Live Coverage || Punk Rock Holiday 1.9

Punk Rock Holiday is a five day long music festival that takes place in the beginning of August of every year near the small city of Tolmin in Slovenia. Effectively and for almost ten years in a row now, it’s probably considered the best festival action in Europe for the sound of punk and all the accompanying sub-genres, combining exactly what the name itself mentions; a beautiful holiday with a ton of punk rock music. 




I never thought Slovenia would be such a beautiful country. My first visit was in 2013 and my first trip to the festival came a year after. Since then, I have visited Tolmin five years in a row and I’m already looking forward to the sixth. This coming from a person that lives 1.800 kilometres away, drives to and from the country every year and chooses to spend his well-earned vacation away from anything that can be called work in a mostly alpic scenery, near lakes and rivers surrounded by beautiful endless green fields and pastures, and of course adding many hours of standing and listening to loud music. The festival itself takes place right next to the Soca river, hosts more than 7.000 people each year, sells out way ahead of schedule and shares two stages (Main and Beach stage) to a whopping 70 band roster from every corner of the planet. What I love most about PRH is that it pertains a largely independent ideology in that any band may actually play the festival if any of its members choose to attend the previous year and decide to register for an application to play the following year, stage dives are welcome since there are no bouncers (unless the band performing chooses to use them), there are no barricades in front of the stage, everyone in the organisational department or in volunteering is super nice and helpful, the bands on every level are greatly taken care of (speaking from experience), I could go on and on.

The program is fixed as follows:
There are two stages, as mentioned, each one with a separate timetable that doesn’t overlap; another great thing. “Smaller” bands perform on the Beach stage which is located EXACTLY next to the river and start playing around noon, while one “bigger” band usually headlines that stage around 18:00 and only when it finishes do the bands on the Main Stage start playing around 19:30. Basically, if you want to, you can watch 14 hours of music. The festival pans out on four days from Tuesday to Friday and Monday - the preceding (fifth) day – is titled a “pre-fest” date. Only participants of the 4-day package can attend the pre-fest and on that day there is no Beach stage running and the main stage has a longer bill. There is no attending single days, so it must be a holiday and with a little over €150 you can attend all five days, watch 70 bands play, camp at the site and basically have a full on vacation accompanied by as much music as you want. 
Let’s get to what my experience was this year, day by day. On the whole, I regret not seeing as many Beach Stage bands as I wished for, but staying an hour away from Tolmin (I rarely camp anymore, ever, anywhere) was a huge factor in missing many performances. I had high hopes for a number of bands again this year and did feel surprised on a few occasions.       

Day 1 – Pre Fest (August 05)

I’d be lying if I said that Pulley wasn’t one of the main reasons I was looking forward to Punk Rock Holiday 1.9. There was a time in my life when I would have travelled abroad anywhere in Europe just to see them play, especially given their minimum performances even in the States. I couldn’t believe my luck upon announcement of their headlining the Pre–Festival day and consequently my utter disappointment from the get-go of their actual on stage performance. Scott Radinsky, one of my favourite singers/songwriters even from the Ten Foot Pole era, came on stage having consumed almost an entire whiskey bottle an hour before and he could neither sing nor generally behave. Dear Pulley, this is a reminder of the fact that the year is 2019 and being drunk and poorly prepared (guitar strings breaking without having a replacement guitar ready and thus taking a 10 minute break, bad sound and definitely various unfunny shenanigans) won’t cut it like they did in 2001. The crowd, bands and general consensus have evolved. 
A real positive, albeit expected, occurrence were Not On Tour, the female fronted melodic punk rock quartet from Israel, which has taken Europe by storm in just a few years in a complete DIY fashion and much deservedly so. The performance was huge and well received. However, given their unique style, it is not easy pulling off an hour long set with 1.30 lasting songs. It is a rare occasion when I actually wish a set would be a bit shorter. This will re-occur on this year’s festival for me. 





Day 2 (August 06)

First day for the Beach Stage and my highlights were The Morrons, Ants’ second to last show and of course Blowfuse, a band I’ve wanted to see for years. The majority of punk rock bands at PRH either weigh on the more technical melodic side or the “damn fast octave driven melodic punk rock” side and The Morrons fit into the second category. I’m not a huge fan of the lyrical content, but really appreciate the music itself, the performance on stage and the fun vibe the band exudes while playing. The Ants, a band I have followed and known personally for years, sadly has called it quits and their politically driven, heavier emo punk rock will be dearly missed on a very personal level. If I may say so, punk rock has gotten less political each year and it shows at one of the biggest festivals of Europe. Lastly, the “infamous” Blowfuse from Spain completely met my expectations with their quirky 90’s punk rock material and gave a lesson in what it means to have confidence and individuality to a performance.  
In retrospect, the Main stage’s first official day highlighted two of my favourite live shows of the entire festival. To top that, Useless ID have always been a great band to see live and have numerous exceptional records on their roster and Good Riddance stunned me with their newest LP, so seeing them live this summer worked out perfectly. Frank Turner is highlight no.3 for me this year at PRH. The man has sold out shows all over the world, plays Wembley Arena and the damn Olympics. I give mad respect for choosing to perform at a punk rock festival and his show was incredible. Then, it started raining heavily. And The Descendants came on. Three years after my first experience with them, I was as excited as ever. I loved their last record and their set was a perfect balance between old and new and I had the best time of my life. Excellent old school sound production, flawless delivery, the most positive attitude. Thank you for playing the way you play. Tuesday was the best day of this year’s PRH. 



Day 3 (August 07)

One of the days I missed most of the Beach stage bands. Finally got a chance to see the Dopamines and while I was a long-time fan, I felt like their show was too bro-ish. Disappointed for the second time that week. Wish I had seen Call Me Malcom, The Ragins Nathans and most of all Pense.
The Main stage had sort of a weird line-up featuring Buster Shuffle, Masked Intruder, Sick Of It All, Pennywise and Less Than Jake. I loved Masked Intruder (one of my main reasons for going to the festival), SOIA are the best hardcore band ever, whether performing at a festival or at a 300 capacity venue, Pennywise simply went through the motions and Less Than Jake were much better than the last time I saw them. Scratch that, Less than Jake were excellent.     



Day 4 (August 08)

This was another Beach Stage debacle for me. Planned to see Cronos Debe Morir (hailing from Chile I think, damn!), For I Am, CF98, Resolutions, Straightline and Much the Same but sadly only got to see the latter two bands. On the flipside of things, I had delicious pizza, shot some hoops and went swimming in my underwear all in one crazy afternoon; best off morning from the festival. Straightline are great live but too heavy for my taste and Much The Same sadly were a bit underwhelming at performing live. However, their new record, "Everything Is Fine", is kind of a masterpiece; too many No Use for a Name vibes to mention.  
The Main stage on that day was a classic Punk Rock Holiday line-up comprising of Dave Hause (of the Loved Ones), Iron Reagan (fuck yes), Booze and Glory (what?), Ignite (always stellar) and Nofx (question mark). Dave and Iron Reagan were my top favourites of the day and absolutely delivered on a completely different fashion. Think of watching a modern Bruce Springsteen for one and then getting hit by a band that sounds like Metallica’s "Kill 'Em All" on speed. I’ve been a long time Nofx devoted fan - losing, however, part of my faith in them over the past few years - and having seen them live over a dozen times in the past twenty years doesn’t really leave much for the imagination anymore. I’m happy to say I had a great time during their set and it seemed they did too, which has become the factor of measuring how well their show will turn out. 
Fun fact: Met the nicest moshing person during the Ignite show, who asked for her appropriate “space to dance” a few minutes before the band’s set. She apologized to every single person she hit. 




Day 5 (August 09)

Last day of the festival and I was there early. 12.30 p.m., at a little past noon and my day started by watching my friend Dalin and his band 69 Enfermos from Brazil. Probably one of the nicest people in punk rock that I’ve had the privilege to meet and his band finally got the chance to play a set at PRH without gallons of rain water pouring over. Well fucking done. Hit The Switch would have been awesome if it weren’t for those damned jokes and Custody were pretty cool, however the band I wanted to see the most were Krang and boy, did they deliver like hell. Really astounded by their directness and natural confidence on stage, loved their political banter, everything clicked for me. 
If it wasn’t for Tuesday’s perfect line-up, Friday could easily be my favourite bill of the day featuring the legendary Cigar, the craziness of Pears, the freshest PUP, Teenage Bottlerocket and Propagandhi. After Cigar delivered a very surprisingly awesome set for me (I really didn’t fancy their new record), Pears blew my head off with their show and had what I consider the best sounding performance of the day. Also, they played a cover of Green Day’s "Basket Case" and it was excellent. 




Now, if there’s one thing I find a bit negative about PRH, it’s that the festival’s line-up feels heavily repetitive and slightly outdated to a small degree. Every other year the same “big” bands headline and apart from a select few exceptions, mostly bands from the Fat Wreck roster fill the bill which is usually really cool, I feel however that it is an issue that can improve. Enter PUP, the new-ish punk sensation from Toronto, Canada. Another main reason for my attending PRH, the band’s first show of their European tour left me utterly satisfied on all accounts. More bands like this please. Remember how I said Not on Tour’s set could have been shorter? Well, so could Teenage Bottlerecket’s. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it was too fast, too sloppy and too repetitive. Maybe next time. 

I’ll finish off this long festival review (for a really long festival, in my defense!) with a separate paragraph for Propagandhi’s set. Little did I know that my fourth encounter with the band would be one of the most memorable live experiences -not just from the festival- but in my entire life. I watched as the band delivered a masterful live re-enactment of their full latest release "Victory Lap" without playing almost any hit songs off older records, without giving a damn about what people thought or if some preferred to mosh out on the final set of the final day of the week-long festival. I stood there watching people standing in awe of what they were witnessing. No one was dancing or singing, it was just a sight for the ages. It was incredible. It was impeccable. It was emotional. Thank “whomever”, I was there. This was without a doubt my best band performance of this year’s Punk Rock Holiday and hearing "Adventures In Zoochosis" in FULL was by far my favourite moment of all days combined. It goes without saying that the band continued their no-bullshit on stage agenda, their absolute humbleness (thanking the festival for putting up with their “no sponsors” policy by taking down banners around stage before their show) and their kindness towards everyone watching. Best show ever. They finished their set by ironically playing "Anti-Manifesto", a song I hadn’t heard played live in years and left everyone partying and moshing happily ever after, bringing all of us back to reality. 

Epilogue

Punk Rock Holiday is a must-live experience for one fathomed by this type of music. The scenery is astonishing, the festival and its people are the best hosts and if you’re like me, someone that lives in a country with absolutely no punk shows, a perfect yearly dosage of beautiful music. My one last piece of advice; drive through the country, take time away from the festival either between shows or even before or after everything’s finished to see the most amazing landscape. You’ll be thinking about it for almost 350 days until you can go back.

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