words and photos by oliver butler (@notoliverbutler)
Maybe to you, a boring idiot, Slam Dunk Festival is a pretty nifty one day festival that spreads its rich mix of bands across the four corners of this land (apart from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, because fuck those guys right?!), but to the more experienced and festival-savvy of us, Slam Dunk is a test of endurance; a one day alcoholic assault course that pushes your drinking tolerance, fitness and mental endurance.
Of course, those of you who followed last year’s boozy commentary, or had the severe misfortune of running into me will attest that I push my physical, mental and emotional limits to the maximum when it comes to Slam Drunk. Slam Drunk is for slamming beers, maybe for grabbing a £30 slice of pizza, and absolutely not about sticking to an itinerary of bands you wish to see. The compact nature of the festival makes it ideal to stumble around from stage to stage, spending the whole time trying to work out who the fuck this band is, but largely enjoying their sound.
Same rules as last year apply: a running tally of all beers must be kept, a beer must be drank between or during bands, and the third inning is known as the beer inning.
We run into the NEC with the Official Transistor Beer Counter at 8, and the first band on today are:
Four Year Strong (Jagermeister Stage)
For me, Four Year Strong are that band that did that really good cover of Love Song by Sara Bareilles. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I just remember slamming that Punk Goes Pop album on repeat with FYS getting a LOT of playtime, and that obviously introduced me to the band’s wider work. Maybe I was late to the party then, but I was certainly late to the party today as I rocked up halfway through their set… blame widespread rail cancellations, nationalise it all.
However, if the first half was as good as the second, Four Year Strong put on a blinding show, sounding tight throughout Find My Way Back, Maniac, It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now, closing the set out with Wasting Time. It was at this point the stars aligned and I found some of my friends, so as the final notes from Four Year Strong’s set resonated throughout the NEC’s main hall, I heard the sweetest sound of all as someone said “Beer?”.
BAND RATING: 7/10
BEER COUNTER: 10 (one in Spoons pre-FYS, one post FYS)
Sure, It Must Really Suck to be Four Year Strong Right Now, but not as much as it sucks to be me, as I dropped my beer. Some might argue it was down to a high level of intoxication, however, I dropped my beer because I saw several assassins approaching my friends, and in the process of performing several highly complex martial arts manoeuvres to save their lives, I dropped my beer. They will not be able to confirm this story due to the high speed in which these moves were performed, but I’m sure they are most grateful. Coming up after that dramatic fight were a band I’m so very excited about, and even more excited about to see for the first time…
Creeper (Jagermeister Stage)
Possibly one of, if not the most exciting bands in the United Kingdom right now, I have been excited to see Creeper since they were announced. Let’s be honest, compared to recent years, the line up’s a bit shit, but Creeper are one of the bands to justify the ticket fee alone. Sure, I was late to the party, as the first time I heard Eternity, In Your Arms, Creeper were just bringing their headline UK tour to a close, but when I did, it was easily one of the best albums I’d heard in 2017. Not too heavy, not too light, it was the Goldilocks of albums in 2017 as it was juuuust right.
As soon as the lights went out, the first bar of Black Rain struck and there was a buzz in the air as, and I didn’t have my glasses on, a suitably filling NEC greeted Creeper to the stage. It was an expertly crafted set from the Southampton band, giving a perfect mix of beginning to present, including Astral Projection, Suzanne and Black Mass. Something I noted on when giving an end of year review to Eternity, In Your Arms was how impressive the vocal blend of Will Gould and Hannah Greenwood was, and in the live arena, it’s no different, but the latter was simply sublime when performing a huge rendition of Crickets, with the vocal blend switching to between Hannah and the NEC. Hiding With Boys was also a highlight, it’s got a real bouncy feel to it.
Fingers crossed these guys get back on it soon and carry on building on the strong foundations they laid in 2017. I’m looking forward to seeing them again at 2000 Trees, where I promise to be more lucid.
BAND RATING: 9/10
BEER COUNTER: 11
Shit… what happened after Creeper? I’m pretty sure something happened after Creeper. There was a wrestling match before or after. Look, I paid fifty quid to see Creeper and sink a beer. It’s my money pal, if I want to blow it on indulgent and unnecessary things, you’re gonna have a hard time stopping me. Oh, oh, and if I want to stall for time to fill an article where I can’t remember what happened, I fucking well will. Yeah? Anyway, I remember what happened and we went to the food court, which, seeing as it’s Slam Dunk, meant seeing another band, and oh boy, was this gonna be good as we saw…
Counterparts (Impericon Stage)
I was gutted to have missed Counterparts supporting Architects at Alexandra Palace earlier in the year, so seeing they’d be at Slam Drunk made everything okay again. The good news was the Impericon Stage has been moved into the food court this year, meaning everyone could enjoy something heavy whilst getting a £5,000,000 shawarma. Not for me thank you, I’m on a liquid diet.
Mightily impressed by these guys, especially with their stage presence as they tore it up as everyone grabbed an early tea. Their Spotify bio is just literally “nice music”, which is probably the most honest and least pretentious Spotify bio I’ve ever seen. Oh, and nice it was as they dropped hardcore bombs like Bouquets, Thieves, Choke and Rope. Simple, quick, one word songs. No idea what they opened with as I was still at Creeper as they came on, and beer makes me slow.
However, I turned 25 this year, which means I’m a very old man and must divert my attention to doing things like having dinner parties, and of course, what DO you play for ambient music at a dinner party? Considering that they delightfully soundtracked a room full of people eating dinner, Counterparts are my number one choice for dinner music.
BAND RATING: 8/10
BEER COUNTER: 12
Seriously, why have I drank so much today? Thank fuck I’ve got tomorrow off. I need a wee. I could do with some food but £9,000,000,000 for pizza? Fuck off pal. Sat outside and listened to Capdown on the Fireball Stage. Maybe these guys deserve a review but I can’t really remember anything about them apart from the fact they were pretty good. In this time I also missed Twin Atlantic, due to numerous scheduling conflicts. Basically I’d jump out here, as we’re hitting peak levels of “fucked it” right now. Then you sort of hit a swirl where you’ve seen about fourteen bands in the space of five minutes but you’ve no clue who the fuck any of them are, or who you are. Saw Creeper signing autographs, thought about joining the queue, decided against as I was too drunk and I’d end up interviewing them, but about their favourite drunk takeaway food as several presumably burly security guards whisked me away.
Whatever, want me to talk about another band? I don’t. I don’t know why anyone reads the bollocks that comes off the end of my fingers and onto your screen. Anyway, here’s…
Trash Boat (Signature Brew Stage)
Oh these guys were fun, I couldn’t have told you a thing about them before, but they’re definitely one of those you’re pleasantly surprised by. The Hertfordshire punks played a great set to a brilliant crowd, firing blasts like Catharsis, Pangea and Shade. Again, nice one word songs, easy for the drunk, tired brain to process, meaning you can put more time into bipedal humanoid functions like walking, talking and stopping yourself from screaming every five seconds.
I’d say if I had to pick a “surprise” band of the day, it’d be Trash Boat, largely because I was surprised to be seeing them, but overwhelmingly because I was so impressed with their sound and their stage presence. Some bands you see at a festival one year and discard, but Trash Boat sold themselves well, pretty amazing considering they are named after a boat that has garbage on it.
BAND RATING: 8/10
BEER COUNTER: 15 (Saw someone serving two pinters and hot damn did my day go uphill)
Nothing will ever beat Slam Drunk 2015 though, I got blasted, saw a load of metal bands including a headline set from Architects, met Dan from Bury Tomorrow and didn’t have a hangover the next day. Also it was at Wolverhampton Civic which is a far superior venue in a far superior city. The NEC is a cold, unloving monolith, the Civic is a warm, caring building. However, I know a band who’d make up for all that, and I’m hoping that band would be…
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes (Jagermeister Stage)
All day. All fucking day we’d been chomping at the bit for Juggernaut. Electricity followed us as we were just anticipating Juggernaut, and Juggernaut did not disappoint as Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes rattled the NEC with their sonic assault opening the proceedings. Someone got crowdsurfed and booted me in the head. Straight out the game. Big headache. However, that did not stop my fun during Fangs, and did not stop me doing my duty during Wild Flowers. I’ve said it before, but I love how it’s used to have girls safely crowdsurf, of course, this should be every song of every show by every band, but I love the fact that’s what Wild Flowers is for. Neck canes though, when you’re 6″4, you are the stairway to crowdsurfing. I love seeing Vampires in the setlist too, it’s a real simple song but that’s why it’s so good, the chorus is thumping and the drums and the Ooohohwowowowoah in the bridge is sublime.
It was a whistle stop tour through their discography, with Paradise, Snake Eyes and Devil Inside Me rocking up, and rocking out. It’s a shame really, as you can’t help but feel they’ve got the clout to be a bit higher on the bill, maybe at the top on say the Monster Stage? Maybe it’s too soon, but when you have such a plethora of stages available, throwing a box office band in at the top could pay off massively. It would’ve been good to see Beautiful Death, Primary Explosive and Spray Paint Love, but when you’re third from the top, you’ve got to go shock and awe. And awe it was.
It’s at this point I’d like to apologise to Frank Carter, his security guard, my fan and my future children, as during er, Jackals(?), a man called Frank jumped into the crowd, right in front of me! It was at this point a maverick journalist decided he’d get a “selfie”‘ with this man, for the sake of a good story. The selfie didn’t take, I just couldn’t take a good selfie, and I ruined everything. Frank probably doesn’t remember a fat, sweaty drunk man in a Spray Paint Love t shirt fucking up a photo op, because stuff like that is water off a duck’s back to a pro like him, but it will haunt me for the rest of my life. If I saw Frank Carter in the street, I’d cross the road, out of shame, I couldn’t face him. A week ago I’d have shook his hand with enthusiasm, now I couldn’t even look him in the eye. I can’t listen to Blossom or Modern Ruin any more, because I’m so full of shame for trying to take a selfie. Who the fuck am I, Philip fucking Schofield? It’s been five days now and I can’t sleep, I can’t look at myself in the mirror, because the man who stares back is a man who can’t take a selfie. Frank, I’m so sorry…
In my mind, Frank sang I Hate You about me, because I was the man who tried taking a photo. I’ve done some cringe things when drunk but this really takes the cake. To borrow a lyric, “What did I do last night, and will I be ashamed?”. Fuck sake.
BAND RATING: 9/10
BEER COUNTER: 16
ME RATING: -1,000,000/10
Right so, this is where I died of shame and my friend decided he was actually dead so I rescued him and kept everyone awake on the train home. I did see PVRIS, but only like, thirty seconds of them, so just imagine they were fucking brilliant.
As for me, I shall never go to a gig or drink again, apart from tonight where I am drinking, and tomorrow night where I am going to a gig. However, seeing as I died of shame, I shall be doing both of these as a ghost.
If you were at Slam Drunk, please let me know how it was for you, and how you managed to make an arse out of yourself in one of your favourite singers, it would soothe my weeping wounds greatly.