Don Broco: Why Slam Dunk Is The Place To Kick Off Our Next Era
Slam Dunk Festival have long been promoting the best of British music, pushing our country’s finest bands up to headliner status – and next year is no exception. That’s right, as Bedford mob Don Broco continue their ascent up the rock pile, the band have been given the much-deserved honour of topping the bill at Slam Dunk 2020.
But that’s not all for next year’s Leeds and Hatfield all-dayers; Rob Damiani and co will be joined by a wealth of other amazing names – as we’ve always come to expect from Slam Dunk – from Pennsylvania pop-punk heroes The Wonder Years to the highly-anticipated return of Motion City Soundtrack, following their (temporary) disbanding in 2016. On top of that, Slam Dunk have booked in sets from Mayday Parade, Four Year Strong, Knuckle Puck, Bayside, Issues, Hands Like Houses, Ice Nine Kills and State Champs.
As we gear up for the May double-bill, then, headliner Rob talks us through what it means for Don Broco to be making that step up, what to expect from their “fucking sick” set, and that time he nearly broke his ankle at a previous Slam Dunk. Sure…
Congratulations on getting your first-ever festival headlining set, Rob! Where were you guys when you found out that Don Broco would be topping the Slam Dunk Festival 2020 bill?
“I was just at home! I remember it being a pretty standard day – we were writing separately from each other. Our manager said it would be good for us to get on the phone and to have a little chat – management are kinda funny like that! I guess it’s nice to be able to give good news not just over an email; ideally, whenever you want to give someone good news, you want to be there to see their reaction. But we couldn’t meet up for whatever reason, so we got on this conference call and management were like, ‘We’ve got something we want to tell you!’ We’re good friends with [Slam Dunk organiser] Ben Ray, and he’s supported our band since the very first day, and they said that Ben wanted us to headline Slam Dunk next year. We were like, ‘Fuck yeah, this is insane!’ It’s the beginning of something new for us as well. It’s nice to have this vision of where things are going for the band, as we’re sort of winding down the era for [2018 album] Technology. So to kick things off next year with new music, and a whole new outlook, and the start of something special, there’s no better place to do that than at Slam Dunk.”
With the support of Ben from the very beginning of Don Broco’s career, what does it mean to you to be asked to headline all these years later?
“It’s insane! When you’ve been a band for a while and you’ve worked your way up to it, I think it makes it even more special. I remember when we first started the band and we would try and book shows. We’d be Googling stuff like, ‘Who puts on shows in Leeds?’ and it’s like, ‘Oh! Slam Dunk Festival organisers put on shows there.’ We were emailing people out of the blue trying to get gigs. Eventually Ben got back and said he would put on a show for us. It was a small floor show in Leeds, and that was the first time we ever met Ben. It was us with Marmozets supporting, and we probably played to 100 people, and that was our start. Then the next year we got on the Kerrang! Introducing Stage at Slam Dunk and that was our first chance to play to a lot of people, in a way. I’ll never forget those shows. It was Leeds first at their old site at the university, and then Hatfield. Leeds was this crazy, packed-out room, and we’d just released our Beautiful Morning EP [in 2011]. It was just this crazy, sweaty show with people hanging off the rafters, and it was the start of something incredible. We’ve been doing Slam Dunk over the past few years, too, playing some of the other stages. Getting the call to actually headline such an incredible festival that has grown and grown and grown, too… it’s an incredible honour and achievement, and a massive moment to tick off the bucket list.”
Is it also a testament to Slam Dunk for giving bands like yourselves the platform to grow and be moulded into a headliner?
“Oh, definitely. I just think, as a vibe and just the way they champion music from the UK and America, they’re incredible. There’s no other festival that will bring these bands over, who aren’t necessarily the biggest bands, but they will give them a chance here in the UK, as well as bringing American bands over who people don’t get to see as much in the UK. There’s just so much great alternative music, while at the same time not forgetting about the home-grown talent and supporting them, and giving bands like us, Enter Shikari and You Me At Six a platform. Allowing them to be the bands they want to be is quite rare, and it’s incredible to see.”
No spoilers, obviously, but how will you make this headline set an ‘event’ for people, so that they leave the festival sites feeling blown away?
“We’ve got a few things we are already thinking about! But I think you’d want to keep them all as a surprise – I don’t want to say it and then give it away. Part of what was so fun about our Wembley Arena show [earlier in the year] and the arena run we did is that we had a few moments to really make it a show that people would never forget. It was nice to hold these things back, and then release them all in one go on the night. So we’re going to be going all-out for this! It’s our first headline performance at a festival, so we’re going to be pulling out all of the stops, and we want it to be the best show of our lives. There’s the excitement, but there’s also that pressure where you don’t want to disappoint yourself and you don’t want to disappoint anyone else, so we’re going to be doing everything in our power to make it the best show ever.”
You’ve attended Slam Dunk as a fan, but Don Broco have played several times, too. What have been some of your highlights?
“Well, back in 2017 we’d just done our first tour of the States, and America is just so long (laughs). You’ve just got to go there so much! Being an established band in the UK and starting from scratch again was super-rewarding, but also hard work as well. We were playing to people who had no idea who we were, but we came back off that tour and went straight into Slam Dunk where everyone knew who we were and everyone was going nuts to Pretty – the new song we had just released a few weeks before. It was probably the best feeling we’ve ever had at a festival, to have people singing not just the words, but also the riff! Nothing really beats that, and to get that reaction that we did two years ago at Slam Dunk really cemented it as our favourite festival in the UK.”
Have there been any moments of drunken regret after playing Slam Dunk?
“One time, I remember I jumped over this fence in Leeds and landed terribly on my ankle, and in the moment I just carried on with my night out, drunkenly powering through without thinking anything of it. But then the next day I couldn’t move my leg, and I started thinking, ‘Shit, how are we going to play this show?’ That day was the Hatfield show, and I remember it just being a hop show! There was no way we were going to cancel, so it was the first show I’ve ever played injured. It’s quite memorable from my perspective, because I can’t not jump up and down when playing our songs, so I was hopping on just one foot. But we got through it!”
Phew. If you’re faced with any naysayers who don’t think you’re up to the task of headlining, what would you say?
“I don’t think there are really words that can convince a naysayer, to be honest. If they’re like, ‘Oh, they’re not going to do a good show,’ I just think that the proof is in the pudding. Actions speak louder than words, and if you come to the show you’re going to see that it will blow everyone away. I completely back us live! It’s everything we love about music and everything we love about our band. Despite all the trials and tribulations you go through as a musician, one thing we have learnt is how to put on a good show. We’re just going to go hard, and I think anyone who comes to the show will know this is fucking sick, basically (laughs).”
You’ve got the likes of The Wonder Years, Four Year Strong, Issues, Knuckle Puck and Motion City Soundtrack joining you on the line-up…
“Hell yeah! Four Year Strong were one of the first bands that we ever toured with in the UK – we were supporting them, and they’re fucking awesome. We love those guys and they’ve just got so many tunes, and the energy is so sick. I love Knuckle Puck as well. We got to see those guys on Warped Tour last summer, and they’re awesome. Issues came out with us on our last tour in the UK, and we’ve got Tyler [Carter, vocals] on our latest song Action. Unless there’s some crazy, horrible clash, it will be great to have him come up and sing that with us onstage. It’s quite rare for that to happen, so it’ll be nice if we can cross paths at Slam Dunk and get him onstage with us – we’ll definitely be doing that if we can!”
Looking forward to it. Finally, Don Broco can finally add ‘festival headliner’ to their name as well as ‘arena band’. What does that mean for you guys going forward?
“It’s hard to know, really… When you get to this point, you’re sort of doing the big-boy stuff! It’s exciting but also scary at the same time, because where do you go from here? But it’s all about writing incredible music, and that is what we will be doing when we get home. We’re going to be writing over Christmas, and we’re just going to go into hibernation for a little bit to write some tunes. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Slam Dunk festival will take place at Leeds’ Temple Newsam Park on May 23, and Hatfield Park on May 24, 2020. Get your tickets now.
The rock and metal scene has rallied together to echo the sentiments of the George Floyd protests and the #BlackLivesMatter movement across the world.
New York pop-punks State Champs strip things back on new acoustic EP, Unplugged