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Sunday, 19 June 2016

A View From The Muddy Field: Download 2016 (Review By Paul)

Download 2016

Day 1

Ah, Castle Donington. The “spiritual home” of the rock festival since 1980 when Rainbow, Scorpions, April Wine and Saxon got the ball rolling. Move forward 36 years and whilst the location remains the same, little else is comparable to those halcyon days of the 1980s. These days Download is an unwieldy corporate cash whore, a five day marathon focused on fleecing the punter of as much cash as possible for as little reward. Extortionate food and drink prices, far too few toilets and nowhere to shelter from sun or rain (more of that shortly) along with a percentage of the crowd who are clearly intent on getting rat arsed for five days to the detriment of any poor sod who happens to wander up next to them during a set. As for the camping, well those days are long behind me at this particular venue but anyone who has survived the various fields surrounding the mud-fucked Village carries the scars of a war of total attrition.

However, despite all this, Download manages to pull in the best part of 100,000 fans every year and they do that because they have the muscle to put together a mainstream metal and rock bill which always looks brilliant on paper. This year was no exception with the behemoths of Rammstein, Sabbath and Maiden topping a beefy bill with a tasty undercard. The line-up was sufficient to encourage six of us to part with our readies and secure a hotel about 30 minutes away for the weekend. Two weeks of wall to wall sunshine meant our hopes were high as we left South Wales on Friday morning. We made great time and managed to get a couple of swift beers in before our taxi arrived. Two hours later due to some incredibly heavy traffic we finally got onto the site, already having missed RavenEye and Royal Republic but hoping to catch Graveyard and for four of our party, the bizarre phenomenon of BabyMetal. Grabbing a beer (a mere £5 a pint) and a steak sandwich (£8) Matt and I took up position for Gothenburg’s psychedelic 70s rockers Graveyard (7). Three songs later and all hell had broken loose; rain and hail of biblical proportions swept across the fields, soaking all through to the skin and destroying the credibility of quite a few waterproof manufacturers in the process. Graveyard were forced to bring their set to a close due to the torrent pouring on the stage and on the main stage the Japanese schoolgirls hadn’t even ventured out.

So dripping wet and faced with over ten hours to go, with the tents immediately full to bursting which at least gave some of the smaller acts the biggest crowds they’ll ever play to, we suffered about ten minutes of BabyMetal (4). If this is the future of the metal scene then I’m off to buy a Beyonce release. I just don’t get it. However, many thousands do and Gimme Chocolate! prompted one of the biggest responses of the day, lots of squealing and jumping up and down from grown men as the backing band riffed away and the three young girls went through their choreographed routine. Meh!

Meanwhile three of our party headed back to the Encore Stage for Skillet (8) who by all accounts put on an excellent set which made the rain slightly less of an issue. Now I’m not a fan of Killswitch Engage (7), and in particular the misogynistic idiot of a guitarist whose vile comments about the fairer sex show what a tool he is, but their latest release contains some really decent tunes, if a bit similar and in My Curse, Rose Of Sharyn and The End Of Heartache they have three stomping songs. Putting in a huge amount of effort, the band got the riffs flying and if Adam could just shut his mouth I might have given them an 8.

As the rain showers continued to soak all around to the skin and the sales of £3 ponchos escalated quickly, we sheltered at the edge of one of the pitifully few gazebos situated around the site and grabbed a quick beer before the unmistakable sound of Motörhead came from the main stage. Oh yes, the Lemmy Stage and the Motorhead tribute. We scurried across to find nothing more than a montage of clips playing on the screens, some footage of previous Motörhead at Download and some extracts from Lemmy: The Movie. Disappointed doesn't really capture how we felt and by now we'd also missed the opportunity to catch Kadavar on the third stage. 

The majority of our crew were never going to leave the main stage for the special guest slot as it was Bakersfield nu-metal pioneers Korn. However, Matt and I headed for the tent where we had some respite from the rain. Every rain cloud has a silver lining and The Wildhearts (9) proved to be just that. Now I've never been that much of a fan of Ginger and his band but serving up a greatest hits package of easy to singalong to songs proved a solid move. With the dedicated following singing every word, the rain was forgotten for an hour and a fun time was had by all. Ideal for such occasions.

Jonathan Davies and crew were in full swing as we headed back out to the sodden main stage. Korn (8) always deliver a good show and this was no exception. Arriving in time to hear shoots and Ladders blasting out, the band hit hard and heavy with a classic set list. Placing Blind mid-set was genius, picking up the momentum for the run in which featured Twist, Y’all Want A Single, Did My Time and a massive Freak On A Leash which incited some fantastic shapes from two gents nearby who clearly didn't give a shit about the mud. It's no wonder Korn return year after year. Their appeal transcends genres and live they really do give it everything.

As the rains eased slightly, we regrouped before splitting again to take up positions for the headline event. Rammstein (8) never put on a poor performance and with their stage design combined with the copious amounts of pyro they use, anticipation was high. Now, maybe the rain had dampened the spirits, maybe our position to the right of the sound tower and the ever crackling speaker (thanks Korn for blowing that!) also contributed but the Germans were ever so slightly flat. I've seen them a number of times and their cold approach is part of the act. Tonight they appeared distant and going through the motions a little bit too much. Set list wise, no complaints. A smattering of tracks from across the albums included a rare outing for Zerstoren from Rosenrot, opener and new track Ramm 4, and a welcome return for the title track from Reise Reise. as well as six tracks from Mutter, including the expected Feuer Frei! Complete with pyro frenzy and first encore Sonne which ignited the crowd once more. A bonus for me was the Depeche Mode cover Stripped which Rammstein deliver so well. Rammstein on an off day is still an incredible spectacle and Till Lindemann remains a captivating frontman, his presence intimidating and yet welcoming. The band are heavy as fuck live, with the industrial riffs of Richard Kruspe and Christian Lorenz crushing. The band finished in fine style though with an acoustic Ohne Dich and a captivating Engel sparking a firework eruption. The end of day 1 and a chance to regroup and dry out. 

Day 2

Given the shit forecast we decided to push our departure from the hotel back by a few hours and instead took advantage of our location to do some emergency shopping for wellies and waterproofs. Arriving in the now totally swamped arena just after 2.30, Sixx AM (7) were going through the motions on the main stage. Nikki Sixx and co are an average outfit but with the sun trying to come out they were ideal fare for the early afternoon. The action hotted up somewhat with a storming set from Rival Sons (9), whose new album Hollow Bones had landed just a couple of days earlier. The band's set was based heavily on tracks from the new release which made sense to me. You've got a new album? Then promote it. Enigmatic front man Jay Buchanan is captivating, all Percy and Tyler with a voice to die for. It's guitarist Scott Holiday who really catches the eye though, effortlessly demonstrating his chops with some superb playing. Rival Sons continue to climb and if you like their 1970s tinged hard rock, check them out at your earliest convenience.

Dave Mustaine has never been short of confidence and his latest line up has delivered one of the year’s best releases in Dystopia. Sadly no Chris Adler in the drum seat at Download due to his LOG commitments in the US. Soilwork’s Dirk Veubeuren is the latest incumbent of the drum stool and doing a fine job too. Megadeth (8) have plenty in the locker, opening with the never boring Hanger 18, Mustaine, long serving bassist Dave Ellefson and newish guitarist Kiko Lourerio kicked ass over their hour long set, mixing old classics with a decent smattering off Dystopia. We were also treated (if that's the right word) to a cover of Anarchy In The UK with Nikki Sixx popping up on bass and backing vocals. I'm never sure whether this kind of thing is meant to be a treat for fans or not but it fuels the ego of those on stage. I'd have preferred another Megadeth track to be honest. Typically, as the final stains of Holy Wars concluded a pretty sharp set and Mr Mustaine had asked us all to “drive safely … we want to see you again” the heavens began to open again. A gut churning presentation to wrestler Triple H for some Metal Hammer pointless award turned into a promotion for the wrestler’s NXT outfit who were performing on site. Yawn.

Ed - Myself and fairer member of our crew avoided Megadave and his smugness to check out the UK reunion show of Juliette And The Licks (8) who have happily become a going concern again after six years. Fronted by Hollywood A-Lister Juliette Lewis the five piece came to the stage and immediately kicked off the set with some hip shaking garage rock n roll with dual bluesy guitars and a punk rock attitude. The focal point of the band is obviously Lewis decked out in a Evil Knievel catsuit she has more energy than singers half her age, she commands the stage and uses her sexuality as a weapon to bewitch the crowd with tales of love, regret and a right on Feminist punch to the jaw. the set featured old and new songs the best of which were brand new track Hard lovin Woman which featured six string fireworks from her two amazing guitarists before breaking down into the outro of Whole Lotta Love complete with the "Way Down Inside" part done beautifully. With such a live fire and of course a sassy powerful vocal the set was a joy to behold as big hit Hot Kiss led into a cover of CCR's Proud Mary ending the set strongly. Having only seen J&TL once many years ago I was heartened to see that they had not lost a beat. From one wild frontperson to another Paul picks up where he left off:   

As the mud turned into soup and everything got even wetter than you thought possible, a decision was needed. Deftones or Newport’s finest, the mighty Skindred. Well, I don't get any buttons pushed by Deftones so it was off across the Somme to find a decent vantage point on the second stage. If there is a live band that can make you forget how miserable the weather is then it's Skindred (9). An hour long set contained everything you needed and the band played it as if they were the headliners. Massive anthems, much swearing, crowd participation from the off and even a bit of Justin Bieber and Metallica thrown in. Skindred live remain irresistible and the smiles around the field as soaking wet punters tore off their shirts to participate in the Newport Helicopter during set closer Warning was fantastic. It's only a matter of time before these boys get right to the top of the tree.

By now the place had physically become a joke. Wheelchair users were reliant on kind hearted able bodied fans to navigate across the site and we saw several disabled fans being rescued by their fellow metal heads from the totally appalling conditions. A huge river of mud ran down the centre of the arena, and with the churn making the walk underfoot treacherous a number of people fell covering themselves. The toilets were just unreal and so few in number that men and women alike took to urinating where they stood. Yes, I know that this is what happens when torrential rain occurs but so little preparation or reaction made it very unpleasant. Limited hay laid, no chippings or boarding and overall just a bit of a shambles. Download were very keen to point out their giant statues and dog head which adorned the field but I'd say spend the cash on some shelters for your customers instead.

9.00pm and with the rain still hammering down the tolling of the bell signalled the start of the set for day two headliners Black Sabbath (6). As the first huge chords of Black Sabbath thundered across the arena, it was impossible not to get a tingle down the spine. This had been billed as the final UK appearance by Ozzy, Tony and Geezer to the extent that earlier in the day there were t-shirts proclaiming this on the merchandise stand. By now of course we'd all seen that an arena tour is scheduled for 2017 (save your cash folks £100 is too much). As Ozzy mumbled his way through a ponderous After Forever you wondered what is left in the Sabbath tank. The first half of the set saw Ozzy struggle vocally, although I'm led to believe that he had some monitor and ear-piece issues. Although he's never been a good singer, tonight Ozzy was poor. Long gaps between songs and very little real interaction with the crowd, it was hard not to view the band as a bloated dinosaur whose cessation is long overdue. In comparison to their show at the NEC under two years previously, this had a real feel of going through the motions. Iommi and Butler still churn out the doom, and Tommy Clufetos does a decent job behind the skins and when the second half got into gear it was truly magical to see the forefathers of metal letting rip. The set list, with the exception of Snowblind and a horrible Dirty Women was culled entirely from the first three albums and this was a huge disappointment for me. No Hole In The Sky, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Symptom Of The Universe or Never Say Die and nothing from their final release 13. Obviously Iron Man and set closer Children Of The Grave were epic and Paranoid never fails to get you moving but overall this was an unsatisfying finale to a magical journey. Thanks for the music and memories, now retire gracefully.

And that is the end of our Download 2016. The miserable weather broke us and as the rain teemed down once more on Sunday morning and the Twitter feed revealed four hour waits to park the car, we choose to exercise our right not to stand in six inches of mud, soaked to the skin for 12 hours … and we fucked off home. There will be no more weekends at Download. It's just too unwieldy and difficult. The contempt given by some of the security was staggering (watching stewards telling customers to “fuck off” in the car park for example). The facilities for such a large event were worse than I've experienced for many years and when you are a BOA veteran, you realise that your spiritual home actually isn't Castle Donington; it's Catton Hall. (Amen - Ed)

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