Download is far more than just a music festival. To many it is the opportunity to spend a few days with their ‘other’ family. While most people think of it as a three day event for the hardened fans, and that is most of them, it is unthinkable to not turn up on the Wednesday for an extra couple of days of partying and entertainment. This year in the village hub created for the event we got to marvel at The Circus Of Horrors and dance to the Suicide Girls vs Uprawr late Wednesday night and Thursday morning. On the Thursday we were treated to the Boardie Takeover, a selection of live bands playing courtesy of an invite by the festival forum.
Pick of the bands this year was Hands Off Gretel who packed out the Doghouse and ended up with a well deserved encore. If you’re a fan of Hole or Nirvana then this might just be a band you’ll want to check out. Elsewhere in the village there was a comedy tent, a cinema and the renowned Wall Of Death motorcycle team.
Friday sees the weather behaving itself which in fact it did for the rest of the weekend. Early on it was She Must Burn who raised temperatures even more with a blistering set on the Dogtooth stage. Mastodon and Suicidal Tendencies show that the veteran bands still have plenty to offer while Prophets Of Rage live up to the supergroup tag and gain a large crowd happy to see three members of Rage Against The Machine back on stage. Sum 41 still have what it takes to get the crowd moving, providing a memorable performance late in the day. Headline act System Of A Down might have had a few differences of opinion of stage but on it their music still sounds as fresh and original as it did when it was first released. Many older groups lose a bit of drive as the years go by but the very nature of SOAD’s repertoire along with Serg Tankian’s youthful disposition mean this show is truly worthy of headline status. Their needs to be a special mention for thrashers Exodus who are playing up on the hill on the Dogtooth stage almost at the death and do a great job.
Brit rap metallers Hacktivist make full use of their upgrade to main stage and garner a very decent audience for a morning slot. Punk upstarts Drones are at Donington Park for the very first time and show no nerves in an exhilarating set of songs that fly by. They may be young but their half hour is one of the finest all weekend. Johnny Depp has a lot to answer for; take for instance pirate rockers Alestorm who prove to be much more than a novelty act. Squeezing the very last drop of crossover potential out of punk and black metal are Norwegians Kvelertak who once again are a crowd favourite. Max and Iggor Cavalera lead the way in the afternoon with their Roots anniversary which also incorporates a top class cover of Ace Of Spades, a truly fitting homage to the late great Lemmy Kilmister. Wednesday 13 gives everyone present a 45 minute ride into pure musical theatre which must be amongst the best shows ever witnessed at Download. While Biffy Clyro perform pretty musical patterns on the main stage Rob Zombie goes for the full monty of light and exuberance on the Zippo Encore stage. This shows the beauty of having multiple stages running together. If one band isn’t to your taste it’s likely another will be.
Sunday arrives with grass still green in the arena and campsites. Lifting the spirits early on is Fozzy complete with fire breathers and a perennial festival favourites Orange Goblin. It’s interesting to see heavier bands such as Devildriver and Red Fang still doing well in a big setting and in daylight. So often the lack of darkness and subsequent intense light show kills a band’s set but not here. The Love Zombies bring their fast and furious new wave meets punk to a crowd that seem near delirious to watch them. Devilskin who follow don’t let the pace drop at all which means a lot of very sweaty bodies by the time they finish. The crowd for Slayer is huge and they witness a group that have every right to be thinking about taking it a bit easier. Tom Arayer and co are having none of it though. This is a masterclass in how to do heavy music from one of the founders of thrash metal. By contrast Aerosmith simply groove their way through their closing headline set with every ounce of experience on show. Steven Tyler might qualify for a bus pass but he’s still got that swagger and he can still hold tens of thousands of fans in the palm of his hand. This might be Aerosmith’s swansong so it’s fitting that they encore with Walk This Way, the song that helped start a music revolution.
Steeped in tradition going back 37 years Donington Park has once again hosted a music festival to rival any. It’s ability to keep up with the times is a testament to the people who put it on. This year there has to be a special mention to the security staff and police who were visible but not too visible all weekend. And the fans who behaved impeccably while enjoying themselves. Let’s hope there are many more Downloads to come.
> Gary Trueman