Interviews Galore: Subba-Cultcha Hits Download Festival
The Download Festival weekend is undoubtedly one of the highlights of many rock and metal fans in the UK. The 2015 edition was a worrying one – booking Muse was an interesting decision which spurred much discussion, whilst booking 2013’s Friday headliners again was straight-up questionable. Couple that with the new ‘Dog Tag’ payment system being implemented, and the horrendous storms which had been forecast for the weekend, and you have a lot that can go wrong. Despite that, the event proved successful against the odds. Here are some of the highlights.
Photo by Danny North
New Zealand’s Rival State introduced the festival the correct way, opening with the rifftastic “Sisters of Fate”, quickly showing Download Festival what they’re all about. With boogie-inducing bass licks, hard-hitting vocals and a buff, Kiwi version of Pete Wentz (with a beautiful accent), Rival State have a hell of a lot to offer, and were truly an excellent way to open Download.
Modestep are unquestionably one of the highlights of the weekend. A perfect balance of dubstep and riffs, they sound incredible when supported by the massive bass of the second stage. Pat Lundy (ex- Funeral for a Friend) is a welcome addition to the band’s furious style, kicking things up a notch, and honestly, the only thing holding Modestep back on this occasion is the sunlight (pun not intended). I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about Josh’s voice that makes you wanna hear more, and indeed, he has a lot of presence, even if he looks a little less than ecstatic (maybe the sunlight really does hurt his eyes…).
Dragonforce are a band that are totally reliant on having flawless guitar work when performing live, and they can’t be faulted in this regard. The band’s newer material reveals a slight reduction in the amount of crazy guitars, yet retains the obvious Dragonforce sound. However, the reason their set caused a storm was due to the surprise guest appearance by none other than BABYMETAL – dressed for the occasion – the Japanese teenage trio currently throwing the metal world into disarray. A collaboration of Babymetal’s huge single “Gimme Chocolate” was played, creating a great big deal of hype within the tent; a sight to behold, marking a clear highlight of the weekend.
Photo by Danny North
The sun was still blazing at the start of Dragonforce’s set at 7pm. By 7.40, the third and fourth stages were spilling at the sides, packed out with people seeking shelter from what would be the 1st of 25 hours of heavy rain. The One Hundred wasted no time taking advantage of this, smashing their fourth stage set. The furious guitars, supported by a healthy amount of electronics make The One Hundred quite the force, and Jacob can been seen moving across the stage like he’s been doing this for decades. I have said it before and I will say it again – this band’s records do not do them justice – they absolutely excel in a live setting, especially when you’re in a position to be infected by Jacob’s boundless energy. Go see this band.
Black Stone Cherry, the second stage headliners, got off to a rough start. The downpour destroyed Ben’s (guitar, backing vocals) pedalboard, meaning his guitar was off for three songs. THREE songs. I feel I was the only one who noticed though, because Chris (Vocals, Guitar) made up for it as best he could, they still sounded good, and the crowd was absolutely loving it. Everything went forward as normal from around the fourth song, and Black Stone Cherry proceeded to give an excellent performance.
Photo by Derek Bremner
In terms of set list, the opening track could not have been more fitting. Standing still for 30 minutes in a downpour, having the band open with Rain Wizard is a cheeky move, but it went down very well, as the crowd embraced their soaking bodies and sang aloud together, and it was great.
The band also debuted a brand new song, which Chris told me the next day was “an angry song ‘cus we’re pissed off at record labels’. The track, which had all the classic Black Stone Cherry qualities – heavy, gritty, loud – was simply named “Roadrunner”. Heh. Subtle.
A stripped down version of “Peace is Free” followed a massive Drum Solo, before “Blame It On The Boom-Boom” and “Lonely Train” marked the end of the set. Black Stone Cherry have been at Download for 3 years straight, but with performances which are always top-notch, people love them so much that I wouldn’t be wholly surprised to see them back in some capacity for 2016.
Parkway Drive are one of THE DEFINITIVE Download Festival bands. They’re fast, they’re heavy, and they could probably play sitting down and still have massive presence. A sea of crowdsurfers made sure everyone got sufficiently muddy, and the circle pits, bouncing and sing-alongs made this a very successful show for the Aussie metalcore titans. A mammoth cover of Rage’s “Bulls On Parade” was the icing on the cake.
Rise Against struggled to follow initially, with opening track “The Great-Die Off” essentially ignored by a crowd that was eagerly awaiting the hits. Crowd response changed completely by the time the band kicked into “Give It All”, and the rest of the set saw a constant rise (no pun intended). As much as I love Rise Against and they DID play well, I question whether or not they belong on the Main Stage, especially after Download Festival favourites Parkway Drive.
A Day To Remember were directly responsible for a great deal of hype across the weekend – people go bananas for them. Opener “The Downfall Of Us All” was met with bouncing, screaming animals, before people unleashed their violent side in a friendly manner during “2nd Sucks”. In terms of actual performance, the band were all really good, but Jeremy on vocals was lacking slightly, and his arrogance is pretty annoying at times…
Despite this, the atmosphere definitely made up for it (and probably always will), notably when the band’s chilled out songs went down a treat. The best part of the set, however, was during “If It Means A Lot To You”, because it was during this beautiful track that the rain finally subsided, after pissing all over Download for 25 hours; a glorious end to a solid set.
Von Hertzen Brothers emit an aura which is very different to the other bands appearing across the weekend. They take to stage slowly; graceful, elegant. The tall and dreamy Mikko Von Hertzen takes centre stage wearing a suit that has somehow managed to remain white, even in the dirt-saturated air of Download. The band are beautiful, with vocals that grasp your soul and melodies that could take you to the clouds. Flawless.
The Darkness provided one of the most interesting sets of the weekend. Consider the first 5 minutes of the show from my perspective. The band (minus their singer) take to stage and start playing a pretty basic riff. After about 2 minutes of this riff on repeat, people start to question what’s going on – where is Justin Hawkins? Another minute or so passes and people start looking to the back of the packed-out tent, where a more-than-comfortable Justin Hawkins can be seen literally floating through the crowd. As he gets closer, it’s revealed that he’s perched atop a chariot, (of all things!).
Photo by Danny North
Easily the most amusing entrance of the weekend, The Darkness then show they’re not just fun and games, performing the expected classics like “One Way Ticket” and “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”. Throughout the set, Justin looks like a synchronised swimmer, showing off some ridiculous, yet impressive dance moves, while the rest of the band play to perfection. Most impressive is when Justin completely NAILS the high wails of “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”. The Darkness are wonderfully unique; they seem like the kind of band who should be a total joke, but are really well respected, and rightly so if their Download performance is anything to speak of.
Slash, another Download Fest favourite, graced the main stage, performing a healthy selection of his own material, balanced with a few of the obligatory Guns N Roses tracks, such as “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. Joined by the angel that is Myles Kennedy on vocals, the band sound excellent, exceeding the Guns N Roses set that took place here a decade earlier. An electric finish of “Paradise City” is just perfect, leaving people wanting more.
Japan’s Man With A Mission are that band of the festival that have impressed me beyond words. Never heard of ‘em before, but they sound like a Japanese Zebrahead, fusing the goodness of fast punk-rock anthems with the infectious grasp of dance tracks. All members wearing wolf masks, we have absolutely no idea what they look like, but they caused quite a ruckus in the 4th stage, even though a lot of their lyrics were in Japanese! With unmatched energy, consider this the day Man With A Mission broke the UK; I suspect we’ll see them back very soon.
Butcher Babies are pretty well known in the metal scene, most notably for the fact that their two singers, Carla and Heidi, used to perform wearing nothing more than nipple tape above their waists (not anymore). Clearly, there were a number of people in the crowd who were only there in a desperate big to see some boobs, because it took all of a measly 4 seconds into the set before the first old pervert yelled “get yer tits out”, but luckily the silence which followed discouraged more of these remarks, allowing people to enjoy a positive, high-energy, thrashy set.
I spent the whole day curious as to whether the duo could actually perform live, but they were excellent. Clearly confident with their mastery over the crowd, Heidi had the whole crowd bouncing while Carla (who looks like a demon with those contact lenses) unleashed ear-curdling screams to pump everyone up further. A tiny tent turned into a massive party, Butcher Babies show everyone exactly what they’re made of.
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Words by Blaine Marshall