Download Festival (Full Weekend Review)

Undoubtedly the biggest Rock Festival in the entire world, being present at this sold out event is a privilege. For those that didn’t make it, this is who we caught and what we thought!

DOWNLOAD DAY 1

Friday 10th June

Arriving at Donington on Friday- Day One of Download Festival, the sun neatly tucked itself away behind the black clouds and stubbornly stayed there for the next three days… Same stage layout, same mud, same rain; different year! Download let’s go!

PUPPY – 3rd Stage

With an original sound Puppy started out with a relatively empty tent but drew the crowds in (and it wasn’t even raining). This three man band really stand out from the musical crowd, and are without doubt set for big things. A statement of the beauty of festivals; people that had never heard of Puppy got to hear them on this epic stage at this amazing event, the perfect opportunity for such a new and talented act to achieve their foothold in the industry, and Puppy took full advantage.

ALIEN ANT FARM – Main Stage

The crowd for AAF was MASSIVE! The central area surrounding main stage was completely flooded with people, obvious hit of the set was classic crowd pleaser “Smooth Criminal”, I’m not the biggest fan but they sounded as good as on record and the audience seemed to be loving every minute of it. Such acts do make me wonder how long a band can go on on the strength of one or two hit singles over ten years ago though; especially seeing big young fresh talents really struggling for any recognition…

ZOAX – 3rd Stage

Zoax packed out the third stage, an amazing turn out for a band on their first album, on the first festival day, on such an early slot! Despite their age, this was ZOAX’s third Download appearance, and it was clear that word is getting out, undoubtedly aided by their dedication and extensive touring. Zoax are the most amazing combination of all of your favourite bands, yet they’re completely unlike any of them. The musicianship is flawless and refined, the lyrics are full of contemplated depth and the vocals are raw and real. Front man Adam is unrivalled in his performance, he’s so fun, warm and inviting, yet so intense- when he (and he will) jumps down off the stage, you know that things are getting up close and personal.

BABY METAL – Main Stage

Baby Metal are spectacular! They’re unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and the Download crowd ate them up a treat. Jaw dropping in several ways, Baby Metal were bizarre yet wonderful and had the audience laughing and dancing. Three young Japanese girls dancing and singing to a serious and super talented metal band? Baby Metal Party.

The mud was starting to be rough, the rain was awful and we really felt for the people sleeping in tents as we headed home early for a nice hot bath…

DOWNLOAD DAY 2

Saturday 11th June

So Saturday morning starts and we’re down on the list for for a 10am WWE pre event brunch. To be honest setting yourself up with a free breakfast before 11am is a great idea… setting yourself with a few drinks from the free bar before 11am probably isn’t the best idea, so with that in mind Kimberley and Thomas leave Shane at 12 O’Clock to go and watch a few bands, Shane is now four rum and cokes down and heading to the NXT tent we assume he’s probably going to have the time of his life. We head on over to the main stage where Beartooth are about to kick off….

BEARTOOTH- Main Stage

I’ve heard a lot about these guys and it’s only been good, so they’ve got lots to live up to. This is the first band I’ve seen at Donington in 22 years so I’m hoping for good things. They come out under a shroud of noise and feedback and without playing a song front man Caleb Shomo encourages the crowd to get down low; a brave move considering the already muddy conditions. Surprisingly the crowd are on board and do as instructed, as soon as they kick in the crowd explode; THIS is how you start a set! Beartooth stand out in a saturated genre of Hardcore/ Metalcore bands, they have an edge of the old school about them while maintaining a contemporary style. Beartooth fill a massive stage with their personalities something that isn’t always easy. It’s clear they love what they do and deserve their place on the main stage at Download.

ANTI-FLAG – 3rd Stage

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Anti-Flag for a while, the Hardcore Punk band from Pittsbugh, Pennsylvania surround themselves in controversy and are highly regarded for their live shows. When we arrive at the Maverick Stage there is already a huge crowd of people gathered to watch, it’s clear that Anti-Flag have a strong and loyal following of fans that are up for a party. The bands set is relentless in both its musical prowess and its political message. In a time where Donald Trump has set his sights on the White House a band like Anti-Flag is a welcome and much needed thing. While many bands steer away from a political messages Anti-Flag face it head on and encourage their fans to be a part of it, to make a difference and to not stand for what’s happening in the world around us. In this wet and muddy tent in the middle of England, Anti-Flag prove that not only is punk alive and kicking but it’s message is very much a needed and relevant part of our lives.

NECK DEEP – 3rd Stage

Neck Deep are Pop Punk, their tunes are nothing particularly new or massively different, but you can’t dislike them! The tunes are fat and infectious, the lyrics are clear and storylike and their onstage performance is energetic in the vain of the Duracell Bunny! The tent was completely packed, these guys have gained a much deserved and devout fanbase, and every song went down a total storm (whilst it was storming outside, nothing dampers Downloads spirits!) with the eager crowd, including me.

JULIETTE AND THE LICKS – 2nd Stage

Juliette Lewis is a star, she’s the leader every band dreams of, she’s crazy and you can’t not look at her. The problem being, her performance is completely self-serving. The medium sized crowd weren’t really feeling the performance, and Juliette’s Jagger-esq swagger can only have distanced them further. It’s sad, because I actually found her captivating, and the tunes, although a little bit old-fashioned-basic-rock were listenable.

NOFX – 2nd Stage

Watching from the stage, because of an amazing Vulture Hound interview that struck a connection with Mike, (out soon, keep eyes peeled!) we enjoyed every minute of NOFX. There is just no one like them! It’s pretty clear why these guys have stayed successful on the Punk scene for so long, they’re legends! With no fanfare they wandered on the stage without queue one by one and then proceeded to chat for ten minutes before striking a note! Their set was hilarious, spontaneous and packed out the encore area front to back. NOFX can never disappoint.

BLACK SABBATH – Main Stage

The boys (?) from Sabbath have already announced their farewell tour, ending with two nights in Birmingham next February; so being able to catch them headlining a show like Download really is now a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was, like many, raised on Sabbath. Their power and style is unmatched in terms of providing the backbone for what we now know as Heavy Metal. The crowd is actually a little breathtaking for me as I look back up the hill from main stage, it’s rare I attend festivals of this magnitude and seeing so many people all in one place with the same common interest is a great reminder that as individuals we are merely that but together our community of music fans/ Rock and Metal fans/ live music fans has a collectively big voice, a voice maybe we should use more often.

Sabbath come out to a deafening cheer; all genres, ages and genders bow down to the might that is Black Sabbath. Ozzy still commands the crowd and has the awesome and still quite a scary stage presence that he has attained for many years. The band is cool and confident, big time players on a big time stage. Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi have a level of cool that is somewhat unmatched in all of Heavy Metal history, drummer Tommy Clufetos has played with them for just over 5 years and although no replacement for Bill Ward he seems a good fit and is comfortable with the band.

Saying all these many positives is right and fitting, unfortunately though I have to say that on the night Sabbath for me, fell a little flat. The set seemed slow and at points labored. As a reviewer it’s important to try and be unbiased and honest but I don’t care to be negative so I’ll finish on a positive. Black Sabbath are bonified legends and seeing them was an honor, a privilege and something I will never forget.

Saturday at Download was such a good time, although with Black Sabbath headlining the main stage it left me wondering if there is anyone up and coming to fill such mighty shoes. Clearly based on the size of the crowd, rock certainly isn’t dead but it begs the question “Is the music industry doing enough to push the next generation of rock gods upon us?” Maybe one day my kids will be writing about Beartooth in the same reverenced tone I humbly write about Black Sabbath, I genuinely hope so…

DOWNLOAD DAY 3

Sunday 12th June

Standing still in one spot is exhausting! We dragged ourselves out of our warm comfy beds and into the car for another rainy day of rock based shenanigans… Heading in to the arena for the last time, today we were looking for variety! We all spent the morning in the NXT tent and then later headed to check out some tunes…

NXT
The one criticisms of NXT’s first visit to Download festival won’t come from anyone at Vulture Hound, but from those who had to watch from outside the NXT tent. Nobody could have expected the overwhelming levels of people who made their way over to the five NXT shows across the weekend. NXT regulars like Bayley, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and American Alpha, joined some of NXT’s brightest British stars Nicola Glencross and Hugo Knox to bring the most exciting wrestling brand in world to one of the most historic music festivals in the world. There were even some exciting appearances by Baron Corbin who recently moved up to the main WWE roster and also the long awaited début of Bobby Roode. Wrestling and rock music go hand in hand, having done so for year so it makes perfect sense for these two worlds to cross over, and hopefully it will be come a traditional part of Download festival from this point forward.

FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES – 3rd Stage

I’ve just found my new favourite human being and my new favourite band. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes hit the stage like wild animals… aggressive, passionate and full of righteous anger. This is punk at its finest, Frank makes me empathise and understand every single word he screams down that microphone. My focus is fixated on his stage presence, it’s impossible not to be mesmerised. It’s actually near impossible for me to review this set, you HAVE to see Frank Carter live to appreciate what it’s all about. From beautifully subtle moments like being in the crowd to sing about his father in law (who has passed away)- to encouraging a circle pit that went outside the tent, all the way around and then back inside- to having the set stopped for creating a wall of death! Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes took the crowd on a true journey of emotions and all the while Frank somehow remains humble and sincere; his apology when the show was stopped was a wonderfully genuine moment. Saying that my favourite quote was when he was in the crowd and a muddily booted crowd suffer flew past him, Frank sapt in his unmistakable manner… “Get your filthy fucking boots away from my suit!”

SHINEDOWN – Main Stage

Apparently Shinedown are a known band. I had no idea, I caught one song on Kerrang! TV and thought it was alright, so headed down to check them out. It’s pretty solid Rock music, but although the crowd was pretty big and enthusiastic I didn’t dig it, total yawn. Blah rock, a good few bands on this years bill all looked and sounded exactly the same to me, why start a band to be exactly like another band? Variety is the spice of life people. Mix it up.

BREAKING BENJAMIN – 2nd Stage

Breaking Benjamin are a power house of riffs and growling vocals, hitting the Encore stage mid afternoon on Sunday these guys have a bigger following than I have given them credit for, the place is packed. After taking a bit of an extended break in 2010 Breaking Benjamin are back and are received well by the Download crowd, obviously a welcome return to a band that had (has?) the potential to be a major force in the metal world. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan, for me it’s a little generic and by the numbers, there is certainly nothing offensive to the ears, they have a good sound and strong and commanding stage presence. I guess somethings just aren’t for everyone. They did a bit of a cover of Walk by Pantera though, that was pretty cool.

DON BROCO – 2nd Stage

Having seen Don Broco a load of times before and being a fan, I headed to this stage eagerly to grab a good spot, expecting either; the stage to get completely packed with people or completely not! Although DB have played Download before I still think it’s an odd choice, as much as their instrumentals are heavy, I’d never really class them as Rock. They drew a good crowd to the Encore Stage, and put out a nice sounding set, but for some reason the atmosphere was lacking. The guys upfront seemed to be loving every second but I think Don Broco would have been better suited to the 3rd stage tent.

JANES ADDICTION – 2nd Stage

I’d dub Janes Addiction classic pervy rock. Complete with half naked gyrating ladies and a leopard print wearing, hip gyrating, older gentleman… Having said that, these guys really know how to put on a show, looking a bit mismatched, you’d never place these four people together, but somehow it totally works, each member is cool and confident in their own way, (Dave Navarro; especially cool. In every way) and as soon as the first song hit you could tell Janes Addiction were a class above all the other bands we’d heard on this stage. With an interesting look, sound and performance, Janes Addiction were a hit for their first ever Download.

IRON MAIDEN – Main Stage Finale

Sunday night and the rain has stopped, the rivers of mud are still flowing through the crowd and the good people of Download are looking a little worse for wear. Everyone is covered in mud, LOTS of people are drunk; some are so drunk they are sober again, some look like they’re just recovering from Sunday hangovers.. It all makes for an interesting crowd. It’s fair to note though, I didn’t witness one single ounce of trouble all weekend; a testament to the unity of rockers everywhere. We have the pleasure of sitting next to a woman who is slumped in a chair and being sick through her cup holder mesh, I try to not to let it bother me though because this is it: the pinnacle… this is IRON MAIDEN.

After 3 intros- including a very dodgy animated clip, Maiden hit the stage and boy can these guys move! Bruce at 57 years old is still as energetic and sprightly as he was in the 80’s, Janick manages more than once to do some crazy leg lift onto a part of the stage, it must be yoga, that’s the only explanation. All the other stages have shut down leaving the entire 85 thousand Downloader’s no choice but to flock to watch Maiden, but honestly you really wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. They burst through song after song geeing up the crowd to near frenzy with classic after classic starting off and then interspersing songs off their new album The Book Of Souls. Their playing is flawless and their attitude and mere presence is mesmerising, the whole band have the old school air of true rock Gods, etched in a time where legends were forged from leather, denim and studs. Iron Maiden are unapologetic, they wear their own band t shirts, headbands, leather studded belts, sweatbands with their name emblazoned on and they do it all without a whiff of irony; they need not change for anyone and why should they? Iron Maiden are the best we have ever had at what they do, as a UK rocker I’m proud to have them represent and fly the flag of Heavy Metal on my behalf.

Download was made for Iron Maiden, true British legends playing a legendary British rock festival. I can’t imagine a more fitting end to such a great weekend of Rock music.

By like a flash and this mudfest is over. I feel like festivals are a really bizarre combination of complete misery and pure joy. If it’s raining you’re out in the wet and mud, grumpy and cold. If it’s sunny you’re hot, sweaty and probably burnt. And then there’s often the “joys” of camping added to that for many! But the balance is that your icons are right there; performing their hearts out right in front of you. People that don’t even seem real, talents that are surreal. Right there, all of them in one place!

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Festivals are magnificent in their ability to present superstars to the masses and give them the most elaborate of platforms on which to perform. Yet also, such as Download is amazing at holding up new talents to large crowds to finally get them the recognition they deserve. We had a spectacular weekend and are counting down the days to DL2017!

(~Download Team & Writers: Thomas Miller, Kimberley Bayliss and Shane Bayliss~)