Trying to relive Download Festival to write this is already giving me the blues. So, expect a slow descent into darkness as we go on. Maybe.
We went on Thursday, and slowly managed to get our camp set up. But as is sod’s law, as you attempt to put up your shelter for the weekend, the weather decides to throw all the water on you. Typical. However, through a bit of perseverance, and necessity, and the fact it wasn’t really raining badly, it got done. Just in time to go over to the Village and see what’s happening over there.
Good job we did, because there’s a band I’ve heard a lot about from a few friends in the last few months, and they’re playing a show in the Doghouse Tent. Hands Off Gretel kick off Download 2017 for me, and they’re not bad. They’re really quite good. Tight, aesthetically pleasing for the music, and really passionate about what they’re playing. Really quite impressive, definitely someone to be checking out and looking for in the future.
Time to head back to camp for a short time, get some food, and more importantly, drinks, in my body. The election coverage has been taking over the entire country this past week, and seems to be continuing in that vein. So, with plans to see most of the coverage over the course of the night, we return to the Village, to see a rammed cinema tent, showing the BBC coverage of the election results as they came in. Honestly, it’s amazing to see so many people in here, with a vivid interest in politics. It’s just a shame that there’s only 3 cheers going around, and most of the time it was the “oh, Jeremy Corbyn” chant that was sung at almost every result I watched. It did get a bit tedious, but I did find myself getting crankier as I got closer to sleep.
We wake up and find that it’s not the result we wanted, but it isn’t too bad, and we quite quickly find many positive aspects, including some that would affect the Festival. Any punk band on the bill would be performing with increased venom and vigor, but also with hope. And then we found the numbers of young voters that turned out. Wow.
Right, so the music starts a little later than usual today, at 1pm, and Download officially begins with a choice between Northlane on the Lemmy Stage or M O S E S on the Avalanche. Trouble is, I forgot to account for the security checks on the entrance to the arena, and spent about 20 minutes in a queue, before putting my stuff in the press area, meaning I missed the first acts. Then there’s the obligatory seeing friends that you’ve not seen in a while, possibly since the last time you were all here, so it’s a good hour or so by the time we greet our friends and catch up a little with them.
Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely live for live music and wrestling. So, I rush across the arena to NXT, the developmental brand of WWE, and hope to see some incredible wrestling over the next hour and a half. Wish fulfilled. Incredible matches from the likes of the NXT women’s Champion; Asuka, Ruby Riot, Mark Andrews, Peyton Royce and NXT Champion, the glorious Bobby Roode. As we leave the tent, I get talking to a group of people. Wrestling fans are some of the greatest people in the world, because you can just kill a long time just talking to them about something they’re passionate about.
I’ve killed quite a while, but I head over to watch Four Year Strong, who absolutely smash their set out of the park, and it’s so big that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t the main stage, because the crowd they draw is huge, it’s spilling out of the tent, and the passion they put into their short set is enough to blow the roof off any stage. Not long after, via another beer, is State Champs, out of New York. To call this band Pop-Punk is to undersell them. They have all the huge choruses and hooks, not to mention the insanely bouncy musical accompaniment of pop, with the ferocity and lyrical aggression of Punk. But they have it in spades. The entire tent is bouncing, and when they play “All You Are Is History”, it seems to bounce even higher. With the announcement of another album in the works, the future is up for State Champs to grab by the balls and take to wherever they want to go. It’ll be hard to top “Around the World and Back” though.
I then manage to meet a few friends and catch the end of Prophets of Rage, which made me wish I hadn’t met my friends, and instead watched the entire set, because they were incredible. Many people called them “a Rage Against the Machine tribute act”, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Granted, they did play a fair bit of RATM’s back catalogue, and there are members of RATM in PoR, but Cypress Hill and Chucky D (of Public Enemy) manage to make it their own. But there is a touching moment, in memory of their good friend, the late Mr. Chris Cornell, who tragically died recently, when they left an empty microphone and played without any vocals. You could see the pain on the face of Tom Morello, as he poured everything into his performance, dedicating it all to his friend and bandmate.
Tonight’s finale is one that many were looking forward to for a long time, and you couldn’t count the number of this band’s shirts on the site if you tried. System of A Down. I will admit that I am not a SOAD fan, so don’t expect me to gush about them… much. They blew me away, and I knew more songs than I thought I did. The crowd were going wild, singing every line, note and word back to the band on stage. There was crazy dancing, lots of headbanging and the surrealism of the night finally sunk in as they played “BYOB”.
It was an interesting set, with all the hits getting thrashed out, and a few lesser known hits also getting a damn good showing, but the highlight (there’s a pun here) was the light show. There were strobes, a Video LED screen, mirrors that moved in sync with the lighting and the tempo of the music, and a whole host of spotlights so that you could always see the band for all the flashing colours. The video on the screen was always sin sync with the band, and sometimes, you didn’t realise the music was getting faster until you saw the video was looping faster. It was an all-out show, and the crowd were baying for more when they left the stage.
One night down, two to go…
Saturday starts at 11, so we’re up and rushing down to the arena at half 10. Hacktivist are on first, on the Lemmy Stage. Right, so before I go any further, I loved the majority of this stage, and barely moved from there… Not too much running about here… Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Hacktivist. I’ve seen Hacktivist a number of times, and am rather much a fan. This is the first time I’ve seen Hacktivist without Ben, who left the band a few weeks back. They were like a whole new band. Jot Maxi brings a different sort of energy to the band, and they seem revitalised. But it is very surreal. He is a completely different style of vocalist to Ben, and it’s throwing me a little, but I’m sure they’ll find their footing (or rather, I’ll get used to him) sooner rather than later, this is only their third gig with the new guy, and he does have huge shoes to fill, but it looks very promising for them in the days to come.
This next band have been billed as one of the UK’s best new bands, and have not long released their debut album. Creeper are from Southampton, and have been on the up and coming scene for a couple of years, but this show marks their coming of age. Again, I have seen Creeper a few times in the past, and always thought that they were good, but there was always something missing. That something is Hannah Greenwood. Formerly, she’d never really been prominent on the stage, almost seemed to be in the corner. However, with the release of “Eternity, In Your Arms”, her incredible voice has been pushed to the forefront, working beautifully with Will Gould’s vocals, which on their own are powerful, but twinned with Hannah’s, it adds an extra level of power to them. This is a band who have worked incredibly hard to be where they are, and based on the number of fans who showed up to watch them, along with the number of people who were very much impressed by the stage presence of each member of the band, will continue to find themselves climbing the ladder of success, where they will hopefully continue to climb up the bill, maybe adding a headline slot on the other stages to their list of accomplishments. If nothing else, they definitely drummed up a lot of business for their tour in the Winter of this year.
The next band I want to see are not high on the bill. They’re not headlining massive shows in arenas, or large-scale venues, but they bloody well should be doing so in the next year or so. South Wales’ Junior, probably best known for being the band that Mark Andrews, from the WWE UK Championship Tournament, plays bass in. They don’t have long, and the last ten minutes of the build up to their set sees a small crowd quadruple in size, and almost fills the tent. They only have 25 minutes, and in that time, they include a limbo competition (which sees NXT Superstars join in), and more bouncing than you’d get in a Kangaroo’s entire lifetime. That’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. The three piece do have a camaraderie that is enviable, and vocally, they draw comparisons to a younger Blink 182, if Tom and Mark shared vocal duty evenly. It’s amazing that this band aren’t on a bigger stage, or higher up the bill. If I remember correctly, there’s a run of shows in August/September that you should catch them on. They end on “Fall to Pieces”, which features their tour manager on guest vocals for a part that is originally done by Sean Smith, formerly of The Blackout. It’s an almost perfect end to and almost perfect set, but then as they are heading off stage, Mark Andrews is jumped by the WWE UK Champion, Pete Dunne, who Mark faces later for the title. Mark recovers as Pete drops off the stage, and does a flip onto him from the stage. He then climbs back on stage and holds the Title Belt up. Luckily, most of the fans here are wrestling fans, otherwise, this would be a very weird experience.
Back to the tent for lunch and drinks, and a bit of sunbathing with friends before the second half of today begins, because between then and the end of the show, it will be almost nonstop.
To begin with, AFI are on the Lemmy Stage. Following the release of “The Blood Album”, AFI have been unstoppable. Vocally, Davey Havok has improved, and it truly is impressive how he can go from demonic growling to clean, soft vocals in the same breath. Musically, the band are tighter, and it is just impressive. They have the feel of a huge band on a slot that they shouldn’t be in. There’s a sense of urgency about this performance, and it seems that they feel that they should be higher on the bill. The showmanship is incredible, and Davey works the crowd into a frenzy, and uses the cameras to his advantage, using them to emphasize the bridge of “I Hope You Suffer” by having his face looking down on the crowds, Big Brother style, before spewing pure venom in the chorus. The set covers a little of everything, but feels too short to be satisfying, instead leaving me chanting for more, despite the rest of the festival.
I’m going to go off on a tangent here and mention a lost art form. It’s a huge part of being a frontman for me. Stage presence is huge, and Davey Havok does something I absolutely adore, and what’s more, he does it better than most I’ve seen do it. He seems to control the band, dictating when there’s a key change, or when to close the song off. The greatest frontmen used to do it, from Elvis Presley’s famous hip shaking and arm flailing, through Freddie Mercury’s arm raising as he held a note, then dropping it in perfect synchronisation with Roger Taylor, Brian May, and John Deacon. Davey Havok does that. He keeps the tempo in his mind, and knows what should happen and when. But there is something else that he does that I almost never see from anyone anymore. Microphone swinging is a lost art, and it is one that I used to see all the time ten years ago, at “emo” gigs, like Aiden, The Blackout, Taking Back Sunday, The Used, etc. To be able to swing the microphone, in time, and manage to catch it, in perfect synchronisation with the music is incredible to watch, and what’s more, it’s not too hard to do. Davey Havok is one of the few vocalists I have seen do it in recent times, and my hope is that it picks up again. It adds an extra something to your performance, and it’s just good fun.
When A Day to Remember last played Download, they blew everyone’s collective mind. How can a band with such a diverse range play Download and be so damn good? From their fun-loving antics, to the acoustic performances that invoke such emotion, they must be doing something huge to top that. But the truth is, they don’t need to top it. They merely need to match it. It’s not a headline slot, it’s not an ADTR show, it’s a festival. But man, ADTR don’t do things by halves. They come out and instantly turn the crowd into a huge circle pit, without asking. The bodies begin to come over the top in quick succession, and they begin their own cycle of crowd surfing, running around, and repeating through the entire set, as it seems to be the same 10 people. I don’t understand where the energy came from.
A Day to Remember fly out of the blocks, and don’t slow down until the acoustic guitar comes out and they break some hearts with their rendition of “If It Means a Lot to You”. Basically, they good. They are always bloody good fun to see, and seem to enjoy it all themselves. Headlining a festival in either 2018 or 2019, I’d put money on it. And they’d be a very good Headliner too.
Speaking of bloody good headliners, tonight sees a band that saw a lot of backlash when it was announced that they’d headline the Saturday of Download, following the likes of Iron Maiden, Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Slipknot. Where many would have balked, they instead promised to “bury Download under a slab of rock and roll”. The stage set up was like an Infinity Mirror, forcing your eye to the stage and the giant video screen behind it. As the entrance music began to play, Ben, James and Simon took their place on the stage and stood silently until it had finished, before launching into “Wolves of Winter” with the energy of a wolfpack with prey in their sights. This intensity didn’t let up, and over the course of the set, even the little seeds of doubt were vigorously removed from everyone’s mind. In case you didn’t realise, I am of course talking about Biffy F***ing Clyro.
Biffy have everything a headline band should have. They’ve got the music, they’ve got the stage patter, they have the stage presence, but most of all, they have the humility and humbleness off just being three blokes, on a stage, having fun and playing the ever-loving hell out of their instruments. Simon Neil takes it on himself to sing little snippets of Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way” and “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”, calling it “cheating” to use that to get the “biggest singalong of the set”.
That’s a touch of humbleness that is missing from a great number of bands who aren’t at the stage of their careers that this band are, and it’s something that has Biffy in a very good position to be in, one of britain’s biggest bands, but still humble and seemingly approachable. They are more than good enough to headline all the festivals, and through tonight, they’ve completely silenced any doubters.
The Village seems to be the only place to be of a night, and I find myself over there again, fuelled by the day’s music and a few drinks. Tonight, Face Down take over the DogHouse, there’s a Silent Disco and apparently the cinema tent is showing Jurassic Park or something. Face Down, like Uprawr and Rise vs Rawkus, have the biggest singalongs and songs in rock, and is a wonderful place to hang and party with your friends. I just wish I remembered getting back to my tent. Whoops.
Sunday. No hangover. Fozzy are opening the Lemmy Stage, so we’re rushing about, trying to get down there in time. Man, Fozzy are a throwback band. They play good old fashioned rock and roll, but what would you expect from a band whose vocalist is the “Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah”?! That’s right, Fozzy is fronted by WWE Superstar, Chris Jericho. As a frontman, he is incredible: He can sing, he can play a crowd, and he’s not embarrassed to touch his roots, telling the 35,000 strong crowd at “Download… YOU JUST MADE THE LIST!” to a huge pop. They only play a few songs, but they’ve got a huge crowd and there’s a cry for more as they leave the stage. They’ve announced a few dates later this year, and I can see them selling out quickly.
The next band I want to see are a relatively small band, with a rapidly expanding fan base. They’ve been touring massively lately and have a tour with Living Colour later this year. I am talking of Stone Broken. Their brand of rock and roll includes huge anthemic songs that wouldn’t be out of place in a huge arena. You won’t be disappointed, and they packed out the small Dogtooth tent, so it’s overflowing out into the sun. See them soon. Seriously.
Firestone have a tiny little stage, and are hosting two bands a day over the weekend, and there are some nice names over the time; from Alestorm, Four Year Strong, and Red Fang, through to the band I’m here to see. After the results of the election, I have been looking forward to seeing this band all weekend. They are known for being very political, and outspoken, so the fact that the government is in a state of disarray promises to make this an incredible show. However, the location and size of the stage in relation to everywhere else meant that it just wasn’t loud enough. So it meant that I’d be heading over to watch them later on the Avalanche Stage.
I’d decided to go on down to NXT again. I love wrestling, it’s no secret, but there’s only a finite number of times you can watch the same match. It was almost exactly the same card as the one on Friday, so it was slightly less exciting than it should’ve been. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good fun, but it lacked the uncertainty of what the result could be, either way.
I watched the remainder of Airborne’s set on the Lemmy Stage, and was subsequently blown away by the sheer riffage, and the cooler of beer that went into the crowd. What a band that is. I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t watch the entire set. The Aussies brought their A Game, and man alive, it’s a bloody good show they’re putting on. I’ll definitely be at their next show near me.
From Airbourne back to the King Blues on the Avalanche Stage. From the set I barely saw, to this one. I’m a huge fan of King Blues, and what they stand for as a band. Opening with “Let’s Hang the Landlord”, it doesn’t take long until the venomous hatred toward the Conservatives begins, and with fervour. There’s a number of outbursts toward the tories generally, and specifically toward Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and throwing abuse at Nigel Farage for good measure. There’s no slowing down for this band. I’m a little surprised that the tent isn’t overflowing, but once you were in there, it feels like everybody at the festival is here, in the spirit of unity and solidarity against the current government.
Steel Panther are taking over the world, gaining more momentum with each release. Despite not catching much of their set, I caught enough to see how tight they are as a band, with their synchronised moves and perfectly posed antics.