Slam Dunk Festival has long proved to be a sparring ground for up-and-comers of the punk and metal variety to make their gambit for the big league, and for the veterans to show beyond doubt that they’ve still got what it takes to be a top contender, and the 2014 edition of the festival isn’t set on changing that.

Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! cause minor early afternoon rumblings on the Monster stage with their metalcore-by-numbers approach. While there’s nostalgic enjoyment to be salvaged from their cover of that Smash Mouth song, it’s sadly the pinnacle of their set, as the likes of the juvenile ‘Haters Gonna Hate’ brush past in a muddled cacophony of dull breakdowns and vocal patterns that are barely distinguishable from just about every other band lumbered into an over-saturated scene.

There’s no such troubles for budding punk rockers Gnarwolves, who astound on a level even the most die-hard of their followers are unlikely to have anticipated. Thrusting their rough-around-the-edges brand of socio-conscious rock that screams “D-I-Y ’till I die” to a packed out Forum, they incite sing-alongs from songs that possess no defined structure, a feat that begs the question as to just how explosive their live sets will be once they’ve added a fine collection of belters in their arsenal.

There’s similar tidings of celebration to be had US pop-punk upstarts State Champs, who proceed to demonstrate exactly why they’re worthy recipients of the colossal amount of hype lauded unto them by the rock press. With razor-sharp set opener ‘Deadly Conversation’ and the hook-laden tour de force that is ‘Over The Line’ reigning supreme in a similar fashion to modern-day champions The Wonder Years, it’s difficult to argue that State Champs might be one of the more significant players in ushering in the greatest generation of the genre to be seen since the glory days.

Over on the main stage, Motion City Soundtrack plough ahead with their sharp-witted and tactile approach to the workings of the pop-punk genre. An absence of new material means the denizens of Slam Dunk are treated to a 45 minutes of career-spanning classics from their repertoire, with the ever-charming Justin Pierre and ensemble reeling off the tongue-in-cheek ‘L.G.F.U.A.D.’ and the smarmy anthem of hopeless romantics everywhere ‘Her Words Destroyed My Planet’ to a tee.

Things run less than smoothly for their successors We Are The In Crowd, however, who meagrely fight their way through an array of sound issues throughout one of the most lacklustre sets of the day. The back-and-forth chemistry between Tay Jardine and Jordan Eckes might’ve proven to be a recipe for success on record, but it only works in a live format when both , and today Ms. Jardine doesn’t reciprocate Eckes’ effort, instead relying on her audience to the choruses they’re baying to hear her belt. For one of modern pop-punk’s brightest sparks, it’s a shame to see them crumble when it comes to such a prestigious billing.

Whilst letlive. lay waste to the Monster stage with a tremendous showing of anarchistic most people have come to expect from Jason Butler and co., elsewhere Hit The Lights settle for a comparatively modest affair, although its not one without its own merits. Brimming with enthusiasm and armed with a self-awareness that 2012’s ‘Invicta’ perhaps flew slightly amiss of their target audience, they choose to draw upon the charismatic blend of sugar-drenched hooks and meaty riffage that they honed on their first two records to delightfully satisfying results. By the time they bring proceedings to a close with their quintessentially boisterous and brash set highlight ‘Bodybag’, an undeniable reassurance that’s there still life in the ol’ Hit The Lights hit machine.

As The All-American Rejects fumble their main stage headline performance, tonight’s real triumph comes courtesy of Kids In Glass Houses. Celebrating their seminal debut Smart Casual – the album that served as a distinct trailblazer for many of the UK’s new wave of premier rock acts today – the Welsh wonders fire off hit after hit after hit, with rarer album cuts such as the contagious ‘Lovely Bones’ being treated with the same raucous appraisal as set staples like ‘Easy Tiger’ and an enormous rendition of ‘Saturday’. A bittersweet cloud might permanently engulf their set with the knowledge that this is the year they pack it all in, but today they prove that they’ll leave with a legacy that’ll last for many years to come.

Joshua Pauley

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