Punk Rock Holiday 1.8

author PP date 20/08/18

When people say Punk Rock Holiday is the most beautiful festival in the world, they aren't lying. When they added the word holiday to the name of the festival, they aren't lying. In its essence, it's a week-long holiday break in the nature with the added bonus of having live music: you could spend all week here without seeing a single band, just exploring the pristine nature, relaxing in one of the two rivers, or be going on short trips outside of the festival to the national park right next door. Where most other festivals are just a bunch of stages on a field by some obscure small town where it's about the music and not much else, Punk Rock Holiday excels in a relaxing atmosphere ideal for de-stressing from your everyday life, or if you like, for a week-long binge in beach-like setting with your best friends. The point is, the festival allows for both: it's more than music in so many different ways, which makes it one of the most unique festivals in the world.

In this article, we'll take a look a the festival as a whole. We'll talk about the camping area and the festival area facilities. We'll discuss the diverse deposit systems and how the paycard works (and why it should be scrapped). Of course, we also have a trove of live reviews from the festival and imagery provided by organizers, but those will be further down in the article, so if you're here only for those, feel free to scroll down past the general thoughts about the festival.

LINEUP

ARRIVAL & CAMPING AREA

Punk Rock Holiday takes place next to the small mountain town of Tolmin, Slovenia during the second week of August this year. It's a fairly remote part of the country, right beside a large national park, surrounded by mountains and two rivers: the ice-cold Tolminka River (5C temperature), and the warmer and larger Soča River (temperatures around 21C this year), which join together at the spear-end of the festival creating a unique beach area that we'll talk about later.

HOW TO GET THERE

There's a multitude of options on how to get there: you could drive through the mountains from Italy, or as we did, 90 minutes from the capital city Ljubljana on a route that goes virtually directly over a mountain with serpentine-style roads and beautiful landscapes all the way through. Alternatively, the festival provides shuttle services from some of the nearby cities (Ljubljana and a few others, where you can fly cheaply into), or if you were truly hardcore, you could take the festival bus directly from Brakrock, Belgium to Punk Rock Holiday if your body can handle that much traveling.

ARRIVAL: WRISTBANDS & GARBAGE DEPOSIT

Upon arrival, you are met at the edge of the camping area by a small temporary container next to Hofer, the main supermarket of Tolmin, where you'll exchange your ticket for a wristband. If you are arriving early (Saturday, Sunday, or Monday for the warm-up show), you're paying €20-30 in early arrival fee. On top of that, you have to buy the contactless payment card supplied by the festival, and load it up with minimum €20 in cash to cover the garbage deposit fee, and the paycard deposit & processing fee. In exchange, you get a waterproof card that removes the need of a wallet for the rest of the festival, plus two large garbage bags: one for plastics and aluminum, and one for general waste. You are expected to return these to one of the garbage points at the festival filled up to get your €10 garbage deposit fee back.

This is a great system because it automatically makes for a cleaner festival: every patron has a garbage bag in hand, which means it feels natural to collect the trash there especially because it has monetary value to you afterward.

DRIVING IN: THE CAMPING AREA

At this point you can take your car and drive it into the campgrounds, which are separated in three areas: parking only, parking & camping (where you can camp next to your vehicle, like at most other German and Austrian festivals), and camping only. The latter is where the beauty of this festival truly kicks in: you are allowed to pitch up your tent virtually anywhere in this area as long as you are not blocking one of the main pathways to the festival. In practice, it means you can pitch it up in the forest, next to the forest, on one of the many fields, or anywhere else you find a slot. The best part? The festival is limited to just 5000 people in capacity, but the campgrounds have definitely space for more than double that, so finding a space is super easy and you won't have to fight for space with other attendees like you do at festivals such as Roskilde. Plenty of room even for huge tents to set them up, and to have space in between your tents for a camp circle, hang out spot, etc.

THE FOREST: ENJOYING THE SHADE

Our recommendation? The forest, especially if it's hot and the weather looks like it will hold. Imagine setting up in the midst of trees and bushes, covered from the sun by the full shade of the trees. You don't even need a pavilion as a result, plus you can bring lines and strings to hang up clothes to dry between the trees, etc. However, if it rains, it will quickly become a hostile environment for camping compared to a regular field, mostly due to the altitude differences which will ensure small streams of water running through the hilly forest. So when setting up, you gotta be smart about where you think the water will be coming from or risk being washed away in the middle of the night in the worst case.

THE SLOVENIAN VILLAGE: CENTRE POINT OF CAMPING

Nearly all camping facilities are centered around a group of stalls referred to as the Slovenian Village. Here, you'll find (mostly tasteless) options for food, ranging from the standard burgers and wraps to Indian food and sandwiches. Most of what we tried was pretty dull, unfortunately, so that's definitely an improvement point for the festival. More importantly, the Slovenian Village included a bar simply referred to as the brewery. On the menu? Close to 100 styles of beer both local and foreign, ranging from IPA/pale ales by big brands like Lagunitas to lagers and German Weissbiers - including of course the Mexican lager specifically created for Punk Rock Holiday by Bevoc brewery. A beautifully designed can that tasted surprisingly great! All of this at a reasonable price from €4.5-€6 for the most part, plus wine bottles, ciders, and other drinks if beer's not your thing.

SHOWERS, TOILETS & OTHER FACILITIES

A number of other facilities are available near the Slovenian village. A round-the-clock ATM, hot (€3) and cold (free) showers, a good amount of boxed toilets (but critically, no place to wash your hands not to mention soap or hand sanitizer! Needs to be fixed!), a burger bar, and a little further away, the Monster Energy skate ramp area for BMX and skate shows. Further to the opposite direction is a smaller camping bar, where you can buy the cheap, and cold €1.5 local beers for the camps if you feel Hofer is too far away or closed. For some reason, this facility was only open between 9 am and 6 pm, and I don't see why it shouldn't have the same hours as the rest of the festival bars. After all, sometimes you'd like to buy more beer after the shows when you get back to camp.

THE RIVER: CRYSTAL CLEAR, TURQUOISE COLORED WATERS

While the camping area is pretty cool in its own right with the forest and the hilly terrain on the horizon, what really makes this festival special is the Soča River. Its source is somewhere up in the mountains, yet it's current is leisurely, meaning you can float mostly still on it with little effort, or swim upstream without much difficulty. I was warned it should be freezing cold, but at least this year, the temperature was perfect around 20-21C. That's about normal Danish swimming conditions during the height of summer so we're not complaining.

While the pristine nature that the river flows through, and its turquoise colors are jaw-droppingly beautiful on their own right, what really makes this location special is how relaxed the rules are about using the river during the festival. In practice: the festival asserts that we should keep it clean and trash free, but otherwise anything goes. So people bring inflatables of all sizes - some of them humongous to an extent where it requires a team of eight or more people to even carry it to the river - and either float along or just hang out on them by the river while drinking beers, listening to music, and such.

One of the greatest activities at the festival is therefore walking upstream to the (on the map, unmarked) upper beach area for about 20 minutes through the camping/parking areas, entering water upstream and casually floating down either to lower beach area right by the forest camping, or even further, to the Beach Stage area. From top to bottom, if you let the current slowly move you, it would take you around two hours. Imagine that: cold beers floating behind you in a plastic bag (river keeping them cold), 34 C sun warming you from the top, and beautiful landscapes on both sides of the river makes you feel like you're in the middle of a national park and not on an actual festival. It's so beautiful it's difficult to describe in words, but fortunately, we have a bunch of photos to showcase some of it... and it really looks like that in real life!

FESTIVAL AREA

The festival area itself is rather small. It consists of two stages: the main stage, in the shade of the trees protecting you from the scorching sun, and a little further down, the beach stage which is positioned just at the meeting point of the Soča River and Tolminka River (which is ice-cold by the way. Don't swim in there or you'll get hypothermia. I'm serious!).

It's a beautiful little area with a few food stalls and merch booths scattered, but also a whiskey bar, a wine bar, and a bitter shots bar. One of the highlights is the wood-fired pizzas, which were some of the best we've tried on any festival. The luxurious hot dogs looked great, but in the end did not taste that special. Another cool feature was the American Socks stand, where unpublished acoustic shows would take place: for instance The Lawrence Arms performed a set there among others, Nothington also did a set, and late at night, it would transform into a 70s/80s music party with people dancing all-around the booth after the last concerts. Cool idea.

The main stage comes equipped with a stage diving ramp, where anyone (at their own responsibility) for any concert is allowed to get up and leap into the front rows. Trust me, this one was in heavy use, almost to the same extent as the Groezrock small stages if you've ever been over there.

CUP DEPOSIT: KEEPING THE FESTIVAL CLEAN

Much like the garbage deposit I talked about earlier, the festival employs a deposit on all cups. So each time you would buy a beer, a water or a soda, your paycard would be charged a €1 deposit, which you would avoid by returning a cup, or you could get refunded to your card if it was the end of the day or you had to otherwise leave the festival area to go to camp or something. It's a great idea because it means the festival is kept extremely clean as people don't just toss their cups around.

VIP AREA: TOTALLY WORTH IT

One of the most heated debates regarding Punk Rock Holiday this year was the €40 VIP upgrade that you could purchase, limited to just 200 people in total. We bought these, and it was totally worth it. With the VIP pass, you would get special parking close to the festival area (not a big deal), free access to hot showers (not a big deal), access to real toilets at the camping area (kind of nice upgrade), but most importantly, access to the small "backstage/press house" right in the middle of the festival area (hugely awesome). For us Scandinavians, the daily 30C+ temperatures are a bit much, but inside this area? A bar with ample seating area in an air conditioned room. Truth be told being able to go in here and cool down for even just twenty minutes every now and then is worth all of the money in the world. In here you also have real flushing toilets, but that's not even that important.

The debate about the VIP was pretty nasty. Some people felt like it's not punk rock to have some people as VIPs and others not as VIPs. But the truth is, if you allow everyone in, the place becomes totally useless. You can't safely fit any more than 150-200 people at most at the same time (which includes press, the bands, and volunteers), so allowing everyone in would make for a bad experience and remove the point of having such an area in the first place. So it makes sense to charge it for those interested in upgrading their festival experience, after all, it's not mandatory, and it's nothing special except for the air conditioning which is a life saver.

THE PAYCARD: MAKE IT OPTIONAL

The only method of payment at any of the booths at the festival is the official festival contactless payment card, which is simply referred to as 'the paycard'. The idea is good: without cash payments, the order process at bars is much faster and more efficient, not to even mention that the card is waterproof which means you can float down from camp to the beach stage, and buy drinks/food there afterward without having to risk your wallet in the river.

However, since the idea is to remove cash from the equation, why the hell not make the paycard optional and let those of us with contactless credit cards use them instead? If you think about it, the current process is pretty idiotic: I take my credit card to the ATM to withdraw cash. I then bring my cash to the paycard stall, where I load that cash to what is essentially just a different card, with the added annoyance of max deposit being €100, meaning you have to do it constantly throughout the festival. What is the point of this process? Why not just allow us to pay with our credit cards all the way through, and for those without contactless or for those who want to use it in the water, making it an added optional service to buy the paycard.

But what about the cup deposit, I hear you ask? The solution is super simple. When paying with credit cards, simply make the drinks cost €1 more per drink. Then next time, when you return the cup, make the drink cost X euros less, depending on how many cups you bring back to the stalls. This way the festival area is even cleaner because you can just collect any cups lying around and make your next drink cheaper (and thus avoiding the aggressive cup collectors if you instead use a refund-based mechanism). And at the end of the day, allow one and only one return of a single cup that puts €1 back on the credit card. Everyone wins and we can use our normal credit cards if we so choose. This system makes a lot more sense than the current one, anyway. Especially since the cup deposit seems to be added arbitrarily: sometimes it was added, sometimes it was not.

And that's about it for the festival area description. Now it's time for the actual reviews, enjoy!

MONDAY: WARMUP SHOW

Ducking Punches

Ducking Punches @ 17:00-17:30 on Main Stage

Punk Rock Holiday 1.8 is officially kicked off with a set by British, semi-acoustic folk punkers Ducking Punches, who have been charming this magazine for quite some time now. The gravelly vocals and light instrumentation are ideal in getting us in the mood early on, but especially the infectiously catchy, nostalgia-driven croons of "It's been a bad few weeks" draw solid applause from the crowd. It is, however, the band's big hit "Big Brown Pills From Lynn" that provides the most memorable moment of the show, where the ending of the song is sung a capella without any instrumentation for added effect. It's a chilling moment that reminds us we don't need to sound loud and floor the pedal for an excellent showing, which is only fortified by the plea to ask your friends and family if they are okay at least twice if you think something is wrong as a measure of suicide prevention before "Six Years". [7½]

Dog Eat Dog

Dog Eat Dog @ 18:50-19:35 on Main Stage

After grabbing a bit of food and some much-needed airconditioning in the VIP area, we stumble by the Dog Eat Dog show that, once again, is as impressive as it is outrageous. The combination of early Beastie Boys style hip hop with saxophone, metal, and occasional hardcore/punk vibes is a proper throwback to the good ol' days where music was a little less pretentious and all about having fun. As such, it's not surprising to see the stage surrounded by punk rock peeps waving their hands up-and-down as if they were hip-hop faithful, for so convincing is Dog Eat Dog's unique twist on rap-rock in general. Hip-hop coolness, nothing more, nothing less. [8]

The Living End

The Living End @ 23:10-00:10 on Main Stage

As far as I remember from having seen them a decade ago on the "White Noise" tour, Aussie punks The Living End is supposed to be a fairly entertaining live band. That assumption holds true, but only sporadically during their late evening set at Punk Rock Holiday. For instance, the crowd is all into it when Scott Owen dances with the contrabass or balances on top of it in circus-like stunts, but these moments are few and far in between. "End Of The World" near the middle of their one-hour set is another memorable moment where the band is showcasing solid movement on stage, but the majority of the set? Kinda anonymous. It's one of those sets where it feels like you're awaken from a coma every few songs, but rest of the time you feel like absolutely nothing is happening without the set being particularly bad, per se. "Last time we played with The Vandals, we got booed off the stage in the US", Chris Cheney says. It's not quite that bad this time around, but not exactly a festival highlight either. [6]

The Vandals

The Vandals @ 00:30-01:30

The Vandals are another notoriously hilarious live band, which has earned them a cult reputation within the punk scene together with their classic 90s punk rock sound. Tonight, they kick off with "It's A Fact", which is interrupted halfway through by a hilarious 'guitar solo', where guitarist Warren Fitzgerald basically acts out a mute guitar solo as if he was mentally handicapped. It looks ridiculous, but that's the point. "You'll get used to him", they let us know, before proceeding with more upbeat punk rock. It's been 14 years since their last album, which means most of the crowd merely looks on without the set ever really catching on from a crowd dynamic's point of view. Some of the high points include "People That Are Going To Hell" with its "badapadappa-dappa-da" bits and "Live Fast Diarrhea" for just being a great song, but most of the pedal-to-the-floor punk rock doesn't really generate much of a response. Too bad, because their tongue-in-cheek approach to music and themselves is usually a delight to experience live. [6½]

TUESDAY

It's another burner of a day in terms of temperature, which is no good news for someone with a god-awful hangover like the undersigned, suffering in the tent till way past 11 am. Fortunately, the shade of trees means it's possible to sleep long without your tent turning into a literal sauna, so we spend the early part of the day recovering in camp. For breakfast, we are outraged by the picture-vs-reality of the "poli-dog" (?) by the Slovenian Village that looks like a perfect starter for a day: fresh salad with tomatoes, bacon, and eggs in the picture. The reality? A piece of heated ham, a badly cooked egg, and a small piece of bread instead. Where's the salad or the bacon? Feels like a scam, I'm not gonna lie.

We then head out to the nearby Hofer supermarket to stock up some supplies (beer, but especially water, since the refill station is a little bit too far from where we are camping, and rehydration is an absolute must when temperatures are approaching 34C daily), pop into the river to cool off for a couple of hours, and spend the rest of the afternoon prepping for and executing a short-notice interview with The Menzingers, before it's time for more music.

For food, we trial the burgers by the ATM, which turns out to be a decent choice as they call out a chef who cooks everything from scratch (except for the bread). Good on festival standards, anyway.

The Menzingers

The Menzingers @ 19:00-19:45 on Main Stage

The rise of The Menzingers from basement style punk sing-alongs to an anthemic main stage band is inspiring to say the least. Today, they suffer from a regrettably bad sound that leaves the vocals overpowering the instruments by a wide margin, which exposes some of the irregularities in their higher-pitched vocals found primarily on the new albums where the raw edge has been all but ironed out in favor for a bigger sound. "After The Party" is a great example, where the sound is mediocre, to say the least, leaving the vocals sounding bad at best, horrific at worst. The good news is that the band mix plenty of "On The Impossible Past" songs into their set, starting with "Good Things" which immediately sounds better because of its rougher vocal style, but especially "The Obituaries" a few songs in, which sees the band perform with their signature bouncing energy that rubs onto the crowd. Here, everyone is singing along to the "I've been having a horrible time" bits, but surprisingly an even bigger sing along echoes across the trees for "I Don't Wanna Be An Asshole" a few songs later. That said, the set feels like divided into two parts: the "After The Party" songs that barely get a reaction from the crowd, and tracks like "Burn After Writing", "In Remission" and "Nice Things" that get an immediate and strong response from the crowd. In truth, the new record's polish is arguably a let down compared to the raw passion of the older material, and the off-tune vocals due to the bad sound certainly don't help. It's a good set, but we've seen The Menzingers so much better than this in the past. [7]

Comeback Kid

Comeback Kid @ 20:05-21:05 on Main Stage

Amazing. Spectacular. Exemplary. These are just some of the words you could use about Comeback Kid's bombastic performance as the sun starts setting down on the Slovenian mountains. The beginning of the set is among the most ferocious we've experienced as the band tear through "G.M. Vincent & I" in a tour-de-forcé that activates stage divers and gets mosh pits moving straight away. Andrew Neufeld is literally crashing into people who are flipping into the crowd from the ramp, and the band is bouncing up and down with ridiculous energy throughout. And that's just the beginning. The energy levels are kicked up a few notches for the excellent "False Idols Fall", and "Surrender Control" draws thunderous sing-alongs which seems to take everyone in the crowd by surprise. From this moment onwards, the crowd melts in the hands of Neufeld. "Dancefloor. From FRONT TO BACK. From THOSE TREES to THOSE TREES", he screams, gesturing like a maniac in the process before proceeding to violently stomp across the stage. The crowd goes mental and testosterone levels are sky high at this point. The set just keeps getting better, helped by a brilliant setlist that features "Wasted Arrows", "Should Known Better", "Hell Of A Scene", and even a rare performance of "Broadcasting..." that the band lets us know is seldom included these days.

"Somewhere, Somehow" is another massive sing along, and the energy levels go through the roof once again, which unfortunately leads into a lengthy pause in the middle of "Die Knowing" because a fan up front seems to get seriously hurt. Not sure what happened there but big ups for the band to immediately interrupt their set and refusing to continue until the injured fan is taken care of. Fortunately, everything seems to be fine, and we finish the set with the melodic hardcore punk classic "Wake The Dead". A frenetic, high-energy onslaught that is easily one of the standout sets at this year's punk rock holiday. [8½]

Terror

Terror @ 21:25-22:25 on Main Stage

"Finally we are at a festival that encourages stage diving. ", Scott Vogel roars into the mic, his mouth watering from the chance of seeing people fly into the crowd small venue style on a bigger stage than usual. "Come on... Come on... Jump on somebody... GET UP, GET UP...Everybody stage dive... Let's Go!", he continues to instigate. This is exactly the type of a setup where Terror excels because they are first and foremost a live band where the angry, testosterone driven tough guy hardcore songs truly come to life when performed live. "Move the person next to you. Everybody dance. All the way back. Everybody dance. Everybody!! ". These commands are embedded within songs like "Spit My Rage", "Overcome", "Live By The Code" and others, and once people start flipping into the crowd from the stage diving ramp, it's almost as if Vogel has a stroke: "Everybody stage dive. STAGE DIVE. CIRCLE PIT STAGE DIVE!!". So how does that work, exactly? Do we all circle pit in the air while flying into the crowd? Either way, it's exactly what is needed to energize the crowd properly. From here onwards, I think we hear Vogel scream and shout STAGE DIVE!! at us for at least seventy times during the forty-minute set (without exaggeration), taking every opportunity to encourage us to circle pit, to jump into the crowd, to move, to dance, to GET UP, to do SOMETHING. It's an essential, signature style high-energy hardcore set fueled by Terror's rage and fist-pump inducing, mass chant-alongs to "Always The Hard Way" among others. [8]

No Fun At All @ 22:45-23:45 on Main Stage

They're ready, so why not start the set early? No Fun At All kick off their one-hour slot with "Believers", and the crowd activates straight away. For if there's one band that's quintessentially Punk Rock Holiday at this festival, it is these guys. The tight skate punk riffs, the high energy circle jumps, the passionate shredding, the clean, melodic Swedish sound, it's living up to the ideals that this festival has always been built on. Unsurprisingly, the sing-alongs start early with "Should Have Known", "Strong And Smart", and "Wow And I Say Wow" and continue throughout the set with circle pits and stage divers following suit. The a capella sing-along section to "Perfection" is marvelous with their guitarists dancing everywhere around the stage, and the mass sing along to "Suicide Machine" can probably be heard all the way down at the Tolmin town center.

No Fun At All

"I think this is probably the most appropriate place to play this song since you guys have probably been having that all day" is how vocalist Ingemar Jansson introduces "Beachparty". He's right, and as if to demonstrate, some dude from the stage diving ramp jumps up and steals his beer in a hilarious moment that the band just laugh off. From here onwards, we hear classics like "Out Of Bounds", "Catch Me Running Round", and of course "Master Celebrator" to close down a set of solid skate punk, which did feel at times like it was losing a bit of steam in between all the melodic punk godhood. [7½]

Mad Caddies

Mad Caddies @ 00:05-01:15

We'll all probably remember the Mad Caddies set at the festival from the giant inflatable Flamingo that's tossed around the crowd for large parts of the show. Because musically, the band is too inconsistent to leave a lasting impression. Sure enough, they have written a great number of legendary ska punk songs that virtually guarantee them slots high up on lineups at festivals like Punk Rock Holiday, but for every fantastic track, there are a few anonymous ska/reggae cuts that blend into the gray mass. Or at least that's how it feels like for the first half of the set before things get considerably better. The ska-infused "She" cover of the Green Day classic is a cool twist to the original, and "Monkeys" converts the crowd into a skanking pit with the horn section leading the dance on stage. Likewise, "Shoot Out The Lights" and "Road Rash" result in a ska party in the crowd, so you can't fault the set for lacking in crowd dynamic. On stage, the band is their relaxed selves with occasional bursts of energy, but not enough is going on to justify a higher rating. Decent, but a far cry from the riveting energy of Comeback Kid earlier today. [7]

WEDNESDAY

The heat isn't letting up and it's virtually 33 degrees at 11 am already, which means the only way to cool down is to head down to the river. Yesterday, while cooling down in the water by the camping beach, we spotted a ton of people further up the Soca River with inflatables, so we decided to grab a couple of ice cold €1.5 beers from the camping shop alongside our inflatables and go exploring.

Genius idea.

It just so happens that around 20-25 minutes walk through the camping and parking area, there's an unmarked (not shown on the festival map) beach area that's colloquially referred to as the 'upper beach'. From here, it is possible to enter the river through a rocky shoreline, and simply float down all the way down to the beach stage, which takes two (!!) hours given the leisurely pace of the river. Beers in a plastic bag, tie the bag into the inflatable, and off you go. What a brilliant way to spend the afternoon, and absolutely key for surviving a heatwave like this.

While floating down you'll see countless others doing the same: inflatables shaped like watermelons, like pizzas or bretzels, like swans or flamingos, and all sorts of things, all in pristine nature with few, if any disturbances on the way down. Absolute perfection and the key reason what makes Punk Rock Holiday the most unique festival we've ever tried.

Refreshed from the float, we trial the wood fire pizzas by the main stage on the way back. Probably the best thing we tried at the festival and one of the few items that tasted delicious as opposed to mundane.

The Bombpops

The Bombpops @ 19:00-19:40 on Main Stage

I'll be brief about these guys and girls because I missed the first fifteen minutes of their set. The Bombpops play female fronted pop punk Fat Wreck style, which means it's super straight-forward and easygoing, simple punk rock fueled by a solid bit of attitude. They have a couple of good songs on the latest album, but not enough to sustain a full set if you ask me, which they try to compensate with weird toilet humour like the time when one of the girls suggests that she smells like the inside of her own asshole or something along the lines of that. Pretty disgusting and also a little unnecessary, if not outright try-hard to be funny. Anyway, it triggers a "Shut up you stupid Americans" chant (although requested by the band) and rightly so. Soon after, they close the set with one of their better songs "FOMO", which goes down well, but most of their set is just as average as their recorded output. [6]

Voodoo Glow Skulls

Voodoo Glow Skulls @ 20:00-21:00 on Main Stage

So here's the thing. It's pretty fucking hard to replace someone like Frank Casillas, whose unique vocals were one of the driving forces behind Voodoo Glow Skulls all those decades. He's been replaced by Efrem Schulz of Death By Stereo fame, whose Mexican heritage makes him the ideal candidate to front a ska punk band like this one on paper. Today, he enters stage wearing a weird Voodoo-themed mask and a colourful, Andean-inspired multi-colored cloth. His performance isn't lacking in energy as he's bouncing back and forth the stage, running around, utilizing the stage dive ramp and much else. He brings out a giant Voodoo Glow Skulls flag that he waves around during one of the songs early on, which generates a skanking pit up front. He later brings out a stick of sorts that makes him look like a shaman or a healer of sorts, that he waves around in entertaining fashion on stage. So you certainly can't fault him for trying, and to be honest, all credit to him, he's doing a great job overall. In the meantime, the horns department is going crazy dancing around the stage, and the crowd control stuff like having us dance with our elbows up and shouting "hu-hu-hu-hu-hu, ho-ho-ho-ho-ho" Voodoo Glow Skulls style is pretty awesome. But, and there's always but, he's just not Frank Casillas. So while "Fat Randy" and "The Band Greek Mafia" sound great, they're just not the same without him, which drags down the overall experience a notch. [7½]

H2O

H2O @ 21:20-22:20 on Main Stage

The setlist is great. H2O are playing most of their brilliant album "Nothing To Prove" and a bunch of other classics to boot. Their stage performance is fantastic with their vocalist waving his hands up-and-downs Suicidal Tendencies style and the rest of the band bouncing around as if the stage was a trampoline. So what's up in the crowd? "There's no barricade, so don't just stand there, stage dive", Toby Morse tells the crowd in an almost accusing fashion, but it takes all the way up to a teased cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" mixed into their own song before people wake up properly. "Guilty By Association" morphs the stage into non-stop stage diver heaven with people flying in all directions, finally reflecting the relentless energy with which the band performs on stage. Not to even mention the sing-along for this one or for "One Life, One Chance" a little later. But "Nothing To Prove" is the set highlight with a massive response, which is only topped by the closing track "What Happened" that sees an insane amount of people on stage with crowd surfers on top of crowd surfers. A solid hardcore show that deserved a better crowd early on! [7]

THURSDAY

Turns out one of the cool things you can do at the festival is to book extreme sports/adventure activities on-site. Right next to the Slovenian village, a small booth offers everything from paragliding through rafting to canyoning in the pristine nature, a short 30-minute ride away from the festival site. With reasonable prices from €40 to €65 (€130 for paragliding), they'll come and pick you up at the Hofer supermarket near the festival entrance, and drop you off at the same place later. It's too good of an offer to refuse, so we elect to try canyoning for the first time on Thursday morning. What an amazing experience! Descending 4km down a canyon, sliding down waterfalls, jumping into pools of water from a few meters height, it's a perfect break from the festival norm and something totally unique that cannot be done at any other festival in the world.

We return back to the festival site around 2 pm and, now that we found out about the river properly yesterday, it's time to innovate. We obviously didn't bring enough gear to have an optimal float, but we do have a Bluetooth speaker and one water-proof phone bag. So naturally we double-bag the speaker into plastic bags, toss it into the beer bag, tie all of our inflatables together with a string from one of our tents, and do another two hour float through the crystal clear waters of the Soca river from upper beach down to the beach stage, this time with a punk rock playlist that attracts a few fellow floaters to sing along with us. Ahhh, this is what life is all about. 34C outside, 20C river cooling us down together with ice cold beers bought at the camping shop, and music on top for a couple of hours straight. Highly recommended stress relief from busy daily lives, I'll tell you that much.

The float does make you tired, laying all day in the scorching sun. So while my companions go for a quick nap in the shade of the forest, I venture down to the beach stage to trial the food down there. Pasta with cashew nut curry, made from scratch by a chef not afraid to showcase trickery with fire and tossing the food high up in the air on his pan in a cool show of cooking flair. The second meal that I had at the festival which tasted great, although being a veggie meal, it's not exactly filling, so I had to get a 'special dog' from the hot dog stand later that evening.

This Is A Standoff

This Is A Standoff @ 18:00-18:40 on Beach Stage

Pedal to the floor. That's the motto of technical skate punkers This Is A Standoff featuring Belvedere frontman Steve Rawles on guitar/vocals, who's all smiles playing in front of a packed stage in a beach setting. Who can blame him? Behind us - directly at where he's looking - is a pristine river with people floating around while he shreds while bouncing up and down. And for "Sunrise / Face The Sun", there's a loud sing-along that takes the band by surprise. "Wow", Rawles pauses in honest admiration, underlining the down to earth, laid back vibe this band emits on stage. If only the majority of their songs were as memorable live as this one, they'd be a much better band. Today, they do a solid set which is characterized by their positive vibes on stage, but one which, in the end, is not one of the shows you'll remember years down the line. [7]

Mute

Mute @ 19:25-20:10 on Main Stage

The evening continues with more Canadian technical punk courtesy of Mute, who is often dubbed the Satanic Surfers of Canada. The comparison is apt given the similarity of their pedal-to-the-floor, technical skate punk style, but also because like Satanic Surfers originally, the Mute drummer is also their lead vocalist. This approach gives the rest of the band room and space to move around, which particularly their lead guitarist takes advantage of tonight. This guy is absolutely shredding it on stage, showcasing awe-inspiring fretwork often driven by finger-tapping, not to even mention the visible passion in his facial expressions and his gesturing for us to jump around. "It's circle pit time!", the band calls out before "The Tempest", for which a substantial pit forms in the crowd. And although the vocals are nothing special in the grand scheme of things, the lengthy, technical instrumental segments in songs like "Fading Out" are what Mute is all about. "Bates Motel" is another example of technical flair that few bands are capable of, and the band does it all while bouncing up and down in high-energy fashion. [7½]

Bad Cop/Bad Cop

Bad Cop/Bad Cop @ 20:30-21:15 on Main Stage

So this is what raw grrrrl power looks like, or at least should look like in all cases if you ask me. The all-female Fat Wreck punk rock group is fueled by raw attitude and passion for punk rock, which manifests in throaty screams and Brody Dalle inspired vocals throughout the set. "Nightmare", "Womanarchist", and "Victoria" are some of the highlights of the set where the girls display bursts of energy that befits their high-tempo punk rock songs amidst the occasional "yeaaaaahhh" shouts that sound like their vocal cords are being torn to pieces. That said, much like The Bombpops the other day, their songs are too similar and the highlights too few and far in between for the set to leave a lasting impression. There's lots of energy and attitude, but it just feels too samey and inconsistent in the long run. [6½]

Lagwagon playing "Let's Talk About Feelings" @ 00:00-01:15 on Main Stage

Punk Rock Holiday is a huge party, where bands and patrons hang out together in the river and drown themselves in beer and booze all day long. Some more than others, it seems, because Lagwagon is visibly wasted on stage with Joey Cape taking the lead. He steps on stage equipped only with his acoustic guitar and spends the first couple of minutes in drunken ramblings about how today has felt like the longest day already. To be fair, Lagwagon, much like NOFX, has always talked a lot on stage and it's no surprise to hear continuous "big bitch" jokes about their humongous guitarist Chris Flippin, which is all good and adds some humour into their dark, tight skate punk sound. If only it was tight because the booze-laden performance is ripe with errors, missing notes, occasional fuck ups in the vocals department, etc. I've got nothing against drunk performances on stage because they tend to be some of the most hilarious, but the minimum requirement should be the ability to perform the songs well.

Lagwagon

In this case, Lagwagon is rescued by an awesome crowd dynamic that is probably the best we saw all festival. The sing-alongs start with "Reign", and once we reach "Violins" a few songs later, the stage fills with stage divers and dedicated fans that give the set a high energy feel. At one point there's even a fan who invades the stage and steals the mic away from Joey Cape to sing along to the chorus part of the song, which is pretty funny because the security rushes in to wrestle him off with little success. Joey - being as drunk as he is - says "that was just perfect" after the song, signaling it's all good with him.

And then it's time for the main event: namely "Let's Talk About Feelings" in full, front to back. Apparently, the band chose to play album sets now because it's been popular for a few years with other bands, and as we know, they are called LAG wagon, so they are always a little bit behind. From here onwards, the sing-alongs are massive for the songs that allow it - "Change Despair", "Train", "Love Story" are great, for instance - but "May 16" takes home the prize of loudest sing-along of the festival together with "Alien 8" a little later. The stage looks like total chaos as fans invade to sing along from every direction so in the end security just has to give up trying to clear the stage, but the band doesn't seem to mind.

But truth be told, if it wasn't for the fans, this set would've been a disaster. The setlist was probably the best Lagwagon setlist you'll see with all the classics sandwiched on both sides of the album, but the poor performance of them takes a lot away from what could've been an unforgettable experience for many. Still, the community-wide sing-alongs for "Alien 8", "Falling Apart", and "Razor Burn" help make this set absolutely worth it: a true for-the-fans-of experience. [8]

FRIDAY

The final day of the festival is upon us. The threat of monsoon rain in the evening has us spending the early part of the day re-securing our tents, which later turns out to be pointless since it's not about to rain today just like it hasn't rained during the rest of the festival. And if you were hoping for a relief from the temperatures, no luck there either, which means there's only one thing to do: grab a few beers and float down the river from upper beach to the beach stage, this time without the Bluetooth speaker to enjoy the nature's own peace and quiet.

One thing I haven't mentioned yet is that the river isn't just limited to floating. There are sections where you can climb up on trees and jump into the water. Near the camping area, the festival has set up a rope system so you can swing into the river like Tarzan. Elsewhere, people are sitting in the river with their camping chairs, and someone even uses a generator tied to a string and a body-board to pull people on the river in a high-speed fashion. Looks like great fun!

Unfortunately, my interview with The Lawrence Arms is scheduled just on top of Nothington's final show so I have to miss one of the highlights of the Beach Stage and the closing band of the week for that stage. I heard it was great, though, but at least I get to see Adhesive play live one more time.

Adhesive

Adhesive @ 19:35-20:15 on Main Stage

"So Slovenia, do you like 90s skate punk?", Adhesive asks us a pretty stupid question. Aside from Satanic Surfers, Mute and No Fun At All, Adhesive is probably the quintessential Punk Rock Holiday band strictly stylistically speaking. Clean, Swedish skate punk echoing the golden 90s, played in a tight fashion that in all honesty would be packing this stage if it wasn't for the decades-long break before the reunion. On this tour, Adhesive have reunited for charity, with all profits from the tour going to Doctors Without Borders, which they also briefly mention during their set. But more importantly, the band deliver one skate punk classic after another from "Nothing Is Won" through "On A Pedestal" to "All In The Name Of Progress" and "A Thousand Times". The melodies in these songs are brilliant, so despite a shoddy sound, they come across as truly excellent. That the stage is barely half full is almost criminal considering how good these guys are. They don't know what they are missing out on, especially because the Adhesive set as a whole is basically the spirit of the festival in a 40-minute nutshell. [8]

Misconduct

Misconduct @ 20:35-21:15 on Main Stage

If there's one band that's totally misplaced on this year's lineup, it is Misconduct. A late evening slot on the main stage is a bit too much for the small Swedish punk rock band that probably would've drawn a more suitable crowd at the Beach Stage earlier. The main stage area is barely half full, which triggers their vocalist Fredrik Olsson to constantly ask us to take ten steps forward. On stage, the band performs with great energy, constantly jumping and circling around, and gesturing the crowd to get into it. So in terms of attitude, nothing really is missing from the band's side, and judging by how they act and feel on stage, they have all the ingredients to be a much bigger band than they are today. The problem is, their songs just aren't consistent enough to draw bigger crowds. "Blood On My Hands", "Closer", "No Boundaries" and "Sound Of The Underground" are excellent, but the vast majority of the other material we hear today is basically anonymous filler: Millencolin b-, or even c-sides, is how I would characterize them. So while the band's performance and crowd control skills are top notch, their songs just don't follow suit, and without consistently great songs, it is difficult to leave a memorable impression. [6½]

Authority Zero @ 21:35-22:35 on Main Stage

Ladies and gentlemen, this is exactly how to win over a crowd and earn yourself five thousand new fans: an energy explosion comparable to a nuclear detonation, Authority Zero's members fly across the stage like there's no tomorrow. The guitarist and bassist are having constant airtime performing scissor jumps, circle jumps, or just bouncing up-and-down, and vocalist Jason DeVore paces the entire width of the stage diving ramp back-and-forth as if he was trying to break the 60-meter world record while doing kick jumps in the process. Fans leaping onto the stage diving ramp are constantly grabbed by him to help him sing along; this type of infectious energy is exactly what rubs onto the crowd, where a real party starts shortly after. Balloons and confetti are thrown everywhere in the crowd, with one guy crowd surfing with an inflatable parrot where a circle pit forms around him for one of the faster songs. "Brick In The Wave" has a thunderous sing-along, and "Revolution"'s smooth bass-lines are just massive. The atmosphere in the crowd is incredible to an extent where everyone is jumping and dancing, and wood-chop starts flying in all directions from the ground up, and on stage, things are equally crazy. DeVore starts slam dunking balloons into the crowd, so the dynamic keeps growing and temperatures rising, which is kept going by the band's decision to play songs non-stop Against Me! style. Each song leads directly into the next, resulting in one of the highest energy sets and best atmospheres in the crowd all festival long. Simply brilliant and undeniably the best concert at Punk Rock Holiday 1.8! [9]

The Lawrence Arms @ 22:45-23:35 on Main Stage

It's a very different performance compared to the energy explosion of Authority Zero twenty minutes earlier; The Lawrence Arms are way more subtle and relaxed in style save for a couple of their more aggressive cuts. Their type of Midwestern punk doesn't lend itself for the mass sing-alongs nor necessarily active mosh pits, but what it does have in comparison is the sheer quality of the song. Tonight, they take us through classics like "Great Lakes/Great Escapes", "Cut It Up", "The Devil's Taking Names" and "100 Resolutions" coupled with excellent new material off "Metropole" like "Seventeener (17th and 37th)" and "You Are Here". Not much is happening on stage, but that's to be expected when the band is a trio and both Brendan Kelly and Chris McCaughan are singing together most of the time. There are a few moments with Brendan Kelly virtually worshipping Chris McCaughan on his knees in symbolic appreciation of a particularly great song, but otherwise, it's a very laid back and subtle set where you have to pay attention and know the songs beforehand to fully enjoy the show. But those of us that do, we are treated to such a great string of Lawrence Arms songs that the whole set feels like a nostalgic coming-home party for one of the greatest bands in Midwestern punk. With "Are You There Margaret? It's Me, God." closing off the performance with a bang, we're left with a feeling of that was god damn solid, even if there's not much else to report on, aside from Brendan Kelly being at least as wasted as Joey Cape the night before. [8]

Bad Religion playing "Suffer" @ 23:55-01:10 on Main Stage

There are lots of ways to perform an album set. Some bands start with the record, then play the rest of their hits afterward. Some bands inject the album into the middle of their set like Lagwagon did yesterday night with "Let's Talk About Feelings". However, if there's one way I would never do an album set, it is how Bad Religion performed it tonight. They come on stage with their classic crossbuster graphic on the background and proceed to play a reverse set of sorts. The first half of their set is dedicated to their usual hits like "Generator", "I Want To Conquer The World", "Anesthesia" (that is played extremely untight for some reason), "Fuck You", "Sorrow", "Punk Rock Song", "Wrong Way Kids" (mass sing along) and others. But we also hear some rarities like "Man With A Mission" that hasn't been played live for a long time, plus other material that's primarily designed for the hardcore Bad Religion fans rather than the broader audiences.

So after a little while it starts feeling like the band is just teasing us with songs because we are all waiting for "Suffer", but finally the crossbuster curtain drops to reveal the album artwork on the background. We get a little background on the 30-year old record and a subtle thank you for anyone who has stuck with the band all these years and then, off we go, some of the most iconic riffs in punk rock history that came to revolutionize the genre and produce all the bands playing at Punk Rock Holiday this year one way or another. The album sounds pretty much exactly as it does on record, which is a relief from some of the other disasters we've heard earlier on the festival. Yet... something is missing? What should be a special celebratory moment highlighting one of the all-time classics in punk rock history feels just... decent? It's supposed to be fantastic where we come together as one community to sing along, dance and enjoy the record. To an extent that's true, but comparing this to some of the epic album shows we've seen, say, at Groezrock for The Offspring's "Smash", NOFX's "Punk In Drublic", or Rancid's "...And Out Came The Wolves", the "Suffer" version of the same does feel a little flat. That the band finishes their set with "Pessimistic Lines", the last song on the album, makes things only worse. It's a great song but is it really the finalé for a Bad Religion set? I'm not so sure.

So coming back to what I was saying earlier, it would have made more sense for Bad Religion to kick off with "Suffer" straight away, and then have a hit-parade of classics afterward to elevate the set to new heights. Now it felt like that in reverse: some hits early on before the set even got started proper, and then a steady decline into just 'solid' from what could (and should have) been the best show at the festival. [7½]

FINAL THOUGHTS

Punk Rock Holiday is one of those festivals which I think everyone should try once. It's unique location and the atmosphere means it's a more than just music type of a festival. You can check out small, unknown bands at the beach stage in the early afternoon, or you can skip them and float in the river as if you were on a holiday on some paradise island somewhere. You camp in the forest, look at the beautiful mountains all around you, maybe try some rafting, canyoning, or maybe even paragliding just next to the festival, or even go for a hike in the national park itself or rent a few mountain bikes to do just that. It's essentially a real holiday with the added bonus of having excellent punk rock and hardcore bands on top of it.

Best of it all? The limited capacity of 5000 people means it never feels crowded: just the right amount of fans to avoid long lines and other issues that are seen at larger festivals. I also didn't hear any issues with thieves, which just adds to the relaxing, safe atmosphere at the festival.

Make sure you add Punk Rock Holiday on your must-try list of festivals in Europe because you won't find anything like it anywhere else (outside Metal Camp, which is held in the same location).

And now, I'll leave you with our classic 'the good, the bad, the ugly' section which summarizes our experience in a few bullet points. Adios!

THE GOOD

  • The greatest location in the world: pristine nature and turquoise coloured mountain rivers, plus a quaint town of Tolmin right next door.
  • Amazing atmosphere in the river area: an incredible variety of inflatables floating around
  • The Beach Stage is so cool.
  • Ability to camp in the forest: you can sleep long in the mornings, plus there's just something special about it as opposed to camping on a field. Loads of space for camping as well compared to visitors.
  • Fantastic selection of beer available, best on any festival I've been to. Pale ales for €4.5 to €6
  • Camping shop for ice cold beers for €1.5 per beer.
  • Showers - hot and cold - available pretty much non-stop throughout the festival
  • Drinking water available for free everywhere.
  • Availability of ice on demand from the Slovenian Village
  • VIP area purchase option: being able to hang out in an air-conditioned area makes all the difference in the world when it's 34C outside.
  • Garbage deposit system is great: very clean camping area as a result compared to other festivals
  • Cup deposit system is likewise great: the festival feels very clean because nobody is throwing cups on the ground
  • Lots of girls crowd surfing means they feel it is a very safe environment to do so, kudos to the crowds!
  • Jumbo beers/cocktails: 0.75L containers meant you could buy one drink to last the whole set!
  • Great schedule: plenty of time to eat/drink between bands, no rush like at Groezrock.
  • Ability to book non-festival related activities on site (e.g. rafting, canyoning, paragliding etc.)
  • Clean toilets all the time
  • Woodfire pizza was excellent
  • Stage diving allowed on all stages
  • Bands encouraged to join the crowds as equals in the river and festival site, limited backstage areas.

THE BAD

  • The Paycard system is stupid. Make it optional and allow contactless credit card payment for those who want to do it that way. See above.
  • Food mostly tasteless and low quality compared to other (especially Nordic) festivals
  • Cup deposit inconsistency: whether you had a deposit or not felt like a lottery sometimes
  • No schedules available on the festival site. It would be nice with just a few posters each day showing the timings.
  • The music volume at Slovenian Village was unnecessarily high: did not want to sit down and eat there a single time as a result because you can't hear each other.
  • Festival is very expensive compared to eastern European standards.
  • There should be more flushing toilets, also for non-VIP. Most festivals these days have hired a "toilet wagon" for this purpose.

THE UGLY

  • Open fire grilling systems in a forest that is totally dry - what the fuck? Needs immediate attention and more controls. That stuff is life-threateningly dangerous.
  • No place to wash hands by the main toilets of the camping area, and no soap available at all.

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