Arriving at the Download site on a Friday lunch time, for both the heaviest and dismally named festival in the land, we park up in an endless field of cars watched by a suspicious herd of cud chewing cows. There is a distinctly light hearted atmosphere among the hoards of metal fans streaming into Donington Race Track for their annual dose of bad food, warm beer and enough metal to have Lemmy reaching for the earplugs by Sunday evening.
Said jubilance continues past parents nervously dropping their kids off into a sea of black t shirts and cammo shorts, past the scummy touts seeking to hike the already exorbitant prices but stops dead at the front gate; where the most restrictive camping regulations ever witnessed are in full swing. Flammable materials, glass, metal cutlery and much loved bottles of booze are being confiscated left right and centre.
Having come perilously close to loosing my jar of peanut butter (which, if you are not Vegan I don’t expect you to understand!) my metal loving accomplice and I manage to emerge through the barriers unscathed and pick our way through field upon field of badly erected tents. We finally find a pitch by the perimeter fence, near a camp shop which appears to sell little other than fags, beer and porn. Something tells me Donington Park isn’t going to be making into the Camping and Caravanning Club brochure any time soon.
What the hallowed ground of Donington is world famous for however is playing host to the heaviest rock festival that England has to offer. If a metal band haven’t played here (more than once) some would argue that they ain’t really metal at all. So, as the rest of our 80,000 festival goers pour into the site, we head over to the main stage to see Buckcherry doing their best to get the frankly luke-warm crowd excited. Leaving as much of an impression as Lordi’s follow up to their Eurovision one hit wonder, it’s left to Hinder to try and pick up the momentum as I head to the Dimebag Darrell stage to catch the last couple songs by Latin nu-metallers Ill Nino who are on much better form than when they toured these shores last year, when they were mostly too stoned to care about singing or playing in tune.
It’s an altogether more jovial mood that welcomes Norwegian act Turbonegro to the stage. They are made up, dressed up and camped up to the max as they churn out crowd favourites such as All My Friends are Dead but judging by their navy attire wearing fanbase, and in keeping with their appearance; their songs don’t quite match the reality of their titles.
In the afternoon sunshine, Megadeth can be found thrashing their locks, tearing through their set, which is too heavily reliant upon demoing new material (a festival faux pas in my book) Unsurprisingly, most of this is lost on their denim clad patch wearing devotees who probably stopped buying their albums around the time that their Linkin Park loving teenagers were born, but they nevertheless raise a glass to their favourite angry, ginger shredder.
As obscure awards go, Job For a Cowboy undoubtedly take the prize for the most deceptively named band on the bill. The uninitiated, impulsive festival goers who had turned up expecting an emo set of the Taking Back Sunday ilk, are sent fleeing for their lives as this bunch of Yankee death metallers destroy the stage with sonic vomit. The guttural roars of frontman Johny Davy leave ears raw; while closing number Knee Deep sees the flailing limbs of the pit get crushed as fans surge forward, barking back unintelligible lyrics to a band who are far to good to all be under 20. This band will be huge, not simply for their musical aptitude, but because they can play some of the heaviest music on the planet and look like their actually enjoying themselves instead of posing with frowns throughout.
Meanwhile there are no such moniker related surprises on the main stage as Velvet Revolver kick off with some new tracks from their forthcoming Libertad album; leaving the crowd much in the same state as a balloon that has recently been popped. This is a band of amazing musicians who were surely made for playing gigs on this scale. Tonight though it seems to be just another date on the back of a tour shirt, with G’n’R covers forming fillers between their own, it’s not until tracks like Slither that get roars as far back as the rows of deckchairs on the hill.
Those of us who swiftly bore with the stock outing from the sun tanned veterans take our chances back over to the Tuborg stage to discover a band who will steal today’s show, across all stages, hands down. Hayseed Dixie are one part Bluegrass, one part Rock and three parts amazing dexterity on the fiddle, violin and banjo. They are in their front man’s own words; ‘The only band who will ever play Download AND the Cambridge Folk Festival!’
Were it not for the fact that Hayseed Dixie play renditions of rock and metal covers with hilarious accuracy, what sounds like the worst idea since giving Korn’s bassist Feildy a solo album probably would be; but as the dungaree wearing individuals tear through classics such as Ace of Spades, followed by a signature copy of Duelling Banjo’s, by the time the finale of Highway to Hell rings out from a steaming hot violin; the crowd are putty in their finger picking hands.
Drifting back past the main stage, a bunch of hyped young upstarts called My Chemical Romance are flailing around the place dressed in black attire, signing songs about how black the sky is to a (humiliatingly small) crowd of black clad screaming pre pubescent girls. Not feeling the need to waste my evening listening to the musical equivalent of mushy peas, or join in the significant number of rather twisted individuals who are intent on filling plastic receptacles with bodily fluids and hurtling them towards the stage; I continue to Dimebag stage to catch band who should have played here last year (and sort of did.)
As I arrive to seeKorn, Jonathan Davis is taking the time (in what seems like a particularly genuine tribute) to thank ‘all the fans who emailed and wrote to me, prayed for me and sent me love when I was sick.’. For those not in the loop, Mr. Davis was forced to leave his band mates in the lurch for Download 2006, when he was diagnosed with a near life threatening blood disorder. Now fully recovered and back on form, despite Korn being down to three original members, they appear to revel in their underdog status on the second stage tonight.
Got The Life receives an overwhelming response from the heaving sauna like tent, which is literally dripping condensation, while their regular partial cover of One ensure further crowd mayhem. Following some new material, sandwiched between plenty of hits, they return for the customary encore of Blind; and there is little doubt in everyone’s mind that if crowd attendance speaks for itself, the wrong band are on the main stage.
I cross to an altogether more positive experience at the Tuborg stage where punk/thrash (and now adoptively hardcore) legends, Suicidal Tendencies are dealing up their raucous brand of positivism and self belief, complete with those silly caps with upward peaks. Rivalling anything self-help guru Tim Robbins could churn out, enigmatic front man Mike Muir’s trademark blue bandana is oozing sweat as he instructs the masses to never settle for second best, to constantly strive to be a better person and other such posi-core messages. Take It provides the opportunity for mass participation in his message, while the darker theme of Church of Suicidal makes for a sobering dose of sarcasm directed at American Televangelists.
As the other stages wind down, crowds drift back to the main stage for what should have been the remaining half hour of My Chemical Romance, and many are (not so) disappointed to find that the pop rock princes have packed it all in prematurely. Perhaps under whelmed with the crowd they drew, or perhaps just tired of seeing their few rabidly devoted fans pelted to oblivion throughout the set; it’s not a ‘coolness’ problem, after all Gerard Way is pin up material for sure. It’s not a popularity problem either as two platinum discs will bear testament to. Perhaps it’s just that they were too bland an end to what was otherwise a smorgasbord of musical aperitifs on offer today, with the best still yet to come.