It's your man on the ground, the master of back-handed compliments, and general ska-punk loving fiend here. Hitting up Slam Dunk for the fourth consecutive year, giving you a general eye for the atmosphere you can experience if you're in your 30's and can't quite get your head around the newer pop-punk bands, and have instead gone to try and catch some older stuff.
I arrived with friends, and set about meeting all the others that had travelled or were local for a couple of swift beverages, before moving on to wristband exchange.
This was the first problem of Slam Dunk 2016, and probably the biggest one. The queue was a shambles. We got lucky, and managed to get into the shorter of the two queues, the second of which stretched around a massive building block, and the art gallery before doubling back. I heard horror stories of people waiting almost two hours. This was a massive let-down, and meant we missed the first band we wanted to see in Spunge. (luckily I know the guys on 3 Songs & Out will be reviewing them at the weekend, I'm sure they'll be awesome)
What followed the wristband exchange, was a further 15 minute queue to get into the festival arena. I'm pretty sure this could have been avoided by having a larger scale entrance for the first couple of hours, and then moving to the smaller entrance later on. A pretty disappointing start.
We made our way over to the Desperado stage, being further lubricated by the desperado team, handing out free sample cans on the way (they need to learn how to pour, I had tequila lager flavoured froth for the most part) and settled in to watch JB Conspiracy. A great UK ska/punk band, who have been around for what feel like forever, and have some great catchy tunes. Unfortunately the set was hampered by techinical issues resulting in the guitar being lost in the mix completely for the first three or four songs.
After queueing again to get another beer, for around 10 minutes, I caught the last few songs, before nature came calling and forced me to venture to the portaloos.
I was lucky in that it was still early, and many people hadn't got in or made their way over to catch any music at the Desperado stage, but as the day progressed, again the British institute that is queueing came back with a vengeance, and I found myself waiting at times around 15 minutes just to take a piss.
Next up though were Catch 22, one of the original third wave Ska bands, with a back catalogue that included the incredible Keasby Nights. If you've ever read up on this band, you'll know that most of the original line-up left and became Streetlight Manifesto. When I saw those guys at Slam Dunk 2013, I was blown away, and danced like an idiot solidly. I was expecting at least a little of the same from this. What followed was a thirty minute set of disappointment, with only two brief takes from the most well-known album, and a crowd that never got going. The lead singer even shouting “what will it take to get you guys going out there,” and then the absolute sullen look on his face at the merch tent the rest of the day, shows how little enjoyment he had.
Next up, were King Prawn, who finally got the crowd moving. I caught the first few songs of the set, before taking a break to check into our hotel for the night, and came back in time to catch the last twenty minutes of Capdown. Having seen these guys multiple times, I'm never disappointed, and they made a massive effort to show how grateful they are to still have a career like this after almost 20 years.
What I also witnessed was the longest beer line of the day, which stretched across the back of the whole stage, basically cutting off the stage from the merch area.
Zebrahead are a band I've seen a bunch of times, but last year at Slam Dunk I felt a bit cut-off and detached watching them. This same feeling got to me again, and I left part way through the set to catch New Found Glory on the main stage. It was a very new experience, being the first time in 4 years I've considered going to the main stage. They hit the ground running with, appropriately, Hit or Miss, and then launched through a set that included every hit you've ever known, and even a few of the newer tracks. Well received, great songs, and for a band I first saw in 2002, haven't lost a step.
Next up, while hitting the pizza van, was a brief few tracks from UK legends The Beat. I caught the final three songs and was not disappointed. For someone who was brought up listening to two tone, it was incredible to hear the songs live finally. A band I should have made more of an effort to catch the whole set of.
Discussion raged all day within the group of who our headliners would be. Some picking Panic! At The Disco, others opting for The Story So Far, and some thinking about even leaving and catching the end of the football....................
I ended up opting for a bit of everything and stumbled across my highlight of the day.
This year's DJ stage was situated in an underground car park. It was dingy, it was dark, and the sound it produced was amazing. I caught the first half hour of Shikari Sound System, and was blown away. Playing a variety of tracks, mashed up beautifully, including some of the Shikari remixes, it was bloody amazing. I only left to save myself for the after party.
We then checked out a track by Panic! At The Disco Who I can say are just as dull as I remember from watching last year at Leeds festival.
I then went to check out the The King Blues to close out the day. I've been up and down on this band in the last few years, with much of that to do with Itch being a total arse. I was not disappointed by that today, with his absolutely ridiculous, 1920s style, hipster punk/bell-end look and general attitude. However, on stage there's still much to be said for the performance, I knew pretty much every word and was singing loud and proud with everyone. It was just a perfect way to close out proceedings.
After a quick stop at my favourite haunt, Almost Famous (who were as always amazing to me, and hooked me up with some free bacon bacon fries and a couple of shots) we started making our way to the after party, with another further stop at the Dry Dock.
The After Party was located a solid 15 minute walk away from the main site, and was not really well signed, so it was a bit of guesswork that eventually got us there. The main room had the usual pop-punk affairs going on, but we ended up partying away in the side room to some awesome hip-hop classics. This was definitely what you need after a whole day of similar style music. It ended things on a particulary happy note.
To sum it up, this year has ended up being my least favourite music wise, and organisation wise. From other people's experiences within my group of friends, there were some shocking waiting times, and even an instance where the first aid crew there were just plain rude to a simple request. I've always really enjoyed Slam Dunk, and I'll more than likely be back next year, and hopefully my need for some really solid Ska-punk will be thoroughly satisfied.
Band of the Day – Shikari Sound System
Worst band of the Day – Catch 22
Best experience – The After Party Hip-hop room.
Worst Experience – QUEUE AFTER LIFE SAPPING, GOD AWFUL, BRAIN MELTING QUEUE.
Written while still hungover, two days on from the festival – The North knows how to party!
Review - Oli Williams