|Download: Reflections of a self-confessed "grumpy middle-aged man"|
|Written by Nick Russell|
|Sunday, 04 September 2016 03:00|
As I sit here (still) cleaning the mud from absolutely everything I took to D(r)ownload 2016, it puts me in a somewhat reflective mood. Did I enjoy it? Was it worth the relatively Bear Grylls levels of endurance needed to get there and around and about? Will I go and put myself through it all again next year? Are these mega multi-day festivals really still valid in the day and age of the dwindling “big” bands? All of the above and more will be revealed…
When the calendar hits the second weekend of June, despite the unpredictability of our variable island climate, you can be fairly certain it’s going to rain. And that would be because it’s Download time! This year didn’t buck the trend of the last 3 either, with precipitation over the 3 main days of the event. The Met Office reckon it was 40 odd mm and probably the wettest ever but I would venture we had far more than that, as my drowned drenched rat appearance would attest to! Don’t get me wrong, a bit of rain is fine, it’s only water, but it’s the mud bath that it creates that’s the problem, especially at Download. And boy was the mud bad this year.
At any outdoor event, if it rains, and there are 80-odd thousand people trapesing back and forth from campsites miles away, heading to any one of the 4 stages and refreshing themselves at the bars and food emporiums and relieving themselves at the toilets, it’s going to get messy. And despite the efforts of the organisers in putting straw and bark pieces down every day, it just wasn’t enough, rivers of mud being the best description. Festivals are supposed to be fun but how can you enjoy yourself when you’re worried about going apex over elbow at any moment! I may be the size of a hippo but I don’t want to wallow in mud like one!
The pictures below give you a flavour of what it was like, starting off not too bad but as the weekend went on, getting much worse. Would anyone enjoy that? And the last picture was exactly where I left my boots and combats, they were that wrecked! And don’t worry, your fair scribe didn’t travel home starkers but had a strategic change of clothes!
Now I can hear the multitudes shouting “man up princess”, “get on with it ya wuss”, “it’s all about the experience”!!
The fact is I’m nearly 50 years old, have dodgy knees, a suspect Achilles and I’ve more than enough “experiences” over the 25-odd festivals I’ve been to since 1985! I just feel these events need to consider us punters a little more, after all they’re not cheap, a lot of money is spent just to get there and considerably more whilst your there, a fiver a pint and a tenner for dinner anyone? But what can the organisers do? Put matting down across the whole site? That’s a helluva lot of square miles to cover. Maybe there could be some specific walkways created that lead to certain areas that get the most traffic, like the toilets, other stages, exits etc., no that’s not beyond the realms of possibility, it could be done. And whilst there might be some additional cost to the organisers to do it, I’m fairly certain the parent group Live Nation could absorb that rather than passing it on to Joe customer, especially with the vast profits from last year’s revenue of approx. $7.6 billion dollars! Whatever, they really do need to look into a more permanent solution.
I also discovered a rather worrying trend through some of the social media channels whilst checking for pictures of the mud bath site. It seemed that a lot of people (the younger generation I venture) were commenting online that along with the weather, things being stolen from tents, someone being robbed at knife point and unbelievably an alleged rape occurring, it’s all part of the festival experience!!?? Really?? Fuck that right off, that’s not what I expect from any festival I go to (or life in general). If that’s the way some people think, it’s just another indication of the decline of our morals and standards. I remember when the Monster Of Rock was all about community, rock and metal fans (back then viewed by the idiots as different) coming together at our event to have a good time. Yes, there was the odd scuffle (alcohol will always do that with some people and they were usually the best of friends again within the hour!); and most who attended will have had that suspect liquid shower (!!) but the general vibe was always a coming together of like-minded people to celebrate the music, and get thoroughly wasted!! Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case these days.
What about the music I hear you cry (or plead!)? Because of the conditions I didn’t see as many bands as I wanted to, either because it was pissing down so much or I just couldn’t be arsed! And if that’s how I felt because of the conditions, it tells you a lot. I had the misfortune (long story) to catch Babymetal and I find myself asking this question: why???? Why do they exist; why do people seem to like them and why are they on the Mainstage when other more deserving bands aren’t. I just don’t see it, whatever “it” is! Killswitch Engage are a great band who (live) are totally ruined by that dick guitarist Adam D, you are just not funny, and some of your between song “banter” was plain offensive. I managed to catch 2 or 3 songs of The Wildhearts, unfortunately from outside the tent as it was rammed, so not the best experience but quality will always shine through a shower of shit. A bonafide Mainstage band if ever there was one, criminal that they weren’t.
I’ve seen Korn a few times over the recent years, and whilst I’m not the biggest fan of all their songs, there’s no doubting they are a good live band and the rain doesn’t dampen their attack at all. I may have even enjoyed it. Rammstein will always be a great show, although this headlining spectacle was somewhat dampened (literally) by the sound not being quite there, too much water in the p.a. giving it a rather annoying popping sound every time Till was singing. I'm disappointed though that keyboard player Flake wasn’t launched across the vast crowd on a large boat during ‘Seemann’, he could’ve ended up in Derby!
Saturday comes and no change in the weather. I catch the tail end of Rival Sons, a proper rock voice. Megadeth live these days are always half decent. I had only seen Deftones a week ago where they were simply stunning, and even drenched in the pissing rain, they were strangely hypnotic. I never actually ventured out the front for Sabbath but from my vantage point (and as we left early), Ozzy’s just hasn’t got the voice anymore, a shame considering the music is still as you would expect. As a fan, it’s embarrassingly flat, time to give it up. To be honest I didn’t really watch any bands on Sunday, the 2 previous days had taken there their toll, I did catch a little of doomsters Electric Wizard, and Gojira sounded like they should’ve been on a bigger stage rather than the tent. The same could be said for Saxon, judging by the crowd reaction to the classics as we leave the mud bath for the final time. That’s right, I didn’t even bother with Iron Maiden, I’d thoroughly had enough by then.
I think part of the apathy towards the whole weekend was also down to the bill. Whilst there were some bands I would have wanted to see, there was a lot I wasn’t bothered about. And as for the headliners, it’s beginning to get a bit repetitive. Maiden and Rammstein will more than likely be back in couple of years, Metallica will make an another appearance soon with their new album imminent and if the rumours are true, Fat Axl and the boys will be one of next years “star” attractions (thanks but no thanks). The number of “big” bands that could headline such an event are dwindling, I think the days of bands getting to that level are long gone. The fame for quarter of an hour brigade have well and truly taken over the asylum.
For those who love music and aren’t all about chasing the dollar, the template for the future is the likes of Bloodstock and the very much Uber Rock approved Steelhouse festivals. Smaller events run by music fans rather than business men. Yes, Bloodstock does have a certain amount of corporatisation, any festival has to have a degree of that just to survive, it’s not cheap to put on such an event, but it’s more about the music. I genuinely think Bloodstock has got to a level and they’re quite happy with that. It pretty much always sells out, attracts great bands and everyone who attends has a good time. The same with Steelhouse, yes, at a different end of the musical spectrum but the same sort of idea, a smaller festival with some great bands, I'm not sure what sort of attendance this one attracts but its undoubtedly popular. This more DIY approach seems to be the way to go, although don’t go too big too soon is the way, unlike the failed Alt-Fest that crashed and thoroughly burned, leaving a sour taste amongst many people. Festivals are and should be firstly about the music, if done properly and at the right level, everything else will sort itself out.
Whatever my thoughts are, it’s a fair certainty that the likes of Download will continue, they’re all too much of a cash cow for the organisers. And the disposable income generation will want to go more as a cultural statement, a la Glastonbury “I was there”! Me, I’d rather go to a smaller event where the music is the focus; there are a few about; I’m sure there will more over the next few years; there has to be to keep good music alive.
And remember, without the music, we’d all just be sitting in fields getting pissed!!
Sayonara Download, Ola Bloodstock/Steelhouse and maybe even Uber Rock-apolooza!!!
PHOTO CREDIT: Download stage photo by Danny North. Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/downloadfest/
For those of you of sturdier souls who haven't been put off by Mr Russell's commentary, Download 2017 takes place from 9th - 11th June.