Slam Dunk – Wolverhampton (UK) – 25 May 2015

  Inge van Nimwegen    31 mei 2015

Slam Dunk: Pop-punk paradise in the heart of the city! For those who have never heard of Slam Dunk before: a British Warped Tour, involving 3 days, 3 cities, 3 festivals with the exact same line-up and timetable. Its tenth edition this year, the result is a day filled with too many bands to watch (46) on a multitude of stages (7) and too little time to watch it all. Pick and choose, we at Snoozecontrol visited Slam Dunk Midlands, in the heart of Wolverhampton: the smallest of the three, with never more than a 5-minute walk from stage to stage, and the crowd-filled venues always just comfortably packed.

First band up on the ‘Fresh Blood’ Stage is Trash Boat; is the perfect example of a band that deserves its spot here. With their catchy hooks and infectious enthusiasm they are the perfect opener for this day filled with new talent. So far having released merely two EPs the amount of fans singing along is a pleasant surprise. Frontman Tobi Duncan proves a real entertainer by regularly diving into the crowd, ending this set with smiling faces all around the room. Summer vibes fill the Main Stage with Set It Off, where a crowd of female fans has gathered to watch this young group from Florida. The guys deliver with enthusiasm, despite their recent setback in parting ways with bassist Austin Kerr. On stage as well as in the crowd there’s plenty of dancing to behold. The exuberant enthusiasm may feel forced at times, but this is no big deal for the fan base.

Noisy music is fun, the louder the better; twice the noise from the different stages, however, is less successful. Being As An Ocean learned this the hard way, as their set on the Impericon Stage is continuously drowned out by the band playing on the Monster Stage next to it. The softer, emotionally-loaded songs are blown away, which is an absolute shame. Slam Dunk, this needs improving! The same problem emerges during Knuckle Puck’s set at the MacBeth Stage, with their catchy tunes being overwhelmed by surrounding sounds. Maybe not entirely convincing throughout, the Chicago 5-piece nevertheless manages to deliver a solid performance that shows that this is not the last we’ll hear of these young dudes.

In the mean time inside City Hall, we are watching a band that’s bound to become huge. It’s PVRIS, the trio proving that the hype surrounding them is entirely justified. The Main Stage is a perfect fit, with great lightning, a well-filled venue and powerful vocals coming at you from all sides. The band impresses with a razor sharp live sound and beautiful, clear vocals bound to give you the chills.

On the Fresh Blood Stage things aren’t exactly going as planned: we are at this point approximately half an hour behind schedule. The upside of this, is that we are able to catch Wind In Sails rounding off his set. Wind In Sails is a one-man acoustic project of Evan Pharmakis, ex-Vanna vocalist, who on his own delivers a sound that reminds you of three people singing in harmony. It is hard to believe it is a single man producing this unique flavour of passionate folk-punk. And emotions continue to run high with Aaron West, performing without his backing band The Roaring Twenties. Aaron West is The Wonder Years’ vocalist Dan Campbell’s self-described “character study conducted through music”. Live, his lyrics as well as personal stories really get through to the audience. The venue is packed with fans, who sing along at exactly the right moments and producing even a heartfelt vocal trumpet solo.

We Are The Ocean presents us with quite a varied set of new and older material, which vocalist Liam Cromby performs with conviction. Not necessarily the most memorable performance of the day, but a solid set with moments of intimacy at the Main Stage. With 7-piece ska punk band Lightyear playing the Desperados Stage on the other hand, it’s a guaranteed party. Poking fun at their own music, image and audience, it’s a full 50 minutes of dancing, singing, sweating and laughing. Up next, it’s catchy refrains, high posi jumps, crowd surfs and massive sing-alongs with Neck Deep.  They show that they deserve their spot on the Main Stage: the place is packed with people. New song “Can’t Kick Up The Roots” is a success, just like hit “A Part Of Me”, with the audience’s voices drowning out singer Ben Barlow’s. It almost being time for their second album (re-read our interview with Fil about this and other stuff HERE) and making their way for Warped Tour US this summer, this may be the last time we watch these guys play anything smaller than a stadium.

For fans of Bury Tomorrow, who are playing outside on the Monster Stage, nothing is off limits. Mosh-filled pavements and an air of screams and breakdowns, vocalist Dani Winter-Bates knows how to play a crowd. One can only guess as to how many crowd surfers passed over the barrier during this set.. Meanwhile, Zebrahead at the Desperados Stage are playing their extremely catchy tunes at twice the original speed: and surprisingly, this works out great. Their set is fun to watch, danceable and overall makes for an energetic feel-good experience. In a completely different category of music, we find This Wild Life playing the Fresh Blood Stage. They deliver a perfect performance of their acoustic songs; maybe a tad too perfect, even. What could have been an emotional sing-along turns into a tedious sit-through, until their cover of Bring Me The Horizon’s “Sleepwalking” appears to wake up both band and audience, ending the set on a positive note with massive banger “Concrete”.

H2O tries their best, but also falls victim to the horrible loudness of the Monster Energy Stage. It is quite sad to see the band themselves realise this as well: ‘we need to be louder,’ vocalist Toby Morse tried to brush it off, but it is clearly bothering. Nevertheless, songs such as "Nothing To Prove" sound fantastic and manage to evoke massive sing-along’s from the crowd.

Taking Back Sunday have been around longer than most bands present, and do what they do best: play hit after hit to an audience that knows all the words by heart. The only thing missing at the Main Stage is a real connection with the audience, as the band appears to be playing mainly on routine. But the crowd don’t care and shout chorus with admirable intensity, newer material like “Better Homes and Gardens” as well as emo classics “Cute Without The E” and “MakeDamnSure”. If there is any ‘new’ band to watch, it is Moose Blood. Enjoying small success with their first single “Boston” even before releasing a full-length album, these four guys know how to make an audience feel right at home with them. This modest group better get used to the attention, as the sing-alongs will only become larger over time, I may predict.

We end our day with The Wonder Years headlining the MacBeth Stage outside. The cold doesn’t affect any of the fans gathered: everyone present is having the time of their lives. Playing with two replacement members is no issue for this band, that celebrates their 10th anniversary this year. Playing a ‘best of’ setlist with highlights from all three of their albums is a hit. All lyrics are screamed back at frontman Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell, who pours his heart and soul into every word.

And with this, a music-packed day comes to an end at Wolves city centre. Slam Dunk, see you in 2016!