Download Is More Than Just A Festival, It Changed My Life
Fourteen years ago this month, I went to my first Download Festival, and it affected me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Growing up in the Midlands with little money and no access to seeing ‘big bands’ without travelling an hour or more to Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield etc, the idea of Download was like a dream. A hundred bands, none of which I’d seen before, all in one place with my mates. Yes please.
While Reading & Leeds is seen as the go-to festival for those who’ve just finished their A‑Levels, Download is the real ‘rite of passage’ festival for those who like it heavy (sorry Franz Ferdinand, but like hell was I missing Metallica). But we hadn’t even finished our A‑Levels, we were 16 and still studying, and as you’d expect from a four teenage boys left unsupervised for several days, we went feral.
Two crates of beer each, the odd bottle of spirits… and that’s about it. We had one fork between us, which was left standing up in the dirt overnight and dutifully babywiped clean each morning. Three of us crammed into one supposedly three-man tent, which swiftly developed a huge tear after my friend Spud ripped his way in one night frantically trying to find a condom. You might think this would leave us open to theft, but we realised that rock fans are the nicest bunch of people around. We left full, unopened crates of beer out overnight and woke up to find them untouched. Maybe our neighbours took pity on us for being so uncontrollably excited about the festival, but with good reason. It was during this weekend I learned so much about my relationship with rock music.
Seeing Enter Shikari on the MySpace stage is an experience that has stuck with me. Having never listened to them before, I was instantly hooked as frontman Rou Reynolds exploded onto the stage screaming ‘SHIT!’ as loud as possible, gasping as the tent opened up into a gigantic pit. Looking and sounding so radically different to what I was into at the time, I travelled to Derby and London to see them again in the months that followed. I’ve now seen them over 20 times.
Not all moments on that Friday were positive for me, musically. At 16 and primarily listening to Slipknot, Trivium, Metallica etc, I didn’t know who Tool were and walked straight past their main stage set. What. A. Fucking. Idiot. Now, over a decade later, I realise just how good they are. What’s more annoying is that 10,000 Days is my favourite Tool album – y’know, the one they were bloody touring in 2006! No idea who I went to see instead, probably Atreyu or something.
But it was the Saturday that really confirmed why I love heavy music. Spending the entirety of the day at the main stage in the baking heat, nothing could have beaten it. Having recently discovered Alice In Chains, seeing them perform Down In A Hole was like a religious awakening, and as a card-carrying Maggot, watching Corey Taylor in the flesh for the first time with Stone Sour was monumental. However, due to our youthful exuberance and insistence on pushing forward in the crowd all the time, my friends eventually lost each other, and I spent the rest of the day making new mates – something that only a festival like Download can deliver.
I crowdsurfed what felt like 50 rows during Avenged Sevenfold, I watched in awe as Korn performed with different vocalists, and I had an out of body experience watching Metallica for the first time. Everyone remembers the first time they saw Metallica, and I have only felt that high once since. So impactful was it, that once I made my way back to the campsite, I texted the girl I was seeing at the time and asked her out. Sure, we broke up two months later, but that’s what seeing Metallica at Download felt like. You could take on the world and do anything.
So many more moments from that weekend are etched into my brain: Max Cavalera performing Headup with Deftones, seeing Claudio from Coheed play the guitar behind his head (the first time I’d ever seen it happen), Dani Filth bringing a gimp onstage, the almighty bottle fights at the main stage that seemed to paint the sky black…
But it was also the first time that a band broke my heart. They’ve since redeemed themselves, but Guns N’ Roses at Download in 2006 was crap. Kerrang! gave it 0/5 in the magazine review, which still feels generous. Delays, moans, general non-commitment from the band and an apathetic/aggressive crowd – it ruined the Sunday night. But it couldn’t have ruined Download, nothing can ruin Download.
I can still remember everything about that festival, which is more than can be said for some. I remember the so-called Tree Of Death acting as a beacon back to our tents, I remember buying woollen ponchos in The Village and dancing like morons until 4am each night, I remember us all trying not to go number two all weekend for fear of the toilets, I remember my friend Ben leaving a raw sausage on another friend’s pillow (for which he rightly got annoyed), I remember my sun tan moving in the shower when I got home as it was actually a gloopy mixture of sun cream and dust… but above all I remember thinking, ‘I cannot wait for next year.’
And I still can’t. June 2021 can’t come soon enough.
This weekend Download Festival goes virtual with over 15 hours of live performances and much more. Find out more on the Download website.
Read this next:
KISS, Iron Maiden and Biffy Clyro have been announced as headliners for Download 2022, while this year’s edition of the festival has unfortunately been scrapped again.
On International Women’s Day, Bloodstock head honcho Vicky Hungerford shares her experiences of the music industry, why you should always back yourself and the importance of Sophie Lancaster’s legacy.