Download, the daddy of UK rock festivals, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. We take a look at two decades of (very) loud live music…
So, if you’ve never been to Download what can you expect?
This is a metal, mayhem and mud spectacular that is beaten in size only by Glastonbury. If you like your music loud, heavy and played on a screaming guitar and cannot resist a mosh pit, this is the festival for you.
Not for nothing is it such a big draw: over the years it has played host to names so big you don’t need to be a rock fan to know them. We’re talking Black Sabbath, Slipknot, Motörhead, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Kiss, Status Quo, ZZ Top and Guns N’ Roses. We could go on…
Where is it?
Download is hosted at what’s been dubbed the spiritual home of rock, Leicestershire’s Donington Park. The site also played host to the annual one-dayer Monsters Of Rock for 16 years from 1980 to 1996, with Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzfest putting in a one-time appearance in 2002.
Download set out to be something more ambitious though – originally conceived as a two-day camping festival with a more contemporary vibe.
These days it has grown into a four-day spectacular and has, in the past, spawned spin-off events in Paris, Sydney, Melbourne and Germany.
So why is it called it Download?
Glad you asked: the reason makes for an interesting trip down a musical memory lane. Back in 2003, downloading music was still a controversial concept. Three years earlier, Metallica had successfully sued Napster (then a peer-to-peer filesharing pioneer). Tickets in that first year included a special code that allowed festival-goers to download tracks for free.
And it’s been going ever since?
Yup. And there has been a festival every year since, including during the pandemic, when virtual events were staged with the launch of Download TV, which, despite its name, couldn’t be downloaded to watch at a later date. So just like the IRL event, you had to be there…
The debut year got off to a shaky start. Festival booker Andy Copping was convinced it was going to be a catastrophe after the headliner, Limp Bizkit, cancelled just weeks before.
‘We were a headliner down in our first year, which was a complete disaster,’ he says.
In the end just one of the 25,000 punters wanted their money back, and Download’s debut was deemed an overwhelming success.
Metallica are headlining this year, right?
They are. And it seems fitting – as they were there in 2003. ‘They did the secret set,’ Andy tells Metro. ‘We told nobody. They were halfway down the bill, on the second stage, as Everest – nobody knew who they were. That was a massive talking point.’
What have been some of the other highlights over the years?
Andy lists his personal favourites as AC/DC in 2010, The Prodigy and Black Sabbath (both in 2012) and Iron Maiden and Rammstein who were headlining a year later. Incidentally, Maiden’s appearance for the tenth anniversary included a Spitfire flyover, with frontman Bruce Dickinson personally co-ordinating with the fighter plane’s pilot so the second the aircraft swooped over the crowd, the band could leap out and play Aces High.
‘Quite possibly the best introduction to any band set ever,’ says Andy.
I’ve heard Downloaders are particularly dedicated bunch?
You could say that. As Andy explains: ‘I know of no other festival anywhere in the world where the fans have the festival name, or mascot, tattooed on their bodies. You don’t see anybody with a Coachella or a Glastonbury tattoo. Yet you see hundreds and hundreds of Download fans with Download tattoos. I think that says something about the festival that sets us so far apart from all the others.’
After 20 years, are there any rock bands that haven’t played Download?
After two decades of line-ups, it does feel like that. But Andy still has a sizeable wish-list. He says: ‘Green Day – I’d love them to play the festival. Also Blink 182, Foo Fighters. I think Bon Jovi would be great.’
I think we can safely call that your invite, guys…
Shockingly, the festival is yet to have a female headliner. Paramore would be incredible!
Anything else it’s known for?
It was once dubbed Britain’s filthiest festival – something we rather suspect Download fans take as a badge of honour.
So who’s headlining this year…
Understandably excited about their big birthday, Andy and his team are going to town. Metallica – as you know – and then Slipknot, Bring Me The Horizon, Skindred… the list goes on.
Sounds fab. Can I still get tickets?
Way too late. But there’s always next year…
Download kicks off today and runs until Sunday, download.co.uk
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