Download Festival: Progging Out

We review the proggiest bands at 2015's Download.

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Following Friday’s horrific downpour, Download Festival has developed a sea of mud and rightly earned its nickname Drownload. But on Saturday evening, the skies finally clear as we settle in for an evening of delightfully varied prog.

Purson turn Jake’s Stage tent into a hazy haven of tripped-out bliss, with their kaleidoscopic light show, lush, psychedelic grooves and wardrobes and hairdos that look transported straight from the 60s. Led by the charming and charismatic Rosalie Cunningham, whose rich, sensual vocals are enchanting, they’re sadly plagued by some sound niggles, but the likes of Spiderwood Farm still sound stellar and get the packed tent nodding their heads. Purson are a somewhat slightly odd fit for the Download bill, as their intimate, spellbinding sounds and air of magical mystique would be better suited to a smoky basement lined with velvet rather than an open air festival, but they play with such passion that our soggy surroundings are forgotten.

Before they take to the Zippo Encore Stage on Sunday, Von Hertzen Brothers play a special acoustic set over on the tiny Dog’s Bed Stage. Despite clashing with Faith No More on the Main Stage, the Finns manage to reign in a sizeable audience. The new songs go down a treat; the audience bounce along to New Day Rising, sway along to the beautiful Hold Me Up, and sing along to the jaunty Dreams at the request of Mikko von Hertzen.

You would never know from tonight’s turn out that Muse headlining Download has been

a point of controversy. But while many complained that Matt Bellamy and co were not heavy enough for the bill, the packed out field tonight proves that there are plenty who think otherwise. And oh boy, were they rewarded for it.

We’re greeted on the sepia screens by the drill sergeant represented on new album Drones as way of a brief intro, before the band bound onstage and immediately launch into the swaggering grooves of Psycho while lights flash and the audience jump with excitement.

Muse have developed such a distinctive sound that even those not so familiar with their work could probably sniff out a song of theirs from an opening riff. They’re bringing out the hits tonight; Matt Bellamy takes to the piano to play the opening majestic keys of New Born, Time Is Running Out plays against a backdrop of a timer counting down, Supermassive Black Hole gets everyone grooving, Hysteria includes a cheeky Back In Black riff.

As a frontman Matt Bellamy is certainly a sparking ball of energy, bounding across the stage and wielding his guitar with passion and skill. He’s not much of a talker; there is very little interaction between band and audience tonight. But with Muse, the music is so tight and well executed that there’s no need for excess banter to keep the rain-sodden punters’ attention spans alight – though the bursts of fire and entrancing light show certainly add to its impact. The level of professionalism in both their performance and the strength of their sound is nothing less than mind-blowing – this is a band who know how to put on a proper rock show.

Bellamy does get one little dig in, though, when the band return on stage for a triple encore: ‘Fuck Leicestershire police for scanning your faces!’ he shouts in reference to the facial recognition technology that Download have instated on this year’s festival. It’s a perfect opening line to lead into the fierce Uprising. Plug In Baby follows, getting the biggest reaction of the set so far, while Ennio Morricone’s The Man With The Harmonica is played as an introduction to final song Knights Of Cydonia, that has everyone warbling along before fireworks signal the celebratory end of this lesson in how to do rock’n’roll right.

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.