We’d been looking forward to DOWNLOAD for a few weeks, my colleague who attended with me had been before, okay, it was in 1987 and labelled as ‘Monsters of Rock’ and many of the acts that performed are only remembered in the tales that the elder folk tell their grandchildren…. “I remember it well, as if it were only yesterday, there was only one stage, tickets cost £12 and some true titans of metal such as Bon Jovi, Dio, Metallica, Anthrax, W.A.S.P. & Cinderella performed to a sell out crowd” – 30 years later, things had changed somewhat…..
Now taking place over 3 days, 4 stages (5 if you count the Firestone area) and hoards of other activities to keep the 80000 metal-heads happy, would 2017 be as good as previous years? Would the weather behave? (It SURELY couldn’t be as bad as 2016’s record downpour!), read on to find out!
We arrived late in the afternoon on Thursday to be ready for the action kicking off on Friday and were surprised how calm things appeared, okay, the main arena was yet to open but I was expecting to see a good few thousand revellers milling about the place. I since found out that the majority of people were camped up at ‘The Village’ and the nice organisers of Download had arranged for a variety of comedians to keep them entertained before the big day came.
We ventured up to the guest camp site, pitched up and went for a walk. It was hard to picture 80,000 people in the main arena when it was completely empty but this would soon change! We retreated to our tent just as the sun disappeared over the horizon, pulled up our camping chairs and cracked open a couple of cold ones to raise a toast to (what we hoped would be) a successful Download 17’…..
We woke early on Friday morning thanks to the sheer volume of planes taking off from East Midlands airport, made use of the onsite showers and headed back to the car for a feast of bacon sandwiches with beans and hot dog sausages which in my eyes is THE perfect way to prepare for day one of the Download Festival!
We had arranged to cover as many bands as possible between the two of us and this worked out really well, my colleague would stand guard between the Main and the Zippo (second) stage, I would run between the Avalanche (Third) and the Dogtooth (Fourth) stages. The only thing that would foil our cunning plan would be the weather and the mud that it created with so many people walking over the ground, we had EVERYTHING crossed and were regularly checking the forecast to see if any changes came about. By the looks of things, aside from a couple of short sharp showers, we were looking at a relatively dry and dare I say it, a sunny weekend!
Our first stop was over at the Avalanche stage to catch a lively and confident young indie rock 4 piece called MOSES who did a great job of injecting some feeling into the hearts of the audience so early in the day. You could see on all their faces that they were visibly thrilled to be playing at such a prestigious festival. They drew a healthy crowd and no doubt won a few new fans during their engaging and melodic set which was full of catchy, anthemic tracks, keeping the audience on their toes throughout.
We wandered the short walk to the Zippo stage to catch a band called BLACKWATER CONSPIRACY. With the air heavy with patchouli and a certain vegetable matter, the band launched into their set. If you wanted me to describe these guys, think the music of Lynnard Skynard, crossed with The Black Crowes with Tyla from The Dog’s D’amour on vocals and you’re not far from the truth! They pumped out some brilliant bluesy rock that kept the crowd firmly fixed to the spot throughout. The lead guitarist really made his Les Paul sing for its supper! Epic stuff that I strongly suggest you follow up on, their new album came out on the day they played so go grab a copy NOW!
My colleague shot to the main stage to take in the aural delights of MASTODON. Having never seen them live before, he sure is glad that he has now! Their set was awash with crunching riffs and complex changes that drew a burgeoning crowd. The mosh pits loved the power of the metal and they seemed to get bigger and faster with every song! He watched the set from the bank about 300 metres from the stage and felt that he'd missed out a little by not being closer. If you like your metal tight, hard and lyric-lite then definitely check these guys out.
Whilst my colleague was watching MASTODON on the main stage, I managed to catch the tail end of a set by a band called OTHERKIN who looked like they were doing a grand job of killing it on the Dogtooth stage, the guitarist holding his weapon aloft to rapturous applause come the end.
I popped along to the Zippo stage to catch American crossover thrash metal band SUICIDAL TENDENCIES do their thing, I’m unsure how old these guys are but I swear I remember them from my skateboarding days back in the early 80’s! They ran about the stage like a bunch of kids who had OD’d on cheap orange squash and too much white bread…..yep, they still had it! Looking like a bunch of Latino gangsters, they wouldn’t have appeared out of place as extras in ‘Grand Theft Auto San Andreas’ and when they burst into life, the place erupted…. A classic band indeed that did exactly what was expected of them on the 2nd stage.
Attending the festival was a great way of networking with other fellow minded music enthusiasts and it didn’t take long to meet with people that we’ve been chatting to for a long time. We met a guy in the morning whose father ran a record label (sorry dude, we both totally forgot your name!) and he recommended FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH as one of the “not to be missed bands of the weekend”. We took his advice and moved to the front part of the arena for their show…..Oh how right he was! We loved the energy of their performance, the anger in the lyrics, the drums and guitars that felt like they were actually punching you in the guts and the full-on stage show that really engaged the audience. They truly are great ambassadors of metal and to quote a fan of theirs who was stood beside me throughout the set, "They just do this shit right" – We couldn’t agree more!
To ensure that we felt more involved in the action, we decided to stay towards the front for PROPHETS OF RAGE. Here at musicmuso, we enjoy many genres of music but that hour spent in amongst the action rates as one of the greatest music experiences we have encountered to date. Bouncing and singing along to every song was epic. “Bulls on Parade”, “Sleep now in the Fire”, “Bomb Track”, “Testify” and of course the EPIC tones of “Killing in the Name” but throw in “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy and “Insane in the Brain” by Cypress Hill and you’re guaranteed a great show! We feared that our voices wouldn’t be working so well the next morning as a result! All this with a very tasteful tribute to Chris Cornell just gave us a fabulous experience. We were blown away by Tom Morello’s mastery of the guitar and just loved the sentiment of “challenge all the wrong you see around you.” Thank you guys for the music and a message that never ages….
I heard that SUM 41 were just about to kick off on the Zippo stage, so off I went to catch these Canadian pop-punk heavyweights. Seeing so many bands in one weekend can sometimes dilute the experience but not the case with these guys, they kept their set super fresh throughout and when they finally launched into ‘In Too Deep’ followed by ‘Fat Lip’, the crowd literally lost the plot, brilliant stuff indeed.
After all the fun we’d had so far, we really needed a cider to come back down to earth and only had to wait 10 minutes in the Dogbar queue to get it. Result! After a few minutes to consume the gassy, fermented apple juice, we were physically and emotionally ready for what was my colleague’s pre-festival highlight, SYSTEM OF A DOWN. They delivered a superbly entertaining set of which consisted of hard riffs, thumping bass and drums and soaring lyrics which came together to form their complex but enthralling blend of music. The crowd loved it and so many sang along as the impressive light show helped to set the tempo. Anthemic and operatic are two words I’d use to describe their sound but man, their music simply grabs you and drags you along for the ride!
Towards the middle end of the set, I broke free from the spell that SOAD had put on me and headed to the Dogtooth stage to catch a bit of classic thrash metal courtesy of American heavyweights EXODUS. The band formed in 1979 and have been doing what they do for 38 years….. Okay, they’ve gone through numerous line-up changes and two extended hiatuses but they are still going! Show me another band that have this sort of staying power and I’ll eat my shoes! It was great to see Tom Hunting (original drummer) and Gary Holt (near original guitarist but for two years) up on stage, grinding their way through classic hit after classic hit, the Dogtooth stage going crazy for their sound that seemed to be the tonic that the hard hitting crowd were craving at the end of day one of Download Festival 2017!
And so the music ended for the day and we headed back to the tent to pick up a couple of ciders and some Pot Noodles (don’t ya just love ‘em?), I know, this doesn't sound very ‘rock and roll’ but we ate them in the Metal Forest around a fire pit with other music lovers, chatting about the day and which acts we should go and catch on the Saturday! All in all, a fab way to end an awesome first day.
With the aid of my silk sleep mask and a pair of earplugs, I managed a few more hours sleep and woke at the more agreeable hour of 7am, we headed off to our makeshift BBQ and cooked up another feast of bacon sandwiches and ravioli, you know, the food that EVERYONE has for breakfast on a daily basis! We met a couple of guys who were DJing at the festival and were just off to the local Toby Carvery for breakfast, followed by a pint and then a full carvery prior to coming back to spin some tunes later in the evening, whatever floats your boat I guess!
We headed into the main arena and headed up to the Dogtooth stage to check out an Irish 3 piece band called DEAD LABEL. We’d bumped into their PR Manager (Tom Brumpton from Polymath PR) whilst cooking our food in car park on Friday night and he told us of the amazing effort they’d gone to in order to be there so we thought it was the least we could do! The lead singer growled and worked the hundreds watching in the tent into a frenzy, his vocals were accompanied by crunching riffs and thumping double bass driven drums. He told the audience to “Bang your head!” and they did regardless of whether they had hair or not! It was an amusing sight to see a crowd rocking so hard at 11am on a Saturday morning whilst the Security team looked completely unmoved by the whole performance. I hope that they loved their 30 minutes of stage time as they certainly worked hard to get there but you’ve got to be committed to achieve your dream!
I stuck around in the Dogtooth stage for the next band that were a 5 piece, female led London based hardcore act called DRONES, I’d heard some good things about them and thought it was worth hanging on to see their set. The music was melodic with some great guitar work and a solid backline. Their performance was energetic, the singer was really involved and certainly knew how to handle the crowd. They put on a really passionate show that no doubt won them some new fans in the process.
CREEPER were on the main stage, I saw these guys in Exeter a couple of years ago, I forget who they were supporting but they looked exactly the same as they did back then. I stood and watched for a couple of songs, a circle pit had formed which the singer enjoyed no end!
JUNIOR are a Welsh 3 piece pop-punk act who played on the Dogtooth stage just after lunch, I read that one of the band used to be a wrestler, try as I might, I couldn’t work out which one…. They performed a melodic and energetic set which really got the crowd on their side in next to no time. Come the end of the show, someone was onstage with a wrestling belt, he was kicked into the photo pit and seconds later, the bass player threw himself off the stage, landing on the poor chap that had tried to steal his belt!
Next up were Bristol based 5 piece post-punk heroes IDLES who bought their unique blend of unhinged chaotic music to Donington. If you want to feel part of a punk rock gig then make sure you check these guys out. You really felt that it was their pleasure to play for you and they certainly did. They whipped the crowd up in the first few songs and the pit then kicked off. Kids were passed over the barrier to the safety of the photo pit whilst the room temporarily lost their minds, dancing, moshing and crowd surfing to the brutal sounds that emanated from the stage. It is difficult to simply stand by and ‘listen’ to their music, it grabs you by the balls and throws you into the pit so you can feel it too! There was certainly no foot tapping, head nodding and beard stroking going on whilst they were nailing their colours to the mast! So much so, my colleague dived into the pit and managed to stay alive (just), it was great to see the rhythm guitarist vault the barrier and throw himself into the pit too, now that’s what I call audience participation! After 25 minutes, their set was over, far too quickly for my liking but I guess that’s what you get at festivals. The band were strewn across the stage, the guitarist doubled over, absolutely exhausted whilst the singer handed out beers to the front row. We loved the political nature of their lyrics and it was fabulous to be part of their Download debut. If you like your music raw, urgent and brutally honest, then make sure you check them out, their debut album Brutalism is out NOW.
We headed over to the Avalanche stage to catch Chicago based 5 piece pop-punkers KNUCKLEPUCK, the tent was pretty full, the front row being occupied mainly by adoring young females. Come their set, there was a fair amount of crowd surfing going on, which is always amusing to watch from the side of the tent as photographers in the pit dodge size 9’s whilst trying to capture some killer pics! The band played a super tight set, some great melodic guitar parts interspersed the catchy choruses which provided plenty of sing-a-long moments for the crowd to get involved with.
It was back to the Dogtooth stage for a set by THE LOUNGE KITTENS, word had clearly got round pretty fast as 10 minutes before their set, you couldn’t even get in the tent. NOW, for anyone who has never had the pleasure of catching these lovely young ladies perform, I will try my best to explain what they do! They take classic rock/metal tracks and perform them in a lounge style, complete with amazing 3 part harmonies. There isn’t a band that they won’t cover and they have received some interesting feedback from bands over the years. Whenever they play, they always try and cover tracks by other bands on the bill, I certainly heard one by System of a Down and Aerosmith but I struggled to recall “Gloryhole” by Steel Panther which sounds amazing after they’ve put there slant on it! They played a medley of TV soundtracks including MASK, Thundercats and even Ulysses 31 (if you’re in your mid 40’s you may remember it!) All of this merriment came to a close after a T-Rexican wave, which in theory is like a Mexican wave but done with very short arm movements, mimicking a T-Rex dinosaur! The ladies also mentioned that they had arrived at Download via bicycle, all the way from London! Yes folks, they had peddled over 160 miles to get to the festival and managed to raise a collective sum of nearly £6000 for a number of charities along the way, you can still donate HERE
After some well earned food, we sat and had a pint of cider before I headed off to the Dogtooth stage to catch Hollywood based WEDNESDAY 13 who I didn’t realise was the lead singer in American Goth-shock-rock act MURDERDOLLS. The tent was full (and I mean FULL), I think that they stood about 10 deep at every entrance, there literally was no room inside at all. After a bit of pushing and apologising, I managed to get to the front and found my way to the photo pit entrance where I stood for a few songs prior to standing to the side to watch the action unfold in front of my very eyes. The stage was covered in dry ice, pale back lighting cast silhouettes of the band over the audience and the music just shook you by your lapels. Backing dancers emerged from the backstage area and proceeded to put on a raucous display of lewdness, grinding their bodies into the stage whilst the band belted out some of the heaviest goth-rock I have ever witnessed. Shortly afterwards, more ladies joined the stage but this time armed with fire….. they breathed fire from the podiums and generally put on a fabulous show for the people in the tent to enjoy. As far as live shows go, these guys certainly knew what was expected!
The headline act on the main stage tonight was the legendary Scottish rockers BIFFY CLYRO and they quickly proved that less is most definitely more. By this I mean that the stage was set up in a very minimalistic fashion, there were no scantily clad dancers in cages, there were no huge props moving about behind them taking the attention away from the band, it was very much about the music. If you've never witnessed them live, it's a very intimate (despite the scale of Download) and intense affair, instead of drunken revelers, shouting and jeering during the performance, you saw fully engaged people, focused on the action, singing and bobbing along as the band took you on a roller coaster journey, playing tracks lifted from their colourful back catalogue. Come the end of the set, a huge firework display lit up the sky of Donington Park, it was great to see BIFFY finally headlining such a prestigious rock festival in the UK, it's certainly been a long time coming and they've certainly earned their stripes!
Whilst BIFFY were pleasing the main stage crowds, we took a quick walk over to the Zippo stage where ROB ZOMBIE was reaching the tail end of his set. Now, this was a bit of a contrast from the BIFFY show, a video wall behind the stage projected various imagery, there was FIRE.....(did you say FIRE?) hell yes, and lots of it! I didn't spot any caged dancers but there were HUGE guitar solos going off all over the place and the tempo of the action was somewhat heightened. After the seemingly endless guitar solo, they launched into the White Zombie track "Thunder Kiss '65" which was followed up by Rob asking "does anyone feel like a punk rocker" prior to playing a flawless rendition of The Ramones classic "Blitzkreig Bop" which got the crowd perked up towards the end of the set. This quickly led into "School's Out" by Alice Cooper which morphed back into "Thunder Kiss '65" before they came to a close and left the stage (seemingly early). After a short break, they were back on stage and kicked into their final offering, "Dragula" which was the PERFECT way of closing the show.
So, with day two done and dusted, our feet hurting a little more than they were on Friday, we decided to pop over to the Guest bar area where we sat under a large tent to enjoy some rock classics being pumped out of the PA whilst we enjoyed a rather well earned bottle of cider. It wasn't long until my bed was calling and after turning in for the night, we drifted off to the sound of night owls, partying the night away whilst we drifted off to La La Land!
We'd made a decision earlier in the weekend that we'd pack up on Sunday morning, get the car loaded and ready to go and as soon as AEROSMITH had finished their set, we'd get on the road and head home, it was a 5 hour journey after all and the thought of my proper bed instead of another night under canvas was VERY appealing! We got cleaned up, wandered over to our favourite BBQ spot and cooked up the remainder of our bacon, chatted to the Toby Carvery boys (they were just heading out for breakfast/roast dinner) and got packed up. By 11am, we were ready for the final day of Download!
I watched THE FALLEN STATE on the Dogtooth stage, great to see a bit of hard edged rock being rammed down your ear canals so early in the day, their killer songs received a great reception from the crowd that had come to watch them, there really was no better way to start the day!
It was over to the Avalanche stage to check out UK thrash band GROVE STREET FAMILIES, another young and enthusiastic outfit who were clearly stoked to be playing the festival. Their music went down really well and they played to a decent size crowd, they really caught your attention as you faced up to their relentless Slayer influenced sounds. A thoroughly entertaining set complemented by some interesting antics in the circle pit which appeared to turn into a temporary martial arts 'dojo' with people waving their arms about like helicopters and performing (rather dodgy) spinning kicks.....not sure what that's all about, whatever floats your boat!
Next up were a superb alt rock trio called DINOSAUR PILEUP, we really enjoyed their hard rocking set from start to finish. Their stage presence and energy was great and their established fans and those seeing them for the first time really responded well. Tracks that stood out included "Birds and Planes" and the more recent "11:11" lifted off their latest long player of the same name. They were easily one of the highlights of the weekend for us. If you like Nirvana then you’ll dig these guys. We chatted to them in the press area after their show and they said that they were off on tour with COHEED and CAMBRIA after the festival and were looking forward to hitting Europe once again.
Los Angeles based 5 piece TOUCHE AMORE were the next band we took in, their performance really got the crowd going and they upped the tempo somewhat with their Enter Shikari styled music.
It was time to kick back a bit, pull on the spandex trousers, apply the lip gloss and back comb our hair.... we headed down towards the front of the main arena to take in the delights of STEEL PANTHER. These guys are very musically talented and their show made us laugh and sing along (having first set our diversity modes to OFF). Aside from the plethora of quality tracks (which included songs about Tiger Woods, Poontang Boomerangs and Gloryholes), it was the between song banter that really got us. The guitarist would start to say how great it was to be at Download and this was definitely the BEST festival he'd played this year, seconds later, the bass player would chip in, saying that he said the exact same words last week at another festival, very amusing indeed! It was a real hoot to see them get over a hundred girls on stage to dance and sing along to the final song. These guys are a must see act, if you get the chance, do NOT pass them by!
We never expected to see a DJ/Synth act at Download, but imagine our surprise when we wandered up to the Dogtooth stage and saw PERTURBATOR on stage, a half human, half synthesizer who was busy pumping out a blend of dark and retro-futuristic music, heavily inspired by the 80's. There were no lyrics, just banging, trance sounding synth generated tunes that got the whole tent jumping. The music was accompanied with an awesome light show that really set the scene and got the whole tent proper ramped up, ready for the final acts of the day.
Later in the afternoon, we headed up to the Zippo stage to catch the awesome Californian based SLAYER, I must admit that I have never seen these guys perform live before and from the off, they set out their stall as being one of the heaviest bands I have ever witnessed. Kerry King played some proper dirty, heavy riffs whilst the rest of the band played along in unison, the crowd lapping up every drop of their brutal output. The pit looked intense, I was glad to be taking in the show from the second barrier with the more mature members of the audience, I don't think I would have lasted long in the pit! They played a great set consisting of some classic tracks including "Raining Blood", "South of Heaven" and ended up with the awesome "Angel of Death". The crowd went wild, the band thanked them for coming to see them and left the stage. We then wandered down the hill to join the other 79998 people for the grand finale of the festival....
I once went to Holland to see the Sunday night headliners, we booked a package tour to get there, a concert ticket, coach and hotel all in one. We arrived in Amsterdam and promptly frequented a 'magical shop' that sold 'magical things' and before we knew it, we were loafing about in the room in a bit of a state. The next thing we knew, we woke and realised that we'd missed the concert that took place the evening before, it appeared we had peaked too soon and as a result, missed the pickup from the hotel and subsequently, the concert itself! SO, it was my duty to be there to watch the classic band that is AEROSMITH on what was to be their FINAL performance on UK soil before they hung up their instruments for good!
The band took to the stage to rapturous applause and burst straight into "Let the Music Do the Talking", from here, they took you on a tour of their back catalogue, pulling classics out of the hat from no less than 9 albums! The amusing thing is that 4 of the tracks played were covers! It was great to hear songs like "Young Lust", "Love in an Elevator" and “Janie's got a Gun" which transported me back to the late 80's, listening to PUMP on CD for the very first time. It was the sound of the 70's classic "Sweet Emotion" which cemented the fact that they are a truly classic band, the only other track that came close to this was the infamous "Dream On" which sounded as fresh today as it did when it first appeared on their self-titled album, Steven Tyler taking to the piano whilst Joe Perry belted out the notes on his guitar whilst stood on the piano! A true memory in the making. I thought that there might have been an extra surprise on the agenda with their final track "Walk This Way", I half expected RUN DMC to come walking out with them but seeing as they were playing at the Isle of Wight festival, there was no chance of that happening! After a seemingly endless guitar solo, paper cannons and smoke firing all over the place, the song finally came to a close. Tyler led the introductions, Perry took over at the end to introduce Tyler and with that, the curtain fell on the last ever UK performance from one of the biggest rock acts in the world..... If you weren't there, you can no doubt catch the set on YouTube but believe me, there's NOTHING that beats the feeling of being there in the flesh!
On the way back home, we reflected on the past 3 days and nights of music, 4 stages, TONS of bands, some we were familiar with, some that we will definitely be doing some research on going forwards. We’d met some great people, shared some great stories and all agreed just how great music was at pulling people together, at the end of the day, we all came here for one reason, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, black or white, the fact that 80000 people got together for a weekend to celebrate their love of rock music was immense! We were exhausted, our feet hurt, we desperately needed to sleep but after a couple of strong coffees, we carried on and finally returned to sunny Devon just before 2am.
Would I do it all again? Yes I would and looking at the Download Festival website, tickets for the 2018 event are due on sale THIS WEEK….I’ve no idea of the headliners yet but if 2017 was anything to go by, you WON’T be disappointed!
Review by Steve Muscutt & Gary Williams