What better place to host a heavy metal festival than in the birthplace of the genre itself: the United Kingdom. Often dubbed as “Europe’s biggest rock concert,” the Download Festival has busted the seams of the Donington Park racetrack into its new location south of the circuit. In 2013, 90,000 people turned up for Slipknot, Iron Maiden, Rammstein, Motorhead, and Alice in Chains. That same year, the UK Festival Awards named the Download Festival the Best Major Musical Festival.
Now the question is: How do you preserve the fringe-y, contrarian ethos of the metal scene while growing evermore popular?
Keeping the Headbangers Happy
With 150 heavy metal bands rocking five stages, Download offers something for every brand of metalhead: old and young, hardcore and harder-core. So, if this year’s more mainstream headliners of Aerosmith and Avenged Sevenfold aren’t quite “metal enough,” never fear: selections like Dying Fetus will keep the edges of this metal-scene nicely serrated. Linkin Park will also be at the festival to play the entirety of their multi-platinum debut album, Hybrid Theory.
In the lineage of Monsters of Rock, which was held in the same location from 1980 to 1996, the Download Festival was the inspiration of Andy Copping and Stuart Galbraith in 2003. They named the festival “Download” with the idea that attendees could file-share tracks of the festival’s featured bands. That venture was later scrapped, but the name remains as a salute to the Internet age and the active online community that the festival nurtures.
Other bands that will be playing this year include StatusQuo, Steel Panther, Alter Bridge, Fall Out Boy, Trivium, Crossfaith, Blessthefall, and so many more. Joining Avenged Sevenfold will be “the overlord of all things horror metal,” Rob Zombie.
An Edgy and Sensitive Ambience
For better or worse, expect to encounter a touch of dark humor at Download Festival. Mosh pits have turned violent, stage barriers have been trampled, and unsavory sundries sometimes gets tossed around in the crowd—a moldy fish anyone? In 2013, one festival-goer got stuck on a zip line during the Mars‘ set, and the crowd threw cans at him in jest. Beer stalls and whiskey funnels no doubt contribute to mayhem. Although you can stay out of trouble with some sober-decision making, it’s probably safe to say that no one comes to Download Festival to meditate.
Despite it all, the festival does have a sensitive side, meaning that if you get knocked down in a mosh pit, count on being gently picked up again. Also, the event organizers stand out for their online rapport with their audience and respond well to concerns and requests for specific bands. So, even in the face of age differences and diverse opinions, there is a spirit of we’re-all-outsiders-together when it comes to opposing the commercialization of music.
Many Download fans prize the sense of family they feel at the events (especially when everyone cops devils horns at the same time!). The communal spirit of camping at the event contributes to this vibe. Stake out your residence in these temporary head-banger neighborhoods with basic bring-your-own-gear scenarios, or reserve pre-outfitted tents and huts. Some of the higher- end possibilities sell out quickly, so book ASAP. Showers and bathrooms of varying quality are available to all. There are also campervan options with waste-disposal points and water facilities (but no electrical hook-ups).
Choose your neighborhood carefully. Opt for the standard camping area if you want to party with the younger hellians. If you want to get some sleep, however, the “RIP”camping area with its extra amenities and designated quiet hours might be the better choice.
If rough camping doesn’t sound appealing after a day of slam dancing, escape the high-energy fray of the Download Festival at the Holiday Inn, Hilton, Radisson, Donington Farm House Hotel, or other nearby establishments. For something entirely different, check out the “RIP Metal Hotel, “ which is an indoor pop-up hotel on the festival grounds. It comes with lots of perks: a flat screen TV, private bathroom, clean linens, and breakfast.