Groezrock 2019

author PP date 09/05/19

Oh, Groezrock. The European mecca for punk, emo, and hardcore music, matched only in spirit and atmosphere by Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia and FEST in Florida. But I gotta admit, for a while there I was worried. Shrinking festival area, fewer stages, lost sponsors, lineups being announced only a month, max two before the festival? The last couple of Groezrock editions in 2016 and 2017 felt like a festival facing multiple crises simultaneously: an identity crisis, an economic crisis, a creativity crisis... it basically felt like the passion and fire behind the festival was replaced by a Millencolin style autopilot approach, ultimately culminating in a canceled 2018 festival for the first time since the festival's birth in 1992.

This chain of events is really mirrored in the punk scene as a whole: although new bands are constantly forming left and right, few make it past the debut, possibly the sophomore album because the money just isn't there for a full-time band playing punk rock like it was a decade ago. As a result, the same, established 90s headliners are basically recycled year-on-year as headliners because few bands rise through the ranks.

So after a year's pause and reflection, Groezrock came back with a new strategy: let's focus on rebuilding the scene instead. Let's optimize our economy by booking a bunch of fantastic smaller bands instead of blowing our budget on a few big headliners, and thus also help the scene rebuild and start revitalizing the passion and the creativity that once fueled the meteoric rise of not just this festival, but so many of its successors (Jera On Air, Slam Dunk, etc).

This strategy feels real. It's what the punk rock scene was always all about. And it is working. The atmosphere - despite dreadfully cold and miserable weather this year - felt much more alive from a holistic perspective than it has in many years. It felt like the festival has reversed its downward curve and started on a new upcurve. It's a new beginning - manifesting in multiple new and improved features and facilities at the festival - and all of us can feel optimistic about going forward. All you had to do was to be there for the Pkew Pkew Pkew!, Spanish Love Songs or Authority Zero concerts at the smallest stage to feel it. Or the craft beer bar, or the new food area where new friends were made in rapid-fire fashion. Groezrock is back, and while we're still far from its mid 2010s glory, the direction is pointing explicitly back towards the right direction.

As usual, we will go through some aspects of the festival in the following sections to describe the festival as a whole; if you're only here for the reviews, go ahead and scroll further down.

LINEUP

Looking at the lineup at a glance, you can easily get the wrong impression. Dropkick Murphys as the second headliner? Jawbreaker? Is that it? But once you start reading the small print, you start realizing just how good this lineup is. If we ignore the big font superstars like Stick To Your Guns, Comeback Kid, The Bronx, Coheed & Cambria, and Millencolin, we start finding names like The Penske File, Beach Slang, Deez Nuts, A Wilhelm Scream, Dave Hause, Good Riddance, Restorations, Samiam, Snuff, Spanish Love Songs, Backtrack, Jesus Piece among many others. Clearly, the focus is on a greater degree of up-and-coming names, a strategy that will reward the festival in the long run with a fresh set of bands to return to.

CAMPING AREA

The camping area of Groezrock has always been exemplary. It's opened bit-by-bit, making sure tents and pavilions are packed together in an organized fashion to optimize room for everyone attending the festival. This year, the festival is only about half full, with entire fields left free for camping guests. It makes for a stress-free arrival: once you pass the mandatory bag-check for any glass or other prohibited materials, you can wander slowly towards your desired area and the volunteers will create a small space for your group to set up your tents. Other festivals could learn from this (*cough* Jera On Air *cough*).

This year, the camping area has been amended with multiple luxury options: for starters, the FestiTent village is a pre-setup tent village with high-quality tents for you and your mates to camp in if you don't wanna bring your own camping equipment. Is it punk rock? Probably not. Is it expected comfort on a 2019 festival? Absolutely. Just like the free opportunity to pump up your air mattress either at the FestiTent village or at the Camping Shop, which provided pretty much for every imaginable camping need from one-time grills to soft earplugs designed for sleeping like a baby.

In addition, the showers at this year's camping area were nothing short of spectacular. I tried them at two separate times, and I had to queue max 15 minutes one of the times, despite each shower being cleaned after every patron (!). Warm water, plenty of room, private cabin to shower in... everything you can ask for in a festival setting.

If you think buying food at the festival is expensive: you could always grill your own. A large grilling area, right next to a Red Bull DJ truck playing music during the daytime, meant that there was a chill vibe and good tunes (despite not being punk rock-themed) available at all times.

Overall, the camping area hasn't changed much, nor is it particularly exciting: a comfortable grass field for your tents, and all the facilities (including plenty of toilets) needed for a good camping experience.

FESTIVAL AREA

This year, the festival area had received a big revamp. First of all, the annoying bridge separating the festival area into two has disappeared. Now, it once again feels like a unified festival area where stages are close enough to each other to be able to string together shows that stop and start at the same time on two different stages.

As something new, the festival has added a 24 hour free-zone. This is an area between camping and festival area that is basically free for anyone - including those without any sort of ticket - to come to hang around in. Here, we find the breakfast tent (which doubles as a party tent late night), the first set of lockers which you can rent for 24-hours at a time using a credit card (super smart system), as well as the brand new small stage, The Cockpit.

The Cockpit is probably the best addition to the festival in as long as I can remember. It's a fully enclosed tent, which means it feels extremely intimate, has a great sound all of the time, and is the perfect size for the smallest up-and-coming bands where you want to achieve the maximum intensity in a basement+ type of experience. The best shows at this year's festival all took place in this tent.

Once you clear the gates to the actual festival area, it looks fairly familiar to anyone who has been to Groezrock before. In the distance, you can see the main stage tent with its classic purple/yellow colour scheme, where you can fit pretty much the whole festival (at least with this attendance) if you needed to. Then you have the Back 2 Basics and Revenge stages, both of which are basically half the size of the old Impericon tent we used to have back in the day. In theory, this should allow for some epic, medium-sized concerts, but in practice, they both had god-awful sound because all of the sound was coming from the backline. Or that's what it sounded like, at least. This needs to be fixed: almost every set I saw on these two stages was pointless. It's unacceptable to not have a proper sound system at stages of this size. On a positive note: the main stage finally had fantastic sound throughout the festival. Curiously enough, it has usually been the opposite... how about focusing on having great sound at all stages for the 2020 edition?

Opposite the main stage we have the two final stages of the festival: the open-air Red Bull stage, which was oddly placed considering it was drowned out by the main stage whenever a heavier band was playing there, and even worse, the acoustic American Socks stage which was basically the most pointless exercise of the whole festival: there was always a band playing at the same time which meant nobody could hear any of the acoustic songs at all. This needs to be placed inside somewhere - like within the Merch tent or similar - for it to work in the future.

Back this year is the Barbulla craft beer area in an improved form. Plenty of seating and shade, not to even mention an excellent beer selection and a central location right in between all of the stages means it's the perfect hang out spot. The festival should consider adding more cozy areas like these elsewhere.

As something new this year, you could purchase a VIP pass that would give you access to an indoor seated tent with its own cocktail bar and restaurant serving real Italian pizza made from scratch and baked in a real oven right in front of you. Probably the best pizza I have ever tasted on the festival, plus the area had its own lockers and real toilets, so definitely worth the small price.

Speaking of food, Groezrock has usually had pretty average food when it comes to festival standards. This year, it felt like they've made an effort to increase the variety. Next to Barbulla, you had a smoke bbq area: the chicken and Philly cheese steak were excellent (although not exactly authentic). They also had a taqueria (in the form of a taco truck), a Vietnamese street food truck, and a place where you could buy fish burgers (who would eat fish at a festival though? Seems unsanitary) among other things. Big improvement on previous years.

Aside from that, all the usual suspects return festival market with plenty of regular merch, also of bands not playing at the festival, and a separate merch tent with rotating spots for all the bands playing on a given day. Perhaps most importantly, instead of having a single 0.5L beer tent, the big beers were now available at every stand across the festival for 2 tickets (5 euro) each (4 tickets = 10 euro). Additionally, the cocktails were reasonably priced at 3 tickets each (7.5 euro).

One of the coolest features of 2019 was the possibility to buy or rent Groezrock 2019 themed power banks. For a deposit of €20, you could get a power bank (and keep it, or return to get your money back) with the official Groezrock logo and dates of next year. Two models available: the small (3000mAH, or a typical single charge for a modern smartphone) and big (10000mAH). If you ran out, you could swap it out with a new one.

This needs improvement

If there is one area the festival should improve on, however, it is the absolute and total mess of plastic on the ground due to people throwing plastic on the ground. Copenhell has recently introduced a great solution that would work perfectly at Groezrock. Consider this solution: add a 1 ticket pant for each plastic cup. If you return a cup, you get 1 ticket return (but no money in return). This means that those who want to spend an extra ticket for each drink can still throw their cups in the ground, while those who want to save money can collect them and exchange them for free tickets (=free drinks). And by not offering money back for tickets, you avoid the plague of regular pant collectors who scour the crowds for empty cans/cups during shows. Think about it - it nets to zero for the festival in the end - and we all have a much cleaner festival area to hang out in, and on top of that, we can recycle all the plastic! Do it, Groezrock.

And that about covers it. Now, it's time for the reviews section of the article. Enjoy!

FRIDAY

Citizen @ 16:45-17:30 on Back 2 Basics Stage

After a lengthy queue for my press credentials, my 2019 Groezrock begins with a couple of songs of Citizen, who are well into the second song of their set by the time I make it to the tent. It's the first taste of the frankly awful sound we're going to witness on this and the Revenge stage throughout the festival, so after a couple of songs of hollow, echoing soundscape morphing their indie-flavored post-hardcore into a muddled mess, I check out of the tent towards greener pastures and thus cannot award any particular grade for these dudes.

Pkew Pkew Pkew @ 17:05-17:45 on The Cockpit

The sound inside the intimate surroundings of The Cockpit is excellent. The atmosphere? Even better, especially since the highly active mood boosters of Pkew Pkew Pkew! are in the process of tearing the stage a new one. Classic no-frills pop punkers from the old album like "Mid 20's Skateboarder" and "Before We Go Out Drinking" turn the crowd into a frantic, sweaty pit, and new tracks like "65 Nickels" incite sing-alongs and crowd energy in equal fashion. On stage, the band looks like they're having so much fun. Their bassist in particular oozes of joy and fun-loving, party-it-up energy with his expressive faces and high energy movement, but really, looking at any of the guys singing about beer and pizza together with a couple of hundred fans in a packed tent, it's clear they are playing their hearts out. As a result, rowdy songs like "Glory Days" and "Asshole Pandemic" take the short, but ridiculously high-energy 35-minute set home like champions. Look out for these guys, they are on a massive curve pointing straight upwards. What a great start to the festival! [8½]

Backtrack @ 17:25-18:10 on Revenge Stage

Straight from the upbeat, melodic pop punk of Pkew Pkew Pkew to the significantly more down-tuned atmosphere of the Revenge Stage, where Backtrack is busy with their engaging set of old school New York hardcore. Two-step rhythms are the name of the game here, as are stage divers and a big pit, whilst their vocalist is aggressively flaunting across the stage in stomping fashion. The mic is frequently borrowed to the front rows, the temperature is high, and it's looking like a solid show. I'm here for the final three songs only, but from what I saw, fist pumps, active pit, energetic stage performance, so the grade reflects a good show. [7½]

Samiam @ 18:10-18:55 on Back 2 Basics Stage

Last time I saw Samiam it was at this very festival six years ago. Back then, the band was but a reference to me, but that show changed everything. It was a soundscape of a perfect mish-mash between punk rock, grunge, and indie rock, fueled by near-perfect mix in what was back-then the Impericon Stage. It was an outpour of emotion and passion of a spectacular level that captivated everyone in the audience. Perhaps that's why the tent is full early on, although their strong back catalogue and infamous status within the punk rock scene are also among the reasons why. Tonight, they vary their set considerably from gravelly punk rockers to soothing indie tracks with softer vocals and smooth punk rockers in between. "Life Can Be So Dull" features small sing-alongs, as does "Capsized". But something's missing. I'm not feeling the connection with the band like I did last time. The static stage performance doesn't exhibit the same sense of subtle passion and raw emotion as it did last time. Even a song like "She Found You" that otherwise is driven by a great melody and charming raspy vocals fails to impress thoroughly. It looks like the crowd isn't feeling it either, for the most part, and that was a huge part of the experience last time around. The sound, naturally on this stage, is god-awful, so the subtle detail and the vocal melodies are drowned into an indistinguishable mess that sounds like it's only coming from the backline. And, to be fair, you just won't get that magical connection without a perfect sound, because those who are new to Samiam's music just can't get into it, whilst their own fans are probably busy damning the sound guys to hell. A decent show, given the circumstances, nonetheless. [7]

Counterparts @ 18:50-19:35 on Revenge Stage

The intricate melodic hardcore of Counterparts is best enjoyed with a crisp, crystal-clear soundscape in order to appreciate the little details in the guitar melodies, but more importantly, in order to be able to distinguish the songs from each other at all. The textbook scream of vocalist Brendan Murphy has never been particularly characteristic compared to the majority of other bands playing this genre, but given the horrific sound conditions on Revenge Stage throughout the festival, it sounds even more monotonous than usually. That said, lots is happening early on as the band opens a wall of death for "Bouquet" to ensure a rocking pit that stays active throughout the set. People start vaulting off the stage in dangerous-looking stage dives, and total chaos ensues. During "Stranger", for instance, some dude jumps off the crowd to the stage, grabs the mic from Murphy and finishes the rest of the song by himself while Murphy dances off near the drum set. "Can't say I expected that", he says before the band continues with "Haunt Me" and "Witness". The muddy sound doesn't do the band any favours, but it also helps clarify the stance I've had about their albums for a long while now. Their set, much like the records, is plagued by the same issues: It's just very, very generic, stylistically speaking. Here, the pit guys are the only ones partying, whereas the rest of the crowd is merely passively watching. The saturation of melodic hardcore is real. Towards the end, the band does improve considerably with "Burn" and "Solace" that stand out from the rest by quite some degree. It's too little, too late, though, and I'm left with an ambivalent vibe of meh. Not that bad, but not that good either. [6½]

Good Riddance @ 19:35-20:20 on Back 2 Basics Stage

It's a special Good Riddance tour as the band have pre-warned everyone they're basically only playing old songs, save for a few exceptions. That means a healthy weight on their 90s material, many of them songs that haven't been aired for a while now. A song like "Shadows of Defeat" is great with its huge woo-hoo sing-alongs, but again, the sound on Back 2 Basics stage means we're only hearing the vocals and rhythm with the guitars lost somewhere in the messy sound. If you've ever seen a band play at a squat with no real sound system playing just off the backline, this is basically how it sounds like. That said, the band are tight and keep on improving each song, but after just twenty-five minutes I have to leave to catch the rest of Spanish Love Songs. From what I saw, solid but not spectacular. [7]

Spanish Love Songs @ 19:45-20:30 on The Cockpit

Having missed the first couple of songs to watch Good Riddance playing older material, I walk into The Cockpit and immediately say "holy shit, what is going on". The connection with the audience and the band is simply incredible: there are people climbing on pillars, falling off the stage, singing their hearts out and crashing into each other in what is most likely the sweatiest, most epic basement-style show I've seen in a couple of years. The audience absolutely explodes at every chorus to the "Schmaltz" songs, to an extent where the band even change their setlist on the fly, with vocalist Dylan Slocum stating "fuck it, let's play another Schmaltz song, you guys seem to know these" in an understatement of the year. The tent is exploding with energy and echoing sing-alongs at seemingly every chorus and most verses as well, and if you were cold from the winter-like temperatures outside, no more after this one. It's a cocktail of palpable passion on stage and a massive response from the crowd, and so when the band says "This is the best show we've ever played", I find absolutely no reason to doubt that statement based on what I've seen. I repeat, holy shit, what a show, where the and plays every song but one from "Schmaltz". [9]

Stick To Your Guns @ 21:10-22:05 on Main Stage

Last summer's festivals were sheer Stick To Your Guns dominance. Still confined to the smaller stages, albeit as headliners of them, their explosive energy levels combined with their anthemic melodic hardcore pieces and the real talk as I like to call their vocalist's rants about the injustices in our world, made them look fully ready to conquer the main stage slots in future festivals to come. And here they are playing a late evening slot at the mecca of punk rock and hardcore, the Groezrock main stage. The tent is packed and from the very beginning, we experience some of those classic, tent-echoing sing-alongs during "We Still Believe". Visually, the band owns the main stage with dignity and style in a commanding fashion, drenched in sweat from the kick jumps and constant movement, with no difference in their performance even when a barrier is present. "Groezrock, if you came to stand around, you're in the wrong fucking place!", Jesse Barnett screams to the mic, and gets an immediate response from the crowd during "Such Pain". Predictably, "Against Them All" receives a thunderous chant-along across the whole tent, and cements the band's status as one of the biggest hardcore bands around right now. "Do you hate the world? Then do something about it, or are you just flapping about it?", Barnett continues, before dedicating "Empty Heads" to the Hardcore Help Foundation.

But that's about it for the banter: in other shows, it has not been uncommon for Barnett to stop the show for minutes on at end to bring a point across in as vivid and clear fashion as possible, which not only gives us breathing room but highlights the band's sociopolitical commentary. Tonight, they focus on playing the usual hits across the discography (think "Amber", "Nobody", "Nothing You Can Do To Me" etc.) with huge energy on stage mirrored by massive movement in the crowd and even bigger sing-alongs. Sure, the barrier and main stage comes at the cost of some of the intensity of the smaller stages, but based on this performance, the doubters have the carpet pulled from beneath them: STYG has arrived as a main stage headliner-worthy band. [8½]

Authority Zero @ 22:40-23:30 on The Cockpit

The small stage is where it's happening, folks. Punk rockers Authority Zero pack the tent to an extent where it's questionable whether they should've been placed on this stage at all, but while they're at it, they play their hardcore-infused melodic punk at seemingly double-speed. The songs are crazy fast, embedded with reggae and upstroke guitar sections, and the band plays them basically straight with only a single break in between. Unsurprisingly, the crowd reaction is ridiculous: people are bouncing up and down in an insane fashion, the pit looks dangerous, to say the least, and it's fair to say that the crowd is basically all over the place. On the stage, hanging from pillars, crashing into the bar, packed up front... the atmosphere is spectacular, only matched by Spanish Love Songs earlier this evening. And who can blame them? Vocalist Jason DeVore absolutely devours that mic by firing his vocals at cocaine-induced levels of speed and aggression, storming across the stage like a madman in the process. The band plays an absurd amount of songs for such a short timeslot, with eventually the pit extending around the middle pole of the tent. "Let's go zero.... Let's go zero" chants pick up as soon as the band finishes: a tour-de-force of explosive punk rock with great melodies sandwiched in between. [9]

Beach Slang @ 23:35-00:25 on Red Bull Stage

For all the drama on Facebook and rapidly rotating members, I still deluded myself into thinking everything's fine. Everything is absolutely not fine at the Beach Slang camp, quite the contrary: the band look like to be at the verge of implosion, starting from its centerpiece vocalist/guitarist, James Alex. Two of the original members have been replaced by two new girls in the touring lineup, who do their best to keep up with James Alex's antics and what looks like to be a massive alcohol problem in the making: during the set, I count at least six occasions where he starts downing a bottle of beer while playing the guitar, where an aide from the side has to rush to the side and grab the bottle off his mouth. One time, funny prop. Two times, okay still pretty funny. The third and fourth time you're wondering what the hell is going on. And while the songs are still awesome and faithfully played, the result is the band's live performance feels like a shadow of their formerly glorious past. For starters, there is absolutely no connection between the band members on stage. Then we can talk about the buzz that surrounded every single show these guys played for a couple of years in a row where the sky seemed to be the limit. That's gone now. In its place? Something that looks like a total train wreck about to implode any minute now. With what could have been a perfect opportunity, a late night slot right before Jawbreaker to expand the Beach Slang audience massively was wasted in horrific style. The score is rescued by the excellent songs, but everything else about this show just felt... wrong. If a show makes you feel like asking: "Are you okay, James?", it's not a good sign. [6]

Jawbreaker @ 00:05-01:15 on Main Stage

Jawbreaker is a great band, but can they really headline festivals? By the looks of the crowd size, they cannot. The tent is less than half full by the time we arrive, a few songs late following the Beach Slang set, but you can't blame the band for being prepared: there's an absolutely massive logo of "JAWBREAKER" covering the width of the entire stage. Besides that, they bring quality songs like "Save Your Generation" and "Jet Black" which underline why these guys are considered to be punk rock legends. Especially the latter has chills running down my back, even if the crowd response is basically nonexistent. Now, it's not Groezrock's fault: every booker fell to the same trap and basically booked headlining shows for a band that wasn't a headliner back then, and have been gone too long for people to remember the songs. Still, "Want", "Kiss The Bottle", "Bivouac" and other songs underline how foundational these guys are to punk rock as a whole: so many references and parallels to other bands run through your mind as you watch the band run through the songs in a rather static fashion. Basically, it looks like the band themselves don't really feel natural on such a big stage, and instead look rather uncomfortable to be up there, but at least the songs are great. Would I go see them again based on this? Definitely, hopefully in a smaller venue. That said, tonight they are playing their classic mid 90s songs to a generation that has never heard of these songs before. [7]

SATURDAY

Brr. It's a cold day today. Barely over ten degrees, a brisk wind, cloudy and occasional pouring rain. Classic Groezrock where the weekend before had temperatures of 25 degrees on this same field. Oh well, nothing a couple of cocktails can't solve, am I right? That said, I did, unfortunately, have to bail on The Penske File show on the outdoor stage: literally the moment they started playing, we got a monsoon's worth of icicles (or at least that's what it felt like) blown in our face sideways, not what my attire (or festival mood this early on) was prepared for.

Get Dead @ 12:00-12:35 on Main Stage

Saturday starts super early with the up-and-coming Fat Wreck punk rockers Get Dead playing to what is effectively a totally empty tent aside from a few bystanders. With references to alcoholism and beer throughout the banter, we raise our glasses to cheer with the band on multiple occasions as they run us through their Midwestern style, gravelly punk played in classic Fat Wreck fashion. The vocalist moves on stage in a stuttering style as he roars through surprisingly catchy and solid songs that deserve a much bigger and a later timeslot. It's upbeat and catchy, a perfectly good morning Groezrock type of a band, where the folksy booze-it-up track "Raise Your Glass" even manages to draw a sing-along from the small crowd. We even hear a new song from an upcoming album in the process. All in all, a solid example of how little you have to do on stage to leave behind a positive impression. [7½]

Bad Cop/Bad Cop @ 13:00-13:35 on Main Stage

The badass girls from Bad Cop/Bad Cop have learned something since last summer's tour where I caught them twice on different festivals: they've dropped the crass jokes about vaginas and the like, instead of delivering upbeat punk rock with raw attitude and feminist energy. Sure, they still talk a lot, which is why they have so much character in a live environment, but now it's better jokes and more attitude-fueled remarks instead. They're clearly starting to have some traction within the punk rock scene given how many people are on the main stage early, and for good reason: these girls are an energy bomb waiting to explode every time the play. Today, their bassist is busy performing circle jumps at every opportune moment; the rest of the band likewise produce a charming, and high-energy expression that culminates in songs like "Womanarchist". That said, it's still pretty straight-forward and the songs are merely decent, so I'm still not entirely sold on them just yet. [7]

Dog Eat Dog @ 16:10-16:55 on Main Stage

After you've seen a day and a half's worth of punk rock and hardcore, a band like Dog Eat dog is exactly what you need. Totally different from any other band playing at the festival, their early 90s-style rap metal fused with smooth saxophone-fueled reggae and hardcore undertones puts a smile to your face if not stylistically, then at least because of their stage show and the multitude of Dog... Eat... Dog self-induced chants of extremely creative variety throughout the set. When we're not busy chanting back Dog Eat Dog at the group, they make sure we're engaged in other ways: "Put your hands up... this is a robbery!", they shout and then turn that into an everyone waves-type of a crowd control mechanic. It's retarded, sure, but also hilarious and as such, turns the main stage into a huge party. "Hey Groezrock, are you ready to fight?", they ask before "Rocky", and proceed to bring on a new vocalist dressed in a boxing outfit, complete with a championship belt and all. Speaking of vocalists, these are in endless supply in the Dog Eat Dog world. When it's not their main vocalist, it's the drummer rapping at the front, wearing a Washington Capitals jersey no less. Or the tour manager at one point. Or random people from backstage whose purpose is never truly revealed for us.

They have a new saxophonist - a Czech girl who is introduced to us as "Saxakova". We're all laughing, partying, waving our hands, chanting back Dog Eat Dog at least once every song, or singing along to the "soap box politics" part of "No Fronts". This is how you put on a show: a refreshing, extremely varied, and enjoyable break from your regular fare metal and hardcore that puts a smile on everyone's face. Make sure you see Dog Eat Dog - they are at the top of their game, and a new album is coming out soon! [8]

Such Gold @ 16:55-17:35 on Back 2 Basics Stage

If there's one band I have to pick who suffered the most from the horrific, backline-only sound of Back 2 Basics Stage (or Revenge Stage for that matter), it is Such Gold. Their explosive pop-hardcore is one hundred percent reliant on the technical flair and the vocals coming across crystal clear. Instead, I can barely hear what song it is they are playing. It's all drums, featuring an especially echoing, hollow soundscape that makes it impossible to get into their set. It's a shame because they play some of their best songs off "Misadventures", but the static display on stage, coupled with the awful sound means it's impossible to get anything out of their set. Waste of time. [5]

Teenage Bottlerocket @ 18:05-18:45 on Back 2 Basics Stage

And into the polar opposite world from Such Gold: Teenage Bottlerocket probably has the best sound I heard on this stage all festival long. Then again, their sound is simple and that's what works here. We start out with loads of old classics straight away with "Skate Or Die", "Bigger Than Kiss" and "They Call Me Steve" all coming around early on, and as such, good vibes are guaranteed for the rest of the show. Capitalizing on a high-energy crowd, the band races through their songs without pause, enticing a few stage divers to flip out into the crowd, where it just feels like a fun show without much impact on any grander scheme. However, things change as the band starts screwing around on stage. First, they do a little stunt where they try to pass a drum stick back-and-forth between the drummer and the vocalist by tossing it high up and fail at least four times before finally making it. Then they do a Ramones medley and spice it up by playing guitar behind their backs. Then they have a long band introduction that's absolutely hilarious. All of a sudden we have a solid show in our hands, so even though it's still true that once you've seen a Bottlerocket show you've seen them all, that doesn't make them any less fun. [7½]

The Bronx @ 18:30-19:20 on Main Stage

From Bottlerocket into The Bronx tent slightly delayed, and I'm immediately blown away by the humongous energy in the tent. The crowd is going bonkers whilst the band on stage looks like they're about to start a riot. The groovy, hardcore-fueled rock'n'roll soundscape encapsulates the tent into a wild frenzy during "Heart Attack American", where for a moment it feels like we might be witnessing a 10/10 show. Unfortunately, the set does calm down a bit, because nobody can keep up that kind of ridiculous energy for a full 50 minutes, that's for sure. That being said, the phrase nonstop energy is pretty much the exact definition of what's going on. Being inside the Main Stage tent feels like a pure injection of cocaine, a wall of energy that runs over you and leaves you breathless just from standing around. And that's when vocalist Matt Caughthran takes his miles-long mic cable, vaults into the crowd and splits us up all the way down the middle to the sound tent. That's about 50 meters away through a sea of people, folks, and he riles up both sides, front and back, exploding into one of the biggest mosh pits this scene has seen since The Offspring played "Smash" here some years ago. Absolutely manic chaos ensues as he disappears into an ocean of bouncing people, only to emerge on top of them to scream the rest of the song while crowd surfing. With stunts like these and songs like "Broken Arrow", The Bronx deliver a main stage benchmark that should leave those who missed the show fuming with jealousy. [8½]

A Wilhelm Scream @ 19:20-20:05 on Back 2 Basics Stage

"No matter where we run..." echoes across the tent halfway through A Wilhelm Scream's set, marking the first proper sing along I recall hearing on Back 2 Basics stage on this festival. The sound is still horrid, but at least the melodies of AWS come through a little better than some of the other bands, probably thanks to their insanely technical guitars that distinguish each song. With a fantastic setlist that basically throws in the highlights from all albums, including rarer songs like "Anchor End" that they haven't played any of the other times I've seen them, this would have been a killer set in a club venue with a proper sound system. Instead, it's merely a signature-style AWS show characterized by explosive energy, a stage dive or two by the vocalist, and classic songs like "I Wipe My Ass With Showbiz" that are powered through like a racehorse on steroids. "Me vs. Morrissey In The Pretentiousness Contest" receives a thunderous sing-along for its "tie me up to the radiator" parts, and "The King Is Dead" is likewise anthemically chanted back by the crowd, so even with the circumstances against them, A Wilhelm Scream demonstrate that they are one of the bands with the scariest consistency when it comes to live performances within punk rock. [8]

Snuff @ 20:45-21:30 on Back 2 Basics Stage

British punk rockers Snuff are one of the oldest bands at the festival. I'm not kidding - these old fuckers look like they're approaching their 70s, which makes their charismatically English stage banter even more hilarious than it would otherwise be. It'd be wrong to label them a reunion band but given how rarely they play concerts these days I feel like it's a fair characterization. "Any granddads in the audience?", the band asks unironically from the tent that's only half full. "There will be..", they continue, creating uncertainty over whether they referring to themselves or us in a few decades' time. That said, their age plays well against their fun-oriented, quality punk rock party that's supplemented by organ-style keyboards and trombone one song and hardcore punk in the next. The crowd feels tired (probably from the blistering cold outside) but are dancing along nonetheless, which rescues the set from the dreadful sound at this tent where the vocals of the drummer can barely be heard throughout the set. "Arsehole" was probably the set highlight, but overall it was a surprisingly spirited and humour-laden set from a band as old and experienced as these guys. [7½]

Comeback Kid @ 21:30-22:25 on Revenge Stage

Under a week ago, I speculated whether vocalist Andrew Neufeld was sick given how his scream sounded more hoarse than usual and lacked the razor-sharp finish it normally has. It's even worse this time around, but given it is six days later, I'm getting slightly worried about whether he has finally torn his vocal cords through epic years of roaring his way into the hearts and minds of the hardcore crowd. The fact of the matter is that aside from maybe Stick To Your Guns and The Ghost Inside, Comeback Kid's melodic hardcore has been one of the most consistently solid soundscapes in the genre within the last decade, and their live shows have been even better in the process. So naturally, we help him out. "G.M. Vincent & I" features an absolutely epic sing along. "Wasted Arrows" is chanted back already in the opening sequence of the song. "Somewhere, Somehow" has a stadium-worthy sing-along section. "Broadcasting..." is excellent in its own right, as is "Partners In Crime". That said, the questionable sound at this tent combined with Neufeld's vocal chord problems mean that the atmosphere feels a tad flat compared to the epic demonstrations of raw power and passion that previous Comeback Kid shows at Groezrock have been in the past. It's always good - like tonight - but the amazing part isn't there tonight, despite the dozens and dozens of people on stage for "Wake The Dead" in the end. [8]

Joyce Manor @ 22:15 - 23:05 on Red Bull Stage

The last time Joyce Manor played at Groezrock, it was early on the Main Stage, and the set was a disaster. The band didn't look like they wanted to be there, they had bad sound, and played all the wrong songs. Today, we're dealing with a polar opposite version of Joyce Manor. They have good sound - which is extremely important for particularly their indie-flavored material - and they are smiling all around. "Constant Headache" is solid right off the bat; the band is energetically bouncing around the stage, and genuinely look like they're having a blast playing despite being on a much smaller stage this time around. Even a small incident like the singer getting torn into the crowd by an eager fan doesn't dampen the mood; quite the contrary, the band take it with a lighthearted attitude. "Can't say I saw that coming", the singer says, and the band proceeds with the set as if nothing happened. A surprisingly upbeat and feel good set from a band that has previously felt like a downer all too often. Thumbs up! [7½]

Millencolin @ 22:45-23:45 on Main Stage

It's the birthday of the Mikkeller-owned craft beer & barbecue restaurant WarPigs in Copenhagen, and the Millencolin singer is wearing a WarPigs t-shirt. A cool detail that probably went unnoticed by most people in the crowd, kind of like the Millencolin set as a whole. Yes, it's one of those nights again where the band looks completely uninterested in being there. No emotion, no feelings, no visible passion, just another day in the office and they are playing on a relatively packed main stage audience with echoing sing-alongs to their classic skate punk songs. There's more effort in the massive banner of the new album on the background than on the band's performance on stage; it takes some serious effort to make upbeat songs like "Fox" and "Olympic" feel half-assed in front a crowd ready to sing their hearts out. But this has been a recurring problem with Millencolin shows for nearly two decades now: it feels like they are playing the old material because they must, not because they want to, and the result is something that feels both unrehearsed but even more distressingly, untight. These sentiments culminate in an absolutely wrecked version of fan-favorite "Pepper" which is ruined halfway through by totally useless crowd control mechanic used to introduce each member in the band to the crowd. Why is this necessary?

The newer songs like "SOS", "Sense & Sensibility", "True Brew", "Nothing" et. al are played in solid fashion, but are they really as good as the classics? Listening to the deafening, tent-wide sing along to "Mr. Clean" or "No Cigar" in what can only be considered signature style Groezrock moments, says it all. The crowd rescues a set that otherwise feels like Millencolin on autopilot: skate punk career extension with passion feeling like a foreign language. They're lucky their back catalogue is so strong they can survive playing in as uninterested fashion as they do here, tonight. [6½]

Dropkick Murphys @ 00:15-01:30 on Main Stage

Dropkick Murphys might not have the eye-catching festival-headliner flair that bands like NOFX, Bad Religion, Rancid, The Offspring, and others have had in the past, yet they manage to pack the main stage tighter than any other band I saw this year. It could be attributable to the fact that they are the last and only band playing, of course, but as soon as the sing-alongs start, it's clear that they've reached headliner status at least for the Groezrock crowd. Sure, their Irish folk punk can feel gimmicky, but they have written a ton of fantastic songs over the years, which they happily air in quick fashion with "The Boys Are Back", "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya", "The Irish Rover" and "The State Of Massachusetts" proving their headliner-worthy status right away.

The stage production is awesome: a three-level setup which allows the band to rotate positions as they see fit, adding variety and visibility without having to resort into a video-screen based setup like many others. For instance, Lee Forshner (bagpipes) looks very cool elevated up high on the third level whilst Al Barr's working-class ethos sees him visit the front barrier, whilst the rest of the band is positioned on the other two levels.

The sing-alongs are loud and frequent, as is expected when you roll from one hit song to the next. Even the 1999 song "The Fighting 69th" gets a little love from the crowd. Yet I find myself reminiscing nostalgically back to moments like "Punk In Drublic" by NOFX, or "...And Out Came The Wolves" by Rancid. The sing-alongs during these felt like the international, European punk community came together in a way that gave you chills, made you new best friends out of strangers, and the like. I'm hard pressed to find that same unity and special/magical feeling at this Dropkick Murphys concert despite solid energy and signature-style Groezrock moments, such as when a human pyramid forms for "The Fields Of Athenry" and Al Barr makes sure the top man gets to sing the rest of the song at his own leisure. Maybe I'm just jaded: I've seen this Dropkick Murphys show at least ten times now in the last eight years, if not more. That said, I had seen NOFX fourteen times before they did the "Punk In Drublic" show, yet it stands as one of my favorite Groezrock memories to date. Either way, Dropkick Murphys play a solid Dropkick Murphys show as usual, but what is missing is the special, "I was there" moment that so many other headlining acts at previous Groezrock editions have left us with. [8]

Final Words

With two days of punk rock and hardcore behind us, we can look back at yet another successful year of Groezrock. It's a different festival today than it was five years ago, but it's also a much better one than the 2017 or 2016 edition. It really feels like the festival is back and they are full of ideas of how to improve. I have a feeling that the 2020 edition will beat all of our expectations. The strategy of small bands first is the right one; if they can combine it with just two huge headliners, then they are set for a much bigger crowd.

And with that said, here's our summary of what we liked and didn't like about this year's festival, the classic Good, The Bad, & The ugly section.

THE GOOD

  • Festival feels revitalized & in resurgence mode
  • The bridge dividing the festival in two: disappeared
  • Big beers available at all bars - finally!
  • Fantastic organization - the best of class across Europe.
  • Much improved food options
  • The craft beer area is great. More cozy initiatives like this to add flavor to the festival area.
  • Luxury camping options available for those in need of such
  • Showers cleaned after EVERY use. Amazing service.
  • Sound on the main stage: good almost every time
  • Locker system: brilliant.
  • Very visible security as a response to reports of pickpocketing.
  • Red Bull truck @ Camping: a good first step at making camping more lively!
  • VIP area: great facilities, the best food on site, plenty of seating.
  • Branded Groezrock power banks are such an awesome idea

THE BAD

  • The third party app was terrible. Rather no app than this please.
  • Lack of big names or epic reunions, the scoops. What about bands like Alexisonfire, Moneen, Bear Vs. Shark that could have been real scoops this year?
  • ½ tickets: most places use full tickets now, just round it up or down, get rid of the half tickets.
  • Tickets in general: this system is outdated. Why can't we just pay contactless with cards? It's always a problem ending up with either too many or too few tickets in the end.
  • Scheduling: loads of clashes this year. Usually, scheduling has been incredibly good even with four stages. This year, sickening clashes like Authority Zero vs. Deez Nuts vs Coheed & Cambria vs. Bold. Or what about A Wilhelm Scream vs. Restorations?
  • Showers did not open on the last day. This is the day when they are needed the most: people traveling home with planes etc.
  • Lack of real headliners meant fewer community moments and sing-alongs as we remember from the good ol' Groezrock days
  • Only one ATM - outside the festival area... merch is still cash, so huge lines to draw out cash on occasion.

THE UGLY

  • The sound of Back 2 Basics + Revenge stage was beyond unacceptable. I've heard better sound at basements from backline only. So many sets ruined as a result.
  • American Socks acoustic stage: totally pointless because of its location. Couldn't hear a single band thanks to the main stage and/or red bull stage.
  • Red Bull stage: same problem. Playing at the same time as the main stage means songs blend together from the two stages.
  • So much plastic trash: implement a pant system (see Festival Area of this article)
  • Bad weather, but again not under the festival's control.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR

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