As the masses leave the chewed up fields of Donington Park, to regale friends across social media with tales of luminous vomit and faecal lava (theirs or others), it is time to reflect and put another Download Festival to bed.
The 2013 offering of rock and metal always looked good on paper. In an odd way it almost looked too good, a tantalising smorgasbord of music whose taste would never quite live up to the presentation. It was also an extremely safe line-up in many ways. Download has never shied away from a controversial booking or two. A Lethal Bizzle here and a Prodigy there, has meant much of the amusement pre-event in recent years has been watching the online Nostradamuses (Nostradamii?) predict the end of life as we know it should Chase and Status burst into a Girls Aloud medley. No, this year was a safe offering of Slipknot, Iron Maiden and Rammstein. A heady mix of rock and metal genres that people like to get so impassioned about, and so any bickering for forums and discussion threads reverted to the 'my genre is better than your genre' which is so time honoured I am sure there's an app for that.
With the three headliners locked in place the undercard was equally meaty. Now of course I cannot review 378 bands and here is where I hope you will help and comment below and share your favourite bands, new finds and set highlights below. I'll just touch on some of the bands that stuck in my mind for one reason or another in what will be a review based on personal opinion, sarcasm, hormonal drift and my sheer inability to know nor care about the technicalities of music or encyclopaedic knowledge of each bands back catalogue and what they've eaten for breakfast for the last decade. I am, and always will be, at heart a simple punter who expects her rockstars to get on stage and entertain her.
Let me kick off on a highpoint, and certainly fighting for the top spot for act of the weekend - Enter Shikari. I've long been a fan and remember watching them on the third stage at Download back in 2009 quite convinced they had legs for the business (and I mean that as a phrase as opposed to a perverse limb fetish). This weekend they headlined the second, Zippo, stage on the Saturday with all the power and poise of the established group they have become but without losing their edge and freshness. They continue to foster that heady mix of youthful arrogance and infectious hope that they can, will and are making a change for the better. By God, it all but rubbed off on a jaded old soul such as mine. They were energetic, hectic, liberated and liberating. The crowd responded and having spoken with the diehards on the front row just before the set, I rather fell in love with each and every one of them. There's a new generation coming through with spark and joy, welcome to the rock family my children (yes I can be that patronising!)
And Fearless Vampire Killers, oh yes. Theatrics and talent to make you tingle in all the right ways and a reminder to wear sturdy shoes for Download as all stages require a visit.
But, to move to the main stage offerings and let's jump in with Bullet For My Valentine. They sounded good, they looked good and the setlist was good and still my heart did not go thumpty-thump. I have come to the conclusion they need to be sent out into a desert to have an epiphany, there is an ember that needs fanning. Perhaps their December tour alongside Asking Alexandria and Young Guns, which they announced at Download, will provide the oxygen required.
Friday belonged to Slipknot and only a fool would bet on them not delivering. The loss of Paul remains, and I believe will always remain, an emotional tie that brings this group even closer to their fans. They were polished; once again it went beyond music and sheer performance art. The set list was inclusive and could not have been engineered better to bond them with the audience who were swept up and assimilated into the performance. It more than threw down the gauntlet for the rest of the weekend.
The warm up act for Saturday evening, which sounds far more condescending than I mean it to, were Queens of the Stone Age. As I have found over the years with the established American rock bands who visit Download, they wander on stage looking like random men who have just met one another on the way back from the gents; Josh Homme dressed for buying two-by-two at B&Q and Troy Van Leeuwen styled as a Bryan Ferry Tribute act. With an enviable amount of aplomb they presented their set with coolness as if they were playing a backyard barbecue. And for all Josh's onstage talk of drugs I still say his demeanour is more that of a man who likes the smell of Ronseal on his freshly put down decking. Enjoyable.
The crescendo of Saturday night, for many the highpoint of the weekend and reason for attending, was Iron Maiden. Now I shall raise my hand and say I am no great Maiden fan (oh the shame, the shame) but regardless the excitement they evoke is as infectious as an STD in the campsites. It is always a wonder how Maiden will outdo themselves this time, I mean the Union Jack is already fifty times larger than Mr Dickinson. It was to the skies this time as their entrance was heralded by a flypast by a Battle of Britain Spitfire. The only way to out British themselves in future will be if they jump out of a pork pie whilst the Coldstream Guards play Land of Hope and Glory, throwing Chelsea Pensioners into the crowd. Flippancy aside, it was a magical moment and was the perfect introduction for an anthemic setlist to please the masses.
And so Sunday rolled around, and I beg of you to have your pinch of salt at the ready. I was looking forward to the 30 Seconds to Mars set, there I said it. I have ovaries and reasonable eyesight, and I admit to liking their music (each to their own my darlinks, let's not quibble). I shall lay down the bottom line that I enjoyed the set but it was also the one that attracts the most dissection. The band, none of whom have been hit with an ugly stick, came out with relatively little fuss and kicked straight in sounding superb, using the fluttering of hearts as a metronome.
Here is a band that has cultivated, and I use that word very purposely, a following of slavish devotion. For this reason 30STM are band that are easy to mock. However is the devotion any more or less risible than that others generate? The fan packaging may be perkier and prettier but possible not so different at core than that in double denim with a receding hairline. The set became more interactive as giant inflatable balls were sent into the crowd. For those in the know, this was a nice nod to the Damien Hirst influence in their latest video. And then it became all a little pantomime crossed with the church. After the balls were dropped, so to speak, out came inflatable whales, crocodiles and Nemos. The video screen zoomed in on the faces of young girls who had the same wide-eyed wonder of toddlers seeing Santa for the first time. As Jared Leto drew the crowd in with stories ofnwhich I call bullshit, the back and forth increased and I awaited Widow Twanky to come out throwing sweets into the crowd. Then in the most amazing turn of pantomime, which I haven't witnessed since the Grumbleweeds at Darlington Civic Theatre circa Christmas 1983, Jesus, sorry Jared invited members of the audience onto the stage.
Stone-faced security guards herded the chosen disciples onto the stage where they were huddled into a mass. A pretty young thing was plucked by the leader. "What's your name?" "Blub" "Where are you from?" "Blub" and so she was sent back into the fold whilst one who could speak was found. A final song was sung to a backdrop of young girls with tear stained, contorted faces and others with their arms stretched to the heavens as if at a Deep South revivalist meeting. It was at the same time utterly charming and nauseating. Everyone left the stage and we all checked our water to see if it had turned into wine (sadly not). This set will receive a lot of criticism, piss taking and general guffawing but let the kids have their fun - hell I know men who'd hold Bruce Dickinson's balls on stage if he invited them to.
And so the end of the weekend truly came into view, as welcome as sand in Vaseline, and it was time for one last huzzah. Rammstein would grace us with their Germanic insanity. Insane, that's a word you can over use with Rammstein. Journalists will have spent today raiding the Thesaurus for bonkers, wacky, crackers. Till Lindemann descended from above in black leather and a fetching pink furry bolero possibly last seen on Paris Hilton, the hair slicked backed and a liberal dusting of white face powder gracing his Teutonic features; and boom and fire and boom. If vampires require human blood to survive I suspect Till feeds off the souls of men who barbecue. Pounding songs matched by their pounding presence, Rammstein know how to put on a show. Admittedly that show is like a twisted mash up of Hostel and Eurotrash, but it is one hell of a show. Till, with his thighs like sides of bacon trying to escape a leather vice, thundering out songs, which may well have been the German McDonalds' menu such is my knowledge of their language, led his band of merrily mad men in a fire soaked spectacular.
Live Nation figureheads and all round good guys, booker and promoter Andy Copping and COO John Probyn can be rightfully proud of the goodies they lay before us in 2013. An announcement about the 2014 headliners is unlikely to come before the end of this year according to Copping who likes to announce the main 3 headliners together or in quick succession. His recent form is high and so it is a fool who does not block 13th-15th June off their 2014 calendar. And for those with ready cash after a weekend of extortionate noodles and bottled water, 5000 tickets for 2014 will go on sale on Friday 21st June at £10 less than this year's prices.
The layout of Download lacks the natural amphitheatre and therefore intimacy of the pre-2008 layout, the toilets smell, the food is expensive, the beer is warm, and the traffic jams. It is simply bloody marvellous.
Photos by the fantastic Natasha Rudkin missmolar.com