Download Festival 2024

There was mud.  There was food poisoning.  There were sets delayed and even stopped due to the weather conditions and technical problems.  Did I mention the mud?  There was, however, also the usual sense of camaraderie and togetherness.  There were some magical moments and some amazing bands.  This was Download 2024.

I set off nice and early on Friday morning, full of hope that I would be set up in time for the arena opening.  Unfortunately, due to shuttle bus chaos and tent disasters, I didn’t actually make it into the arena until around 5:30 pm.   Black Stone Cherry were gracing the main stage (Apex) and Soft Play (previously known as Slaves) were on the 2nd stage (Opus), so I grabbed some fries and managed to catch a bit of both sets.  It felt great to be back in my spiritual home and my earlier woes were fading into the background once I was back on the hallowed turf of Donington Park surrounded by fellow Downloaders with music blasting out.  Next I found a decent spot to watch Mr Bungle on Opus as I was intrigued to see the supergroup comprising of Mike Patton (Faith No More), Scott Ian (Anthrax and Stormtroopers of Death) and Dave Lombardo (Slayer), to name but 3.  They played a blinding set, hopping from one genre to another as is their wont.  The intro to Slayer song ‘Hell Awaits’ morphed into a cover of ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet, forming one of the more random moments of the weekend.  

Next I headed for the Avalanche stage to try and catch Wheatus’ set but it soon became clear that I had no chance, with thousands of people all descending on the relatively small tent.  I chilled on the edges for a while and could just about hear ‘Pretty Girl’ but I decided to get a beer and have a walk around while I waited for Funeral for a Friend to take to Opus.  My earlier troubles were well and truly forgotten when the Welsh rockers appeared and launched into ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’.  FFAF were only announced a few short weeks before the festival and they appeared with Lucas Woodland from Holding Absence filling in on vocals in place of Matt Davies who left the band last year.  Lucas did a cracking job, although a large portion of the audience were rather put out  when he announced that he was only 8 years old when the album ‘Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation’ was released in 2003!  The light show and pyros were on point and the set ended with the absolute banger ‘Roses for the Dead’.  

I quickly headed over to the main stage to catch the end of Queens of the Stone Age.  I was happy to hear ‘No One Knows’ followed by ‘A Song for the Dead’ and I wished I’d been able to catch more as the crowd were loving it and they really did seem to be putting on a great show.  That was day 1 over with and I fell into my tent quite early as I was exhausted, mistakenly thinking I would be able to get some sleep.

After a sleepless night due to people talking and singing loudly until almost 6am and lots of people falling into my tent, I grabbed a coffee and packed up my stuff to relocate to a quieter part of the campsite.  I then undertook the long trudge into the arena for a full day of bands.  This was the day I had been looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint.  Highlights of the day for me were Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and Fall Out Boy.  Frank is known as a tough guy, but he always shows what a lovely bloke he is during his performances by inviting all the females forward for a safe, female-only moshpit and other acts of kindness.  Today he encouraged a dad with his young son to leave the crowd and go backstage as the little boy was crying, and he also stopped the crowd-surfers from going over when the people at the front got kicked in the head one too many times.  Unfortunately, Frank’s gold chain was stolen while he was crowd-surfing, but he managed to keep hold of his shades and his sense of humour.  Set highlights were ‘Juggernaut’, ‘Man of the Hour’ and closing song ‘I Hate You’.  

Earlier in the day Bambie Thug and Florence Black had really got the crowd going and played great sets despite technical problems and pouring rain, and the day continued to kick ass.  It was a shame that some sets were stopped due to terrible weather conditions, and many were cut short as a consequence because it put a bit of a downer on proceedings. I could have done without the mud as I wanted to rush from one stage to the other, but there was no chance of rushing anywhere.  

I managed to catch most of the amazing genre-bending Enter:Shikari on the main stage, with pyro aplenty and frontman Rou Reynolds launching himself backwards into the mud.  I heard quite a few people saying ES should headline Download and I’m inclined to agree. They came onstage to an A capella version of ‘System’ leading into ‘Meltdown’ and it was instantly a set to remember. I had to leave during ‘The Dreamer’s Hotel’ which meant I sadly missed the last couple of songs, because I needed to get to the brilliant While She Sleeps on Opus.  I couldn’t get a decent spot, unfortunately, because such a huge crowd had formed but I could just about see the screens from the back and hear such bangers as ‘Sleeps Society’ and ‘Self Hell’.  Then followed another “rush” to the main stage to catch the final acts of the night – The Offspring and Fall Out Boy.  It’s been quite a while since I last saw The Offspring but as soon as the intro to ‘Come out and Play’ kicked in, I was transported back to previous gigs and memories of fun times.  There was great banter between the band members, particularly Dexter and Noodles, and a mixture of crowd favourites, songs from the newly-released ‘Supercharged’ (fast becoming crowd favourites!) and even a couple of covers, including ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’.  This was a fast-paced, fun-filled set full of energy.  Before we knew it, ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ was blasting out with the crowd shouting along with the “Woah woah”s enthusiastically.

The announcement of Fall Out Boy as Saturday headliners had caused some controversy, as many Downloaders declared them “not metal enough” to headline, but personally I was excited to see them again as they are a brilliant live band who always put on spectacular show.  Tonight was no exception and they definitely deserved the headline slot in my opinion.  I got a place near the front and the pyros certainly warmed me up, especially during ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘em Up)’!  These American pop-punkers love their pyro, and Pete Wentz even had flames coming out of the end of his guitar during a couple of songs.  After a whopping 19 songs spanning 7 different albums,  a piano was wheeled out onto the stage and Patrick Stump slowed things down a little with a partial rendition of ‘What a Catch, Donnie’ leading into ‘Golden’.  I had made my way closer to the arena entrance/exit by this point so I wouldn’t get caught in a big crush, so I had a great view of the big screens and the whole stage for the final songs.  ‘Centuries’ and ‘Saturday’ ended the performance with a bang and I went back to my tent a very happy camper.

I headed for the press tent for some breakfast on Sunday morning to find out that the arena opening had been delayed by an hour so that conditions could be improved.  The rain had finally stopped, thankfully, and stayed away all day, but the thick mud had become very sticky which could have caused some major problems.  As soon as I was able, I headed for Apex to watch Lord of the Lost, as seen on Eurovision 2023 representing Germany.  I really enjoyed their set, but unfortunately it was cut down to 20 minutes and the audience was minimal as the arena gates opened after they began performing.  I will try to catch them again to make up for it.  On a friend’s recommendation I checked out Alien Weaponry who again I thoroughly enjoyed.  The New Zealand metal band’s USP is that a lot of their lyrics are in New Zealand’s native language ‘Te Reo Maori’.  The set began with a Maori chant which gave me goosebumps and I was captivated by the whole, albeit short, show.  This is another band that I will definitely be catching on tour when I can.  Next it was over to Apex for Creeper who I have seen several times, and I have to say they get better every time I see them.  Definitely future headliners right there!  All the songs Creeper played today were from latest album Sanguivore, with the exception of the extremely singable ‘Down Below’.  Final song was ‘Lovers Led Astray’ with a guest performance by Dan from Atreyu.  

We had found out early in the day that Parkway Drive were playing the much-talked-about secret set (rumours had ranged from My Chemical Romance to Paramore) and I headed to Dogtooth to see if I could get anywhere near, but just as with Wheatus there was no chance, without pushing my way into a huge crowd.  I hung round the edges to hear the strains of the first song then decided to cut my losses.  Apparently a huge wave of crowd-surfers headed towards the barriers as soon as the band kicked off, and I kind of wish I’d been able to see that!  Kerry King was gracing Apex and I stopped to have a listen to the last couple of songs.  Many years ago I was a Slayer fan and Kerry definitely still slays.  Next on Apex was Sum 41, and today’s performance was their last ever UK festival appearance, so an emotional one for their hardcore fans.  Fan favourites ‘Motivation’, ‘In Too Deep’ and ‘The Hell Song’ all put in an appearance along with the obligatory ‘Fat Lip’ and there were new songs too from the band’s last ever studio album ‘Heaven :x: Hell’.  The atmosphere was electric and the energy high as the crowd bade farewell to the punk rockers who have been around since 1996 and first played Download in 2004.  

I wanted to make sure I got a decent spot for Corey Taylor on Opus so I arrived towards the end of deathcore band Thy Art is Murder.  There was an impressive number of crowd-surfers and sadly the set had to be stopped briefly as a man was taken backstage with blood pouring from his mouth.  The frontman established that he was ok before carrying on (and gave the crowd a telling off for not picking people up when they fell in the pit), and the surfers were not discouraged.  

Now came the time that I have to admit I had been waiting for eagerly.  I was going to leave on Sunday afternoon after quite a few things going wrong for me over the weekend, but I realised I couldn’t possibly leave without seeing the absolute legend Corey Taylor (for those who don’t know, Corey is the frontman of both Slipknot and Stone Sour).  I’ve seen Slipknot 3 times and Stone Sour once or twice but I’d never seen Corey do his solo stuff before, so I just had to stick around.  This set was an absolutely cracking mix of songs from his solo albums, including the truly brilliant ‘Black Eyes Blue’, Stone Sour tunes, his legendary cover of the ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ theme cover (with a middle finger to the crowd at the end) and some Slipknot songs.  I had a tear or two in my eye when ‘Snuff’ was played as it’s one of my favourite songs of all time, and this was the first time I’d heard it live.  Corey was clearly struggling as he had been unwell for a week and had had to cancel some European shows, but his performance wasn’t affected at all.  The only evidence was his husky speaking voice and his rather pale pallor.  There was another really emotional moment when Corey dedicated penultimate song ‘Home’ to his wife who was standing at the side of the stage.  He told us that 6 months ago his wife had pulled him out of the darkest time of his life and he wouldn’t be here without her.  Really powerful stuff and I’d be surprised if there was anyone in attendance who wasn’t moved.  There was a shift in energy as final song ‘Duality’ kicked in to delighted screams (certainly from the people near me, anyway!) and we fist-pumped and sang our little hearts out to the Slipknot classic.

I was on a real high following Corey’s set but also done in from the weekend as a whole, so I have to admit that I didn’t catch the whole of headliners Avenged Sevenfold’s set.  I watched a lot of it from the press tent on the big screens above the arena, thinking I would be able to hear well from there but the football was on in the artists’ area in front of me which rather overtook the band’s sound in parts. I checked social media later on and so many people were declaring it the highlight of the festival and singing the praises of A7X.  ‘Hail to the King’ was dedicated to the dads in the audience for Fathers’ Day and the crowd were delighted that they played ‘A Little Piece of Heaven’.  There were sound problems during ‘Nightmare’ which I witnessed for myself, and the song was finished by the crowd obligingly singing along.  Final song of the set, and indeed the festival, was ‘Cosmic’ from the 2023 album ‘Life is but a Dream’.

And so Download 2024 was a wrap.  Just another sleepless night to get through (this time due to stomach issues which I won’t go into detail about) and it was time to head home.  If you’ve never been to Download, my advice would be:  Be prepared for every type of weather, don’t expect to see every single band you love and be prepared for a lot of walking, but also expect to have a brilliant time with like-minded people (except for the person who stole FC’s chain).

Bye for now Download – I will no doubt see you next year.

Review:  Rachel McMurdo


Philip Goddard

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