Nothing will come between a rock fan and having a good time. It doesn’t matter how much rain or mud you throw at them, and there was quite a bit this year, they will turn up and rock out. That’s why Download Festival has endured, because the fans want to be there. In a kind of perverse logic the infamous ‘Drownload’ of 2012 is now looked upon as a kind of rite of passage, an ‘I was there’ moment. With a quite incredible line up Download 2019 was always going to be a winner but even by its own high standards this will go down in history as taking things to a new level.
Here are Gary Trueman and Mark Bestford’s top five acts of the weekend followed by a round up of the best of the rest from around the village and arena.
Gary’s Five of the best.
Nova Twins – The new queens of sass
You’ve got to love how the Nova Twins just get up on stage and do it their way. Their fusion of alt driven rock and sassy grime has a fresh feel to it. They sound like the future and in a big blue tent on a hill they show the future is in good hands. Georgia South plays the four stringer in such a unique manner that nods of approval and collaboration requests from the seasoned pros must be imminent. Amy Love has a swagger that owns the stage and the audience. Like Rage Against The Machine blended with Missy Elliott the Nova Twins look like a band destined for superstardom.
Sumo Cyco – The band that bring all the fun
Proof that nice guys do come first are Canada’s Sumo Cyco who bounce around the Avalanche stage like excited kids. This is a performance full of mile wide smiles and killer hooks. Skye Sweetnam is off the stage, on the barrier and then in the crowd. It’s the kind of sharing moment we see a lot of and yet with Sumo Cyco it’s somehow more real. It sums up how they and their fans are one big family. In the blink of an eye the show is over. As the cheers ring out and the stage empties you’re left with a feeling of sheer happiness. If you could bottle what Sumo Cyco bring to a show the world would be a much better place.
Lovebites – The power and the glory
It’s a risky business playing Iron Maiden style metal. Fortunately Lovebites are so technically gifted that they don’t just do it well they are astoundingly great at it. The Japanese five piece have broken through big time in the last year and boy do they deserve to. Along with the killer tunes they have a magnetic stage presence too. The all white outfits may look a little twee but it means they are instantly memorable. Put the band in a room and you’ll pick them out in an instant. Put them on a stage though and you’ll know straight away that’s where they belong. Japanese music is hot right now and Lovebites are right at the scorching forefront.
Skindred – The party that just won’t quit
It’s almost unfair to put Skindred in the top five because we all know what a huge festival band they are. We all know how adored they are and that they always deliver. This performance though was still that little bit extra special. The Welsh party perennials found an extra gear up on the main stage, staking a possible claim that they could one day headline the event. The Newport Helicopter was bigger than ever. The back catalogue was plundered to perfection. And Benji Webbe had the air of an icon. The Skindred juggernaut now looks to be unstoppable.
Smashing Pumpkins – The return of the king
With Billy Corgan being joined on stage by James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlain the Smashing Pumpkins are seventy five per cent of the way to their original line up. They are one hundred per cent on their game though. Corgan might not be the most mobile artist on stage but his vocals and guitar work are right on point. In particular it’s the way he delivers on those six strings that is so impressive. It’s understated and sublime. There’s a surprise too in the form of Myrkur who joins the band for a stunning cover of Sabbath’s Snowblind. For just over an hour it’s the 1990’s again.
Mark’s Five of the best.
The Interrupters – The next generation of punk music
For Aimee Allen The Interrupters must be the right band at the right time. On stage you get a sense that they’ve been together since high school, despite only forming a few years ago after a chance meeting. Since then they’ve honed the show into what is an impressive tour de force. What’s immediately clear is that first and foremost the entire band is having fun, they’re doing what they set out to do, which is to entertain. It’s ska punk at its finest, showing that there’s still life in the genre, and there’s certainly life on stage, as well as off. Guitarist Kevin and Bassist Justin spend much of the show in the air, while Aimee is on the barrier to the delight of her fans. Ska punk may not be renowned for moshing but when this band asks for a wall of death and a circle pit they can’t be refused.
Alien Weaponry – The Maori warriors
It’s not every day that the main stage is opened with a Maori Haka, but that’s exactly how Alien Weaponry start their show. It’s hard to believe that the average age of these three lads from New Zealand is still under eighteen but they show the professionalism that they’ve acquired through their teens well on stage. They put many older thrash metal bands to shame and with the mix of English and te reo Maori lyrics bring a fresh vision to the genre. For a band this young to open the main stage is quite an achievement, but to do it so well makes them a highlight of the festival weekend.
Bad Wolves – The audience participation specialists
For a band playing the Zippo Encore stage in the morning they have to pull out the big guns in order to get noticed, and Bad Wolves do exactly that in spades. First up is the audience participation and bringing some humour to the proceedings they call for a Game Of Thrones themed wall of death. “Whitewalkers on this side, and the Realms of Men on the other, let the Battle of Winterfell commence!” But that on its own wouldn’t be enough to take a top five spot, for that we have to wait till the last song of their set and a truly haunting and emotional rendition of the Cranberries’ Zombie that gets the entire crowd from the front to the very back singing along. It is a truly fitting memorial to one of alt-rock’s most missed stars.
The HU – The Mongolian surprise hit
If someone prior to Download had said that one of the best bands would be a Mongolian metal band playing traditional Mongolian instruments they would have been laughed at. But in what seems to be no time at all the metal community has taken these unlikely metal heroes to their hearts and the crowd in the Dogtooth tent simply cannot be any bigger. Standing ten deep outside the tent there’s no other way in other than to crowd-surf in. Even at the periphery of the crowd there is a crush of bodies, and every time a person leaves to grab air there’s a push from behind gradually forcing you into the tent. And it soon becomes clear that this crowd isn’t there to hide from the rain, as they sing along in Mongolian to Yuve Yuve Yu.
Slipknot – The champions of Download
As one of the main headliners you expect greatness, and you expect a flawless performance, so it takes a little extra for the headliner to make themselves noticed. You can’t go through the motions, it has to be something new, bold, and off the charts. And Slipknot deliver the goods with one of the best headline performances that Download has ever seen. Corey Taylor comes out wearing a completely new look for this show, with a mask and wool trench coat that seemingly add a hundred pounds. It’s a look designed to disturb and it succeeds. Added to this we have a mad monk haunting the stage, following Corey around before disappearing to take over mixing desk duties. There’s a bold change in music as well, and while we expect new songs to be played they throw Prosthetics into the set list as well, much to everyone’s surprise and delight. It’s this change from the expected, as well as a pyrotechnically fuelled show, that makes them one of the biggest highlights of the weekend.
The one we both agree on
Gary: Pint sized powerhouse Kim Jennett is a bit like the secret weapon that the UK has been hiding from the rest of the music world. She’s played in bands before but this was only her second live performance under her own name, not that you could tell. It’s a mesmerising show built around Myke Gray’s song writing and Jennett’s sensational voice. This is balls out rock that takes no prisoners and tells no lies. Remember the name Kim Jennett. She could be the next Lzzy Hale. She’s certainly the real deal and she’s here to stay.
Mark: Some of us remember Kim Jennet from her previous band, Voodoo Blood, for which her stage antics and costumes defined the show. With all the theatrics stripped away we’re left with Kim the Rockstar, who shows that there’s more to her than makeup and attitude. That’s not to say there isn’t a bit of both still there, but it’s now tailored and more grown up. Climbing amps has been replaced with climbing the barrier, with Kim getting up close and personal with the crowd. On stage she looks every bit the star and gyrates in leopard print. The only thing missing is a leather jacket to complete her transformation into a reincarnated Suzi Quattro or Joan Jett, without her old band and persona behind her she’s truly taken to her new role as a solo artist.
Daily round up and the best of the rest.
The excitement levels are high despite the conditions in the village. We have the Circus Of Horrors back for another year along with Dis-Grace with their Suicide Girls. RIP once again has its own entertainment area. Everyone settles down to pitching and partying and the home of rock. Weather report: Thoughts turned to building an ark.
While once again the Circus Of Horrors and RIP do their thing many people decide the Boardie Takeover is the place to be. This increasingly popular event has expanded this year to incorporate seven bands. Haxan, Dead Man’s Whiskey, O’Deus, Sweet Little machine, Neshima, The Five Hundred and Thecityisours all play their part in keeping the Doghouse rammed and fans happy. the Side Splitter tent has the usual selection of comedy with Jim Breuer and Ed Gamble joining regular Sully O’Sullivan and a host of others . Weather Report: Damp but undeterred.
Kvelertak bring their Scandinavian noise to the masses with their usual vigour. Delain add a touch of class to the Zippo stage while Zebrahead are at their lunatic best over on Avalanche. Twelve Foot Ninja suffer from technical issues that cuts their set in half but still put on a formidable show. They’re followed by Ukrainian band of the moment Jinjer who remind everyone that eastern Europe has plenty to offer metal wise. Whitesnake are sounding great despite David Coverdale’s years. Me First and the Gimme Gimmees are playing a series of covers with a punk twist. There’s time to catch some Eagles of Death Metal on the Zippo Encore stage and then it’s on to the main stage headliner. Def Leppard put in a credible performance on the main stage to close the night, it’s a real pleasure to hear Joey’s vocals back on form after so many years. Rob Zombie brings his A game headlining the Zippo stage. He’s in great voice and would have been worthy of inclusion in one of our top fives but makes way for younger blood. It’s a late set from At The Gates whose crushing sound is at its best on the Dogtooth stage. Weather Report: Poncho on, poncho off
Underside have brought a third eye bearing dancing mascot that almost threatens to steal the show. The Nepalese thankfully make the kind of music that is plenty stong enough in its own right. Royal Republic are tearing up the main stage at lunchtime and prove easy to digest. Queen Zee are a right bunch of little rays of sunshine. Their glam punk has the Dogtooth rocking in no time. The Wonder Years have a great crowd on the Avalanche stage while Elvis/Nirvana themed Elvana get the Zippo Encore stage going a treat. Die Antwoord have caused all kinds of a commotion on the event social media. The knuckle draggers are outraged by their booking, even if it was Slipknot that requested them. As it turns out the South Africans pull a huge crowd and it’s smiles all round. Well almost. Carcass rock up and nigh on demolish the Dogtooth tent with their pulverising grindcore and precision delivery. They are a band that just keep getting better with age. Weather report: Much improved, sun block at the ready.
New Zealand open up the main stage for the second morning running. This time the affable dudes from Like A Storm have the honour. Dinosaur Pile Up play it loud and proud while Beartooth snarl their way through a typically energetic set. Anthrax may well be getting a little long in the tooth but they can still thrash it up like teenagers. Scott Ian seems to have stopped aging altogether, lucky chap. Amon Amarth and Lamb Of God both hit full throttle during their sets and are serious crowd pleasers. Whitechapel have something of a cult following and it looks like every member of that cult is at Download. They tear the Dogtooth a precision new one. It’s Slayer’s last UK show and they go out in style. Tom Araya and co have probably judged their retirement about right and it’s a great set tinged with sadness. Let the will they be back or won’t they debates begin. Much anticipated Tool close the festival using the screens to show the video running on the backdrop. Is Maynard James Keenan really that shy? . At least it gives the crowd the chance to lie back and enjoy the music. And that’s it. Another year over. It’s been a triumph of music and fan power over the elements early on in the weekend. But many wouldn’t have Download any other way. Weather Report: Shades and ice cream all round, mind that shower though!
Download 2020 will be held on June 12th to 14th. Tickets are available here.