This weekend, rockers and metal heads took to the soggy fields of Donnington to rock out the most famous festival on the UK rock calendar: Download. We sent our intrepid reporter along to get in amongst it.
Photos and Review by Jimi Arundell
Some festivals have something for everyone but not this one. This is Download and it only has rock. Nothing but rock. It may come in many forms; thrash speed garage, nu-metal, black metal, post-hardcore and more, but if you don’t like it hard, loud and heavy then this isn’t the festival for you.
Fortunately, this is exactly what the people on the very full bus I shared on the way in have come for. Though the raindrops pelted the windows as hard as the fists they are the size of, the passengers seemed undeterred. In fact, despite the deluge outside, they’re damn right eager and, upon approaching the site, a sort of cabin fever took hold and threatened to spill over into outright madness. If only the potential frenzy could scare the rain away.
Arriving a little too late see The Amorettes an all-female band at a festival that was woefully lacking in having many women present on stage, first up is Zoax, performing their last song at Stage Three. It feels an oddly muted end to the set which the band themselves must have sensed as they apologise before leaving the stage.
The first act I get to see an entire set of is HECK. The band are known for their death defying frenetic live performances that have seen them rampage in clubs and venues so it would be interesting to see how it translates onto a big festival stage.
The release of their debut album Instructions marked a substantial growth in their sound and has hinted at even greater potential. The record saw them evolve into something truly unique and suggests that they could be THE rock band for this generation.
It takes singer and guitarist Matt Reynolds exactly 34 seconds to leap off the stage into the audience and kick off a crazed set that later saw him scaling the highest piece of lighting rigging which prompted the worried organisers to temporarily turn off all the mics until he safely returns from the dangerous heights.
Meanwhile guitarist Jonny Hall is being held aloft by the audience on which he is stood like a Greek statue leaving bassist Paul Shelly and drummer Tom Marsh left on stage to try and keep some semblance of normality. It’s a brave move by them, not only because it takes real skill to play guitar, sing and start your own circle pit but also because most bands instantly forfeit payment and have their sets cut short if they step one foot off stage. Although the antics in themselves are entertaining, HECK never fail to actually play their amazing songs and in being able to play such good songs while being so wild is exactly why great things are expected of their future.
Next, on the Encore Stage, is Glassjaw. Heroically, the band play a crowd that is greatly diminished due to the rain which is a real shame because they play a fantastic set with Daryl Palumbo really working who was present in the audience.
At the Main Stage, now renamed the Lemmy Stage in memory of the driving force behind Motörhead, fans of nu-metal superstars Korn are summoned there by an oddly eerie noise that sounds like a wheezing air siren and are treated to a hit studded set that includes Blind, Got The Life and finishes with Freak On A Leash. The real highlight was Shoots And Ladders which saw Jonathan Davis parade the stage playing bagpipes as an intro and climaxed with a snipped version of Metallica’s One.
Following are German industrial noise band Rammstein whose music seems to be a cynical approximation of not only metal but of a German metal band by spouting basic lyrics that are in no way compelling. The use of pyrotechnics are nothing new to Download and although the massive spurts of flame delight people in attendance they just make the whole set feel more like a gimmick. Still, they provided momentary warmth as the damp Friday night comes to an end.
On Saturday, Download fans looked forward to Deftones and hoped to believe that the worst of the weather must surely be behind them. By then, there were reports of semi-submerged tents in the camping areas but, despite some hours of sun, it was once again raining as they took to the stage. Their set was geared towards their obvious hits and they only played one track, Prayers/Triangles, off their new album Gore. The band didn’t seem to be putting their all in to it and it seemed as if they were relying too much on their back catalogue. It’s possible they would have more fire in their belly if they felt they had something to prove by playing more new tracks.
Straight after, the Lemmy Stage was taken over by the almighty Black Sabbath who are playing their final ever tour. They immediately seize control of the crowd by playing their signature song Black Sabbath, with its creepy intro and the vocals of the verses accompanied only by drums. The crowd is drawn in by Ozzy’s perfect voice only to be blown away by Tony Iommi’s guitar. Throughout the mind blowing set the bass was crisp and the clear vocals cut right through the massive crowd. Their minimal use of effects gives the band a real urgency, which is accelerated by Ozzy’s spontaneous shout-outs to the audience and they solicited a response bands a third of their age can’t get. War Pigs is funky as hell, Iron Man drones perfectly and the set ends with an encore of Paranoid. The tragedy is, if this truly is their swan’s song tour, they still sound light years ahead of most of the other acts playing the same festival.
On Sunday the crowd are excited as hell to see Iron Maiden, who arrived in true rock and roll fashion at nearby East Midlands Airport on their own jumbo jet, Ed Force One, piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson. Considering the weather, it was pretty damn brave!
Although they played a great selection of old and new songs, it was disappointing they didn’t include Can I Play With Madness? However, Dickinson’s sheer stage presence was more than enough to make up for it and his clear glee to be on stage was a joy to behold. They hold back The Number Of The Beast until the inevitable encore.
If the audience wasn’t already incensed by the weekend’s riot so far, this song vocalised the exact crazed antics of the entire weekend and leads revellers into a gleeful charge over the cliff edge into sheer delirium before finishing the festival with Blood Brothers and Wasted Years leaving everyone to squelch back to wherever they came from with a tape of Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life playing.
Download Festival took place at Donnington Park on Friday 10 June to Sunday 12 June 2016