So… where can I get some good fish and chips? Review By Heather Laing
…somebody get me some brain bleach so I can forget that advert!
Download Festival 2023. A four (or five) day adventure around one of the biggest festivals in the UK, nestled in the gravel-coated grounds of Donnington Park with a side order of never-ending planes taking off from the nearby airport. The sun wouldn’t go away until it did and then it was freezing, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to forget the sound of the arena adverts playing in a loop throughout the day, and I left at stupid O’clock in the morning to try and avoid the traffic from hell while smelling worse than the campground toilets (and in case you’re wondering how they smelt …)
Yeah, Download was awesome.
Aside from the fact that I came away needing a bath full of Aftersun to ease the full body burns I’m still sporting alongside enough water to rehydrate the Sahara, I had an absolutely fantastic time and would easily recommend Download to anyone that is a fan of the alternative scene. This was truly one of a kind, and while I would expect nothing less for Download’s 20th anniversary, I think everyone that has attended or followed this year’s events would agree that this festival was like no other in the history of alternative music.
So to kick things off, let’s start with perhaps the best thing of all, the line-up. I mean, just look at this thing! Have you ever seen anything more beautiful? I don’t imagine I am the only person that was pretty much willing to sell their kidneys on the black market to pay for the tickets when this dropped, but to say I cried a little bit when they announced some of these bands genuinely wouldn’t be a lie. To have so many of the bands I had grown to love over the years, from my more recent love of Skindred and Architects to the first band I ever loved with Simple Plan (whom I might add, I had written off EVER seeing as they rarely seem to tour in the UK), and so many others like Bring Me The Horizon, Halestorm, I Prevail and Slipknot; it all just seemed like some crazy dream. We started strong on Thursday as we made our way into the arena for the first time, although I will say the walk from the purple camp to the security tents was pretty crappy after a day of hauling heavy carts full of camping equipment (something that I made significantly worse for myself as I took off on a side quest to find the press area where I would be working before the first act of the day). As the day progressed we were treated to a selection of outstanding performances from the incredibly talented Jinjer Halestorm State Champs Skindred and Alter Bridge before rounding off with the first night with the heavy metal legends Metallica. Now I’ve honestly not been able to pick a favourite performance from the entire line-up altogether as they were all brilliant in their unique ways, but I think the best moments of Thursday would have to go to Halestorm for drummer Arejay Hale’s hilarious (if not questionable) stick tricks and prop work, and Skindred as not only did they own the stage, but for also drawing in one of the biggest crowds of the festival even though they were scheduled to replace Five Finger Death Punch only a couple of weeks beforehand. If that’s not a testament to this band’s incredible talent and repertoire, then I don’t know what is. All I know is that they absolutely killed it on that stage and that I am grateful beyond words for getting to experience such an incredible show.
Friday rolled around and brought a new wave of rushing to the arena to catch Crawlers Pendulum Neck Deep Architects, and Bring Me The Horizon which made for a pretty varied set of performances. Now I already knew that Bring Me The Horizon was going to be phenomenal and I was not disappointed. Having probably the strangest opening out of everyone that performed this year, the band brought tracks from the old to the new much to the delight of the audience and myself. It was unique, it was funny, and I’m already eyeing up the tickets for their January tour with Bad Omens (Even if you did make me cry when you performed Lost. Rude!). However, I also want to pay homage to the other bands I had seen throughout the morning who were all brilliant and unique in their special way. Crawlers Neck Deep and Architects were clearly having just as much fun as their audience through the way they interacted with the crowd, and that’s something that I think every audience member values when they go to see a band they love so much on a live stage. Pendulum was also a really fun set to catch, and that’s coming from someone that’s not the biggest fan of their music. Don’t get me wrong, I like them just fine, but I’ve never really been big on the electronic scene. With that being said, they were something of a nice reprieve from the rock and heavy metal madness that built up the rest of the line-up, and I got to have the pleasure of watching my partner have a good time with his mates while I was the designated cup holder.
The sun fell and then rose, bringing the madness of Saturday, which hand on my heart is not an exaggeration for me. Today was the day that brought me Fever 333 Ice Nine Kills Motionless In White Three Days Grace Simple Plan and Disturbed, all bands that I know and love so very very much, so you can bet I was going to catch as much of every set as I possibly could. To be honest with you all, I’m not even going to try and pick a special shout-out or favourite moment from this day, because I physically can’t do it. I LOVE everyone that I was able to see today and all for so many different reasons, from the absolute chaos of Fever 333 and Ice Nine Kills to my very recent but unquestionable love of Disturbed and Motionless In White (even if Chris did choose to perform in a hoodie, bloody nutter!); to Three Days Grace and Simple Plan, two of the band’s I have adored since my very first dip into the alternative music scene way back in my teenage years, especially as a lover of all things Scooby-Doo! (What can I say, childhood me had excellent taste!).
And then along came Sunday. If you weren’t dead already, you were probably going to be by the end of this day (As if I wasn’t already walking back to the arena looking and smelling like a Walking Dead extra). But my group was determined to make it to the end and we were going out in style, making our way through the final line-up with performances from Bloodywood Lorna Shore I Prevail Parkway Drive Electric Callboy and Slipknot.
What can I possibly say that hasn’t already been said? Anyone who knows these bands knows that the Download crowd went nuts for every single one of them, with Lorna Shore even boasting the mosh pit that created the biggest dust cloud seen throughout the four-day festival. Bloodywood I Prevail and Parkway Drive were as amazing as always to see, holding nothing back despite the heat that was crippling everyone, and while I fear how much the electric bill must have come to after Electric Callboy’s performance, these guys lit up the Avalanche tent and gave us a supersonic performance (even if they really could have done with being on a bigger stage). All of this was, of course, building up to the big and final event of the night with one of the most beloved metal bands of all, Slipknot. And when I tell you the arena was packed, I mean it was PACKED! From the Apex stage barriers to the Ferris wheel and further, everyone was rammed in to catch a glimpse of perhaps the most anticipated band of the entire festival line-up, and the cheer that let out as the boys took to the stage literally shook the arena.
What a set they gave us! Bringing out so many of the great hits that we have come to know and love over the years, Slipknot took no prisoners as Corey Taylor demanded that we “Get the fuck up” and jump, mosh, headbang, and sing every word back toward the stage at the band, and we complied with passion. The crowd was alive, with everyone united under one band that has brought so much joy and happiness to so many people. It was a beautiful moment of connection between everyone there, and me, it reminded me exactly why I am so very proud to be a member of the alternative scene.
Another great element of Download that I think deserves all of the praise is the Village, because Jesus H Christ, this place was amazing. This place had everything from food & drinks to fashion, rides and fairground games, and even a podcast/comedy stage! I know for some, especially those that frequently travel to Download and Glastonbury this is probably very normal, but for me who only had Bloodstock as a comparison, the size and variety of every stall and attraction blew me away. To start with, I appreciated the variety of food vendors, including vegetarian and vegan options. All of the food was well made and usually a decent size portion, and while yes it was a little overpriced, it is one of those unfortunate things you have to deal with at a festival. I also really appreciated the addition of the Co-op food store as it provided access to refrigerated foods like fruits, veggies, cold meats, and even milk for teas and coffees. We all know how hard it is to have healthier foods at a festival, so having a store like this made it just that bit more possible to get some of those good vitamins and minerals amidst all the junk food and alcohol.
Secondly, there were a lot of shopping stalls open, including two second-hand clothing marques selling Oxfam and random clothing for cheaper prices. I can’t lie, this was probably one of the most impressive elements of the village for me, as we all know that merch, especially anything vintage, can be very pricey, so it was nice to see options for people that maybe didn’t have as much money, especially during the cost of living crisis.
Not only this but there were also big names like Disturbia and Mary Wyatt (located within the Download Superstore), as well as an enormous selection of merchandise from a variety of bands alongside the download classic pieces. Everything seemed well-made and built to last as usual, and I am very happy to say that a genuine effort seemed to have been made to incorporate as many sizes as possible, which is not always the case when it comes to concert/festival stalls that will try and stick to the most standard sizes to save space and shipping. This may sound silly to some, but it is a big relief to hear that a vendor has brought everything from sizes XS to XXXXXL. The alternative scene is meant to be for everybody and small moments of inclusion like that help to cement those ideals.
And now onto the part you all came here for, the tattoos. Holy hell did I see some incredible artwork at this festival!
I was very blessed to be able to hold interviews with a variety of different people during this festival, including some from bands and artists themselves as well as members of the public that were gracious enough to spare a few moments to talk with me. We spoke about everything from the origins of tattoos in the alternative scene, to the most embarrassing works they could think of, and even the advice they would give to someone who might be considering their first tattoo.
It was also really great to see Old Sarum Tattoo running the festival parlours (which I was very surprised to hear were offering piercings this year as well). It has certainly been a while since we last spoke at Bloodstock, and as per the norm, the manager Darren was ridiculously hard to catch as he remained mostly backstage tattooing the band members themselves. But as always the artists had put together an incredible set of flash pieces that I saw many people sporting as the festival days wore on, including everything from Bring Me The Horizon Ghost Slipknot Spooky and Macabre, and the Download dog himself in a variety of different styles. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to find the public arena tent in time to book myself in for a festival flash of my own.
Oh well. There’s always next year..