Can’t decide whether or not to get gone? In anticipation of the big, bad body bake that is the Summer Festival season (buy your SPF60 now, people!), PopMatters spends this week revisiting the highs and lows of last year’s most scintillating soirees. Donington, a small farm town situated about 120 miles north of London, was the location of the famed Monsters of Rock festival until 1996. Since 2003, it has been home to Download, the largest metal music festival in Europe. Download is not a gala of dancing pop vocalists sporting earpieces instead of microphones. Nor is it a festival for glowstick-waving boys in parachute pants or teeny boppers screaming to Robbie Williams. Download is a place where such people would be sacrificed bonfire-style by a horde of psychotic tattooed males. Download is a place for metalheads. Festivalgoers had to deal with not only an intense ticket price, but also constipation, dehydration, and the inevitable association with less-evolved life forms. But the rewards of the pilgrimage far outweighed the costs, when on Friday night, we witnessed the professionalism, perfection, and pure to-the-bones performance of Tool. Pure magic, and well-worth the weekend ticket price by itself. But let me backtrack to early Friday afternoon, as an insane Devin Townsend and his band Strapping Young Lad strutted onto the stage and transformed anticipation into downright mayhem. You could see the metal in the air. Backtracking even more, the most hypnotic performance was undoubtedly that of one Jada Pinkett-Smith and her band Wicked Wisdom. They stunned us into silence with the most horrifying and cringe-worthy experience of recent memory. And yes, husband Will Smith was on the side of the stage bopping his head. After Strapping Young Lad revived the comatose crowd, a number of veteran metal acts reminded us of their genius. Metallica performed their Master of Puppets album… in its entirety! Alice in Chains took the crowd back a decade with one of the most spiritually-satisfying shows of the weekend, while Korn had us scratching our heads as a handful of guest vocalists jumped in to pinch-hit for hospitalized vocalist Jonathan Davis (some of them should have studied the lyrics more before appearing on stage). And, in a microcosmic reflection of reality, Coheed and Cambria got an undeserved spot on the main stage and proved to a 40,000+ crowd that there really is no logical reasoning behind the band’s popularity. Most disheartening was further confirmation of my suspicions that metal isn’t going anywhere. Most of the younger bands seemed to be stealing decades-old ideas from older metal greats, playing a kind of copy-and-paste game with their music. I spent three days slowly realizing that less than a handful of these bands were doing something original. New bands were not only copying the old greats, they were copying each other, creating a boring cycle of repeated ideas. In the end, I was relieved to see Metallica performing their fantastic instrumental “Orion”, a reminder that the heaviest, grooviest metal doesn’t need some squealing punk telling us to jump or die. Metal can be a form of musical expression, after all, not just affected anger. Though their music is not exactly in line with the weekend’s metal theme, it was a shame to see the Prodigy relegated to a timeslot on the second stage which coincided with closing act Guns ‘n’ Roses’ set. The indignation! Had there been fewer acts, the best could have had a greater crowd turnout, and our physical limits wouldn’t have been so stretched so far. And stretched they were. with the three-day festival offered a constant stream of distractions: pyschos, thieves, weirdos filling bottles with piss and throwing them into the crowd, the 15-minute walk to the bathroom, pregnant women chugging beer, men emerging from Port-O-Potties after ten minutes with no footwear or toilet paper, 50-year-old couples in Metallica shirts, 60-year-old men with dreads and their grandchildren�. It was a little surreal. But even though you had to sift through the clones, ignore the barbarians you saw sauntering around the grounds, accept the inevitability of backache and cramps and the frustration of getting lost, the distilled result was one of life’s great experiences. The sight of the sun setting behind a sublime Tool as they provided us with an alternative version of their fantastic “Schism” nearly brought me to tears. You just had to get close enough to the stage, beyond that invisible ring of sound where the bass started to pound your guts, the distortion of the guitars overwhelmed your ears, and the vocal line became the anthem of your existence. It’s strange that the quintessential concert venue is now home to a festival named after a phenomenon that neither the headliners nor hosts LiveNation appear to encourage. James Hetfield of Metallica summed up the whole situation best when he asked us, as Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden did three years ago: “Donington or Download?” DONINGTON! The 2007 edition of the Download Festival hits 8-10 June 2007 in Donington Park.
FEST FLASHBACK: Download Festival 2006 feat. Guns & Roses, Metallica, Tool, and Coheed and Cambria