Download 2014: Royal Blood, Skindred & Turbowolf

We launch Classic Rock's coverage of Download with a trio of very heavy hitters.

Turbowolf (Pepsi Max stage) start with that awkward thing that bands have to endure occasionally at festivals, where they soundcheck in front of the people who’ve come to see them. At times like these there’s a tacit understanding between band and audience that neither gets too excited, both behaving as if the other simply isn’t there. Then two minutes later it’s “Hello Download!”, a big cheer, and we’re off, as if nothing had ever happened.

The irony is that Turbowolf sound like they haven’t soundchecked at all, and attempting to make sense of what coming through the PA is like knitting mud and hoping to conjure up a wearable pair of socks. It all sounds like a set of stairs falling down another set of stairs, but at least they’re enormously good to look at. Chris Georgiadis’s extravagant moustache gives him the haughty sophistication of a 70s porn star, while Lianna Lee Davis wields her bass with the casual force of someone about to rake the crowd with bullets and not lose any sleep over it. It’s not until Read & Write, a thudding hunk of monstrous trash beat, that the sound begins to match the sights. And by then it’s almost over. (6) (FL)

Smash the state, Kill The Power and raise your fist aloft – Skindred, (above, Main Stage) the most ‘street’ rocking outfit to come out of Wales are in da’ field. And probably one of the most fun (yet cheerfully face-punching) live acts around. The ‘ragga-metal’ masters made a guerilla-style video in the Mumbai slums for the aforementioned track (and title of their fifth LP), and today they channel that vigour into a bass-thumping open-air setting. Though not without a sizeable sideways smile.

Frontman Benji Webbe don’t take no prisoners. Seldom is audience participation taken to such levels of no-fucking-around force (though he does like to say ‘fuck’, a lot). “Get your fucking hands up, bitch!” he shouts, before storming into the metallic, monster bass-thumping Ninja. “Fucking SEEEE bitches!” An uncompromising stance, admittedly, but one that reaps immense joy and crowd bouncing all round. Dancing erupts, bearded men in zebra hats nod very earnestly, and the sight of robust mosh pits suddenly obeying Benji’s commands to “wave like the Queen” is quite wonderful. As is the ‘heavy metal harlem shake’ generated after Kill The Power lays down it’s final electro-meets-metal-meets-reggar chops.

The final flourish? An en-masse ‘helicopter’ of crowd T-shirt swinging, as an emphatic Warning draws proceedings to a close. Bangin’ and then some. (8) (PG)

As Royal Blood (Pepsi Max stage) walk on to Jay-Z’s 99 Problems and a big roar, it’s worth remembering that this is a band who only formed last year, and yet the tent clearly isn’t big enough to contain those keen to witness their groove-monstering thrust. Kicking off with Hole, it’s all Led Zeppelin swagger, rolling blues with a fat metallic crust, and it rocks extremely seriously indeed. There’s bits of AC/DC, bits of Alice in Chains, bits of Aerosmith, and that’s just the ‘A’s. It’s all the more extraordinary for being done with just two musicians, the absence of guitar not mattering because it simply never occurs that it might be missing.

The duo appear surprised at the level of support: “Where did you lot come from?”, asks singer Mike Kerr in a rare moment of chat. They finish with the thundering, epic single Out Of The Black. As the song disintegrates into a squall of feedback, the two stand, looking out at the crowd, sucking in the atmosphere and the applause. 99 Problems? No problem. (9) (FL)