Stephan Burn is a far better and more diligent writer than I will ever be.You can read his Endless Realms blog and find him on Twitter at @onlystephan. He filed this report from the muddy trenches of last weekend's Download festival.
Download was never going to be a natural fit for me. Not ‘now me’ anyway; maybe when I was younger, but not now. Now I’m about as metal as tofu. Don’t get me wrong, I rock, I roll, I’ve even been known to loll around drunkenly. But moshing? Headbanging? No.
Aside: It actually struck me this morning that some stereotypical metal shares some of the same kind of slightly insecure machismo as stereotypical hip-hop. A similar amount of swaggering around, talking about your ‘bitches’ and how oppressed you are by The Man. No wonder each genre’s acolytes hate each other so much: “No, our blend of repression and oppression is superior to yours, yours is just noise!” I hear them both cry.
So, why did I go to a festival that was once much more descriptively called Monsters of Rock? Where the headliners were a band playing an entire album that had ceased to have meaning to me by the third listen, and a loose collective that can barely be called anything as cohesive as a band and can barely be recollected by its shambling leader? Sacrifice. Sacrifice, bloody loyalty and some bizarre notion of broadening my horizons. Also, I look good in black.
So there we were: Penny, the aluminium briquette to my tin foil; Bryce and Olly, hard rockers both. There were others, a supporting cast of local friends, Twitter followers and passers-by congratulating me on my pipe, but it was the four of us who looked a muddy field squarely in the eye while kicking it soundly in the shin.
The first impression I had was how very lucky we were to be in a campervan, especially one we didn’t have to pay for. Two campsites were aflood in mud and all suffered from sub-Somme conditions. According to a friend who worked the festival, 2000 people went home before day one was out due to weather and/or tent loss. On Friday night 500 people were put up in the shower rooms due to either having lost their tent or being unable to find it as the fields were unlit.
Then there was the ‘entertainment’. I’ll admit I’ve been spoilt by festivals like Glastonbury where there is non-band entertainment aplenty, partly facilitated by the fact that there is no separation between campsite and the music arena. Download has this balkanisation, but throws a sop to those wanting something to do between 11pm and 11am by providing The Village. Imagine Shyamalan’s blunder, but with more burger vans and a ‘comedy’ tent.
It was not permitted to bring alcoholic drinks into the arena, an inevitable effect of the fragile economics of the modern corporate-sponsored music festival. It meant that we had to queue to buy tokens at £4 each and then queue to trade these vouchers in for weak Tuborg or Magners. We were drinking, yes, but never in any danger of proximity to drunk.
After a page of rambling, you’ll be pleased to hear that I’m going to cover the music now, yes?
We skipped the easy choices of Terrorvision and Europe, as we only knew one song apiece by these blasts from the past. Instead we opted for NOFX, the first of many modern metal/rap/rock/pop/punk (MMRRPP) outfits we saw that I enjoyed at the time but have now merged into one indistinguishable mess in my head.
Next up was a wandering expedition which chanced us on new, young band the Marmozets, who Olly liked and Penny loved. There was a lot of shouting, but it seemed heartfelt.
Next, a band I was actually looking forward to! This could well be because, while Chase and Status were a good opener for headliners The Prodigy, they were a controversial choice for Download as a whole. Seemingly they went down okay with the teeming masses, and I enjoyed them immensely in perhaps the least surprising event of the weekend.
Next up was The Prodigy, who did a better set than when I saw them last at Glastonbury, with more energy and revitalised songs. However Penny and I still left them after about an hour. There was nothing wrong with the performance, they were doing okay, but I think I could extrapolate the remaining 40 minutes in my head and doubt I’d have been very far from the truth. Solid, not exhilarating.