Download.. the heaven for all metalheads, emo kids and those who seek refuge in the heavier side of music.
Although I’m more used to head nodding than heading banging, for one weekend in a summery June, I find myself in midst of a sea of mosh pits, devil horns and the worst array of haircuts since Woodstock 69, and after a hungover, 4 hour coach journey, I find myself standing at the gates of this pop-up hell, that emerges every year just outside West Midlands international, full of the kind of people who scare old ladies and my make my mums cry.
My festival starts off with Profits of Rage, a supergroup of sorts comprised of former members of seminal 90’s bands, Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. As I approach the stage, the distant sound of Guerrilla Radio can be heard.
As my excitement grows, so does my speed, and my once brisk walk now becomes a full pelt spirit towards the six silhouettes looming over the crowd on the main stage…
Their music is as fierce as ever, and its clear none of the members of these equally revolutionary bands have lost their touch. Tom Morellos angular, often feedback based riffs still sound as fresh as they did in the 90’s, while Tim Crawford’s fat round bass and Brad Wilks’ pounding groove driven drums provide an always solid sometimes stolid backbone upon which Chuck-D and B-Real lay down Zack De la Rocha’s lyrics,with all the ferocity and anger than the man himself.
Alas at times it just seems a bit forced and false. I can easily ignore the countless amounts clearly middle class,pissed up 50 something office workers trying to re-live the 90’s in every slam dance and seminal Rage track played, or all the skinny white kids who recite every word of every song, yet know none of the meaning behind them, but when one of the members of the band is wearing an apple watch, whilst rapping about how corrupt the system is, you can only wonder how much of the message he preaches he still believes…I guess its another case of do as i say,not as I do.
Despite this I still enjoy their set, and their music seems as fresh and as relevant as it’s ever been. Something that cannot be said for the next band….
As a decrepit Deryck Whibley limps on stage, a rousing cheer spreads across the crowd. However this cheer dies as soon as Sum 41 hit their first note. I mean they were hardly ever the most technically proficient band, nor were they ever the most grown up of all bands but now they’re taking the piss..
Deryck your a 40 year old piss head who’s on the verge of dying…
You look like shit..
You’ve got all the glamour of a gram of skag behind the bins of your local maccies..
It ain’t 2000..
You ain’t cool..or relevant.
Just grow up.
The final straw for me is when Lord Whibley tells all the crowd to lift the middle finger of their left hand and four their right, making a 41 towards the stage. ‘Apparently this is Sum 41’s gang sign’… I leave after this.
As I slowly walk away, the sound of washed up pop punk is slowly replaced by the sound of what can only be described as something not too dissimilar from field recordings at a day in Broadmoor…
As I look up at the 50 foot screen above my head, i see an ageing Serj Tankian staring back at me whist screaming down the mic. Their set goes by in a flash, full of maniacal screams produced by both Serj and their guitarist, who looks Stevie Ray Vaughn from hell. The onslaught of relentless riffing and ever changing songs infects the whole crowd and all those around me become asymptomatic carrier, as they scream along to some of Systems heavier songs such as Toxicity, and bellow out to their softer songs, most notably Lonely Day.
And as the night looms on, the infection continues to spread, causing a zombie-like trance state amongst those within the crowd. For the first time at this festival, I finally saw the unity amongst the metal heads. At most festivals I’ve been to, the diversity in crowd often causes nothing but tension but here all of that was absent..Everyone here was here for the same thing…Music.
Their set ends rather abruptly, with no encore, no announcement of a final song, nothing.. They just kinda walk off and that was that.
As a cold easterly wind cuts through the crowd, we all head back to the tents, slowly taking in the onslaught of sharp angular riffs and vocals straight out a nut house, that entertained us for the last hour and a half.
Thus begins my first night in the pop up hell…
As I take a swig of a bottle of shit mix, a cold wintery wind cut through the camp carrying upon it the distant sounds of the DJ tent, which was located in the village. After a few more drinks and half a j, we decide to venture to the tent.
We push past the crowd to get to the bar, the sound of seminal hard rock tracks such as Bohemian Rhapsody, echo around the small poorly lit tent. The majority of light comes from the lights on stage , which carry the solutes of the strippers and hype men on the stage around the tent, projecting shadowy black figures all around. We enter the cohort that gathered in front of the stage, and keep moving forward till we reach somewhere near the middle. I look towards the stage, upon which stands every archetypal metal fan. There are a few emo kids, equipped with full sleeves and stretches the size of plates, there is a ginger metal head, adorned in a biker jacket, boots and long flowing red hair, that swings about like a wrecking ball and there is a few goths, with sheet white face paint and 6 inch high brothel creepers that elevated them above the others on stage, like a sort of misunderstood Brachiosaurus. As the night draws out, the crowd thins, and by 4 am, we join the masses leaving that were now leaving the DJ tent, towards the camping areas.
The next day starts in a flurry of harsh black metal vocals supported by saxon esque riffs and relentless drum beats that kept the energy levels on par with 2 lines of speed and a jager bomb in the pits of satan’s hollow with a set from Kvelertak. Their music sits somewhere between The Allman Brothers and Black Flag, combining punk esque vocals with classic rock riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on any late 70’s early 80’s classic rock compilation.
As their set dwindled the already dark sound they produced was replaced by a more twisted sound, akin to a trip down the amazon on a boat powered by late 90’s nu metal.
This was Max & Igor cavalera return to roots and if their set were to be summed simply it could be described as a soundtrack of a nightmarish Ayahuasca trip in the depths of hell.
This nightmare continues as Rob Zombie takes centre stage. Looking like something out of the Might boosh via beelzebub,’s gaff, Rob Zombie’s dance-metal sound sends the crowd crazy, creating one huge mosh pit that spread across the crowd until everyone, from the front of the stage, to the chinese food stalls are involved in the frenzy. Mid way through the onslaught, Mr Zombie stops his band, and says
‘with the world in such bad way, there’s one thing that everyone’s overlooking…Alien abductions’..
Meanwhile two of stage crew send out two 7 foot aliens into the crowd, causing the crowd to go into the first of two frenzies. However this is nothing compared to when he rips he into a thunder kiss-ramones medley..At this point the crowd reach breaking point and everyone is fully absorbed into the pits, and for the rest of the gig my eyesight is restricted to people’s elbows and sweaty hair.
This night’s affairs are much the same as the previous nights;
A few drinks at the camp
A few hours in the DJ tent
A few hours sleep
Admittedly by this point the weekend starts to take its toll, much of Sunday, so although Clutch on a good show,full of the hard rock riffs and classic bluesy sound that made them popular, I found it difficult to get into their set. However I shook of the sunday blues just in time for Areosmith..
In hindsight I wish I never bothered. It was complete ego trip for their part, with all visuals projected behind the band being either videos of the band playing different bigger better gigs when they were bigger and better, or stupidly cringey fire animations, that look like they were designed on Windows movie maker in 2000 .All the members of the band have aged horribly, and they look like they’ve entered a Captain Jack sparrow look-a-like contest down their local. After five songs I leave.
All in all I can thoroughly say I loved download. Although I more used to constant stream pills, cheap booze, day drinking and chav fights that you usually find at festivals like Reading, the change of pace at Download was refreshing.
On first look the devotion of the fans might seem alienating to all those looking in, however when your choice in music defines so much of your life, you tend to defend your music with your life. Although people claim subcultures are still alive and thriving in Britain, I’m pretty sure this weekend has showed me this shores last true subculture. Being a casual or a raver won’t lead you to getting your head kicked in at a bus garage on a late night, or disowned by your nan over christmas dinner. This feature plays into the sense of unity at the festival. Download, or metal as a whole, may not be everyone’s cupatea, but ultimately that’s the point.
Metal aint made for those who fit in, it is and always will be for the outcasts in society who seek solace and strength in numbers.
That’s why unlike many other subcultures, all of which have come and gone, metal is here to stay.