Last year I (Sarah) had a fantastic trip to Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia with the Lockjaw Records crew. I wrote a review while I was there… but I was too catastrophically overwhelmed with real life to finish it off and get it online.
Rather than waste it, have a giggle about last year’s shenanigans while you gear up for Punk Rock Holiday 2019… with some fantastic photos from Silvy Maatman and Dave Sloan.
“This is the best festival ever!” says everyone, about every festival, ever. The difference is that Punk Rock Holiday genuinely is The Best Festival Ever.
Talking to people over the weekend, interestingly the consensus is that people attend PRH year after year for reasons other than the bands playing. They come for the stunning Alpine scenery, the crystal clear, glacial rivers, and the opportunity to relax on two wonderful river beaches. The main stage is nestled in a clearing in the forest, so the evening bands play surrounded by tall, verdant trees as the sunset glistens through the canopy.
This is a festival where you are guaranteed to be partying with punk rockers from every corner of the world: I mainly spent the week with friends from Brighton, Sweden, Germany, Finland and Belgium who I’d hardly have the opportunity to see if events like this didn’t draw us together.
Everyone also agrees that Punk Rock Holiday is the most relaxing of the festivals out there. Only one band plays at a time, so you’re not under pressure to leg-it between stages to catch your favourites. This encourages you to catch bands you’re less familiar with, if you’re not too busy cooling down in the river or sleeping off last night’s excesses. The main stage is set up perfectly for stage-diving, including a catwalk area that ensures fans don’t encroach on the band’s space. The security are alert but relaxed and there’s medics ready to respond in the unlikely event of an injury.
It’s important not to underestimate the calibre of the Punk Rock Holiday lineup, though. PRH received some criticism for the headliners booked this for 2018, however that’s inevitable when you’ve booked Propagandhi and Descendents for the two previous years – you can really only go downhill from there. There were some jaw-dropping mainstage performances, notably from Authority Zero, Mad Caddies, Voodoo Glow Skulls and Satanic Surfers.
For me, the most exciting bands of the weekend were those playing the smaller Beach Stage. In trying to call a ‘best performance’ of the weekend, I’m caught somewhere between Adrenalized, One Hidden Frame and Almeida, who all rocked out before 5pm. Of the mid-size, Mute, Rebuke, March and This Is A Standoff were all really impressive. I was also blown away by Bates Motel, Escape Artists and Snareset, all of whom were virtually new to me.
Maybe it’s the sunshine, maybe it’s the water or maybe it’s the free-flowing cocktails. Either way, Punk Rock Holiday brings out the best in every band who performs. There’s a magic in the sunlight that glistens through the trees; if you want to play, watch or dance along to the best gig of your life, this is the place you’ll be able to do it.
Without further ado, these are my top moments of Punk Rock Holiday 2018, in chronological order…
Sunday: “Let’s just have one, then get some sleep.”
Having travelled straight from Brakrock Ecofest, we arrived at PRH after a sweaty, rowdy, cramped 18 hour overnight van drive from Belgium. I’d never needed a shower, a cocktail and 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep so much in my life.
As part of the Lockjaw Records crew, we set up the massive PNKRCKR Collective merch tent as soon as we arrived, which involved a lot of heavy lifting, swearing, sweating and van tetris in the dark, so the last thing we wanted was to stay out and party.
Still, Punk Rock Holiday has a magical way of cajoling us into it. We started on an overpriced but delicious gin and tonic… and four pina coladas later we were down on the beach partying and catching up with everyone. It’d rained just before we arrived, but the land looked sun-drenched, the river looked inviting and the bar was open.
Monday: Ducking Punches opening the festival
Our crew spent most of the day on Monday setting up the PNKRCKR stall, which became my hub for the week. This meant I was safely perched on a bench near the mainstage clearing eating poorly-constructed a salad baguette when Ducking Punches started sound checking. I gravitated over to the stage, dropping cucumber and hummus all over myself. Even on a first throw, the sound was crystal clear as it ran through the glade.
I grabbed 15 minutes for a chat with singer Dan Allen before getting to catch them opening the mainstage. These catchy alt-rockers from Norwich hold a special place in my heart, so getting to see them open the biggest stage at my favourite festival was a special treat. The crowd were ready for it, filling the space in front of the stage and chanting the words back. It’s enough to make my heart swell.
Monday: Mad Caddies’ Acoustic Set
The rest of the Monday night line-up was equally banging; including fast and mad sets from Union 13, Dog Eat Dog, Hladno Pivo, Happy Ol’ McWeasel and Elvis Jackson. Although I was enjoying the music, catching up with friends from far flung countries for the first time in a year slightly took precedence. The advantage of the PNKRCKR stall was that we had an open chill-out area with benches and records, which everyone gravitated to as a meeting point for the week. If you wanted to see your friends, you were guaranteed to catch them here.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, Mad Caddies played an acoustic set over at the American Socks stage – a session that would become one of the most talked-about moments of the whole week.
American Socks run acoustic sessions in between bands playing the mainstage, but the times aren’t overly well advertised, so knowing which band is on and when is an elaborate game of Chinese whispers, guesswork and drunken intuition. I’d heard rumour that Caddies would be playing, but it was only when I saw the road to the campsite absolutely crammed full of punks that I clocked what was going on. There was no hope of seeing the band unless you were right at the front, but standing in the crowd singing along to their gentler version of Greenday’s She was one of those transcendentally beautiful, memorable festival moments.
Monday: Late Night Beach Shenanigans
Following Caddies acoustic, The Living End absolutely decimated the main-stage. The full festival crowd isn’t here yet (as Monday is technically a pre-party) but it seems rammed in front of the stage, with folks dancing along and gawping in awe are bassist Scott Owen clambered up onto his double-bass to play while standing on it. Following them, The Vandals played another uplifting set to a seriously enthusiastic crowd.
As is traditional, we gravitate down to the beach for the first night of proper after-partying. We’re too cool to listen to the cheesy stuff the DJs have got on, so we grab a pina colada and find a quiet bench further down the beach.
Our group chatted utter shite at each other for an hour or two – is there any better way to end a night? Two of our mates wind up falling fully-clothed into the freezing river – an instant recipe for hypothermia which puts a swift but timely end to the evening.
Tuesday: “You’re surrounded by idiots just like you.”
Tuesday begins with a surprising lack of hangover and a promise of a full day of bands. Italian skate-punks Lineout open the mainstage, followed by Mancunian trio Dead Neck. It’s odd seeing someone from home playing as far afield as Slovenia, but they smash out a seriously catchy skate-punk set to the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen them perform to.
Frontman Andy Dazzler introduces Cooking With Nunchucks by saying it’s a song about making the impossible happen. He relates this to the unique charm of Punk Rock Holiday, in the sense that it’s a mission for everyone to get there. As a result, you’re surrounded by people just as foolhardy as you, who have all travelled to this beautiful place to just hang around with each other. In amongst offers of weed and Slovenian death water (rakija, no thanks), this is a surprisingly astute summary of what makes Punk Rock Holiday so special, which is reinforced by a cover of Frenzal Rhomb’s Never Had So Much Fun.
Tuesday: Serious Discovery Time
The rest of the afternoon is one of serious discovery. Firstly, I’m thoroughly impressed by Blind Man Death Stare, who’ve made it all the way from Australia. This band deserve to explode in popularity immediately; they’re fast, fun and dirty, who doesn’t want that? They’re Australia’s answer to NoFX.
I stumble upon a food stall further down the beach with an incredible vegan curry pasta dish. I have a laugh with the chef as he chops garlic and vegetables and grills them on a wok over an open flame, in the least pretentious cheffy fashion possible. It tastes as fresh and brilliant as it looks, which is a godsend when you’ve been living off crisp sandwiches for a week. I wind up coming back for four more of these over the week.
The surprise win of Tuesday’s lineup is Escape Artists from Vienna. We’re drawn across the beach by Pia’s soaring vocals; she’s got a delightfully crisp, clear voice that carries their punchy choruses perfectly. It intermingled with some of the great, tricky guitar parts that bring depth and interest to an otherwise punchy punk rock sound. They’re a band with clear skate-punk influences twinned with a captivating performance, not dissimilar to Not On Tour, March or Coral Springs
Following them are Dutch rockers March, who were my favourite band from Brakrock. They take fast punk and play it properly, with a gritty female vocal, falling somewhere in between The Bronx and The Distillers. The title track from their album Headshears gets a killer reaction from the big crowd that have amassed on the beach for them. It’s clear that March will slay any stage they encounter.
The final discovery of Tuesday afternoon was the shockingly refreshing potential of an ice-cube gently pushed down a friend’s unsuspecting buttcrack. The heat at Punk Rock Holiday is utterly unrelenting, so watching go from surprise to relief was thoroughly entertaining.
Tuesday: Cocktails & Hardcore
Philadelphia’s indie-punk faves The Menzingers open the main stage to a massive, early audience. We’re all screaming the words along, never more than for Nice Things, The Obituaries and (for me at least) I Don’t Wanna Be An Asshole Anymore. There are few bands out there with the talent for writing catchy, anthemic choruses that The Menzingers have in spades, so they’re no doubt a massive hit for everyone who knows the words.
The reactions for both Comeback Kid and Terror are completely overwhelming, with a constant stream of hardcore fans surfing off the stage at all times. I think that Comeback Kid play a pretty flawless set however, further back, things really don’t get moving until they play hit Wake The Dead right the end of the set.
Following them, No Fun At All are one of the first of many Swedish skate-punk acts to grace the main stage over the course of the weekend, smashing out tunes that have the timelessness of The Offspring, lifted by a fresher sound.
There was also an excellent Ducking Punches acoustic set in here somewhere however, although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’d also been thoroughly enjoying cocktails all day.
Tuesday: Madness for Mad Caddies
Without any doubt, Mad Caddies smash out the biggest set of the day. In fact, it’s one of the biggest sets of the week. It may be one of the biggest sets ever. Having had a ska-punk ctush on Caddies for years and seen them quite a few times, this is the best set I’ve ever seen them perform, by a long distance.
Mad Caddies are of those bands that you think you know pretty well who, in the space of half an hour, surprise you with all the songs you’d forgotten you knew. My friends and I are dancing like lunatics for Monkeys, Road Rash, Backyard and Preppie Girl. Their covers of She and Sorrow are huge, but it’s Macho Nachos and Drinking for 11 that really get the crowd in a frenzy. They close the set on All American Badass, where we’re almost too distracted by dancing to notice that the brass section have split the crowd down the middle and joined everyone dancing on the floor. How often do you see a floor-show at a festival this size?
There’s so much party in this one band that it’s hard to fathom how anyone will top this. It feels like everything in the world is on the up; nothing mattered apart from that band and all my friends around me in that moment.
As is traditional, we head down to the beach to party harder. We have a dance to punk rock classics and once again wind up chatting as one massive group. There’s a few more party casualties this evening, but there’s a handful of us still there at 5am, watching the sun come up over the river, sharing the moment.
Wednesday: Bates Motel Obliterating My Hangover
Surprisingly, I’m not feeling too bad when I wake up 11:30 or so in the shade of the woods. Having heard good things about them, I hastily leg it down to the Beach Stage to catch Bates Motel. The beach smells terrible. I see assorted faces from 5am the night before, all in varying states between disrepair-and-drunk; there’s much discussion of the quality of our hangovers.
Bates Motel make for one hell of a Wednesday wake up call. Super-tight, energetic melodic hardcore from Valencia, with a snare that pops out of the mix like a bottlerocket. Friends who’d played shows with them in hometown of Valencia had bigged them up, but I’m absolutely gobsmacked to discover such a stunning melodic hardcore band that I’d not really heard to much about previously. I was seriously impressed by their musicianship; they’re tightest, hardest melodic hardcore bands of the week.
Neutral Bombs don’t hit the mark for me, but Skin of Tears are great fun, playing fast punk with notable covers of Land Down Under and Up The Cups thrown in. It’s fast, twiddly, energetic punk rawk with some classic guitar licks and shoutalong drinking choruses.
Wednesday: Saying Goodbye To Barry
For those of you who don’t know, Almeida are a staggeringly creative progressive thrash band from Brighton (or thereabouts). A major factor in the success of Almedia is bassist Barry, who’s such a jaw-dropping instrumentalist that another bassist once asked me if he was actually playing the same instrument as them.
Alas, Barry’s sadly decided to leave the band, so we’ve arranged a big send off for him for Punk Rock Holiday. There’s a enormous crowd assembled, t-shirts with Barry’s face on and a vague plan to play Whitney Houston at some stage.
Almeida play an amazing set, there’s a lot of early-day drunkenness and cocktails being passed around the pit. I drink a frisbee full of beer on the stage in an attempt to promote a Lockjaw Records compilation and end up crowd-surfing to the bar. We get a big human pyramid, a group photo and dance like nutjobs. I have to go jump in the river afterwards.
Wednesday: Voodoo Glow Skulls firing up the mainstage
I stumble back over to the Beach Stage to watch The Murderburgers play, quite possibly, the best set I’ve ever seen them do. Once again, the magic of Punk Rock Holiday’s stages are working wonders for the band; the crowd absolutely lap up their feisty, funny Scottish pop-punk. My highlights are All My Best Friends Are Dying and Fraser’s ‘serious musician’ t-shirt.
The evening’s mainstage is a strong and diverse lineup, kicking off with American sweet-but-deadly power-punks The Bombpops. It’s Voodoo Glow Skulls that really kick off the party – they’re unbelievably fun to watch, with a big, angry punch behind every song: ska-core as it should be.
Interestingly, I consider VGS to be part of the ska-core old-guard, a ‘household name’ for anyone who’s spent time in the company of Beat The Red Light or Random Hand. Here, although they’re playing to a big crowd, they seems a lot of people haven’t stumbled across them before. Perhaps it’s that combination of old fandom and new enthusiasm that allows them to smash out such a fantastic performance.
They crack into Shoot The Moon seriously early on, before I’ve had time to mentally prepare for the joy I’m about to experience. They’ve got a handful of tracks from the much-teased new album in the set, but the biggest new addition is Efram, who’s usually tearing vocals from his throat with Death By Stereo. Here, he’s instead tearing his mask from his face and sparking the dancing off in front of the stage. Luchador mask, cape, weilding a massive VGS flag.
Voodoo are celebrating 30 years of whipping crowds into a frenzy and it shows. It’s impossible not to skank, it’s instant good times with a hint of hardcore that fires up the crowd.
For me, the rest of the evening includes some hard partying, a supportive effort to see Beatsteaks and Satanic Surfers (thanks to Dan and Maddie). I don’t quite make it to the beach, but I do drink a bottle of whiskey neat in the Slovenian village, enjoying the quiet calm of the evening.
Thursday: The Fast-Punk Triple Header
If you like technical fast punk (and clearly you do) dinner time on Thursday would have had you in a frenzy. First up, the Beach Stage hosted Spanish shredders Adrenalized and Canadian legends This Is A Standoff, then equally famous Canadian tech tornado Mute opened the mainstage up the hill.
It was a pretty special moment to say the least. It’s hard to pick from so many best-ever performances, but if pushed I’d say Adrenalized were my band of the weekend. They are also one of the most aptly named bands in existence: catastrophically, mind-bendingly fast, like a nuclear blast, a quadruple espresso and a punch in the face all at once. There’s a big chaotic stage invasion during their set, one of the most intense moments of the week.
After saying multiple times on the way to the festival that I was going to ‘take it easy’, I appear to have created a festival casualty of myself quite successfully. I need to tattoo “Go to bed, Sarah,” on my hand as a permanent reminder.
I’m extremely stoked to catch This Is A Standoff and the beach is rammed. I decide to shovel some pasta into my face but there’s elbows everywhere, so I take a brief perch down in a private enclave of beach right near the stage, where I can still hear the band. Planning to inhale some food then go join the fray… Instead I wake up just as Standoff are playing their closing song with a half-eaten plate of pasta on my chest, having passed out for the whole set. “Go to bed, Sarah.”
Thursday evening for me is spent working: doing interviews, recording podcasts and helping out over at the Lockjaw stall. I do get the joy of watching Mute create chaos on the mainstage, though, culminating in a huge stage invasion. I roam around watching Lagwagon at the end of the night – they play all of Let’s Talk About Feelings, and there’s a guy dressed up as the girl from the album cover. Back on form, I spend the morning hours at on the beach again, drinking with friends and being romantic by the river – it’s hard not to in this setting.
Friday: Rebuke & One Hidden Frame
I’m up early to catch Mental Strike down at the beach, feeling as though I’ve used every single shred of serotonin I will ever have, despite a relatively restrained evening. I have a cry and Rob Lockjaw buys me a pina colada. Festivals are hard.
One Hidden Frame are the answer to all my problems. Hailing from Finland, I think they’ve produced some of the best recorded fast-punk there is available, and I’m excited to see how it translates to their live show. They don’t disappoint, easily one of my favourite bands of the weekend. They’ve got a tone that instantly appeals, exceptional vocals some stunning tracks like Exploding Head Syndrome and 16 Hours. I dance about and get back on form.
Lockjaw pals and Swedish legends Rebuke open up the main stage, as part of a Swedish skate-punk trifecta, with Adhesive and Misconduct following. A collective of all our international friends are crowded down the front, celebrating and singing along. They play a storming set, and we even successfully coordinate a human pyramid on stage.
Friday: Authority Zero raising spirits
Authority Zero were nothing short of incredible. The main stage arena is full, although folks are perhaps less familiar with AZ than they are with Mad Caddies’ lyrics. Balloons are flying. The crowd’s split down the middle for a huge, fun wall of death. They get a few thousand fans down on their knees only to jump back up – it’s not the first time it’s been done this weekend, but it’s a spectacular frenzy to observe.
12:34 is one huge singalong: even now I’ve got the, “What you waiting for? Whoa ah oh oh oh…” refrain lodged in my head. It’s an incredibly authentic punk rock show. It’s also stunning watching a guitarist with only one hand rip a sick solo while scissor kicking like a maniac. They’re feeding off the audience’s energy and decimating the arena. They miss a trick by not playing No Other Place (‘I’d rather be’) because that’s incredibly true of this moment, but Find Your Way is a stunning culmination to the set.
Friday: “Where are the walls?!”
Bad Religion close out Friday night on the main stage. It’s an impressive set and even I (a notorious disliker of Bad Religion) enjoy myself. We even get a floss-pit going; one of 2018’s finest moments.
We’re all exhausted by this point, but we’ve now got the unenviable task of packing down the Lockjaw Records tent. It’s massive, it’s full of vinyl and we can’t find all of it. Clawing around in the darkness shouting, “Where are the walls?!” is an accurate metaphor for the state our minds are in. The lurid facepaint Rob’s been plastering on everyone isn’t helping in the slightest.
Punk Rock Holiday is a marathon if you’re working and partying at the same time, but it remains The Best Festival Ever. It’s an excellent summer pilgrimage for all of our foolhardy punk rock pals, and I wish all the best to everyone attending this year. Enjoy a melon ball for me!