This year’s Slam Dunk festival took place at two locations, the northern event in the beautiful Temple Newsham Park on the outskirts of Leeds, the southern date at the similarly picturesque Hatfield House Park near London. What the aristocratic owners of these large country estates would make of the Slam Dunk attendees descending on their properties, I’d love to know! Being punkers of a certain age, my wife and I had to plan our attendance with military precision – depositing our three kids with their grandparents, stocking up on supplies for a couple of nights of freedom from behaving like responsible adults and heading north with the Friday afternoon motorway traffic. We spent the night before Slam Dunk North in nearby Sheffield with friends before heading to the show bright and early on the Saturday. After negotiating our way through housing and industrial areas we arrived at the festival along with a few thousand other music fans. With the smell of cheap cider in the air and the lunchtime sun shining, we made our way in and headed to the far side of the site to Fat Mike’s Punk In Drublic stage. The line up had spent the last few weeks winding its way through Germany, Spain and France with the two Slam Dunk dates in the UK capping off this run through Europe.
We got to the stage just in time to catch the end of openers, The Bombpops, set. They ripped through I Can’t and Jerk from 2017’s Fear of Missing Out, ending on Dear Beer from last year’s EP. The band were super tight and I was disappointed not to have caught the whole set, hopefully they’ll be back this side of the Atlantic soon.
Next up were Anti-Flag, a band I’ve lost touch with over the past decade having previously enjoyed their output. They launched into Die For Your Government, much to the appreciation of the assembled crowd and played a solid set spanning their twenty years plus of releasing music. Despite it being around 1pm they managed to incite a giant circle pit during Broken Bones, after reminding us “Brothers and sisters, if someone falls down, we pick them back up”. We were then treated to a couple of their poppier songs (Turncoat and This Is The End) before Fuck Police Brutality, a song written twenty two years ago that is as relevant now as it ever has been. The set was rounded out with Cities Burn, American Attraction, Press Corpse and finally, singalong favourite Brandenburg Gate. Having not really checked in with the band for a while I had been slightly ambivalent about checking them out however their performance, positivity and set list were all top notch.
Santa Barbara sextet, the Mad Caddies, then took the stage to share some reggae/ska punk love with the masses. Despite lead singer Chuck not getting any sound out of his monitor for the early part of their set, the boys were sounding great. The crowd was skanking and grooving along from the opening trumpet refrain of The Dirge to the last notes of oompah thrasher All American BadAss. Personal highlights for me were Road Rash, Weird Beard and the cover of Propagandhi’s Nation States from last summer’s Punk Rocksteady album.
Keeping the ska punk vibe going, The Interrupters followed next. My main exposure to the Bivona brothers and Aimee Interrupter is from my wife and nine-year-old daughter playing them in the car and around the house. I’ve always appreciated their Hellcat inflected tunes and was looking forward to seeing them in person. Friend Like Me got the crowd moving nicely and they went on to play Take Back The Power, On A Turntable, She’s Kerosene and She Got Arrested amongst others. It could have just been me but it did feel like the energy in the crowd dropped a few songs into the set but this was by no means a reflection of the effort being given by the band. They finished with This Is My Family adding a slightly prolonged singalong finale to the song which I could have done without but, overall, I was pleased to have caught The Interrupters live.
I first saw Lagwagon in 1998, headlining a show which also had NUFAN, Strung Out and Swingin Utters on the line up, a few months before Let’s Talk About Feelings came out. I have a lot of time for this band and I waited patiently to see them for the fourth (fifth?) time while my compadres foolishly opted to hit the bar and food stalls. Their set list focussed mainly on their mid to late nineties albums with Violins, Sleep, Razor Burn from Hoss; Alien 8 and Making Friends from Double Plaidinum and Change Despair, May 16 and After You My Friend from ‘Feelings. Cog In The Machine got an airing from 2014’s Hang, I had been hoping for a few more from this album but they had played a lot of those songs when they played London last year so I wasn’t too disappointed. With close to thirty years under their belts, it’s no surprise Lagwagon are consistently excellent live, with plenty of choreographed shredding and general tom foolery thrown in for good measure. The rain started to fall as the set drew to a close, so after four and half hours at the Punk in Drublic stage I took a wander to find food, toilets and buy a long overdue round at the beer tent.
Millencolin played next however I opted to visit the Dickies stage to check out Saves The Day, a band my wife and I saw on our first sort of date in 2002. I lost touch with the band’s music after Stay What You Are and was gambling on them playing songs from their first few records to make it worth my while straying from the Punk in Drublic stage. They kicked off with At Your Funeral and Chris Conely’s vocal was instantly joined by the (slightly aging) crowd, transporting me back to when I was a wide eyed 20-year-old. From there they played a string of songs from post SWYA albums and with a heavy heart I bid them farewell in order to line up more drinks and get a decent vantage point for Less Than Jake.
The rain had been falling steadily by the time Gainesville’s favourite sons bounced onto the stage. They treated the decidedly damp crowd to all the classics (Jonny Quest, All My Best Friends Are Metalheads, History Of A Boring Town, Nervous In The Alley, Gainesville Rock City etc) along with a couple of newer tunes. At one point the, slightly terrifying, LTJ mascot came on stage with a toilet paper gun and papered the front few rows which is not something I’ve experienced at a show before but it was pretty amusing. Less Than Jake are one of those bands that you can never see too many times and seeing some of their newer songs played in and amongst their older stuff gave a slightly different perspective on them, which was great.
The penultimate act was Bad Religion, whose seventeenth studio album, Age Of Unreason, dropped a month ago. We were treated to four songs from their latest offering (Lose Your Head, Chaos From Within, Do The Paranoid Style & My Sanity). The rest of the set was a tour de force, stretching back to the very beginning (Fuck Armageddon…This Is Hell from 1982’s How Could Hell Be Any Worse?) with good representation from their entire catalogue. Crowd pleasers like 21st Century Digital Boy, Sorrow, Stranger Than Fiction and Fuck You all kept the crowd moving as the rain continued to fall. These guys continue to put out great music and impress live and it was heartening to see punks of all ages rocking out to these legends.
I sacrificed the end of Bad Religion’s set to catch a few songs from The Menzingers back on the Dickies stage. An ill-advised, uphill sprint across the festival site left me lightheaded as I arrived halfway through Mid-Western States. I just about caught my breath as they started Casey and I stuck around long enough to hear The Freaks and Lookers before heading back to the Punk In Drublic stage for headliners, NOFX. I’ve been a fan of The Menzingers since 2010’s Chamberlain Waits and have seen them a few times playing club shows and they are always a good time live.
So back to the Punk In Drublic stage for NOFX and the rain finally stopped. The guys came on stage and proceeded to spend what felt like five minutes chatting shit to each other and the crowd. Just as the fans started to get restless, they let rip with Seeing Double At The Triple Rock and Six Years On Dope. They played a set punctuated with long periods of conversation and shit-housery which at times elicited shouts of “Get on with it” from the crowd, but most should know by now that this is standard practise for Mike et al. To be honest, I was thankful for the chance to catch my breath a lot of the time! We were treated to Linoleum, Don’t Call Me White, The Brews and Perfect Government from the album from whence the stage took its name, along with Bob (from White Trash..), Kill All The White Man (from the Longest Line EP), Eat The Meek and Murder The Government (from So Long…). I was really pleased they played I’m So Sorry Tony because Mr Sly should be honoured at every opportunity and they closed the set playing a cover of We’re Only Gonna Die by Bad Religion which was excellent. NOFX have been through a lot of shit in their personal lives over the years but it’s nice to see them on stage, annoying each other, supporting each other and still fighting the good fight.
Previous Slam Dunk line-ups have always had a few bands that piqued my interested but the inclusion of the Punk In Drublic tour made it a no brainer, here’s hoping it become a permanent fixture moving forwards.
The Bombpops – Jen Razavi
Aimee Interruptor, Joey Cape, Roger Lima, Greg Graffin – FuckinClairPhotos
NOFX – Jade Greenbrooke