Download Festival 2017 (9-11/06/17)

Download 2017

I attended Download for the first time last year, and despite the ridiculous levels of mud I loved it. Thankfully, this year was a drier, with only a couple of rain showers over the weekend. It made it possible for me to see even more bands than I did last year, so buckle up!

Friday:

I didn’t intend to see Motionless in White. In fact, I’d planned on being as far away from their set as physically possible. Unfortunately, the queue was let in as their set started: not only did it mean I’d missed Northlane’s opening set, it meant I had no choice but to hear Motionless in White.

Vocalist Chris Cerulli told the crowd that people had been asking him how they were going to make their set special. Because they were on so early in the day, they couldn’t have lights or pyro: it wouldn’t have been noticeable. He revealed that instead they’d decided to perform the live debut of ‘Necessary Evil’. Being unfamiliar with the song, I was intrigued… But that interest quickly dissipated when I realised they were using a cliched sample of Leslie Gore’s ‘It’s My Party’. Yawn.

I know they’re not that bad, but they’re just not my cup of tea. Their music is far too generic, and it baffles me that they’ve managed to get this far. They’ve announced that they’re touring the UK next January, playing venues bigger than I can comprehend.

Setlist:

Rats
Devil’s Night
Eternally Yours
Abigail
Necessary Evil
Loud (Fuck It)
Reincarnate

Holding Absence

Welsh quintet Holding Absence have been a band for less than a year. Within six months of forming they were signed by Sharptone Records, and they’ve been on my radar ever since. It’s not often that a band experiences this level of success so soon after their conception, so their set quickly became one of my most anticipated of the weekend.

‘Dream of Me’, one of two tracks they released to announce their signing, received a very impressive reaction. Vocalist Lucas Woodland stepped back, letting the crowd sing for him. Judging by the look on his face he wasn’t expecting a reception like that, but the songs they’re writing deserve a loyal fanbase. Closer ‘Penance’ is particularly skillful: I haven’t been able to stop listening to the powerfully atmospheric track since they released it mere days after the festival. The songs they’re writing sound as though they’re coming from a band who’ve been together for a decade – things can only get better from here.

When Lucas announced “This has been a band called Holding Absence”, the yells that echoed around the tent showed they’re already adored. The Welsh rock scene has taken a hit in recent years, following the demise of a slew of hardcore bands including Funeral For a Friend and The Blackout. Holding Absence are taking advantage of the recently opened gap in the market, and though they’ve got big boots to fill they’re more than capable of doing it. This band has an extremely bright future ahead of them, and I’m going to be with them every step of the way.

Holding Absence are playing shows across the UK in July and August before supporting Young Guns in September. If you can go to one of those shows, you’re definitely not going to regret it.

Setlist:

Godsend
Permanent
Dream of Me
Everything
Penance

I didn’t expect Sabaton to be funny, but frontman Joakim Broden was filled with witticisms. “We only have 40 minutes, so I’m going to make the ultimate sacrifice,” he announced. “I’m going to shut the fuck up!”. Of course, the Swede couldn’t resist making a jab at the British weather, saying, “In twelve years of coming to the UK, this is only the second time we’ve seen the sun!”. Their music was forgettable, but at least Joakim’s jokes stick in your mind.

Machine Gun Kelly aka MGK

By all rights, MGK should have been bottled during his set. Yes, he’s collaborated with bands in the rock scene in the past, but he’s been storming the charts since he released ‘Bad Things‘ (his collaboration with ex-Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello).

Surprisingly, instead of being a train wreck, his set was a storming success. MGK is a true crossover artist: not only can he hit the mainstream, he can also get an entire field of metalheads bouncing around and throwing their horns up to his brand of rock-infused rap. Through ‘Alpha Omega’ and ‘Golden God’, not a single person in the crowd stood still. With the sun beating down and MGK owning the stage, the scene was a far from Download festival as you could possibly imagine.

One thing you can say about MGK – also known as Machine Gun Kelly – is that he’s humble. He’s been releasing music for over a decade, and seems unable to believe that he’s finally getting the recognition that he deserves. “We’ve been around for a long time, but we’re new to the festival scene,” he said. “To all the people who haven’t seen us before and are taking time out of their day, it means more to us than you can understand.”

Not only did MGK’s music appeal to the Download crowd, his personality shone on the big stage. Talking about his plans to get breakfast after his set, he shared, “I haven’t ate anything except for beer. It’s a healthy gentleman’s breakfast!”. The crowd roared their approval, causing him to shoot a cheeky grin at his fellow band mates. If there’s one thing a Download festival-goer appreciates, it’s beer.

From covering Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, to singing ‘Bad Things’ with a fan in the front row of the crowd and playing acoustic ballad ‘Let You Go’, nothing was predictable about MGK’s set. I loved him when I saw him at Reading festival last year, and I love him more now. MGK is touring the UK in September: you’ll be an idiot to miss those shows.

Setlist:

Wild Boy
Alpha Omega
Golden God
At My Best
Wonderwall cover
Bad Mother Fucker
Sail
Paris
EST 4 Life
Bad Things
Let You Go
Till I Die

Issues

I have so many questions about Issues‘ set.

First of all, why were they introduced as “new music” on the Kerrang! Fresh Blood stage? Issues have been a band for five years. They’ve released two full-length albums, two EPs and built a pretty hardcore fan base by relentlessly touring during that time. The tent was packed, and most of the crowd were singing along to every word. None of that screams “new music” to me, and a lot of brand new bands appeared over the weekend who needed Kerrang!’s backing.

Secondly, was screamer Michael Bohn ill? I’ve seen Issues a fair few times in the past, and they’ve never sounded this dreadful before. Granted, I haven’t heard much of the material from sophomore album ‘Headspace’ before, but it seems as though Michael has a bigger part to play on their new album. Tyler Carter’s distinctive vocal is taking a backseat, and though he shone on older tracks ‘Never Lose Your Flames’ and ‘Mad At Myself’, he was unnecessary during ‘Blue Wall’ and ‘The Realest’. With Michael hardly audible, his voice grating and him seeming to struggle more with every moment they were on stage, their set wasn’t a success.

Setlist:

Blue Wall
COMA
Never Lose Your Flames
The Realest
Mad At Myself
Slow Me Down
Hooligans

State Champs

Vocalist Derek DiScanio announced on stage that this is State Champs last tour of the year. The quintet are off to the studio to make their highly anticipated third album, and they refused to go out quietly.

The last time I saw State Champs play a full set, I was hardly familiar with them. Since then I’ve seen them a couple of times, so I knew their set was going to be endlessly fun. This was their first time playing Download festival, which Derek described as “one for the books for us”, and they certainly made an impact with their forty-minute stage time.

The majority of the material that they played was from second full-length album, ‘Around the World and Back’. Bonus track ‘Slow Burn’, their most recently released single, received a great response, but you couldn’t beat the reaction to hit singles ‘All You Are Is History’ and ‘Secrets’. The movement didn’t stop during the entirety of their set, but I couldn’t count the amount of crowdsurfers sailing over people’s heads during those two. If they can write more songs in that vein, album three is going to be very exciting indeed.

Setlist:

Remedy
Losing Myself
Shape Up
Eyes Closed
Slow Burn
All You Are Is History
Simple Existence
Perfect Score
Elevated
Secrets

I didn’t see much of Prophets of Rage‘s set, but I can tell you one thing for certain: they have a formula. I walked past their stage on the way to Good Charlotte and on the way back to Sleeping With Sirens, and it sounded like the exact same song every single time. They only have one original song, and the rest of their set was packed with covers from their previous bands, but they were still structured exactly the same.

If it works, it works… But I expected something a bit more from a collaboration of such legendary artists.

Sleeping With Sirens

Sleeping With Sirens were not the right band to headline this stage. Due to clashing with Good Charlotte, their crowd was under half the size that State Champs received merely an hour before them, and it hadn’t grown much by the end of their set.

Despite having a minuscule audience, they still poured their hearts and souls into the performance. They made the effort to shake up their setlist, bringing back ‘Fly’ and ‘A Trophy Father’s Trophy Son’, and played two acoustic tracks (after asking the crowd to choose one and deciding to do both anyway).

One thing’s for sure, frontman Kellin Quinn’s signature cockiness seemed to have taken a hit. I’ve never seen him acting this subdued while up on stage. He still hit all the high notes with ease, swaggering from one side of the stage to the other, but something felt off. It didn’t help that he wasn’t sure whether they were allowed to leave the stage before performing their two song encore: after announcing their last song, he had to swallow his words, saying “I don’t know if we’re supposed to walk off after this song or not, so I suppose we’re playing three more songs…”.

There was a poignant moment, though, while Kellin was introducing ‘Better Off Dead’. As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s been an increasing amount of terror attacks across the UK and Europe over the past couple of months. Kellin addressed this, saying, “In this crazy world we live in right now, I just wanna say that I’m not afraid to be here and stand right here with you guys. The one things they can take from you is to make you afraid and strike fear in your heart. But I’m not afraid, because I’ve got my family right here”.

It was surprising that they didn’t choose to perform any new material in their set. The band haven’t exactly been quiet about the fact that they recently finished their fifth full-length album. If they had, I think it definitely would have drawn more people into their tent. They’ve been touring ‘Madness’ extensively for over two years now, so anyone who wanted to see them had probably done so already.

Setlist:

If You Can’t Hang
Congratulations
Better Off Dead
Fly
Go Go Go
We Like It Loud
A Trophy Father’s Trophy Son
The Strays
Scene Two: Roger Rabbit (acoustic)
Iris (acoustic)
Here We Go
If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn
Do It Now, Remember It Later
Kick Me

I didn’t stick around for much of Good Charlotte or Sum 41, because once you’ve seen them once you’ve seen them a thousand times. Both bands seemed to be playing the same setlists I experienced on their recent headline tours, which was surprising: for bands who have such extensive back catalogues, you’d think they could shake things up a little bit! I can’t speak for their entire set, but the beginnings of both were utterly predictable.

That being said, Good Charlotte’s crowd seemed much bigger than Sum 41’s. They deserved to headline this stage. Trust me: someday soon, they will be.

System of a Down

If I had to choose just one word to describe System of a Down‘s set it would be: startling. I’d forgotten just how weird they were. By the time it got to the end of ‘The Prison Song’, I was seriously questioning my decision to leave Sum 41 so early. Their first three songs were filled with discordant noise and high-pitched shrieking, leaving me utterly confused.

I’ll be honest, I only wanted to hear the big songs. I was excited about ‘Violent Pornography’, ‘Chop Suey!’ and ‘Toxicity’, but other than that I was apathetic towards them as a headliner. Vocalists Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian both have unique, unforgettable voices, but I’ve always found my attention wavering when Daron’s in the forefront. Something about his slightly droning tone – most noticeable on ‘Lost in Hollywood’ – sends me straight to sleep, grating my ears and making me feel oddly uncomfortable.

That being said, I stuck it out and ended up enjoying myself far more than I’d anticipated. Serj is a born frontman, and while he didn’t interact with the crowd – or really move around onstage at all – he was still captivating. There’s a reason this band is still able to headline festivals twelve years after their last album was released, and he’s a huge part of it.

I’m glad System of a Down headlined, because it was interesting to be able to hear the songs I’ve grown up listening to in an environment like this. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to get away without releasing new material for much longer, though.

Setlist:

Soldier Side (intro)
Suite-Pee
Prison Song
Violent Pornography
Aerials
Mind (intro)
Mr. Jack
DDevil
Needles
Deer Dance
Radio/Video
Hypnotize
Dreaming (middle breakdown)
Pictures
Highway Song
Darts
Bounce
Suggestions
Psycho
Chop Suey!
Lost in Hollywood
Question!
Lonely Day
Kill Rock ‘n Roll
War?
B.Y.O.B.
DAM
Cigaro
Toxicity
Sugar

I will admit, I know hardly anything about System of a Down, so I’ve gotten a lot of this information from setlist.fm. Please let me know if anything is inaccurate!

Saturday:

Creeper

I have a love/hate relationship with Creeper. The first time I saw them I was impressed, but the tracks that makes up their debut album leave me cold. I still enjoyed ‘Black Mass’ and ‘VCR’, which stood out amongst the repetitiveness of their set, but overall I found myself disenchanted with the Southampton horror punks.

Vocalist Will Gould seems to be overly reliant on his flamboyant showmanship to impress, hardly bothering at all with the actual singing. It was difficult to understand anything that he was saying during ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Poison Pens’, his slurred words seeming lazy. The only positive aspect is that it helped co-vocalist Hannah Greenwood shine. Her voice is the best thing about Creeper, and they’d be smart if they utilised her more going forward.

Creeper need to stop using gimmicks to get attention, and start focusing on their music. Following the story of the disappearance of James Scythe, they’ve now announced the ‘Theatre of Fear’ headline tour, which is being promoted as an “ambitious project”. If you have to rely on productions and plots to please your fans, you’re not releasing strong enough music.

Setlist:

Black Rain
Poison Pens
Black Mass
Suzanne
VCR
Misery
Down Below
I Choose To Live

Things got hectic over at Raveneye‘s set. I only caught a couple of their songs, but arrived to hear guitarist and vocalist Oli Brown yell, “I think I broke my hand! Haha, rock ‘n’ roll…”. Certainly one way to make an impact with their set. Looks like Oli’s trying to follow in the footsteps of Dave “I think I broke my leg!” Grohl.

Meanwhile, Trash Boat‘s set was rowdy as hell. With explosive moshpits and countless numbers of crowdsurfers, it couldn’t get any more energetic. Patty Walters of As It Is appearing on their final song didn’t add much to their set, but this is definitely going to go down in history as one of the best shows Trash Boat have played.

Junior

Junior have rapidly gained attention thanks to their vocalist/bassist, WWE’s Mark Andrews. Download teamed up with WWE NXT last year and decided to bring it back in 2017, so Junior were destined to be added to the line-up.

The Welsh trio are playing a show in Swindon, my hometown, tonight, so I’m planning on reviewing their full set later. However, I couldn’t resist mentioning how brilliant their performance of ‘That Pretty Dress’ was. The song is unbearably catchy with it’s “You’re a nice girl but you love to lie” refrain, but the band made it unforgettable. Halfway through, vocalist/guitarist Matt Attard paused the song, getting the crowd to split in half. Moments later a cable was pulled across the gap, and Matt introduced Junior’s “International Limbo Competition!”. As fans surged forwards to take part, the band looked overwhelmed with the response. For their first appearance at Download festival, they were extremely well-received.

It won’t come as a shock to you that their tent was full of wrestling fans. Mark uses ‘Fall To Pieces’ as his intro music, so anyone who’s seen him wrestle will be familiar with at least one of Junior’s song. At the end of their set, Pete Dunne (aka Bruiserweight) appeared, flaunting his championship belt for all to see. The boos that echoed round the tent were louder than the reaction to Junior’s set, which proves just how involved wrestling fans are! Within moments, Mark was flipping off of the stage, crashing down on top of him. It was definitely a great way to advertise the wrestling matches held throughout the weekend: I ended up watching one on Sunday, which was an experience I’ll never forget!

Setlist:

A House That’s Not Quite Home
If I Had The Time, I’d Tell You I’m Not Sorry
Veronica
That Pretty Dress
“I’m Your Boyfriend Now, Nancy!”
Fall To Pieces

Alestorm should have been on the main stage. I only saw a couple of their songs – specifically ‘Drink’ and ‘Fucked With an Anchor’ – but they had one of the biggest crowds I saw all weekend. The amount of people dressed up as pirates was astounding: I’d thought their brand of pirate metal was rather niche, but their set was a highlight of the weekend. I want to see them performing much higher on the line-up in the future.

Of Mice and Men

This was Of Mice and Men‘s first UK appearance since the departure of founding member Austin Carlile. I had doubts before their set. Yes, Aaron Pauley is a brilliant vocalist, but Austin was the showman. He was the one you couldn’t tear your eyes away from.

During opening track ‘Bones Exposed’, I thought my apprehensions had been confirmed. The lengthy opening growl which should pack a punch didn’t sound powerful coming from Aaron’s mouth. It was a risky song to start with, and though it showed Aaron wasn’t allowing the songs to intimidate him, it opened their set with more of a whimper than a bang.

After that, though, Aaron more than proved himself. ‘Would You Still Be There?’ has always focused on his vocal, so for a moment it felt as though nothing had changed. That feeling cropped up again and again during their set, particularly during new tracks ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Back To Me’, which were released after Austin’s exit. Aaron owned the vocal on heavier tracks ‘Public Service Announcement’ and ‘The Depths’, and even made me enjoy ‘Pain’, which until now has been the only Of Mice and Men song that I’ve hated.

“You guys understand the importance of rock ‘n’ roll,” Aaron said, towards the end of their set. “That we’re family. […] That this shit outlives all of us.” The crowd obviously agreed, based on their insane reaction to the closer: Alestorm’s pirate spirit was alive and well, so a huge group of people decided to row for their final song.  It was the closest they came to addressing their missing member, but Aaron was right. Of Mice and Men live on, and we haven’t seen the best of them.

Setlist:

Bones Exposed
Would You Still Be There?
Unbreakable
Back To Me
Public Service Announcement
Never Giving Up
Broken Generation
Pain
You Make Me Sick
The Depths

Pierce the Veil

Having seen Pierce the Veil back in November, I wasn’t planning on watching their full set. I stuck around, though, knowing that A Day To Remember were performing later in the day. It’s been a dream of mine to see Jeremy McKinnon perform his guest vocal on ‘Caraphernalia’ live.

I’m sure you can imagine how disappointed I was that that didn’t happen. It felt like a wasted opportunity. During their set, the band performed both ‘Caraphernalia’ and ‘King For a Day’ – two tracks which have huge guest vocal features – and they chose to forego special guests on both of them. Their set could have been utterly unforgettable, but instead it was disappointly average.

They also chose to add ‘Today I Saw the Whole World’, a track from fourth album ‘Misadventures’, to their setlist. Favouring new material over older material is always contentious, particularly at festivals. Dismissing debut album ‘A Flair For the Dramatic’ – celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year – felt like a huge oversight. People won’t be talking about Pierce the Veil’s Download debut in years to come.

Setlist:

Texas is Forever
Bulls in the Bronx
A Match Into Water
Today I Saw the Whole World
Dive In
Caraphernelia
Circles
King For a Day

I have surprisingly little to say about Crown the Empire. The departure of David Escamilla has not only knocked their confidence, it’s taken away the spark that helped them stand out from the crowd. Vocalist Andy Leo struggles to carry the songs, and it makes for awkward watching. The last time I saw Crown the Empire I found them captivating, but I’d forgotten I’d seen their set until I was flicking through my notes from the weekend.

Another huge disappointment were AFI. They didn’t interact with the crowd AT ALL. Okay, I’m exaggerating. Vocalist Davey Havok said three words to the audience before playing their last song: “Download, thank you”. Closer ‘Miss Murder’ was triumphant, but with Davey throwing his microphone to the ground and storming off it seemed more like a toddler having a temper tantrum. That kind of dramatic, tension-filled ending works if you haven’t been an arrogant asshole for the entirety of your stage time, but this just came across petulant. Sigh.

I The Mighty

I The Mighty were cheated by clashes. Heavily influenced by Coheed and Cambria, who were destroying the Zippo Encore stage, they also clashed with scene sweethearts A Day To Remember. As you can guess, their prospective fans were a tad preoccupied.

They deserved a far bigger turnout. I The Mighty’s set was my most anticipated of the Download line-up, but their crowd was the smallest the Dogtooth stage saw all weekend. Their tent should have been filled to bursting, because this Californian quartet have so much buzz surrounding them.

A big reason for that hype is vocalist Brent Walsh. His distinctive vocal tone helps them stand out from the crowd, as he weaves his way to previously unexplored heights. I adore I The Mighty, but they wouldn’t stand out from the crowd is Brent didn’t make such intriguing choices with the way he performs his vocal. If you’re a fan of Tyler Carter of Issues, you must check out I The Mighty.

The only positive thing about the set clashes? Everyone in that tent was there because they wanted to see I The Mighty, not just because there was nothing better to do. The words were being echoed back to them, and even though Brent warned the crowd not to start a moshpit, they couldn’t help exploding for their closing track anyway. For a band who’ve only played one headline show in the UK, drawing in this many people is a huge achievement. Brent closed their set by sharing that the band were “so fucking humble and thankful and privileged”, and they should add proud to that list. They should also hurry up and finish work on their fourth album, because I need more from them!

Setlist:

Lady of Death
Playing Catch With .22
Speak To Me
Psychomania
The Lying Eyes of Miss Erray
Failures (*)

(*) I was too excited to write it down their closer, but I think it was ‘Failures’! *face palm*

A Day To Remember

I only saw the second half of A Day To Remember‘s set, but it proved they’re going to be headlining within a couple of years. “It’s been like nine years since the first time we played this festival,” frontman Jeremy McKinnon said, “Thank you for supporting us over the years. It’s absolutely insane that they’d let us be direct support to a band as fucking brilliant as Biffy Clyro.”

But with Biffy’s headlining potential so openly questioned, a large chunk of the crowd were already treating A Day To Remember like closers. Material new and old received explosive reactions from the crowd, crowdsurfers spreading as far as the eye could see during both ‘Naivety’ and ‘Mr. Highway’s Thinking About the End’.

Their set wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn close. Bringing back acoustic track ‘End of Me’ was a dull moment. Before starting it, Jeremy shared that they “stopped playing it for a little while”, and I hope they choose to retire it for good – it’s a snoozefest. Meanwhile, their other acoustic track ‘If It Means a Lot To You’ was a brilliant choice, and fans were waving their lights in the air despite the fact that it was still daylight while they were performing. Trust me: when they headline, they’re going to find it so easy.

I wish I’d been able to watch the entirety of their set – I’m just grateful that I managed to go to one of their headline shows back in January.

Setlist:

All I Want (*)
I’m Made of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of? (*)
The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle (*)
2nd Sucks (*)
Right Back At It Again (*)
We Got This (*)
Have Faith In Me
Naivety
Paranoia
Exposed
End of Me
Mr. Highway’s Thinking About the End
Bullfight
If It Means a Lot to You
All Signs Point to Lauderdale
The Downfall of Us All

(*) setlist according to setlist.fm

Simple Plan

I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to watch Simple Plan or Biffy Clyro, so I ended up running back and forth between them like a madman. This was a stupid decision, because I was feeling dreadful, but so was bouncing up and down for the entirety of ‘Jump’. I just couldn’t resist the charms of frontman Pierre Bouvier, who’s like an over-enthusiastic puppy when he gets up on stage.

This was only my second time seeing Simple Plan, but once again I couldn’t get over how fun they are. If you like your pop-punk cheesy and easy to dance to, these Canadians are ones to watch. They only played one song from most recent release, ‘Taking One For the Team’, which was surprising. When you’re a band with this many hit singles you need to satisfy your crowd, but I didn’t think they’d neglect their newest album. My personal highlight was ‘Your Love is a Lie’: it’s ridiculously powerful.

I made it back for the end of their set, which seemed to receive a muted reaction. ‘Perfect’ is beautiful song, but it’s too restrained for a closer. At least it meant that the crowd didn’t feel that they were missing too much when they snuck away early.

Setlist:

I’d Do Anything
Jet Lag
Jump
Your Love is a Lie
Welcome To My Life
Boom!
Can’t Keep My Hands Off You
Summer Paradise (*)
Addicted (*)
I’m Just a Kid (*)
Crazy (*)
Shut Up
Perfect

(*) setlist according to setlist.fm

Biffy Clyro

Meanwhile, Biffy Clyro vanquished their doubters with an astounding performance.

They’re one of the only UK bands currently achieving headliner status, which is how this was my third time seeing them headline a festival (the other two performances being at Reading festival in 2013 and 2016 respectively). I hadn’t intended on watching all of their set: they blew me away in 2013, but struggled with so many sound issues last year that I abandoned ship and went to watch The 1975 instead.

But that’s the thing about Biffy Clyro: they’re absorbing. As soon as ‘Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies’ started, I was having an insurmountable amount of fun. ‘Bubbles’, ‘Black Chandelier’, ‘That Golden Rule’… The big Biffy Clyro singalongs were present and accounted for, and the crowd were loving every second. Yes, they had the smallest audience of the three headliners, but they also had the most involved. Whereas people were stood around in polite disinterest during System of a Down and Aerosmith, Biffy Clyro had everyone moving.

Vocalist Simon Neil wasn’t afraid to confront the haters. Before their final song he began a spontaneous singalong of Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing’, quipping, “That’s the loudest singalong we’re going to get…”.

Their encore was the most interesting of the weekend. Bringing back melancholy acoustic ‘God & Satan’, they followed it with ‘There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake’, which hasn’t been performed regularly since 2013. Revisiting their heavier roots, they proved that they’d carefully crafted their setlist for the Download crowd. Yes, it was a shame that they overlooked recent hit single ‘Howl’, but this special moment was extremely memorable.

It’s hard to say where Biffy Clyro are going to go next, but the only way is up for this Scottish trio.

Setlist:

Wolves of Winter
Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies
Sounds Like Balloons
Biblical
In the Name of the Wee Man
Who’s Got a Match?
57
Bubbles
Black Chandelier
Friends and Enemies
That Golden Rule
Medicine
Different People
Mountains
9/15ths
Animal Style
Many of Horror
The Captain

God & Satan (acoustic)
There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake
Stingin’ Belle

Sunday:

Sunday was my least busy day of the weekend, which was a relief. Day one exhausted me, so rushing around on Saturday really tired me out.

I started the day by seeing a little bit of Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, who I discovered when they played the Oxford O2 Academy 2 back in November. Unfortunately the wind was kicking up, blowing the noise of Orange Goblin up from the main stage and making the country-rockers almost inaudible. On the plus side, at least Orange Goblin sounded good!

I also caught the beginning of The Dead Daisies set. The Dead Daisies is a collaborative project involving members of Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and Dio – who had one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. I left after ‘With You and I’, a song which was dedicated to the victims of the Manchester terror attack. Vocalist John Corabi introduced it by sharing that the band were “sick of […] the crazy shit going on in the world”, and “if we want any kind of positive change, or we want peace, it all starts with you and I”. This kind of sentiment is exactly why I love attending Download so much. It feels like an extended family gathering.

Stone Broken

Stone Broken self-released their debut album, ‘All In Time’, last January. Things have gotten hectic for the Walsall four-piece since then. Receiving endless support from Planet Rock, being crowned runner-up for Best New Band at the Planet Rock Awards 2016, they’ve also been chosen as Single of the Week by Kerrang! Radio.

I still wasn’t expecting their tent to be quite as crowded. Arriving just before the end of ‘Stay All Night’, it was impossible to fight my way through the crowd surrounding the tent. If one thing’s for certain, it’s that Stone Broken should have been on a bigger stage.

The crowd were singing along to every word, something that doesn’t often happen for relatively unknown bands at festivals. I wasn’t too familiar with their material, but even I was singing along at points: they’re writing extremely catchy songs, which are definitely on the heavier side of the radio rock spectrum. If I had to give an award for biggest surprise of the weekend, Stone Broken would be taking it home, no question.

Setlist:

Stay All Night
Better
Be There
Wait For You
Not Your Enemy

Dead!

This was Dead!‘s second time playing Download festival, and they were in a much bigger tent than last year. Sadly, their crowd was still about the same size. That’s a problem with touring relentlessly and not releasing much new material: Dead! are still flying under the radar.

After chatting with guitarist Sam Matlock at their signing tent, it seems things are going to be changing over the next few months. He shared that they’re going to be releasing something pretty soon, and I’m certain it’s going to be the push they need.

Dead!’s material is getting stronger with each new song they write. That’s obvious in new tracks ‘Any Part’ and ‘Jessica’. ‘Any Part’ is frantic and bouncy, with a repetitive “All your secrets keep” line that has vocalist Alex Mountford getting creepily intense. Meanwhile, ‘Jessica’ is a break-up song with a twist: “I don’t miss you, but tell me. Is your mother doing fine?”.

They’re also getting more confident. Bravely performing a cover of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ – which Alex shared is one of those songs he grew up singing in his bedroom – it was a risk that definitely paid off. Alex’s vocal is so unique, and the twist that the band put on it updated this quintessential classic.

I’ve seen Dead! more times than I can count, but this was their best performance yet.

Setlist:

Something More Original
Up For Ransom
Any Part
Skin
Jessica
My Generation cover
Enough, Enough, Enough
You’re So Cheap

Fizzy Blood‘s last song was filled with emotion. They dedicated the song to someone called Paul, who passed away last month after having a stroke. They asked the crowd to give it up for him, because it had always been his dream to perform up on stage, and the crowd did exactly that. Everyone went wild for the end of their set. Even a sex doll held aloft joined in the fun: an unexpected tribute to a man taken far too young.

The King Blues

I’ve seen The King Blues twice since they reformed at the end of 2015, attending their sets at both Slam Dunk and Reading last year. I was planning on sticking around for a couple of songs, but the political punks sucked me in.

This performance was just three days after the British General Election, and frontman Itch certainly had some things to get off his chest. Introducing ‘The Streets Are Ours’ with a chant of “Tory cunts!” and dedicating ‘Off With Their Heads’ to “Theresa May […] Boris Johnson […] the fucking DUP”, it’s safe to say he’s not a happy man. The King Blues’ return couldn’t have been more well-timed.

Dedicating ‘My Boulder’ to “the 63% of young people who voted Labour”, the roar of appreciation encouraged Itch even more. “Theresa May would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for us meddling kids,” he joked. “The old bastards who voted Tory are going to be dead soon, and then the world will be ours.”

Yes, Itch is controversial, but he’s an unapologetic mouthpiece of a generation. “Love always overcomes greed,” he enthused. “Every. Single. Time.” We can thank the Torys for this, if nothing else. If the UK government wasn’t a shit show, Itch wouldn’t have much to say.

Setlist:

Let’s Hang the Landlord
Heart of a Lion
The Streets Are Ours
Off With Their Heads
My Boulder
I’ve Got Love
Save The World, Get The Girl

I didn’t stay for much of Clutch‘s set – I was too excited to see spandex-covered glam-rockers Steel Panther for the first time, but I did get to hear one of their new songs. Vocalist Neil Fallon introduced it by saying, “You can be the guinea pigs. I’m glad you don’t know the lyrics, because I don’t either!”. The American rockers know what they do well, and they’re continuing to do it. Clutch’s fans won’t be disappointed with their new material. It’s all in the same vein.

Steel Panther easily took home the award for most people up on stage. Walking around the corner and seeing hundreds – literally HUNDREDS – of scantily clad women dancing around, I wondered what the hell was going on. Turns out, it was the biggest stage invasion of all time. It made every stage invasion I’ve seen in the past quiver in shame (sorry, All Time Low, but ‘Time Bomb’ is never this impressive!).

I enthralled by their live performance, despite not being a huge fan. I only heard three of their songs – ’17 Girls in a Row’, ‘Gloryhole’ and ‘Party All Day (Fuck All Night)’ – but it felt like it was never-ending. I’m still unsure as to whether that was a positive thing. I think it was? I think I had fun? Every time I think about their set, I feel more confused.

Seems like their spandex really blew my mind…

Moose Blood

After watching a bit of Alter Bridge, I made my way across to Moose Blood‘s set. They’re not a stereotypical Download band. Despite being so high up on the bill, they were the softest band playing the Avalanche stage on the Sunday.

I wasn’t surprised when I walked in to discover that their crowd was only a little bit bigger than Dead!’s. Considering Dead! haven’t yet released a full-length album, that’s not a slight towards them. I wondered if their crowd would have been bigger if it wasn’t for the controversy surrounding the band, but I think it has a lot more to do with their second album, ‘Blush’.

The reaction to the songs they played from debut album ‘I’ll Keep You in Mind, From Time to Time’ was far better than the response to their newer material. Whereas a lot of the crowd were talking through ‘Glow’ and ‘Cheek’, they were singing along to every word of ‘Swim Down’ and ‘Gum’. Yes, ‘Blush’ did better commercially, but it seems that the fans have already disregarded its existence.

Compared to the reaction they received when they played Reading festival in 2015, things have changed – and not in a good way. Frontman Eddy Brewerton now seems unaffected by the cheers of fans, hardly speaking during the set and thanking everyone in a deadpan voice before leaving the stage. Sometimes, fame goes to people’s heads. It seems like that might be the problem in this case.

Let’s hope that album number three fixes things, because for a while Moose Blood were on course to become one of the biggest bands of the moment.

Setlist:

Pastel (*)
Honey (*)
Bukowski (*)
I Hope You’re Missing Me
Glow
Swim Down
Cheek
Gum
Knuckles

Aerosmith

Aerosmith are the perfect headline band for two reasons.

  1. Everyone knows at least one of their songs.
  2. They’re inoffensive. So inoffensive it verges on bland, particularly in contrast with the other headliners (System of a Down have unrestrained lyrical content, while the boys in Biffy Clyro perform every set shirtless).

But this was Biffy Clyro’s first headlining set and System of a Down’s first time playing Download since 2011. Meanwhile, Aerosmith last headlined the festival in 2014. In 27 years, this was their fifth time playing Donington, so for two appearances to fall this closely together isn’t a wise move. If it hadn’t been for their impending split, it wouldn’t have happened.

Judging by the lackluster response from the crowd, not enough time had passed for their return to be eagerly anticipated. They were the only band playing (The Dillinger Escape Plan‘s riotous set finished five minutes after Aerosmith’s began) but that was the only reason their crowd was so big. People were singing along to their big hits – ‘Love in an Elevator’, ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’, ‘Walk This Way’ – and their surprise cover of ‘Come Together’ by The Beatles… But other than that, the majority of the crowd seemed to be listening in polite indifference. The sun had gone down and a bitter chill was in the air. Is it any surprise that people didn’t seem that interested?

Only time will tell if this is actually the end for Aerosmith. Having been a band for over four decades, I can’t imagine that they’ll be able to stay away for long. I stayed for their entire set because they’re a legendary band, but this was a forgettable end to an otherwise exciting weekend.

Setlist:

Let The Music Do The Talking
Young Lust
Cryin’
Livin’ on the Edge
Love in an Elevator
Janie’s Got a Gun
Stop Messin’ Around cover
Oh Well cover
Mama Kin
Hangman Jury
Seasons of Wither
Sweet Emotion
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing
Rag Doll
Come Together cover
Dude (Looks Like a Lady)

Dream On
Mother Popcorn cover
Walk This Way

That’s it for another year! The tickets for Download 2018 went on sale last week: will I be seeing you there?