Download Festival is the spiritual home of rock and metal. The varied headliners this year ensured there was something for everyone. We’ve already covered the festival in our general review (check it out here) but now we delve into the bands on offer across the three days!
Hacktivist were a pleasant surprise. Following vocalist – and founder – Ben Marvin’s departure in January of this year, new vocalist Jot Maxi puts his all into hyping up a no doubt predominantly hung-over and sleep-deprived crowd in the band’s opening slot on The Main Stage. Their powerful bass and fusion of rapping and screaming cannot fail to rouse the crowd, and their cover of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Niggas in Paris is full of energy and much better live than I personally anticipated. Hacktivist do their best to pack their thirty-five-minute set and leave the stage with their heads held high.
It’s a trip all the way to the other end of the arena to the Avalanche Stage for Swedish pop-rockers Normandie. A quartet who’s frontman Philip Strand has an unbelievable vocal range which was shown off in true style. There’s a rendition of new single Ghost which was preceded by a speech dedicating the track for the broken and for the lost. For an 11am set on the Saturday and the fact they clash with Hacktivist, there is a good crowd who, as hungover and/or sleep-deprived as they may have been, were singing along to every word, especially closing track Collide.
All weekend the Callous Heart was a surprisingly frequent sight around Download. Taking to The Main Stage, Southampton horror punk band Creeper drew an impressive crowd at midday. Relentless energy from the sextet was prevalent through their whole set, and there was, of course, many a hair-flip from Will. One highlight of the weekend was the crowd’s eagerness to obey the command of instigating circle pits to Suzanne, which continued way past the triumphant chorus. A far cry from the punchy choruses of other hits in the set such as Hiding with Boys, VCR and Black Rain, Creeper elect to close their set with the hauntingly beautiful I Choose to Live, the closing track from debut album Eternity in Your Arms. With frontman Will out on the walkway for most of the song, the crowd raise their collective voice to the grey midlands sky and follow him word for word. With watery eyes and cracking voices all around, Callous Hearts may not break, but I would not hesitate to suggest that a few in the crowd came close.
It’s a run up to the Dogtooth Stage for the first time of the weekend for Welsh pop-punk trio Junior. A busy tent is the scene for the energetic trio as they play tracks including A House That’s Not Quite Home and new single Veronica, their masked tour manager comes out to cover former The Blackout frontman Sean Smith’s vocals on Fall To Pieces. A staple in Junior’s set is the limbo competition which makes an appearance on a much larger scale, including the participation of WWE NXT wrestlers No Way Jose and Wolfgang Young. Once we think the set is over and the band start to make their way off stage, we’re treated to what has to be the most memorable and best way to end a Download set as WWE NXT UK champion Pete Dunne makes an appearance on stage and attacks Junior bassist/vocalist Mark Andrews (aka NXT wrestler Mandrews) ahead of their title fight later in the evening, although in true style Mandrews gets his own back with a shooting star press off the stage.
Main stage sees the first performance in the UK of Of Mice & Men without Austin Carlile and they did not disappoint! It was odd to see the band as a quartet, however, you could see that the strength of the band is much more than just one person. Unbreakable, the first single as a quartet, sounds incredible live and Aaron Pauley slips into main vocalist duties really well.
Pierce The Veil take to main stage like a duck to water and from start to finish, the crowd were loving the set (okay maybe I lied a bit, they weren’t loving the end because it was the end). Tracks like Caraphernalia and Circles sound note perfect and every word is screamed back at the quartet.
AFI were one of the bands that almost everyone I spoke to at the festival were looking forward too, myself included, however, I was disappointed with the lack of crowd interaction from frontman Davey Havok. At a festival, you ned some form of interaction even if it’s just the odd song title or two but for the duration of the set that I saw (which was a good 35 minutes) there was none. While for me, that did let me down a little bit, I cannot deny that I still really enjoyed the set with the great guitar work and top notch vocals throughout tracks including Aurelia, The Leaving Song Pt II and Snow Cats. There is no denying that Davey is a great showman and can work the stage well, I just wish that there was some crowd interaction.
Floridians A Day to Remember take to the stage as the heavens finally threaten to open fully over the festival usually dubbed ‘Drownload’. The weather holds, though, and the band power through sixteen tracks, including all the crowd favourites, and five tracks from new album Bad Vibrations. As expected with ADTR shows, there are crowd-surfers and mosh-pits galore, but the comradery of Download prevails and friendships are forged throughout the crowd – particularly when the emotions of classic sing-along If It Means a Lot to You reverberate through thousands of fans. It’s no surprise when the quintet end with the high-energy The Downfall of Us All, and the crowd go wild, chanting the opening lines for frontman McKinnon; it isn’t difficult to see why they return to Download’s bill every other year.
A trip to watch the wrestling’s evening show meant that there was less of a trek to the Avalanche Stage for Simple Plan. The tent was packed and a tonne of hits including Welcome To My Life and Summer Paradise are powered through and show fully why Simple Plan are still one of the best in the business. The crowd are involved throughout, jumping around, opening pits and doing whatever frontman Pierre Bouvier wants.
“Download, I see smoke, are you high?!” Screams Rob Zombie before launching into In The Age Of The Consecrated Vampire We All Get High, a definite highlight of the set. The crowd are into it from start to finish and how can you not be as hits including Living Dead Girl and Well, Everybody’s Fucking In A UFO as well as White Zombie classic More Human Than Human and even covers of The Ramones’ Blitzkreig Bop and Alice Cooper’s Schools Out (which is very apt considering the amount of students who will have just finished their exams).
Many people questioned Scottish three piece Biffy Clyro’s status as headliners this year. As usual, the three men are naked from the waist-up, and I must say that Simon Neil’s trousers almost – almost! – stole the show. That being said, however, Biffy certainly proved the nay-sayers wrong, and hold their own, even playing some heavier songs from their earlier repertoire to accommodate the tone of Download. They are unapologetically themselves nonetheless, and still play the poppy Mountains and Many of Horror, both from 2009 album Only Revolutions, of which we are treated to four further tracks. Towards the end of the night, Simon leads the crowd in a powerful sing-along rendition of Sunday headliner’s Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing and treat the crowd to a spectacular firework show over the main stage as Stingin’ Belle comes to a close. Mon the Biff!