The UK’s biggest rock and metal festival returns once again, as 80,000 people brave the mud and rain to watch the best acts around today. Here’s what went down.
Download Festival UK
We started the day at the Zippo Stage, with a set from Goodbye June. They sound exactly how you expect a band from Nashville, Tennessee to sound – that familiar southern rock, bluesy sound, reminiscent of an early Kings of Leon. They went down well with the early arrivals, who increased vastly in numbers by the time Skid Row took to the stage. Drawing a headliner sized crowd, it was a shame they were on so early and had a short set time that reflected that. The opening line of I Remember You “Woke up to the sound of pouring rain” – feels extremely relevant to the thousands who had spent the last few days camping in bad weather!
Those Damn Crows are one of the UK’s brightest up and coming bands who have already attracted a devoted fan base after the success of their debut album, Murder and the Motive. They treat us to new material to get things started before playing favourites such as Blink of an Eye and Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Dead. It certainly isn’t with these boys around. A very polished performance from the Welsh rockers and we expect to see them play a much higher slot next time they are here.
Over on the Avalanche Stage, Japanese band Man with a Mission brought curious glances from newcomers – all the band members wear full Wolf head masks. The highlight of the set is when members of Zebrahead – no, they don’t wear masks! – join them on stage for Out of Control.
Skynd are playing their first ever festival and take us to a dark place – all their songs are about murderers. Its compelling stuff, and it feels a bit horror movie like – with the eerie lighting, the masks of the band and the haunting performance of Skynd herself. Their Johnathan Davies collaboration Gary Heidnik got them some mainstream coverage last year and got the biggest reaction here.
Deadland Ritual might not be a name you recognize, but you will certainly know the band members – Matt Sorum (Guns n Roses, Velvet Revolver, Hollywood Vampires) on drums, Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) on bass, Steve Stevens (Billy Idol) on guitar and Apocalyptica frontman Franky Perez. The set features a handful of original tracks (Dimas, City of Night, Down in Flames), but it feels like were watching the coolest jam session ever as they play through various tracks from their own back catalogues (Slither, Rebel Yell), ending in a storming rendition of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs.
Ska Punks The Interrupters give us a welcome change in mood for the day. It was impossible not to bounce around to their catchy anthems such as Gave You Everything and She Got Arrested. A “Wall of Love” beautifully demonstrated how both Ska fans and Metal heads can come together and enjoy different music, with She’s Kerosene a particular highlight.
Perhaps boasting the most well-known setlist of the whole festival – of course, as frontman Spike Slawson says before almost every song, “This one’s a cover” – Me First and the Gimme Gimmes close the Avalanche Stage in their own unique way, with their pop-punk, take on Pop classics such as Cher’s Believe and Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon.
A large crowd has gathered to see shock rocks finest Rob Zombie, but its a bit of a let down that his legendary stage show is reduced to the many screens that have taken over the stage, but nether the less the likes of Living Dead Girl and House of 1000 Corpses delight the fans.
The main stage was topped by some of the most legendary names in rock. Whitesnake recently celebrated their 40th anniversary, and despite latest album Flesh and Blood getting a decent airing here, its the sing a long classics of Is This Love? And Here I Go Again that the crowd are here for.
Fresh of the back of a huge world tour with Guns n Roses – including playing to an estimated 100,00 people here last year – Slash is back on the road with his side project, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. With 3 albums of their own material, they don’t rely on Guns n Roses tracks to fill the setlist anymore – we only get Nightrain, in a set that is based around last years Living the Dream album.
British rock icons Def Leppard close the day. The setlist is no surprise, as it was announced before hand that they would play Hysteria album in full. Its played in order, meaning we get some big hits early on such as Love Bites and Pour Some Sugar on Me. There’s a few emotional moments – a moving tribute to original guitarist Steve Clark, and Joe Elliot introducing drummer Rick Allen, with the Monsters of Rock show here in 1986 which saw him make his comeback after his horrific car accident. An encore follows that give us iconic anthems such as When Love and Hate Collide and Photograph, bringing an end to what is a very polished performance from one of the best to ever do it.
In a Download Festival first, Alien Weaponry were originally scheduled to play the Dogtooth Stage but were promoted to open up the Main Stage, and do so with a powerful performance. Not many people are singing along – I think we can forgive the Download crowd for not speaking the Maori language the band use – but they do understand a good band when they see one, and the first circle pits of the day are in full flow.
Bad Wolves wont win any awards for originality, but they were one of the breakthrough acts of last year, of course largely down to their cover of The Cranberries Zombie. Singer Tommy Vext seems to get emotional whilst introducing that song, talking about its viral success on YouTube and that the profits from the song went to the late Dolores O’Riordan’s children.
Have you ever wondered what Nirvana would sound like, if they had an Elvis impersonator as a frontman instead of Kurt Cobain? Well, meet Elvana. I have no idea how this idea came about, and as “Elvis” says, “sometimes I sound like Elvis, sometimes I sound like Kurt, sometimes I sound like neither – do you guys care?” – nobody did, in this strangely enjoyable performance.
I’ve never watched an instrumental band before, so I was interested to see how I would find Animals as Leaders. The truth is, it felt like background music, and I found myself looking around and using it as a soundtrack to the weird and wonderful sites you see at festivals.
Its testament to how well Skinded are loved and revered as a live band, as the heavens open over Donington Park and nobody runs for cover. They are a must watch band, with Benji Webbe’s showmanship, energy and humour getting the crowd going from start to finish. It’s a career spanning set, with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure – 2 Pac’s California Love and Out of Space, a tribute to the late Keith Flint of The Prodigy. They end with Warning, with the now torrential downpour not putting the crowd off from participating in what must be the wettest Newport Helicopter (Swinging your jacket/shirt around manically) ever.
Those lucky enough to squeeze in to the Dogtooth stage for Mongolian band The Hu (the crowd went back 15+ people outside the tent) were treated to a unique spectacle. The Hu use traditional instruments and vocal techniques mixed with heavy metal to create their unique sound. Judging from the chants of “HU HU HU” between every song, the packed out tent loved every minute of it.
Three Days Grace start off with The Mountain from last years Outsider, but from then on give us their radio friendly hits. Tracks like Animal I Have Become and I Hate Everything About You give us some thumping shout-a-longs before Riot has us jumping as one.
Booking hip-hop/dance act Die Antwoord was a risky move, but they went down a storm as they brought the rave to Download. Rapper Ninja commented “We’re not sure why you metal guys like us”, and while I’m not sure the majority of those watching will turn in to full time Die Antwoord fans, everyone around me was having fun, and that’s what going to a festival is all about.
Halestorm have played every stage at Download over the years, and their Headline slot on the Zippo stage is well earned. Judging by the size of the crowd, maybe headlining the Main Stage isn’t that far away. To do that, they may have to add some theatrics to their stage show, but the focus here is on Lizzy Hale’s incredible voice, highlighted most notably on acoustic number The Silence. Lizzy is an inspiration to many women in rock and is joined on stage by one of them as Asami of Lovebites joins them for the song of the same name. Closing with I Miss The Misery, it was a no frills but incredibly solid performance.
Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus and All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth headlined the Avalanche stage with their side project, Simple Creatures. Whilst the crude and juvenile stage banter has carried across from both their bands, the sound is definitely different – this is more synth pop than Pop Punk. They play most of their only EP to date – Strange Love – and an excellent cover of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus.
Slipknot are at the very start of another new era – new album on the way, new masks and even another new mystery member. Opening with People = Shit straight in to (sic) shows their in an uncompromising mood. Unsainted sounds huge live and an instant Slipknot classic. And from here on in its classic after classic – Disasterpiece, Before I Forget, The Heretic Anthem, Psycosocial – this was a very crowd pleasing setlist. Corey Taylor tells us they almost didn’t make it to Download, almost getting stuck in Switzerland due to flight problems. He’s glad they got here as Download feels like home – and I couldn’t agree more, as the band rip through a performance that proved they are the undisputed kings of Download. All Out Life is the only other new song played. In a tried and tested routine, Corey instructs the crowd to get down on the ground during Spit it Out, and despite the mud everyone obliges before the obligatory “Jump the fuck up” in the songs chaotic ending. Surfacing brings the set to a close, with Slipknot proving they are back to their very best.
Through no fault of their own, Like a Storm are late to start their set – they are so eager to eventually get going that they start playing as the lighting rig is still being lifted. A moving cover of Linkin Park’s Crawling is well received, along with their own tracks such as Love the Way You Hate Me and Solitary. Thankfully their name doesn’t jinx the weather and we have a very sunny day to end the festival.
A countdown alarm signals the arrival of Black Futures, along with a number of Hazmat suit wearing flag waivers. From the get go it feels confrontational, they are eager to push their message about the pros and cons of modern day society right down our throats. The duo go by the stage names of Space (Drums and Vocals) and Vibes (Guitar and Vocals) – Space doesn’t sit down all set, and Vibes makes his way into the crowd to literally scream his message into peoples faces, getting caught up in a circle pit in the process. This was a mesmerizing performance which left its mark on all in attendance.
Were not sure if Aaron Buchanan was joking when he announces he’s giving the rock game up and becoming a drag queen. He’d probably do rather well at it, but we don’t think he should give up rock for the frock just yet. Aaron is a good frontman, and instigates a young fan being crowd surfed around the entire tent in an inflatable swan, as well as crowd surfing himself and somehow managing to balance upside down in the middle of the crowd! Old school fans were pleased to hear Heartbreaking Son of a Bitch from Aaron’s previous band, Heavens Basement.
Whisper it quietly but the UK may have a new superstar on their hands in the form of Kim Jennett. Its plain to see she draws inspiration from Halestorm’s Lizzy Hale, and plays here with the confidence her idol would be proud of. Her terrific voice and frequent visits to the barrier keep the crowd engaged throughout, Let Me Be The One the stand out track.
Alt-Metal heavyweights Godsmack showcase their latest offering, When Legends Rise. A mid set drum battle goes on way too long and ruins the momentum they had built up, but finish on an empowering note with Bulletproof and I Stand Alone.
Swedish metallers Amon Amarth are ridiculously metal – dressed uniformly in black, the fire and smoke machines are in overdrive, the drum kit is on top of a huge viking helmet. Its lapped up by the fans, who at one point have a mosh pit that sees them sat down rowing an imaginary boat! A huge dragon appears on stage during Twilight of the Thunder God, in a fittingly bonkers end to a dramatic performance.
Fever 333 have come a long way since last years appearance. Hard luck if you didn’t get in here early – the Avalanche Stage is bursting to capacity. A high energy show – or Demonstration, as they like to call their shows – follows. Opening track Burn It is very Linkin Park esque, with many tracks having that early 2000s Nu Metal vibe about them, perhaps with a heavier dose of rap/hip hop thrown in. Most of the bands crowd interactions hit the mark, except one – nobody was in the mood to “throw mud around” as suggested during set closer Hunting Season.
Enter Shikari are well known for their raucous live shows and there isn’t a better band to close the Avalanche Stage. They have played further up the bill in previous years but requested this slot, and the atmosphere in the tent from the off showed why. After opener The Appeal and the Mindsweep, the show has to be momentarily stopped as two fans have climbed the pylons supporting the tent. Frontman Rou Reynolds says “I respect you guys a lot right now, but if you don’t get down they are pulling the plug! I’ve made them promise not to throw you out!” they are a band and audience that feed off each others energy. Theirs a lot of political stuff – Take My Country Back is an anti-Brexit anthem, Arguing with Thermometers aimed at climate change deniers. The ability they have to switch from genre to genre, even within the same song, and make it work is unmatched by anyone else. Ironically for such a thought-provoking band, everyone in here are losing their minds in what feels like a none stop assault on our senses. Wave after wave of crowd surfers accompanies the Quickfire Round of classics (Sorry, You’re not a Winner, No Sleep Tonight, The Last Garrison, …Meltdown) before Live Outside brings us to a close. Outside was the last place anyone wanted to be tonight as in the tent Enter Shikari cemented their place as one of the best live bands of their generation.
Fans were torn between two titans of metal as Slayer and Tool went head to head. If you like face melting riffs and literally face melting fire, you were watching Slayer’s last ever UK performance. As they bring the curtain down on their 38-year career, they treat fans to the best of a set to remember. The crowd have saved enough energy over the weekend to give their heroes some brutal mosh pits to match their performance, with classics like Raining Blood and Angel of Death sadly being played here for the last time. An inspiration to many bands that have played this festival past and present, their presence will be missed but their legacy will live on.
It’s been 13 long years since Tool last played in the UK, with many fans thinking they wouldn’t get the opportunity to see them live again. In what I imagine is a mixture between providing a highly visual show and their notorious privacy, the band aren’t even displayed on the big screens as they play the classics as well as new material. Descending and Invisible will both feature on their new album, which is due out in August, and certainly, get the seal of approval here. In many ways this isn’t your typical headline performance – no fireworks, little crowd interaction – but then Tool isn’t your typical band. A hypnotizing, long overdue return.