Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Slam Dunk South 2016 - 30/05/2016

This was my third time attending Slam Dunk festival and it's always been the highlight of my year. Since Panic! at the Disco were announced as headliners way back in November I knew it was going to be an extremely special day, but my excitement has been rocketing up over the past few weeks as I've discovered more bands to look forward to.

Because PVRIS were the last main stage openers, it feels as though Moose Blood should have been higher up on the bill - they're a UK act and they've gathered such a dedicated fan following over the last couple of years. They easily drew one of the biggest crowds of the day, which isn't surprising when you consider that they filled the Fresh Blood stage to capacity when they headlined it last year.
However, hundreds of people were still queuing to get in when they started; the band could have easily drawn double the amount of people to their set if they'd been able to get there.
Starting with brand new song 'Honey' was a mistake. It was the only new song that made it into the set, so the rest of their stage time was just a standard Moose Blood set, the likes of which the majority of the audience had already seen. The band released brand new song 'Knuckles' on Radio 1 this evening, which would have been a perfect inclusion in their Slam Dunk set and it would have allowed them to really measure the reaction to their new songs. 'Honey' has only been out for a matter of weeks and a large proportion of the crowd already knew most of the words, proving that the new music is being accepted just as eagerly as the old; it would have been interesting to see if the other new songs went down just as well.
While the rest of the set was predictable, it was still beautifully performed. I had to miss two songs in the middle while I ran down to coldrain (I have it on good authority that the setlist below is accurate) but it was difficult to walk away. Eddy Brewerton is so damned charismatic that it's difficult not to be absorbed as soon as he walks on to a stage, made even sweeter by the fact that there's not an iota of cockiness in his persona: he's a humble guy who's found himself in an extraordinary situation and couldn't be more thankful.
'Blush' will finally be released in August - you don't want to miss it.

Swim Down
I Hope You're Missing Me
Chin Up
I Hope You're Miserable 

It was difficult to walk away from Moose Blood's set, but after missing coldrain when they opened for Bullet For My Valentine I was determined to catch a bit of their set. They suffered from their early stage time, having a much smaller crowd than I'd expected, but the people that were there were extremely energetic, and the band put on a great performance. I only saw a couple of their songs, but I'm interested in hearing more from these guys.

If Slam Dunk had been a month later, With Confidence's set would have been much better attended. The room was full (they're one of the most recent signings to Hopeless Records, so that's not shocking!) but when debut album 'Better Weather' releases on June 17th it's going to get So. Much. Bigger.
I featured With Confidence on one of my New Music Monday posts soon after they were signed and I've been keeping an eye on them since. The closer the album gets, the more songs they release and the more excited I find myself.
I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay for their entire set, but I made it all the way up the three flights of stairs to the tiny Fresh Blood stage and managed to catch the start of newest single 'Keeper'. Standing at the back of the room and watching the crowd explode was sheer insanity; you don't get that reaction with new bands too often, but With Confidence mean a lot to a lot of people already. Vocalist Jayden Seeley shared that they "were a bit worried because this room is off to the side a bit, we didn't know if anyone would be able to find it, but this is fucking beautiful!" and it really was, particularly for how early in the day they performed.
In the excitement of the day and seeing so many bands, I almost managed to forget about With Confidence - don't judge me! But despite the fact that they nearly slipped my mind, I was sat at my desk today humming to myself: one lyric stuck on repeat in my head all day, a phrase that was pop with a bite to it. I was surprised when I figured it out and it was 'Keeper', but that's testament to the fact that they write extremely songs: I challenge you to listen to it and not have that chorus stuck in your head for days.
I managed to hear a song from each of their eras during the beginning of their set - from the brand new 'Keeper' back to 'Tonight', from their debut EP - and I'm going to need to explore their back catalogue thoroughly because there wasn't a dull moment. I would have loved to stay for their whole set, but I'm hoping to see them when they open for Knuckle Puck and Real Friends in December.  

Take Me Away
Godzilla (*)
London Lights (*)
We'll Be Okay (*)

(*) setlist according to

Listen to 'Bulletproof' here - an instant hit.

Daughter of the Sea
Speaking in Tonuges
Rising Up
Winter Kiss
Brother in Arms (*)
Bones (*)
I Want Out (*)

(*) setlist according to

Waterparks set was my most anticipated of the day. After featuring them on New Music Monday I couldn't help buying 'Cluster', the EP they released back in January. It's all I've listened to for the past two weeks... There's just something about this band. They're going to be huge.
As well as this being Waterparks first appearance at Slam Dunk, it was their first time ever playing outside of America - I was grateful to be a part of the experience. It was obvious that they were still nervous despite this being their third date, but watching them setting up you could see the excitement building between the trio. Vocalist Awsten Knight was determined to get a fog machine, convincing vape-users to get up on stage with them, but when one of the staff told him that vaping wasn't allowed in the room he protested his innocence, shouting "I'm sorry, I don't make the rules! You were almost the best human fog machine I've ever had!".
It was a funny start to what became a hilarious set. There were a few issues with technical stuff towards the beginning of the set - things that were out of the band's control, but quickly got resolved - and everything was going smoothly until the end of 'Silver', when guitarist Geoff Wigington got a little too enthusiastic and broke his guitar strap. Awsten started talking to the crowd, explaining that they were from America "if you can't tell by me saying y'all and being ignorant of most things", joking that he liked England because "y'alls money's tight. We went to the Queen's house too!". Asking if anyone had met the Queen he was left disappointed, but he shared the fact that he once chased Adam Lazzara around at Projekt Revolution, running alongside his golf kart on the opposite side of the fence before meeting him in a signing tent later and begging him to hang out with him.
It was the smartest thing he could have said. The crowd had been getting a little restless, wondering who the blue-haired punk was and why he was rambling up on stage, but in that moment everyone was on his side. People were shouting out other anecdotes about famous people, and when Awsten shared that he'd been trying to meet Brendon Urie for three days he was heartbroken to find that a girl in the front row had already met him. Awsten saying "I'm straight I guess, but if I was gonna go gay for a dude it would be Brendon Urie" got more cheers than a fair few of the bands that I saw in the day!
Things have changed incredibly for Waterparks in the past year, but they're still extremely down to earth, and Awsten proved that with his conversation with the crowd. Being able to build up a rapport with the crowd that quickly when it's your first time even going to another country, let alone playing there? That's an impressive skill. Checking if Geoff had fixed his strap yet, he quipped "I'm not that charismatic, I can't carry on a conversation with this many people!", but Awsten has a natural, easy personality that makes him impossible not to like. Whereas some of the sets throughout the day featured hardly any interaction with the crowd, Geoff's strap breaking gave the audience a chance to get to know the guys as people rather than just performers: it made the set very memorable indeed.
'Cluster' was only released in the UK in the last few days of May, to coincide with their appearance at Slam Dunk, but a fair amount of people were already familiar with the lead single, 'Crave'. The other songs from 'Cluster' were well-received, and I'm looking forward to the EP getting the recognition that it deserves on the side of the pond. My favourite song on the release is unquestionably 'Pink', and I was elated when Awsten announced it as his favourite too - that should mean it'll be a dead cert in their setlist when they come back to play Reading festival in August. He did forget the words a tiny bit (I think you would too, if you'd hardly ever played the song live before and it had been out for over six months!) but covered it smoothly, noticing that the spotlights had been turned pink and shouting "you made the lights pink? I appreciate that!". The end is thrashy and uncontrolled, and Awsten proudly told the crowd "that last chord was improv, normally the song doesn't end like that! 'Cause that's punk. We can be punk together". His earnest, eager to please attitude is so refreshing compared to the sullen and overly-dramatic moodiness that seems to launch most bands at the moment.
I didn't think the reaction was going to get any better after 'Crave', but when Awsten challenged the crowd to give them their first European crowd surfer, the place nearly exploded. The moment 'I'm a Natural Blue' started I lost count of how many people were up in the air, and with a circle pit bursting out a moment later it was surreal. Waterparks are most definitely pop-punk - some people even describing them as a boy band - but with the independent feel to their sound giving it a garage essence, it lends itself perfectly to small and sweaty shows like this one.
I knew that Waterparks were headlining Camden Barfly the night after Slam Dunk South, and I had no intention of going: if I was seeing them live on the Monday, why did I need to see them on the Tuesday too? But Awsten started promoting the show while Geoff was fixing his guitar strap, and he happened to mention that it was the first headline show they'd ever played outside of their home state of Texas. The first headline show ever outside of Texas? EVER?!
I have no self-control. OF COURSE I WENT TO THEIR HEADLINE SHOW TOO! The review of that will be up at some point tomorrow. Or maybe Friday...

Mad All The Time
No Capes
I'm a Natural Blue

If I'd had my way, I would have gone home after their set. There was no way anyone was going to top them, so it felt like it was going to be all downhill from there. Sadly, I followed their set up with a brief visit to Mayday Parade: their set would normally interest me and get me singing along but it fell flat. Whether that was the band or my Waterparks withdrawal setting in, I'm never going to be sure.

One of Them Will Destroy the Other (*)
Jamie All Over (*)
When You See My Friends (*)
Keep In Mind, Transmogrification is a New Technology (*)
Three Cheers For Five Years
Oh Well, Oh Well
I'd Hate To Be You When People Find Out What This Song Is About
Let's Be Honest
Black Cat
Jersey (*)

(*) setlist according to

This was my third time seeing Dead! and I'd been determined to make it for their full set, but due to overcrowding issues I was ten minutes late. Normally it would be my fault, because I don't give myself enough time to get somewhere through all of the people, but I'd been waiting to get up the stairs for over half an hour!

The majority of people waiting to get up the stairs were desperate to see Real Friends, who released their second album - 'The Home Inside My Head' - just last week. Because I wanted to see Dead!, I popped into their set for about a minute, and I was so disappointed that I couldn't see more because they seemed on top of their game. I haven't heard the new album in full yet, but it seems to me that Real Friends have finally matured: this album could do big things for them. Based on the amount of people flooding into the room, they were the highlight for a lot of people.

I managed to get to the top of the stairs at the Fresh Blood stage as the opening chord for Dead!'s new single 'You're So Cheap' rang out. If you haven't heard if yet you should take the time to do that - while the recorded version isn't as good as the live version, it'll still embed itself into your brain.
Vocalist Alex Mountford is a menace on stage, raw energy and passion for the songs turning him into a frenzied hurricane whipping up the crowd, his already rough vocal degrading into primal almost-screaming. Live, their songs are unpolished, but it's that rough around the edges sound that is getting Dead! so much attention: it's the reason why they're getting so much acclaim for their constant touring schedule. The songs are good recorded, but they aren't spectacular - they just don't stand out from the crowd, and they feel over-produced. These are songs that are written to be performed, and not many bands can do that successfully anymore.
As well as performing at Download and Reading and Leeds, Dead! have just been announced as the support for two of Moose Blood's festival warm-up shows: if that doesn't successfully complete phase one of their takeover, nothing will.

Enough Enough (*)
Phantom (*)
Enemy (*)
You're So Cheap
Up For Ransom

(*) thanks to Lauren-Alice Golding for the setlist!

Both crowd and band were smaller than I'd expected at Away Days set. As you can see above, there should have been three, but instead there was just one drunk Jono Yates (yep, putting Jono in the bar to perform was a great plan...) alone with his guitar, putting on a show that was a mixture of stand-up comedy, trainwreck and genius.
The stand-up comedy element came because drunk Jono is hilarious. This was the third day of the festival and based on his social media accounts there wasn't a moment that Jono wasn't smashed off his face. That probably explains him turning up at every day on the search for a guitar to be able to perform, and definitely goes all the way to explaining why a set that should have been an absolute triumph turned into a bit of a mess.
With gems such as "the room has emptied a little bit and I am very appreciative of that. If you wanna get a prime spot for Creeper, now's the right time to fuck off" and "this has been the best set of the whole event. Not THE best set, MY best set! Yes, this has been my best performance! Thanks for being a part of it, the other two were fucking awful!" it definitely showed Jono's personality, but it wasn't the most professional launch for the band. However, it's memorable. That's where the genius part comes in. I can't imagine anyone in the room forgetting Away Days set, and with songs as catchy as 'Messiah' it does make you remember the music too.
Closing with 'Through the Night', Jono shared that it was a song about being in a band and how "as time goes on you begin to despise everything about them". He passionately shouted to the crowd, "if you're in a band don't let anyone tell you what to do!" before laughing, berating himself by saying "nah, I sound like a cunt. If you're in a band, quit, and get a real job, ya fucking layabouts!". Looking around the room and seeing Fearless Vampire Killer's vocalist Kier Kemp and ex-Kids in Glass Houses frontman Aled Phillips watching the set and absolutely pissing themselves laughing, it seems like Jono might have hit the nail on the head with that.
Their debut EP was released less than a month ago, and these first shows should have been the start to a beautiful second chance. I have less than no idea where the other two members were, or if they're even still in the band at this point (band? Solo project?) but I'm hoping we'll get some news out of camp Away Days fairly soon, because I'm worried.

I'd hoped to hear new Mallory Knox this weekend, because they premiered 'Ghost in the Mirror' at Slam Dunk two years ago and used it as the launching point for 'Asymmetry' - one of the reasons that it became as successful as it did. Alas, it was not meant to be, but hopefully there'll be news of the third album in the near future.

The second acoustic set that I managed to see a good chunk of was Rob Lynch, which went remarkably more smoothly that the Away Days set. Walking in on 'Whiskey' I instantly started to sing along: Rob's music is not something that you can passively listen to.
Unfortunately, sometimes nature calls at a festival, and when you spot a secret bathroom hidden away at the back of the stage you just need to sneak off - anything to avoid the portaloos. I did miss a few songs in the middle of Rob's set because of the queue (which was quickly becoming the theme of the day) but I got back in time to join in the harmonious chant of "No, no, no, it's not the end of the world" at the end of 'Hawking', which was being echoed by every person in the room - including the bar staff!

I couldn't get in to the Fresh Blood stage to see Boston Manor or Creeper because the queue was far back along the corridor throughout both of their sets. I'd imagined a lot of people had been waiting all day to see New Years Day, but I was completely wrong.
Walking in on their headline set was like walking into a ghost town compared to the Fresh Blood stage during the rest of the day. As I mentioned earlier, With Confidence, Waterparks and Dead! all had massive crowds - obviously Boston Manor and Creeper did, with the room being at capacity for both of their sets - but New Years Day had a maximum of 60-70 people. For a headline set, that's a disaster.
Creeper deserved to headline this room.

The salt in the wound stings even more when you realise that just downstairs, in the tiny acoustic stage in the bar, The Rocket Summer had a bigger crowd than New Years Day, and a much better response. The raucous singalong to 'So Much Love' greatly surpassed the reaction he received at Warped UK in October, and while I didn't stick around for long I was pleased by how happy and at ease Bryce Avery looked surrounded by avid fans.

Coming on stage late and finishing ten minutes early, I didn't see as much Of Mice and Men as I would have liked. Their show at Brixton O2 Academy was insanity: I'd been expecting to see much of the same, with a potential new song thrown in there, but unfortunately I was wrong.

Bones Exposed
Feels Like Forever
Glass Hearts (*)
Broken Generation (*)
Never Giving Up (*)
Public Service Announcement (*)
O. G. Loko (*)
You Make Me Sick (*)
Would You Still Be There? (*)
Another You (*)
Second and Sebring (*)
The Depths
You're Not Alone

(*) setlist according to

Having seen Panic! at the Disco back in January, and with tickets already booked to one of their Alexandra Palace shows in November, I only popped in to the middle of their set to hear some of the new songs ('Golden Days' and 'Crazy=Genius') in a live environment.

Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time (*)
Time To Dance (*)
Vegas Lights (*)
LA Devotee (*)
The Ballad of Mona Lisa (*)
Hallelujah (*)
Let's Kill Tonight
Golden Days
Ready To Go (Get Me Out Of My Mind)
Miss Jackson
Nine in the Afternoon
Bohemian Rhapsody (cover)
I Write Sins Not Tragedies
This Is Gospel
Emperor's New Clothes

(*) setlist according to

The King Blues was where I finished my night. (Well, apart from a brief foray to the Uprawr tent to see Shikari Sound System, but we won't go there...)

Comparing their crowd to the crowds of all of the other headliners (I made sure to pop into all eight of them, just so I'd be able to state this definitely), The King Blues stage was in the wrong place. The way that Slam Dunk South works is main stage on the grass, second stage tucked around the corner, and what should be the biggest stage at the end of a road, surrounded by bus stops. Normally the audience falls back to behind the bus stops, but The King Blues pulled the biggest crowd the stage saw all day (apart from the first 10-20 minutes of Zebrahead's set, in which they had an extremely large crowd that, sadly, left them to go to the main stage to watch New Found Glory) and they had - at most - ten lines of people.
Meanwhile, over in The Story So Far you could hardly move because of how many people were straining to fit into the room. If the stages had been the other way around, with The King Blues inside and The Story So Far at the end of the road... It would have tackled a lot of the over-crowding issues that the festival suffered with throughout the day, and more people could have seen the bands of their choice. 
Plus, from the back of The King Blues you could still hear what was going on at Panic! at the Disco on main stage... There was just too much interference to really enjoy their set. It was lucky that Of Mice and Men finished as early as they did. 

Let's Hang the Landlord (*)
Set the World on Fire (*)
I Want You (*)
Mr Music Man (*)
My Boulder (*)
Off With Their Heads (*)
We Ain't Never Done
The Streets Are Ours
Taxi Driver
I Got Love
Hold On Tight
Under the Fog (ft. catch twenty-two)
Save The World, Get The Girl

(*) setlist according to

That's a wrap! Now I'm off to sleep for about three weeks to recover... Thanks for checking out my review! 

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