Download Festival is always the highlight on the festival calendar for anyone who appreciates rock music. Now in its 14th year, it has established itself as the premier rock music festival. However, it has grown to mammoth proportions over the years and due to the vast number of bands that it has performing, it becomes difficult to decide which bands to see as there are numerous clashes. Some might argue there are worse problems to have. Sadly, the reality is that as a fan of rock music, you must make decisions as to who you will miss playing due to the scheduling and huge distances to walk from stage to stage.
This year was made even more shocking by the fact that the sun belted down for most of the festival. There were little bits of rain, but for once Wellington boots were not required.
The main arena opened on Friday and one of the biggest differences this year was the increased security. Download organisers spared no expense in ensuring there were numerous checkpoints to have your bags searched and pat down searches as well as armed police patrolling the area, alongside sniffer dogs and CCTV. This slowed the whole process of getting into the main arena down to a snail’s pace and at times created an hour extra onto the queuing time. As frustrating as this was, it was satisfying to know that safety was a priority, and that you could enjoy the festival with peace of mind once in the arena.
Download always boasts an impressive line-up, and this year was no exception. Legendary band Aerosmith, and other highly successful bands such as System of a Down, Steel Panther, Slayer, and Rob Zombie to name a small few were included on this year’s bill.
In previous years, I have always tried to catch the bands that were on the main stage or the second stage, and not really had chance to explore some of the hidden gems that Download has to offer. So, at the risk of missing many great bands, I made it my mission to wander round the whole site to see what other things were on offer instead of just watching the bands on the main stage.
The first thing that was hard to take in is the sheer size of the Download arena, to be able to get from one stage to another, you should give yourself at least ten minutes walking time.
After I had walked around the entire arena to work out where things were, and figured out which bands to catch and miss, I decided to watch Mastodon, who opened with ‘Sultans Curse’ and from then on in it was a fully armed attack on the senses with their brutal music sending the crowd wild with delight. However, the trouble with things that are so enjoyable is that they seem to end too quickly. Sure, enough by the time their last song ‘Mother Puncher’ reverberated around Donnington Park, it was hard to believe they had played 11 tracks.
I then trekked up to the Dogtooth stage to catch Krokodil for some progressive metal. This was a jaw dropping set which managed to attract a huge crowd. Krokodil are in a league of their own when it comes to playing live.
Occasionally a band will be on the bill that seems to be able to capture people’s curiosity and Prophets of Rage was one of those bands. Consisting of band members from Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave (Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk) as well as members from Public Enemy (DJ Lord and Chuck D) and Cypress Hill (B-Real). It was a safe bet that this was going to be a political hard-hitting rock supergroup. Thankfully they lived up to the hype.
Opening with the Public Enemy track “Prophets of Rage” they left no doubt that this was going to be hard hitting. There was even a mention of JeremyC orbyn during one interlude. The set was dominated by songs from the band members previous bands, so songs such as “Bombtrack”, “Fight the Power”, “Insane in The Brain” were all delivered with such ferocity and passion that it raised the energy levels of the crowd to such extent that several circle pits were formed. Then just when you thought the pace couldn’t go much higher, the opening chords of “Killing in The Name” echoed around the arena creating a surge of adrenaline amongst the crowd. Leaving fans wanting more.
Unfortunately, as talented as System of a Down are, they were never going to match the energy and brutal performance that Prophets of Rage had just completed. Nonetheless SOAD put on a set worthy of being headliners, although they have been in this envious position twice before and so know how to put on a slick and water tight performance. I counted around 30 tracks in their set, some of the highlights included “Violent Pornography” and crowd favourites “Chop Suey!” and “Toxicity.” A great set and on any other night would have been a brilliant ending to a great day, however I walked away feeling that they should have swapped places with Prophets of Rage.
Once again punters had to give themselves plenty of time to get through the security checks to be able to walk into the main arena. However, it was a small price to pay for safety. Pierce the Veil seemed to wake the crowd up with their performance on the main stage. Currently they seem to be the poster band for many teenage girls, which explained the abundance of young ladies in the audience whilst they were belting through their setlist.
For me, I was curious to see what the fuss was all about and I was hoping to have found a band that could quite easily be criticised for being the classic “pretty boy” band that has an incredible image but no talent. However, to be fair they are very skilful musicians and songs such as “Caraphernelia” and closing song “King for A Day” demonstrated that Pierce the Veil are credible songwriters with bundles of energy when it comes to live shows.
At this point I decided to try and catch some of the bands that may not be as well-known as the main stage acts. I stumbled upon a band by the name of The Lounge Kittens. A female trio that perform cover versions of rock songs but in a more melodic way. Opening with a melodic version of Drowning Pools “Bodies” they quickly engaged the audience in a happy cheery melodic singalong for thirty minutes or so with cover versions of System of a Downs “Violent Pornography” and “Teenage Dirtbag” (Wheatus cover version). Even though this band won’t ever be suitable for the headline slot on the main stage, they were worthy of being on the bill to provide that sprinkling of feel good to the proceedings.
Other bands that caught my attention were I The Mighty with their brand of post-hardcore music, think along the lines of Coheed and Cambria and you won’t go far wrong.
Whilst I was on a mission to catch some of the non-main stage bands, it would have been rude not to catch Wednesday 13 on the Dogtooth stage. Wednesday 13 is an American singer who gained mainstream fame when he became the frontman of Murderdolls.
For me, this was the unexpected highlight of the festival, the tent was overflowing with fans waiting to catch a glimpse of Wednesday 13. This was goth rock at its very finest. Wednesday 13 clearly thinks about the stage show as well as the music, and this appeared to have everything... hellish dancing women, fire breathing throughout the set. As well as various props to enhance the show. The crowd lapped up every moment of the set. Songs such as “Scream baby Scream” and “Serpent Society” all got the crowd headbanging. Wednesday 13 brought the set to a close with the title track from his album “Condolences”. After seeing Wednesday 13 deliver such a blistering set, it would be a fair bet that in the future he will be playing on the bigger stages.
Due to doing way too much walking over the previous two days, it was time to have a relaxing day and enjoy things without having to wander too far around the arena. Seeing as Download Festival had persuaded WWE to bring the NXT brand over, I thought it would be a good idea to see what all the fuss was about. There was a marquee with a full-size wrestling ring in the middle, as well as the posing ramp, walk way and giant screen to engage the fans.
For the entire 90 minutes, the larger than life colourful WWE characters kept thousands of Download punters glued to their seats as the characters did their acrobatics and powerslams in the “squared circle”. Musically it scores a zero, however in terms of entertainment it is a full 10 out of 10. Even if it is hard to justify why a rock music festival feels the need for wrestling to be in the arena?
The highlights of the final day included Steel Panther, a witty and talented set of musicians, although they have been doing the same jokes whenever they play at Download. However, they did invite ladies onto the stage and had a singalong and dance with them on stage. Security must have been unimpressed with having to deal with hundreds of women jumping on stage.
Despite expectations, Aerosmith were a disappointment. The legendary band stated that this would be their last UK appearance. For nostalgic reasons a lot of people turned up to catch these rock icons. Unfortunately, it was an under-par performance. In comparison to their previous headline slot at Download, this just seemed lifeless, sure the songs were played that fans wanted to hear, but at times it sounded like Steven Tyler was slurring his words and I’m sure he sang the wrong words on “Janie’s Got a Gun”. It was Aerosmith just going through the motions without putting the energy into it. Sadly, it is probably not the way that the band members would like to be remembered.
For anyone who loves rock music, Download is still the best rock music festival around. Long live the monster that is Download Festival.
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