I leapt into SBÄM Fest with a tangible sense of punk adventure. I drove overnight from Manchester to Stansted, got two hours kip in the back of my car, then parked up and met a pal at the airport in time for a 7am flight. One Wetherspoons breakfast and not-enough black coffee later and we’re hopping buses and trains in Austria to get to Wels. SBÄM takes place at Alter Schlachtof, an old slaughterhouse converted into a graffiti-adorned grassroots gig venue, holding 750 keen music fans this weekend. The impressive line-up (featuring Propagandhi, Donots, Satanic Surfers, Iron Chic and No Trigger to name a few) has been enough to draw people in from around the world.
We get reach the venue just in time to catch the opening act, Missstand. They perform seriously energetic, punchy political songs, just the way punk should be played. They’ve got a lot of Anti Flag-style singalong sections, but they’re loaded with more Rancid-ish grit. I’d been enjoying listening to Hinterland on record and it carries across with a lot more force live. As they’re speaking in German, we’re amused that the only words we can pick up between songs are ‘super-cool’. They’ve nailed it: SBÄM feels super cool!
Following Misstand are two favourite British acts: The Murderburgers and Wonk Unit, who are mid-way through a joint mainland tour. The Murderburgers are fiery, funny and frantic just as you come to expect them. My friend and I giggle along to Fraser’s on-point banter, although we’re not sure how well his Scottish drawl translates to the international audience. Wonk Unit proceed to play one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them perform – they seem comfortable, played-in and every element of the show feels like the top of their game. It’s good to see some of the Wonk Fam rocking out down the front, and it’s a treat to see new tunes like Christmas In A Crackhouse and Day Job Wanker on stage. They still pull out old favourites Guts and Horses, which give us an excuse for a proper dance.
It turns out that two beers on top of two hours sleep in two days is enough to make your head swim, so I decide to have a tactical sit down while I wait for the sky to stop spiralling, before adopting the tried-and-tested sunglasses-indoors coping mechanism. We also have to take a quick jaunt to check in to a hotel. Unfortunately, this means we miss Joe McMahon, however we’re back and raring to go around in time for Astpai.
As relative locals, Astpai pull an enormous crowd, delighting us with alt-rock that’s brimming with catchy hooks, reminiscent of Gnarwolves. I love their most atmospheric guitarwork, which sound enormous coming from this PA, plus the warm grit in Zock’s vocals. I’m reminded of seeing them in the sweaty backroom at Kingston’s Fighting Cocks a few years ago (The Smith Street Band were supporting, if that puts a timeline on it for you) – this is an amusing contrast, playing to a cavernous black room, crammed with people. The enthusiastic crowd, the energy and the wall of noise they bring on stage gets me even more excited for their new album True Capacity and their UK tour later this year.
The Bombpops bring all the attitude, swagger and driven melodies you could ask for, accompanied by a classic American punk-rock vibe. Their vocals are bitter, warm and Distillers-y, sure to be a love for any Fat Wreck fan. As a band who have quite a lot of SBÄM artwork, they feel like the most appropriate booking for this festival, which is partly a celebration of SBÄM’s rise to success. They dedicate a song to Teenage Bottlerocket’s Brandon Carlisle, giving everyone a chance to raise their beers, before delivering a ‘love letter’ to drinking in the form of Dear Beer.
No Trigger are flawless, easily a weekend favourite. They launch full throttle into a big hit, opening with Sleeping Bag which immediately tears open a pit and starts the fists punching the air. I’m at the front, screaming along, dancing and having the time of my life. Vocalist, Tom Rheault, is there right with us, leaping energetically around the stage, leaning out into the crowd and trying not to get distracted by the constant stream of crowd surfers. He comments on how ‘loose’ guitarist, Tom C, having gotten sloshed on red wine before the set, inspiring a wry smile and a wink to the crowd.
No Trigger excel in a style of pop-punk that doesn’t feel sickly or embarrassing. Neon National Park gets an unmatched reaction, as does Anti-Trump single Dogs on Acid, protest songs proving popular with a wider punk audience. Hyperaware, another tune off their new Adult Braces EP goes down extremely well, showing that there’s still a lot of fresh life in this classic band.
In one of the last songs, I have a sudden revelation that I’m about to see one of my all-time favourite bands: Iron Chic. The combination of that realisation and No Trigger’s fantastic performance leave me pretty ecstatic. Unfortunately, the wait for Iron Chic to go on is mildly tarnished for me by a guy down the front telling me that, as a girl, I might want to move a bit further back so that I don’t get hurt. I like to think I held my own. I distract myself by spending half an hour explaining to a group of Austrian Iron Chic fans why they need to go check out The Burnt Tapes.
Iron Chic is a crush of sweaty limbs, fists in the air and lyrics screamed back at full volume. Songs from their new album prove popular with massive singalongs, but the crowd go apoplectic for songs like Cutesy Monster Man, Timecop and Every Town Has An Elm Street. It’s unapologetically melodic, gruff, emotional punk at its best. I don’t think I’ve ever been so warm. It’s one of those transcendent moment when you feel at one with all the people throwing elbows with you; a sprawling mass of enthusiastic individuals sharing a moment of pure, joyful unity over the song we’re screaming along to. I get a bit emotional during the last track, Time Keeps On Slipping Into The (Cosmic) Future, as Lubrano sings, “If I can ask one thing when I am dead, would you lay me down by the river bed?” There are bashful, embarrassing tears of joy in my eyes that I struggle to explain to the bartender after the set.
You’d think it would be hard to top that sweaty cataclysm, but Satanic Surfers turn up and tear the venue to shreds. It’s my first time seeing this Swedish band that I’ve been a fan of for a long time, so my opinion is slightly clouded by it being a long-realised dream. It’s a struggle to catch my breath between songs that are catchy and fast-as-fuck, as the band throw track-after-track of insanely high calibre, memorable skate-punk. There’s beer in the air, salt on my lips and the crowd surrounding me are going genuinely mental. So fast. So tight. So good. Good Morning is dedicated to anyone who stays up all night, which I feel is about to be a personal dedication to me.
It’s proper old-school skate-punk, which would work well as a headline, but equally works perfectly as a primer for How To Clean Everything-era Propagandhi, which is what we’re due to enjoy next. After tactical toilet and bar breaks, a bedraggled group of us assemble in front of the stage, ready for the big event of the day. We’re physically buzzing with excitement and, having seen Propagandhi at Manchester Punk Festival two weeks before, I feel ready to let rip. I’ve already enjoyed them on an intellectual level recently, so the pit is beckoning. I’m not going to lie: I didn’t exactly pause to make notes.
We watch the first half of the set from directly in front of Todd ‘The Rod’ Kowalski’s perch at side of stage, screaming along to the lyrics and air guitaring at the appropriate moments. About halfway through I give up on that idea and let loose in the mosh-pit, a melee of excitable punks. It was a sweaty scream-along full of stage-divers for every single song and, as you’d expect, a fairly flawless set. I can’t ask for more.
Although Propagandhi are the last official set of the evening, there’s an after party with a cover band doing karaoke. I can’t recommend this more to other punk festivals – it works perfectly for keeping people partying into the early morning. As you might expect, I wind up getting hammered and jumping on stage for a rendition of Bro-Hymn following the PRH stage-invasion tradition. The evening ends for me with Pwosion and Tommy from Wonk Unit performing a pisstake version Run To The Hills with unsurpassed gusto.
Waking up in an unfamiliar bed with my head pounding, my comrade and I decide to hunt down breakfast. We find bedraggled punks traipsing around Wels, all desperately seeking a grocery shop like we are. After a long amble in the sunshine, we find somewhere that sells us ingredients for a hotel picnic, resulting in me attempting to cut up a cucumber with the back end of a teaspoon.
I’m both excited and exhausted however, compared to other festivals, I’m glad I’m not camping. I drift back to the venue in a daze, in need of a pint and a hug in equal measure. There are already plenty of people skateboarding in the sunshine, in the little jumble of ramps they’ve set up at the entrance. Fortunately, I immediately run into some English friends who’ve just arrived, looking about as fresh as I feel – Darko who’ve driven overnight to be here and Summers from Eat Defeat, who’s out on tour with The Bennies. I enjoy an early pint and a catch-up with them in the sun, hoping that I never have to take off my sunglasses.
It’s worth mentioning that the punk-loving community surrounding me is the main reason I enjoyed SBÄM Fest. Having travelled from England, I expected to know very few people and to struggle somewhat with the local language. Instead, I find myself surrounded by like-minded friends old and new. The magic of the internet has enabled a group of enthusiastic music-obsessed women to coordinate a meet-up where I immediately feel included, which in previous years would have been a rarity. Within that group was a new friend, Marie-Line, who’s travelled all the way from Canada for the event. The sheer look of enthusiasm on her face when watching No Trigger play Sleeping Bag was the best thing about the whole weekend, and I can’t overstate how important this international community is to my enjoyment of events such as this. Thanks to SBÄM for bringing us all together.
The first band up are Austrian punks Never Been Famous who provide an energetic introduction to the day’s entertainment, performing a riffy punk-rock set with a skate-punk tempo in places. Following them are an absolutely brilliant street/ska-punk act called Stockkampf from Innsbruck. They are the only band of the weekend with a full brass section, which gets everyone excited. Their songs are energetic, danceable and loaded with political vigour.
The Bennies are playing at another festival in the evening, so they play a relatively early set at SBÄM which serves to warm the crowd up. I’m using to seeing the band headline, so it feels like the audience aren’t quite ready for them but, as always, they’re a band who truly bring the party to the stage. Vocalist, Anty Horgan, clambers out into the crowd, standing on the hands of two audience members, precariously and impressively raised up in the air like a cheerleader.
It’s my first time catching Templeton Pek, which is a surprise given that a) they’re British and b) they’re one of the most successful skate-punk bands our little country has to offer. They play some familiar tunes with a lot of professionalism, clearly well-versed in this big-stage festival malarkey. It’s a very enjoyable half hour of fast, catchy punk rock tunes.
Darko’s set is my highlight of the day by some distance. This is partly because they’re one of my favourite bands, partly because we’ve become friends and partly because they played an absolute blinder of a show. Before they begin there’s a huddle of assembled friends from far-flung countries eagerly awaiting their set, another moment where the community in the punk scene feels almost as important as the music itself.
I took the opportunity to dance with total abandon – something which always makes me feel self-conscious but, fuck it, it’s fun. Vocalist, Dan Smith, looks equally ecstatic because it’s the first time performed with a radio mic; he leaps around the stage with renewed energy and enthusiasm. They rip through a set charged with recognisable hits: Hiraeth, Timepieces, Lifeblood. For me, Darko are a band who build suspense well and it’s the quieter moments in the intros to songs like Hiraeth and Life Forms that really get me fired up. All five of the band look incredibly happy to be at this festival, as they do wherever you find them on stage, tending to play their best shows outside of the UK, in my experience.
I’m sweaty enough post-Darko-dancing that I think I’ve excreted most of the booze from the night before, so it’s clearly time to sit-down and timidly attempt to eat a meal in the glorious sunshine. I catch most of Get Dead’s set as well as quite a lot of Turbobier – both huge, high-energy and stirring up a massive crowd.
I wander out into the skate-park to catch up with some mates, a move which has an unexpected butterfly effect on the rest of my evening. Darko’s guitarist, Rob, utters one fateful sentence which later results in me passing out and having to be carried to their van for my own safety: “Sarah, would you like some gin?” Of course I would!
With the drinks flowing, I have a blast chatting to punks from all around the continent, and enjoy lot of bands, although my recollection is decidedly hazy. This is one of the greatest things about a festival though, and not one to be underestimated: although the music is what brings us together, it’s the company which makes for a memorable weekend. Swedish skate-punkers Venerea played a fast, heavy and really enjoyable set to a sweltering, packed-out room. After them, hundreds of people cram into the space to watch No Fun At All and Donots. I rattle around, drunkenly babbling at friends, rocking out and having the time of my life.
Overall, I had an absolute blast at SBÄM Fest and wouldn’t hesitate to go ahead. They’re currently announcing a one-off event in the Autumn with the likes of Anti-Flag, Frenzal Rhomb, Samiam, Consumed and Cancer Bats, with more to be announced. They are also already selling tickets from SBÄM Fest 3 next year – why don’t you all come get smashed with me this time?
Fancy learning more about SBÄM Fest? Check our recent interview with co-organiser Martin Atteneder. They’re not just a punk festival, they’re a record label and an artwork machine – they’re ready to take over the world.