two albums into a post-My Chem world, Frank Iero and The Patience take to the Signature Brew stage as part of a line up so continuously great, we’re not sure how we managed to venture to other stages. And their set is everything you’d want it to be; it’s honest and heartfelt whilst still feeling raucous with more than enough punk undertones that it almost make you forget the seminal subject matter of each and every song. It’s a raw, cathartic performance that gets us more than excited to see what Frank is going to get up to next. [BM]

The Uprawr stage offers a little respite for the afternoon, with an annual dedication to some of the best acoustic acts around. With the likes of The Lion and The Wolf and Grumble Bee onboard, it’s a shame that this absolute gem of a stage wraps up around 5pm but luckily the stellar line up helps to ease the pain. [BM]

Beartooth’s set is absolute carnage from start to end; bodies are flying and mosh pits are opening up left, right and centre. Visceral energy shines through during ‘Fairweather Friend’ and creates an earth-shaking atmosphere, full of blistering riffs, thunderous drum work and brutally raw vocals from Caleb Shomo. Stepping up onto the Main Stage for this year’s Slam Dunk was a well-deserved effort for Beartooth, especially as they suit this stage very, very well. [JT]

While frontman Vinnie Caruana is certainly no stranger to Slam Dunk, having played a number of times over recent years in one form or the other, The Movielife are certainly an exception to this having not played a UK festival since Reading & Leeds way back in 2003. What with the band being on hiatus for such a long period of time it might come as no surprise that there unfortunately isn’t a huge turn out for the guys. It’s also not helped by their stage time clashing with with a number of other bands such as Don Broco, Less Than Jake and The Bronx. To their credit however Vinnie, Brendan & co put on an expert set for the fans that have made the effort to be there. Huge hits such as ‘Hand Grenade’ and ‘Jamestown’ go down with the rapture they deserve and with a new album due later this year this was just the thing the guys needed to ease their way back into the swing of things. Let’s hope we get to see The Movielife back again soon. [CL]

You’d think making all our early 2000 dreams come true by announcing a fully fledged comeback would be enough for The Movielife, but apparently not; both frontman Vinnie Caruana and guitarist Brandon Reilly treat us to acoustic sets. With setlists boasting tracks from their solo endeavours – I Am The Avalanche and Nightmare Of You, respectively – the term side project feels more than a little inappropriate. Both veterans in their own rights, the likes of ‘Green Eyes’, ‘Dear Scene, I Wish I Were Dead’ and ‘Brooklyn Dodgers’ translate just as well as any full band set and it serves as a nice reminder of just how much the scene owes to The Movielife, whatever band and whichever way you want to look at it. [BM]

Slam Dunk are hosting many nostalgic bands this year and Madina Lake are among them. Their emo anthems, such as ‘In Another Life’ and ‘Adalia’, sees the room bring transported back to 2007 when this band first burst onto the scene. It’s a set full of nostalgia, strengthened by their tight musicianship, beautiful harmonies and melodic hooks, and is a set that really tugs on the heartstrings. [JT]

Headlining the Signature Brew stage are Gainesville punk band Against Me! Whilst the band do have a huge following it was always going to be difficult to draw in a huge crowd with Enter Shikari stealing the show on the main stage, but Laura Jane Grace & co mean business and they quickly set about putting on one hell of a show. Using their hour set to it’s fullest they play through no less than 17 tracks including hits ‘True Trans Soul Rebel’, ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues’ and finishing on an incredible rendition of ‘Black me Out’ that sees every single member of the crowd singing at the top of their lungs.

It’s almost as if every song is perfectly fitted to be lived through by band and fans alike in a festival environment. The connection between the two is magnetic as the band feed of the crowd’s energy and vice versa creating an atmosphere that gives you goosebumps. They may not command the huge crowd that the spectacle and lasers of the main stage, but the more intimate setting is the perfect way to witness Against Me! [CL]

The festival has saved the best for last in the form of Enter Shikari, and do they deliver a jaw-dropping set or what! Packed with anthems old and new, Enter Shikari take the crowd on a whirlwind and emotional trip down memory lane, from ‘Take to the Skies’ right up to ‘The Mindsweep’. Pulsing synths, crashing drum work and slick riffs come together in the form of ‘The Last Garrison’, whilst the nostalgia is dialled up during the likes of ‘Sorry, You’re Not a Winner’ and ‘Mothership’.
However, the group also use their time to pay tribute to those who died in the Manchester attacks, just a week beforehand, with a touching rendition of ‘Half the World Away’, which is bittersweet and unites the crowd, reminding each and every person that music brings people from every different walk of life together.

The quartet also use their stage time to talk about the upcoming election. Never one to shy away from politics, frontman Rou Reynolds is bold and impassioned as he delivers a motivational speech, asking the young people in the crowd to turn out for the election as “we have the chance to make a change.” This small but powerful speech ignites a fire in the belly of the crowd and sees Enter Shikari carry on rolling through their monster set, whipping everyone up into a frenzy with their adrenaline-fuelled anthems ‘Juggernauts’ and ‘Anaesthetist’.

Signing off with ‘Ok, Time for Plan B’, Enter Shikari close another very successful Slam Dunk and, as people start leaving the grounds in droves, there’s hope written on the faces of every person who was able to witness their powerful set. [JT]