Disclaimer: When you are extremely passionate about something, it’s very hard to review it from a non-biased, impersonal point of view, so I hope you’ll forgive me when I re-tell and review Download Festival (@downloadfest) straight from the pit of my rock’n’roll heart #throwupyourrockfist #throwupyourhorns, as you like it.
Download has become my own personal rock/metal pilgrimage, as it is for the majority of the 85,000 strong crowd that show up every year come rain or shine (mostly rain, thank you East Midlands).
On Friday we arrived at the arena bright and early, not long after it opened but long enough to avoid the first queues and early enough to have plenty of time to wander, explore and shop before we made for our first band of choice. The most seasoned festival goers always have a routine of some sort, just as much as we send scouts ahead for the best campsite, we also scout the arena for the best shops, the best eating and drinking opportunities, and the ideal vantage points from which to watch our favourite bands, taking into consideration whether or not its a “I must be in the moshpit” or a “I must have the best view” or a ‘I’m here because my friend likes them” band, and this has to be blended with the perfect balance of “I need the toilet”, “How long is the port-a-loo queue at the moment?”, and “Do I have time to get out of the pit, go to the loo, and weave my way back in without pissing off too many punters before my favourite band comes on?”.
As if turns out, possibly my personal two favourite bands of all time, Korn and Rammstein, were both headlining on Friday (Yes Download, kudos to the epic lineup!), and they were both by default “Must be in the heart of the pit” bands, so I did attempt for the first ten minutes after Korn finished to stay where I was before deciding to risk a journey to the loo to stave off the fear of needing to go while Rammstein was on. Laugh all you want, but I was the one winning when the guy next to me left just before “Du hast” because he needed to pee. Even grown men have this problem. It’s probably closely related to the sheer volume of beer and cider intake that most festivals induce.
But I digress. Back to the start. We shopped, we ate, and we caught a bit of As Lions from the back of the crowd at the Encore stage before ducking back to the newly-affectionately-memorially named Lemmy stage for a bit of Royal Republic, and Alien Ant Farm (Yes they still exist, yes we loved it when they played “Smooth Criminal”), and then the rain began just as BabyMetal were due on stage. Yes, that’s right, BabyMetal, the J-Metal (I’m calling that a genre now, if it isn’t already?) band causing conflicting emotions across the world of metal and rock’n’roll were the last headliner to be announced for Download this year. And you know what? With fascinating songs like “Chocolate” under their belt, I was looking forward to seeing Su-metal, Yu-metal and Moametal perform in the flesh with their cute and rough blend of Gothic Lolita and heavy metal. I was less excited after waiting 30 minutes in the rain for them to start, though I’ll concede grace that the rain was heavy enough in that first downpour to have possibly caused some tech problems. In short conclusion, they were good, and their band was really good. But I’d prefer to see them again at their own show, and I might want to throat punch the sound tech because we couldn’t really hear the vocals at all.
At this stage, the rain became a problem, so much so that it was voted important enough to miss Kill Switch Engage to return to camp and put our wellies on in order to survive the night for my beloved Korn and Rammstein. Gutting, but I’m sure I will see Kill Switch again. We caught the end of Skillet on the way out of the arena back at the Encore stage and suffice to say that I lost my shit to Monster which is still a genuinely awesome song. I haven’t seen Skillet live since 2003 when I was very very very young on the festival scene, but I believe they’ve aged exceedingly well in their art and are well worth keeping an eye on.
Welly’ed up, and fresh cider cans in our hands, we trekked back through the fast growing sludge and mud to the arena. Whilst my friends went for Twin Atlantic, I got ready to get down and dirty at the Lemmy stage with Korn. And I can say that, because Korn were my very first love affair with rock music (okay, nu-metal to the purists). I think I was 11 when Life is Peachy was released, and still have my hoodie from the release of Issues in 99’. I saw them live ten years ago when they were touring for See You on the Other Side, taking a friend in a wheel chair with a broken leg, so a decade later, and with Brian “Head” Welch back in the band after a fascination hiatus, I was determined to get into the heart of the pit and mosh my socks off. And I did. We had the time of our lives. Korn never disappoint, bringing a full range of tracks from across the majority of their discography – they know what their crowd wants, and they deliver it. Jonathan Davis with his dreadlocks, new beard (well, new to me) and his iconic HR Giger mic stand are picture perfect. Though most of their set passed for me in a head-banging pit blur of flying dreadlocks and elbows, I’d have to say my personal favourites were still “Got the life”, “Coming Undone” and “Freak on a Leash”.
Post Korn’s performance, I had my aforementioned toiletting dilemma, but I was back in, and closer than before, for Rammstein. I have to explain my caution here, because I last saw them live in festival at Sonisphere 2010 and that time I had to be crowd surfed out as I wasn’t tall enough to survive that close to the front, even in my platform boots, and this time I wasn’t wearing platforms. However, I was pretty close, and surrounded by fairly tall men, so I executed another favourite tactic. Make friends with them all. Smile, and be as lovely as you can be, and generally even the hairiest, scariest moshers will love and protect you when the going gets tough. And I have to say compared to every other festival I’ve been to, Download punters are the most caring and friendly of the bunch. We may look scary as fuck in our chains and spikes, biker beards and ripped Iron Maiden tees, but it’s a great community full of people who love their own uniqueness and appreciate that of those around them. So if you fall or stumble in the pit, someone will pick you up.
Rammstein were epic. Of course. How could a Neue Deutsche Harte band with a penchant for extreme pyrotechnics and a stage performance to steel your soul not be epic? It was everything I expected and more when Till Lindemann was suspended above the stage on his giant metallic flame-throwing angel wings for “Engel” which happens to be my favourite song by them. Actually, scratch that. I have too many favourites, and they played them all. “Ich tu dir Weh”, though perhaps deeply disturbing on a lyrical level, is a ridiculously good song with a sound that is forcefully addictive, as are tracks like “Mein herz brennt”, “Keine Lust”, “Zerstoren” and “Feuer frei”. I could go on, but if you know you know, and if you don’t, YouTube. I also thoroughly enjoyed the acoustic rendition of “Onhe dich”, despite the rather quaint concept of Rammstein ‘un-plugged’, and seeing them perform their much loved cover of “Stripped” live was as damn sexy as Till’s German accent and Bass vocals can make it. As should be expected, they went out with an almighty pyrotechnic bang, and a gracefully bow, and suddenly the first day of Download was over.