This weekend, 85,000 rock fans descended on the hallowed grounds of Donington Park, Leicester, as the world’s premier rock and metal event made its triumphant, sun-filled return. As the rock community reunited at the first full-scale Download Festival in three years, the crowds embraced one another and lost themselves in a celebration of everything which makes the culture so special. Friday bore witness to the phenomenal final UK show of KISS, part of the band’s ‘End of The Road’ tour. The sunshine continued on Saturday, as headliner and heavy metal’s true masters Iron Maiden returned with a spectacular set, while Scottish rock giants Biffy Clyro‘s headline show set the stage alight on Sunday night.
In 2023, Download Festival will return to celebrate its 20th anniversary and announces today that for the first time an extra day of music will be added to bring four massive days of live music and the biggest ever edition, from Thursday 8th June – Sunday, 11th June. Limited Early Bird tickets are now on sale at this years’ prices from www.downloadfestival.co.uk.
With the sun beaming on the festival site across the weekend, the atmosphere was electric as fans once again lived up to their reputation of what is widely regarded as the UK’s friendliest audience, celebrating inclusivity, self-expression and a lot of headbanging.
Early bird ticket holders arrived from Wednesday, taking full advantage of a whole host of entertainment and activities before the main festival opened. In The Village, the newly created The Crucible area, featuring both The Doghouse and The Sidesplitter stages, thrilled festival goers with its sea container post-apocalyptic vibes. Proving a huge hit, crowds spilled in for more DJs than ever before, secret sets from Holding Absence and Malevolence, a host of day and late night fun and to dance along to feel-good anthems. This year also included the successful introduction of live podcasts at the festival, including Sappenin’ and On Wednesdays We Wear Black
The first full day of music saw Seattle’s Ayron Jones opening the newly named Opus Stage, covering Nirvana’s ‘Breed’. Elsewhere, industrial metal breakout stars Heriot opened the Dogtooth Stage, commanding an enamoured crowd. Later in the day metalcore flagbearers Bury Tomorrow tore up the Apex Stage, followed by the vaudevillian Black Veil Brides. Meet Me @ The Altar, brought their buoyant pop-punk to the Avalanche Stage, followed later by a captivating ‘sermon’ from the ominous Sleep Token. Skindred‘s set brought on the sweat, surprising their audience with a first ever metal Flashmob from team Rockfit, and later embracing their crowd-riling Newport Helicopter t-shirt spinning. The high-flying Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes closed the Opus Stage, combining crowd pleasers ‘I Hate You’ with new material of their fizzing new album Sticky, including ‘My Town’ and call-to-arms ‘Go Get A Tattoo’.
KISS stole the show on Friday night when Paul Stanley flew above the crowd on a zipline suspended between the stage and sound tower during crowd favourites ‘Love Gun’ and ‘I Was Made For Loving You’. Their bombastic set was scattered with floating platforms and flying fake blood all while towering silver monuments of each member flagged either side of the stage. A truly over-the-top requiem for the New York legends.
Day two welcomed crossover star Cassyette, who following her festival debut at the Download Pilot last year has continued to rise up the ranks in the rock scene, leaving fans chanting her name. Horror-metal heroes Ice Nine Kills lived up to their pre-festival hype with a riotous pantomime show, complete with killer clowns stalking the stage. The gothic Dana Dentata sped through her latest album Pantychrist with spectacular theatrical acuity, exiting the stage to besotted chants of “one more song!”. She is later followed by Birmingham havoc merchants Napalm Death, whose pioneering grindcore served up a spiralling mosh-pit. Welsh quintet Funeral For A Friend brought their post-hardcore sound to the Avalanche Stage, whilst Megadeth delivered a stunning headline performance on the Opus Stage. Appearing just before the Apex Stage headliners, Deftones soaked up their sunny Donington surroundings, opening with the yearning ‘Be Quiet and Drive’, before launching into a fan-service set that brings every shade of the band to life on stage.
For their 7th ever Download headline slot, Iron Maiden brought the house down with staggering theatrics, encompassing the lore of their 17 studio albums and beyond. Beginning with the title track off latest album Senjutsu, the stage began as a Japanese tera before metamorphosising into an opulent church, a crypt, and finally an airstrip as a floating Spitfire loomed over the rock legends, framing their earnest performance. Bruce Dickinson sparred with Samurai Eddie, wielding dual hand-held flamethrowers and donning a Top Hat for fan-favourite ‘Fear Of The Dark’, before drawing the night to an end with ambitious and anthemic ‘Aces High’.
This year, Download introduced many exciting site changes, including the move to a hard-standing village in a brand-new location. Moving even closer to the Arena, the new location was also just 350m from the Access Campsite, meaning access customers were able to go freely from their camp to The Village without leaving solid ground, enjoying the full Download experience with more convenience than ever before.
Download also welcomed Music Support, the charity that helps those who work in music and live events providing mental health support, back to the festival. They operated a Safe Hub backstage, where artists and crew could come to take some time out or speak to a mental health first aid trained volunteer. For further information visit www.musicsupport.org
The energy of the crowd only grew as the sun rose over the Download stages on Sunday for a glorious final day at Donington Park, which saw the hotly-tipped Wargasm, take to the Apex Stage in style. The Dogtooth Stage saw Ru Paul’s Drag Race star Bimini‘s festival debut and first ever performance with a live band, blasting out a medley of The Prodigy, Britney Spear’s ‘Toxic’ and Girls Aloud’s ‘No Good Advice’. Rise Against opened their set with ‘Prayer of the Refugee’, while British rock royalty The Darkness delivered a powerhouse set, filled with classic hits and Justin Hawkin’s trademark showmanship. Korn demonstrated a masterpiece in nu-metal and executing the perfect hits-filled festival setlist. The Opus Stage closed in style with comedy glam-metal icons Steel Panther showcasing why they’ve earnt legendary status amongst the Download audience.
The stage was then set for the return of headliners Biffy Clyro who began their rise through the Download ranks in 2004. 18 years later after chalking off slots on every stage at Download, they closed the biggest night in the rock festival calendar for with a blistering and euphoric set, proving once again why they are the very best in the game.
Highlights of this year’s Download Festival will be broadcast on SKY ARTS on 9th and 10th July at 9pm.