It’s that time of year again, folks. Over a hundred bands and tens of thousands of headbangers have descended on Donington Park for the rock and metal behemoth that is Download festival. Headlined this year by System Of A Down, Biffy Clyro and Aerosmith, it’s a varied and super-exciting bill for those of us with working ears. But before Saturday and Sunday hangover slap us around the chops, there’s the small matter of Friday to deal with.
Here’s what we learned.
The sky doesn’t hate rock music after all
It’s finally happened! After years of rain and thunderstorms and muddy floods, the unthinkable has happened and the big ball of fire in the sky has gifted Castle Donington with his presence. It’s incredible just how much a bit of sunshine adds to the posi vibes of a festival - and everyone looks so much better in shorts than muddy jeans and poorly-chosen footwear. Although we are a bit sunburnt today because we didn’t actually plan for good weather.
Change is confusing for idiots like us
Because we’re bumbling music journalists who can barely remember our own phone numbers, the new layout of Download festival this year has required some tactical planning. We’ve got lost twice trying to find the Avalanche stage, and there’s no point asking us where the toilets are. Everyone else seems to be getting along fine with it, which probably says more about us.
Prophets Of Rage silenced the critics
Since Prophets Of Rage was announced, there have been complaints and moans from Rage fans across the globe that it’s just karaoke and not the same without Zack de la Rocha. And they’re right, it isn’t the same as Rage Against The Machine, but it is an hour of absolute jams from one of the most important bands in metal, fronted by one of the true innovators of hip-hop. Oh, and B-Real for good measure! How can you not enjoy it? From Sleep Now In The Fire to Fight The Power to Insane In The Membrane to Guerrilla Radio - this is the perfect afternoon festival set. New track Unfuck The World sounds great, too!
Chuck D is still a force
When Chuck spits those infamous “Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me” lines from Prophets’ version of Public Enemy’s Fight The Power, it sounds every bit as vital today as it did back in 1990. There’s never been a more exciting MC: he could recite Watership Down and make it sound like a call to arms.
The spirit of Chris Cornell is alive at Download
Mid-way through Prophets Of Rage’s barnstormer set, they play an instrumental version of Audioslave’s epic Like A Stone, with Tom Morello asking everyone to sing along or to say a prayer for peace if they don’t know the words. And just like that, the air of Donington is thick with thousands of voices singing that oh-so-powerful chorus back to the main stage and up to the heavens. There are no voices quite like Chris Cornell’s, but hearing Download sing as one in tribute to a fallen comrade brings a tear to the eye.
System Of A Down’s setlist is unfairly good
System Of A Down haven’t released a new album for 12 years, but when you consider that their previous five full-lengths are packing such serious heat as Aerials, Violent Pornography and Sugar, it doesn’t really matter. Tonight as they bring the Friday to a close, it’s frankly ridiculous how many festival-sized songs SOAD are responsible for. For an hour and forty minutes, there’s no lull, no piss break, it’s a clinic on how to raid your back catalogue to get tens of thousands of people losing their minds in unison. That said, can we have the new album soon please?
The wind isn’t kind to prog metal
Mastodon are on the main stage mid Friday afternoon. They’re a frighteningly complex operations, but much of that complexity is lost outdoors, especially when the wind blows and only the headliner has had a proper soundcheck. All that detail lost is in a one-dimensional sludge. And occasionally, on the second stage, the wind whips the sound away and brings in the bottom end from the main stage, and you end up briefly watching one band while hearing parts of another. On the other hand, The Contortionist play the Dogtooth stage at the same time as System Of A Down, but it’s inside. They’re complicated, and it sounds great.
Curly fries: what’s the point?
Seriously. Why? They don’t hold condiments or sauces as well as the traditional shape, and they’re harder to eat.
Fancy dress becomes more of a thing every year
Pirates are everywhere. There are cowboys, Indians, wrestlers, Mounties, bananas, penises, kangaroos, half-men-half-sharks, superheroes, aliens, Donald Trumps and enough onesies to fill an outlet mall on the edge of medium city. By 2022 it’ll look like Comic-Con.
Download is still Download
The organisers may tinker with the geography and try new ways of doing things, but the song remains the same. Anyone remember the payment wristbands from two years ago? Seemed like a good idea at the time, but things didn’t run smoothly and we’ve been back to cash for the last two. This year there’s more of an emphasis on security after Manchester and scare at Rock am Ring, but once you’re standing with your friends with a beer in your hand watching metal’s finest, it could be any year. The family stays together. The family gets stronger. And Download is home.