Download 2016 – Wet, muddy and magnificent

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Mud? What mud?

By no means was Download festival 2016 a new experience, but it was one worth writing about. It was mine and Laura’s eighth consecutive year at the festival and the annual trip is without doubt the highlight of my year. Over the years we have seen some incredible performances by huge bands with decades of history and new bands looking to make their name. Some of the more notorious names we have been lucky enough to see include AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Slipknot, Rammstein, Aerosmith, Prodigy, Kiss, Motorhead, Slash, System of a Down,  Biffy Clyro, Avenged Sevenfold, Muse, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Machine Head, Fall Out Boy, Bullet for my Valentine, Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, and Rage Against the Machine.

These are not necessarily the best performances we have seen, but they are the bands most people are likely to recognise and I can honestly say that almost every one of them put on tremendous shows. From bands I love anyway like Slipknot, Metallica and System of a Down to bands that I wasn’t that into until hearing them live like AC/DC, Aerosmith and Muse, they have all deserved their high billings at the festival.

So to this year. After a period of trying the VIP camping pods, hiring a camper van and buying a second hand trailer tent we decided this year to go back to ‘standard camping.’ This meant losing the luxury of a separate entrance to the arena and losing the huge bonus of being parked next to our camp. We also decided to cut back from five day tickets to three day tickets.

Download Art

Download Art

We set off at 7.30am on Friday 10th July. The sun was shining and we were giddy and ready to rock as we listened to the new Download 2016 Spotify playlist I had created the night before. As always we stopped for the now mandatory Little Chef breakfast at Uttoxeter at about 9.15am.  This is also seen as our last opportunity to use proper toilet facilities for the weekend. We met up with our festival buddies – the Briscoe brothers, Adi and Chorley Dave (If you are wondering why he is called Chorley Dave it is because he lives in Chorley and his name is Dave).

We got back on the road and reached the car park at about 10.40am. The first downside of not being VIP or on the campervan site is here. Laura and I have a tent, two large backpacks, a coolbag full of beers and two camper chairs to carry from the car park to the campsite. This may not sound too bad, but we pitched our tent about 6km from where we parked out car! That said, as we have been to the festival many times we did pack lightly and as a result it wasn’t actually as bad as previous years!

We got went through security swiftly and got our weekend wristbands then put the tents up pretty quickly. At about 11.45 am the tents were up, we sat down and cracked open our first beers. The weekend had begun and we were ready to rock our freakin socks off!

As we sat there drinking our beers the sun that had been out and shining brightly for about three consecutive weeks disappeared behind a big grey cloud and didn’t come back out again for most of the weekend. For weeks leading up to the festival the weather had been glorious sunshine, ideal for a festival; within an hour of our tents being put up the heavens opened up and it rained continuously and relentlessly for most of the weekend.

It might have saturated the floor, but it didn’t dampen out spirits. Armed with throw-away ponchos we head to the arena to watch Alien Ant Farm. They played the only two songs we knew – Smooth Criminal and Movies, so we were happy. Next up was a strange concept of a band called BabyMetal – three cute, soft singing Japanese teenage girls backed by headbanging heavy metal. It seems so wrong, but when you are stood on a muddy field in Donnington and the rain is pouring down it sounded so right! They were fantastic and the crowd lapped it up! Many like me probably watched out of sceptical intrigue rather than interest, but will have gone home converts to the odd heavy metal pop concoction.

Through the day the rain kept coming, the beer and spiced rum kept flowing and the bands kept impressing. Killswitch Engage thrashed out a jaw dropping set during which I even started a “Lemmy, Lemmy, Lemmy” chant across the crowd. Chorley Dave’s favourites The Wildhearts played a rip-roaring forty minutes of hard rock and punk in the third stage tent before Korn smashed it on the main stage with a polished performance of hit after hit all orchestrated by enigmatic front man Jonathon Davis.

Wild heart Chorley Dave going wild to the Wildhearts

Wild heart Chorley Dave going wild to the Wildhearts

Finally, we turned our attention to the Friday night headliners – Rammstein. If there is one band that is made for booming out tune after tune in the driving rain it is industrial metal German band Rammstein. They boomed out heavy riffs and powerful vocals, whilst putting on a theatrical and dramatic stage show all to the back drop of the usual spectacular pyrotechnics. The show literally ended with a bang.

It was the perfect end to the night, but the night hadn’t quite ended. We trekked back slowly to camp, had a few spiced rum and cokes and reminisced over the day.

On Saturday morning we were woken up early by the roars of the planes flying overhead. We lazed in the tent for a bit before eventually getting up and enjoying one of the luxuries of a festival – a morning beer. The rain persisted but happily so did the excellent music.

Aeroplane alarm clock

Aeroplane alarm clock

We started the day with a band called Avatar who were one of the few that didn’t really grab us. We swiftly moved on to the third stage to check out a new band we didn’t really know much about – SHVPES. We were treated to thirty minutes of energetic, intense and brutal vocals and raw music that reminded me of Rage Against the Machine at times. One of the stand out performances of the weekend.

This was followed by a short trip to the main stage to see another impressive performance from a recent favourite of mine – Metalcore band Beartooth. The next band we watched was an unexpected highlight of the weekend – Black Peaks. I had only heard of them whilst creating my Spotify playlist on Thursday night, but the decision to watch them was 100% the right one. With their own unique and original style they had me awe stuck and mesmerised as the lead singer effortlessly went from melodic singing to passionate hardcore roaring. It wasn’t just one of the best, most powerful and intense live performances of the weekend; it was one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to witness.

Black Peaks amazed

Black Peaks amazed

We saw a disappointing set from Turbowolf next, but perhaps it was just disappointing in comparison to the three heavy hitters that preceded them. This was followed a real surprise. Sixx A.M. a band that includes former Motley Crue bassist Nikki Sixx were on main stage. I was torn as to whether to watch them or not because their music didn’t really appeal to me. But we thought we would watch for a while then move on. We didn’t move on. We watched the whole anthemic set and enjoyed every bit of the showmanship, classic rock and melodic singing. In fact I have been listening to them ever since!

A soulful and slick performance by Rival Sons was followed by an energetic display from Escape the Fate. Then some typically powerful thrash metal from veterans Megadeath, who whilst not my cup of tea do know how to entertain a Donnington crowd.

Writing this I am beginning to realise what a music filled day we had. It was 18.40 and the first real big ‘clash’ had to be negotiated. The perils of a festival full of bands you love! Heavy hitters Deftones were on the main stage whilst crowd pleasing Skindred were rocking the second stage at 19:15. It takes times to navigate between the stages so something had to give. We eventually decided to watch the first ten minutes or so of Deftones and then move on to Skindred. I have seen Skindred several times and once again they absolutely smashed it. The crowd was bigger than usual for a second stage act and every one of them was dancing to the tune of charismatic front man Benji. He absolutely owned the stage and had the crowd dancing, laughing, booing and cheering on queue. The set of reggae, metal fusion got better and better and built up to the trademark crescendo of the Newport Helicopter. Despite the rain , thousands of adorning fans, including me, ripped off an item of clothing and span it around our heads as Benji rattled off the words  “Warning…Warning…Warning… Warning.”

Saturday night headliner was pioneering forefathers of heavy metal – Black Sabbath, fronted of course by Ozzie ‘fucking’ Osbourne. We saw them headline Download in 2012 when they were exceptional. This time round we didn’t feel the same energy and excitement. They were very good, the usual enthralling theatre was there and they played to the crowd by rattling off classic hit after classic hit. But something didn’t seem to click as well as four years earlier. I can’t say we were disappointed because they were good and we enjoyed it from start to finish, but we weren’t blown away this time. The one shining light was a sensational drum solo by Tommy Clufetos.

Devil horns up for Black Sabbath

Devil horns up for Black Sabbath

Sunday morning we were woken early again by the aeroplanes flying to and from the East Midlands airport runway adjacent to our field. This time we got up pretty early as we needed to take our tent down and lug all our belongings back to the car before the first act I wanted to see came on at 11am. We made surprisingly quick work of the packing up and trudged the 6km back to our car by about 10am. We then headed to the arena and were at the entrance or 10.15am. The arena was supposed to open at 10am, but for some reason there was a delay and we were held outside for about half an hour.

When we did get in we grabbed a sumptuous steak butty and headed to second stage to watch Buck and Evans. The group kicked off the day with a step away from the heavy metal roots of Download festival. We were treated to the powerful and soulful voice of Sally Ann Evans as Chris Buck and the rest of the band effortlessly kept the bluesy rock undertones. It was a nice gentle start to the day and was followed by a fantastic bout of soulful southern rock from Whiskey Myers. It was a band I was looking forward to hearing and they did not disappoint. Energetic guitar solos, emotional vocals and bold bluesy riffs. All we were missing was the sunshine and somewhere dry to sit down!

Amon Amarth is a strange kettle of fish and a band we only chose to watch because no others tickled our fancy. Nevertheless, whilst I may not be tempted to listen to their melodic death metal Viking music in the car on the way to work, they are made for festivals. They decorated the stage like they were a headliner with a smoke breathing dragon that was accompanied by plenty of pyro. Their guitar slaying was epic and their Viking themed lyrics are great. The lead singer appears to have been lifted straight out of a WWE promo and sounds like Macho Man Randy Savage or Hulk Hogan! ‘Whatcha gonna do brother, watcha gonna do when Amon Amarth runs wild on you!’ Well I’ll tell you what you are going to do, you are going to look on in amazement, talk in a deep voice for the rest of the day and Raise Your Horns as you glug beer!

When Amon Amarth finished we decided to head for cover from the incessant rain. So we hit the third stage and caught The Dirty Youth who sounded very like Paramore. After that we knew there was a long period of bands that we wanted to watch and wanted to sit down for a bit. Our legs were killing us having not been able to sit down all weekend due to the pissing rain and the floor being a mud bath. We averaged about 22km of walking a day and us office folk aren’t used to standing up from one end of the day to the next! Unfortunately there was very little seating so we had some Paella for the third time of the weekend and took it in turns to perch on the edge of a bench for half an hour.

Halestorm played a spirited forty five minute set that kept the crowd upbeat in the rain. Front woman Lizzy Hale owned the stage and belted out the tunes. That was followed by Shinedown. I am a big fan of this hard rock/grunge band, but couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. The music was great, but the lead singer Brent Smith was cringe worthily cheesy and spent too much time trying to sweet talk the crowd. I seem to recall he even asked everyone to turn to their neighbouring metal heads and hug them at one point! It was good, but it should have been so much better.

In contrast, Disturbed were a clear highlight of the weekend. The distinctive voice of front man David Draiman was something to behold. He bellowed out every word with power and passion as the band expertly crafted the hard rock and heavy sound behind him. The crowd were as charged and hyped as I’d seen them all weekend. Circle pits opened up everywhere, crowd surfing was being attempted in all the wrong places and everyone was singing along to the melodic choruses. The only time the crowd calmed down was to listen to an emotive performance of the Sound of Silence. And if their own hits weren’t enough… they introduced Lizzy Hale to stage for a rendition of U2’s ‘Still haven’t found what I’m looking for;’ had the crowd eating out of their hands when Blaze Bayley joined them for the Who’s ‘Baba O’Reilly’ and created utter havoc when Ben Burnley burst out to Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name.’ Fantastic!

Next up Billy Talent helped us forget about the rain, the mud and our weary bones as they unleash explosive and energetic punk. The lead singer bounced around the stage and worked the crowd perfectly as he delivered a raw, ballsy and spirited set.

We then caught a few songs from symphonic metal maestros Nightwish before grabbing out last beers of the weekend and jostling our way through the crowd for a good spot to watch Sunday night headliners – Iron Maiden.

Despite their forty year back catalogue and big reputation, Iron Maiden is a band I just struggle to get into. But on Sunday night they slapped me in the face with excellence. There was something captivating and invigorating about the way Bruce Dickinson and, erm his Maiden’s, dominated the stage and controlled the crowd. Bruce ran around the stage like he was in his twenties for the entire two hour set. He was conductor to the crowd who sang along in unison to the hooks. The exceptional music and showmanship was matched by a spectacle of pyro, props and even a strange and unnecessary Conquistador mask! It was entertaining. It was exhilarating. It was outstanding. It was Download!

Mud? What mud?

Mud? What mud?

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