Slam Dunk Midlands - Sam Robinson
Slam Dunk, is without doubt one of the best festivals the UK has to offer, and with a line up this year that spoils us for choice! As a photographer who didn't manage to get a photo pass, it's great that Slam Dunk are cool enough to let photographers bring in a DSLR and just do their thing, it gave me the opportunity to do music photography like I never have before, right from the crowd, letting me capture not just the artists but the full atmosphere of every performance.
Loathe are the first band I decided to check out, and although it was early in the day that didn't seem to put off the eager mosh-pitters who turned up right from the get go, nothing like a spinkick to the face to start your day! Make no mistake though, this band mean business, the Merseyside Hardcore quintet nailed their performance, and were a fitting band to wake up Slam Dunk for the day ahead. I would confidently say that Loathe are one of the best heavier bands breaking out on the UK scene right now, and given time will be a force to be reckoned with!
I must admit, I hold my hands up, having not previously heard of DREAM STATE, it was just by chance that I went and checked them out, I thought as they were playing the Rock Sound Breakout stage it might be a good opportunity to get close and just capture some good shots of their performance, I had no idea that it was actually going to be the best decision I made all day at Slam Dunk hands down, they blew me away! Even as they step out onto the stage, I still have no clue what I was in for, as vocalist CJ Gilpin simply doesn't look capable of delivering the vocals that she does- and I mean that in a nice way, it's one hell of a great surprise, I can't help but think to myself "Where does that voice come from?!" CJ tells the crowd of her struggles with addiction and this is detailed in many of their songs, 'In This Hell' & 'White Lies' being two examples that everybody absolutely lose their minds to, pits open up and CJ is right in amongst it, crowd surfing on more than one occasion. Although DREAM STATE are new to me, it seems I might be alone on that one as others seemed to be bursting with excitement to see them. DREAM STATE are my surprise band of the festival, and for me part of the festival experience isn't just seeing your old favourites but also discovering new bands that you haven't heard of before, and I can assure you I've had their latest EP 'Recovery' on repeat on my Spotify, I will be heading out to see these guys at the next opportunity no question!
Having shot Astroid Boys earlier in the year I was interested to see how they'd go down at Slam Dunk, I only got to watch a couple of songs as I was passing by but as expected they were totally nailing it, as I arrived to have a look the crowd were in the middle of losing there minds to banger 'Cheque'. Their performance was made more impressive by the face that one of the members was missing meaning Benji had to take on a lot more of the work, made harder by the fact he had had a heavy night of drinking just before and kept complaining that he was struggling! There's not many bands out there that can pull off Grime Metal, or even dare try, but Astroid Boys really make it their own and are right at home on the bill of Slam Dunk Festival.
The Faim are another band that I hadn't heard much of before, but am glad that I checked out, one things for sure - I have no doubt that the next time they come around they will definitely be playing bigger stages than the breakout stage, the Australian quintet have all the ingredients to really go somewhere. Vocalist Josh Raven is one hell of a performer and the crowd seem drawn to him. They've already built up a little bit of a following over here as they were out on tour with Lower Than Atlantis not that long ago, and their first UK headline show which they are playing right after Slam Dunk is sold out already!
I'm guilty of never really giving Creeper much of a listen, but I have had it pointed out to me a few times just how good their live performances were, as well as how stunning their visuals are so I definitely wanted to see what the fuss was all about and get in some good shots while I had the chance. As I'm waiting for them to come on stage there is a real buzz in the air, Creeper have undoubtedly grown quite a large cult following and it's more than clear to see that with excited fans cramming themselves in down the front trying to get as close as possible. Despite only forming back in 2014, Creeper own the stage like they've been around forever, and are without question deserving of a slot on the gigantic main stage. 'Black Rain' and 'Hiding With Boys', are stand out highlights in the set list as well as beautiful acoustic number 'Crickets' which sees Hannah Greenwood take over on vocal duties. The band as a whole are full of energy, all 6 members are constantly bouncing off of one another and it's a joy to watch. Will Gould is a fantastic front man, with great vocals and stage presence to match. Creeper have done more than enough to convince me that they mean business, and that the fuss isn't just a load of noise, I'm genuinely looking forward to see what heights this band can reach!
I didn't get to catch as much of Comeback Kids set that I would have liked, but as every festival goer knows, clashes are the biggest problem of the day and leave us making some difficult decisions, still, I'm glad I didn't have to miss them completely as they were on top form. 'Surrender Control' is the track that I wanted to see, straight off their latest release 'Outsider', and it went down an absolute treat with many in attendance. Comeback Kid have been going for quite some time now, but they still kill it, without question!
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
As soon as Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes was announced for Slam Dunk, that was it - I had to be there. I've been itching to see these guys for a long time and was gutted when I missed out on seeing them last year. This is the bands first time ever playing Slam Dunk and it's no surprise to see them so high up on the roster, they have a reputation for having absolutely mental shows and that's exactly what we are in for. Opening with 'Juggernaut' the place erupts into complete chaos and I'm genuinely worried about my camera equipment as there are limbs flying all over the place, but it's so worth it! "That's how you open a fucking Rock show!" Frank yells to the audience after almost inciting a riot. Frank wastes no time in getting into crowd and doing one of his famous head stands on top of everyone, guitarist Dean Richardson also gets out there and performs a killer solo while fans crowd surf around him. At one point Frank marches into the crowd and orders the largest circle pit of the whole festival, circling around him. The band close with fan favourite 'I Hate You' and it's sang back to them as if it were an Oasis gig. It's safe to say Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes take home the award for the most mental performance and are my band of the festival hands down, I can't wait to see these guys again.
Fun fact - I once suffered a collapsed lung at a PVRIS gig, but you better bet that there's absolutely no way I'm letting that experience stop me from seeing them again, I seriously can't get enough of these guys! Lynn Gunn has to be one of the most photogenic humans on the planet, so it would be an absolute dream for me to nail a photo pass for PVRIS one day, but for now shooting from the crowd will do. They start the set off with favourites 'Heaven' and 'St. Patrick' and the place is in full swing before we know it. Lynn wastes no time at all in showing off her multi-instrument talents, we see her blow the crowd away on the keyboard, synth, guitar, and even drums, there really is no stopping her! Although it's not a full set, it's impressive that only 2 albums into their career PVRIS already have a number of massive hits that they have to leave out of their roster, with only 3 songs being played from their stunning debut 'White Noisie', it just shows that with PVRIS their music really is all killer no filler, every song is a work of art. They close with 'My House' which has the whole crowd bopping, and end what was a quite brilliant Slam Dunk performance. You always know you're going to get an amazing show with PVRISPvris, which is why I will see them with every chance I get.
When I think of all the bands I grew up listening to, Good Charlotte are right at the top of the list of the bands that were the soundtrack my childhood. So for me this was huge, and would only be the second time I've ever got to see them, definitely not to be missed. One of the headline acts of the festival, it's no surprise that once the band take to the stage, and even more so for brothers Joel & Benji Madden - they are met with the biggest of roars from the thousands watching. They take absolutely no time to roll back the years as they open with 'The Anthem', sending the arena into chaos. One thing that really is impressive about Good Charlotte on both occasions that I've seen them is how their new material is on a par with their more well known older classics, 'Life Changes' comes form their 2016 release 'Youth Authority' but sits perfectly in the setlist alongside their old school hits. Other bands from their era might put a setlist together consisting of the old favourites and squeeze in a new one here and there just for filler, but for Good Charlotte that just doesn't seem to be a problem. We are also treated to a brand new song, released just a few days prior to Slam Dunk, and one of the first live performances of 'Actual Pain', which Benji seems very excited to be playing. Joel takes time to talk to the crowd in between songs, going in to great detail about just how grateful Good Charlotte are for the continued support, and how they nearly gave it all up after going on hiatus a few years ago. It kills me to say I had to miss the last 3 or 4 songs of the set, simply as I had been stood at the front of the arena for a good 5 hours straight and my back felt like it was about to break (I'm pathetic I know!) and I'm instantly punished as soon as I step foot out of the arena as 'The River' is played and I know I'm missing out on all sorts of craziness. My bad!
As expected, Slam Dunk came through this year! Packed full of awesome bands left, right and centre, and from a photographers point of view it was great fun shooting from the crowd, of course being in the photo pit is where you want to be, and I will absolutely try and get a pass again next year, but as it's still early days in my photography journey I'm delighted that I even had the chance to shoot some of the bands that I did this year at Slam Dunk, something I'll never take for granted!
Slam Dunk North - Ric Snell
I started my day at Slam Dunk the same way any Pop Punk enthusiast should do; by watching Four Year Strong of course! These guys were great and had the audience hook line and sinker throughout the entire set, more than one occasion the lyrics were sung back at them by the crowd, a telltale sign if ever there was one that these guys are a much beloved band. I have to say their set seemed a bit rushed at times without much time for crowd interaction though I wonder if this was due to time limitation maybe, either way it did not detract from their performance which was excellent and a great way to start off my day.
Being also something of a Ska enthusiast I actually ended up spending a good deal of my day at the Fireball tent, meaning I had the pleasure of seeing a few new bands that have been on my radar.
The first of these being Save Ferris, despite learning these guys have been around for quite a while (1995!) I’ve only just got into them! I have to say they were a pleasure to watch, Monique makes for a great hype person, the music was fun and upbeat I mean who wouldn’t love a Ska cover of 'Come on Eileen'?
Next up on the Fireball Stage once again was a band I’ve been a fan of for a while: Capdown. These guys hopped onto stage full of energy, their high tempo and performance really resonated well with the crowd. The vocalist made the odd comment about getting older, but this didn't seem to affect their performance in the slightest.
After this I did something quite out of character for me and went to see a band I know very little about: Sleeping With Sirens. Having never really listened to them before it was a little hard to get into the music initially but that was short lived, these guys have some seriously awesome tracks and quite clearly a very loyal fanbase. These guys glided around the stage like it was a second home.
The set was made for me when the one song I know by these guys; 'If You Can't Hang' was finally played.
Next I headed back to the Fireball Stage to check out The Skints, these guys are another band that have been on my radar for a while and I'm glad to have finally seen them live. Their whole set was tailored around good times and chilled tunes, which was well reciprocated by the audience as they gently skanked back and forth. As a cheeky added bonus the brass section of Reel Big Fish even popped out to contribute to a track.
As I’m clearly all about checking out new bands now, I then made my way over to check out Northlane, another band I haven’t really ever previously listened to. These are probably the heaviest band that I watched while at Slam Dunk, the crowd clearly love what they’re about!. Unfortunately I seem to be softening as it wasn't for me.
As for the headliners I had a bit of a debacle, on the one hand Every Time I Die are a band I've loved for a long time so I couldn't miss them, on the other Reel Big Fish are a band I've seen multiple times and are pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on my face as they always put on such a great show.
In the end I opted to watch the first half of Every Time I Die's set and then head over to Reel Big Fish, thankfully some of my favourite tracks by Every Time I Die's were some the the first ones they played, it was an awesome set from what i saw and I’m glad to be able to say I’ve seen them live .
Reel Big Fish were on their usual top form, playing upbeat happy tunes which everyone appreciated a lot judging by the ferocious skanking going on. In addition to this there were jokes aplenty mostly around the theme of leaving their set to catch Good Charlotte or Jimmy Eat World. Seemingly to repay the favour earlier in the night, The Skints singer (Marcia Richards) popped out to help out on the track "She Has A girlfriend Now". It would have been a treat to see Monique Powell come out and help out given her originally singing the lines on the recorded version, but nevertheless Marcia gave us a great performance in her stead.
Slam Dunk Midlands Review - Sam Robinson
Slam Dunk North Review - Ric Snell
Photos - Sam Robinson Photography