FestivalsLive Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Slam Dunk Midlands, Birmingham NEC, 29/05/2016

Now in its tenth year, Slam Dunk Festival weekend is a highlight for many music lovers across the country. 2016 saw the relocation of Slam Dunk Midlands to Birmingham’s NEC, we headed down to check out some of BTN’s favourite bands on what looked set to be a brilliant day of live music.

Opening the Main Stage and our day was Moose Blood. We’ve always seen this quartet as an arena worthy band and this set proved it. With a slight delay to the start of their set due to technical issues, this didn’t shake them as they performed a confident set with sing-a-longs galore. Opening with new single Honey, frontman Eddy Brewerton’s vocals fill the arena making it a simply magical experience to witness. You can’t help but fall in love with the humbleness of these guys, seeming genuinely taken aback as the crowd overpowered them during Bukowski. 2016 has kicked off in huge style for Moose Blood and it doesn’t look set to slow down anytime soon! 9/10

Over on the Atlas Stage, American metalcore outfit The Word Alive were struck by the curse of an early-in-the-day set. With fans walking past their stage on their way in from collecting wristbands there was one massive issue with their set: the sound was at such a high level it was distorted and quite frankly painful to listen to. This was a real shame as guitarists Tony Pizzuti,  Zack Hansen and Daniel Sharpiro glanced confused looks to each other during Dreamer due to the lack of participation from the crowd, who were struggling to decipher Telle Smith’s vocals. The Word Alive truly had it tough during this set; but their desire to not let the circumstances prevent them giving their all must be noted. 5/10

Making their return to live shows in the UK Young Guns were flaunting not just new material but a new line-up, with the drummer role taken over by Tigress’ Josh Coombes. Daughter Of The Sea, taken from their debut album, opened the set, a move which immediately seemed a bad one. With many of the crowd unsure of this track the opening energy expected never showed, a theme which continued during the lacklustre set. Even the anthemic Bones lacked the vibrant spark which usually makes the sing-a-long a show highlight and this led to the uninterested crowd soon beginning to pour out of the Main Stage room, showing the set just couldn’t be saved. A set we had high hopes for left us wishing we’d not bothered to attend. 5/10

We made our way over to Kerrang’s Fresh Blood stage to witness Dead! This quartet has gone from strength to strength in the last twelve months and never fail to captivate each audience member with their ferocious sets. Frontman Alex Mountford bounds across the stage as if it’s a competition to see if he can successfully cover every part of it, whilst maintaining strong, emotive vocals; he succeeds spectacularly. The unity within the band is clear, working in sync  performing tracks including latest single You’re So Cheap, which rouses the crowd into a frenzy with pits erupting in the sunshine. We can guarantee next year is going to see Dead! hitting the Main Stage, mark our words. 8/10

Back over on the mainstage we caught Mayday Parade for a feel good, sing-a-long set with a touch of teenage nostalgia thrown in. One thing clear was that from the oldest of fans to those who’d just heard of the band’s latest album Black Lines, they ensured that they catered for all with their setlist. Alex Garcia gained a rapturous cheer during his skilled guitar solos, highlighting that Mayday Parade are a well-oiled band who aren’t afraid to share the limelight with each other. Three Cheers For Five Years undoubtedly became a show highlight for many as the crowd vocals at times overpowered those of Derek Sanders during this set. 7/10

The Key Club stage was nearing capacity as fans struggled to find a spot to catch a glimpse of pop-punks rising stars As It Is. Following on from their successful headline tour the enthusiasm both onstage and within the crowd was infectious, as Patty Walters had the room under his control. Their slick performance was admirable, making it clear that every moment on stage was one that they loved. A surprise appearance from Alex Costello of ROAM during Cheap Shots and Setbacks brought two of the most loved British pop-punk outfits onto one stage for a huge sing-a-long. If we said we didn’t chant along to “all we ever share are dial tones” we’d be lying big time after this fun-filled set. 8/10

After an afternoon of upbeat excitement, we headed to the Acoustic/Solo Stage to catch a little light relief. When we rolled up to Away Days set we were expecting to see the full trio of Jono Yates, Nic Montgomery and Matt Freer onstage but instead it was simply one man (Yates) and his guitar. Known for his questionable sense of humour it took mere seconds for it to be proclaimed that not only had he drunk too much, but demanded a crowd member fulfil his current alcohol request (to which they did). When he finally got down to the business of performing tracks we saw an emotional side to the usual joker-like frontman, and Give Me My Life Back with its personal lyrical matter flaunted Yates’ strong vocals. From the comedic start to playing four EP tracks, this was a rollercoaster set to say the least. 6/10

Grumble Bee is a name you need to remember and the Acoustic Stage crown was stolen instantly with his soulful, emotion infused set. Tracks including Sky Writer from debut EP Disconnected were met with an ocean of fans singing back to Jack Bennett’s every word. Crowd interaction always has, and always will, be key to gaining a bigger audience and with Bennett making himself personally known to all around him this is a skill he has perfected already. It became impossible not to be taken aback with the rough yet effortlessly vibrant vocals, the versatility of his voice is just one reason Grumble Bee is fast becoming one of our favourite live artists. 8/10

Following on from a mass of technical difficulties at Slam Dunk North leading to Yellowcard’s set being cut short, at Main Stage fingers were firmly crossed that Birmingham would be graced with 2003 Ocean Avenue in full. Spoiler: the crossed fingers paid off. A nostalgic set saw the album played in order, meaning that some questionable ordering of tracks occurred including usual set-closer Ocean Avenue appearing three songs in. This led to the issue of their fan’s excitement slowly dwindling after the majority had heard the ‘hits’ they were there for. Yes, there were a handful of fans who were there for the full album, but many weren’t. Despite his fears at the beginning of the set vocalist Ryan Key successfully remembered each word without failure and we take our hats off to him for it! 7/10

Britain’s best rising stars Mallory Knox took their rightful place high up on the Main Stage bill at this year’s festival and their arena-worthy show didn’t fail to impress. Opening with Shout At The Moon it took mere moments for the band’s confidence to increase as they relaxed and seemed at ease on the large stage. Their friendship and teamwork throughout was admirable, as we spotted James Gillett, Sam Douglas and Joe Savins shooting each other smiles when looking out to the adoring crowd. The quartet are the true epitome of hard work paying off, lighting up the venue with When Are We Waking Up? not once did the band faulter. From stage dressing (huge MK lights) to flawless soaring vocals, slick guitars and a driving drum line, this was the Main Stage set we’d been waiting for all day. Mallory Knox rightfully deserved the packed arena room and we’re going to bet that they’ll be used to these sized venues sooner than they think. 8/10

Slowing things down again we took a break to the Acoustic/Solo stage to catch brother and sister duo Greywind, formed of Steph and Paul O’Sullivan; their usual fiery tracks were given a delicate touch, which made it an even more magical sight to witness. Effortless yet powerful vocals from Steph lit up the room, with those walking past stopping to try and locate the source of such tones. This stage showed a whole new side to acts both established and upcoming, highlighting their ability to strip it back to the very basics yet still blow minds. Closing with single Forest Ablaze a small but noticeable sing-a-long erupted within the crowd; the future is going to be very bright for this duo with not a grey cloud in sight. 7/10

Taking our place firmly at the Main Stage for the final acts of the night, pop-punk veterans New Found Glory took to the stage to show those lower down the bill just how to gain longevity in the music world. Their radio friendly sound kicked into action with Hit Or Miss taken from their debut album, and it definitely wasn’t a hit or miss set. You can’t help but admire the energy, passion and love NFG have when they’re onstage performing: Jordan Pundik didn’t stand still for more than a moment as he whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Performing a setlist of both new tracks such as Ready & Willing and Vicious Love and old classics including All Downhill From Here, the band provided something for each audience member – whether new or old – to fall in love with. NFG have always been a band who get their fans involved with their shows, tonight asking one who’d been singing along throughout to come up onstage to choose a never played before track. The chosen fan, who was definitely struggling with nerves and a blank mind, ended up forfeiting his chance leaving another to choose a track, leading to Chad Gilbert mocking the inability of such a simple process. You couldn’t help but dance, sing and move along to the infectious beats and uplifting melodies, which their set was filled to the rafters with.  Closing with My Friends Over You, their fiery set ended on a high with the arena singing back every word to arguably the band’s biggest hit. Pop-punk as we know it has been shaped by NFG, nearing their 20th year they set the example for the growing pop-punk generation. 8/10

This year’s Main Stage headliners Panic! At The Disco have already had a busy day, performing in Exeter at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend and as Brendon Urie explained, they’d coped with very little sleep during the weekend. You wouldn’t have thought this as they threw themselves straight into a fast paced, action filled set with Don’t Threaten Me With A Good Time. Flaunting a few questionably high notes at the start of the set, these soon faded into the darkness as the all killer, no filler set got well underway. There’s a real party vibe throughout as the crowd sing, dance and cheer along to favourites including Time To Dance and newer track Victorious. Significant focus was placed upon Urie, the only original and technically official member of the band; but this additional pressure just made the band up their game who provide an all round memorable set. Incorporating fire, visuals and hypnotic lighting into their set, this is a headline slot done spectacularly, including the unexpected edition of Golden Days which gives the crowd a moment to dance their cares away and attempt to reach the impeccably high notes that it flaunts. It was clear that many fans were there for one track, that being I Write Sins Not Tragedies as friends embraced, dramatic dance moves were pulled out and the whole arena went truly wild. Set highlight? More like festival highlight!

Now a regular addition to the set, a cover of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody is a well-loved track on the setlist, bringing together the band into unison as Urie leads on piano. Hitting each high note and causing the crowd (even those who just stumbled upon the band’s set) to spend five minutes going simply crazy. Nearing the end of the set This Is Gospel and closer Emperor’s New Clothes offered Birmingham one last chance to have a dance, have a whole lot of fun and to lose all of their worries in the NEC Arena. Completing the show with a mass of confetti it’s a truly unhinged, wild and fiery set from Panic! At The Disco, who rounded off Slam Dunk in spectacular fashion. 9/10

Written by: Nicola Craig

Photos by: Pat Gleeson

Nicola Craig
Head of Live with an unwavering love for the seaside, live music and writing about others instead of myself. Twitter: @nicolalalalar