Download Festival 2009: Rated!

Donington Park, Castle Donington - 12-14 June

Download Festival 2009: Rated!

Photographer: Shirlaine ForrestRuth Booth, Ali Ryland on 16 June 2009

Overall  - 8/10

After last year's lacklustre headliners, awkward layout and an overall lineup that saw some weekend punters leave 24 hours after the start, Download festival really needed to pull its socks up even before the credit crunch even hit. Download 2009 hitched them high and slipped a spiky leather garter on top.

This year, organisers seemed determined to make as much history as possible, with a line-up boasting the reformed Faith No More, the anniversary of Slipknot's debut, Limp Bizkit, one of Thunder's final shows, Steel Panther's UK debut, and of course, Def Leppard's return to Donington, marking 23 years since that first appearance after Paul Allen's motorcycle accident. Following some shaky decisions in previous years, the superlative line-up managed the perfect blend between the old and new school, without alienating either younger fans or older fans and on the smaller stages Download proved it had its fingers on the pulse for newer acts. Meanwhile, changes to the layout meant great ease of movement and the shortening of the trek back to the tents met with great approval. Download virgins and veterans such as Yvonne from Glasgow praised the festival as "amazing! I like the layout of the stages, it's definitely a lot better this year."

Finally, Download was historic for another reason, festival punters setting the Guinness world record for largest air guitar ensemble for 'Ace Of Spades'. But can anyone tell us how the heck the second stage ended up with a bee infestation on day two?


Getting there and back - 8/10

Just two and a half miles from East Midlands Airport, Donington Racetrack is pretty handy if you're travelling from overseas or taking the more luxurious option from other parts of the UK. For the rest of us, frequent shuttle buses to and from Derby and Loughbrough stations, as well as direct National Express services make it easily accessible. And with the slight re-organisation of the site layout this year, car access was better than ever.


The site - 7/10

When Download was forced off the racetrack by new developments, the 2008 layout was designed as if Live Nation were thinking about how best to work around the gap, rather than how to make it easy for punters to access stages and their tents. The result? A second stage that seemed miles away from the rest of the festival and a dreaded 20 minute trudge from the main stage to the campsites. Similarly, the layout of stages made it much easier for the smaller bands to nab stray punters between bands on the main and second stages. And while we hate to get scatalogical, the positioning of toilets between the Main and Tuborg stages was very handy. 2009 saw Download settle more into its current shape and come out the better for it.


Atmosphere - 8/10

Download 2009 will be remembered as not only having the best line-up for a good few years, but also the most chilled out vibe. Admittedly, camping is still not something for the queasy of stomach - at 9pm on Thursday night, the village already looked like a cross between CKY's Carver City and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. However it's the line-up that prompted the biggest changes. In previous years, attempts to bring more variety into the main stage's loose "theme days" have had mixed results - particularly the year that saw Feeder headline the main stage to, well, no one. However, the grouping of the bands into roughly 90's and nu-metal, current buzz and rock legends went down extremely well - and surprisingly it wasn't just the younger generation who were discovering new music. Meanwhile, the attention to both the more metal and indie rock sides of the underground on the smaller stages meant there was pretty much something for everyone and the unexpected, glorious sunshine left Download punters relaxed enough to bring the mosh when it really mattered.

Music

This year's lineup could literally do no wrong. Nu- and alt metal nostalgia had Faith No More and Limp Bizkit; metal freaks had Trivum and Slipknot; underground hounds had The Blackout, We Are The Ocean, Enter Shikari and more; and the last night on the main stage read like a who's who of classic rock legends. Here's the highlights and lowlights.

Uppers

Faith No More - 8/10

Whilst Download's 'first reunion show' thunder may have been stolen by their Brixton Academy headliner a couple of days before, that did little to dampen the anticipation of the gathered masses. Red curtains were raised and eventually Mike Patton joined his bandmates onstage, with the aid of a walking stick and dressed in a dapper, all-red suit. After a jazzy instrumental intro they launched smoothly into a fitting cover of 'Reunited', before delving into their own extensive backcatalogue with classics like 'We Care A Lot' going down fantastically. Despite making several jokes about his age, the cane was a red herring; Mike Patton was as animated as ever, barely resting in the same spot for more than a few seconds at a time. Whilst 'Epic' naturally demanded a passionate response, it was their customary cover of Lionel Ritchie's 'Easy' which provided a surprisingly touching highlight. – Jamie Barker

Motley Crue - 7/10?

There's always something moving about big, burly men watching four old guys in leather play cheese-filled songs like 'Kickstart My Heart'. Yet the aging rockers still have life in them yet, if the crotch-grabbing Tom Jones-esque moves are anything to go by. Motley Crue reassert their masculinity through songs such as ‘Girls Girls Girls’ and ‘S.O.S’ where they provide entertainment in the form of softcore lesbian porn on the big screens - even the multitude of unveiled tits from gigglish fans have a hard time competing. It's good old-fashioned metal mysogyny - but what really makes Motley Crue's return to Download exciting? There's a clue in 'Dr Feelgood', the mellowing, perky vibes of classic metal, the high-pitched chirpiness of Vince Neil and Tommy Lee and his bottle of Jagermeister that he passes through the masses. So when the piano is wheeled out for final song, slow ballad 'Home Sweet Home', it's rather touching. "Download, we promise to come back next year!" shouts Neil, before disappearing. You better. - Ali Ryland

ZZ Top - 9/10
I know what you're thinking. What about Def Leppard's historic headlining slot? Hell, while we're at it, why not Steel Panther's triumphant UK debut, dude? Both great choices from this weekend's classic section, but if you wanted to see some real masters at work, ZZ Top was the place to be. The biggest beards in rock drew the crowds for classics like 'Gimme All Your Lovin' and 'Smart Dressed Man' alone, but what stood out wasn't just a case of nostalgia. After nearly 40 years together, ZZ Top have developed an almost psychic link between the three of them. The slightest move, from the synchronised guitar bobbing to Dusty Hill's cutting head shake during Billy Gibbons' solo moments, was executed with polish and natural subtlety - less a case of age, but knowledge of exactly how much was enough. ZZ Top's set was a testament to the power of what a three men alone can do on a stage, with no flashy gimmicks, no witty banter, no ego and no titties. Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu said, "What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease." If that's true, then ZZ Top are the smartest band we've seen all weekend. - Ruth Booth

Fei Comodo - 8/10? ?
When the likes of God Forbid and Suicide Silence make your head ring, and the bobbing soft rock of Go:Audio is too effeminate, an alternative is needed. Enter Fei Comodo. Happy hardcore minus the emo-lite fuzziness and the continuous screaming will equal success for this Essex five-piece, as the Red Bull tent was overflowing at the impressive time of 2.30pm. Musical prowess aside, the band have got 'it' when it comes to their live performance; frontman Marc Halls' puppy-like enthusiasm and exuberant climbing antics caused him to throw himself into the crowd repeatedly, before returning half alive to the front, still singing. "I'm asking you for one favour!" he cried in last song "This one's for us. I want the crowd to split right down the middle..." Yes, it's a wall of death. Yes, the drummer, bassist and singer all leapt into the crowd, while friends from Forever Never and Devil Sold His Soul took over their instruments. And yes, bassist Jay was violently sick in the crowd after a dreadful winding. Now that, my friends, is hardcore; just ask the man-goat air guitaring away in the pit. A random yet fun display of what a "small" band can do. - Ali Ryland

Pulled Apart By Horses - 8/10
Tom Hudson from Pulled Apart By Horses explained that they are "an indie band pretending to be a metal band" - right before charging headfirst into 'E = MC Hammer'. You'd never have known it, though, as they then spent the next 25 minutes tearing the roof from the Tuborg stage. Hudson later explained that he was screaming, not talking, between songs, as "this is [his] Download voice". It's this insistence on not taking themselves too seriously that makes Pulled Apart By Horses such a great band. Within the first five minutes Hudson had already worked himself into such a frenzy charging around that he fell over. The crowd were encouraged to high five each other before 'High Five. Swan Dive. Nose Dive.', and they gracious accepted the invitation en masse. By the end of the song, James Brown had jumped from a speaker stack, and Hudson leapt from the stage to riff in security's faces. After all the gymnastics, Hudson observed that he "should buy a wireless mic, but then [he'd] look like a complete fag". After a march through recent single 'Meat Balloon', they introduced Lynsey Williams as their "stunt boobs" for the final song. As a result, Hudson is able to spend the majority of 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat' in the middle of the crowd. Whether they thought they were metal or not, Pulled Apart By Horses still gave Download a sharp kick in the underbelly. - Jamie Barker

Downers

Trivium - 3/10? ?
"I was practicing what to say to you guys..." Matt Heafy starts, before pouring out the usual old guff such as "England was the first place to truly understand Trivium". Sure, it's not as if we haven't heard the same thing from any stage in the festival this weekend. However, without Corey Taylor's spin doctor-esque inspirational speaking or Tommy Lee's bottle of Jager, the words fall flat. Better keep practicing, Heafy. But at least there's the hard-rocking American metal we all know and love, even if half the crowd have dispersed after Papa Roach to avoid the dreaded congestion. Guess even Trivium aren't worth staying through for that. Still, when oldies 'Like Light to the Flies' appear, they're well received. Unfortunately the crowds of Sunday are far less energetic than usual, putting a dampener on the whole set. Heafy's efforts fluctuate, as at first he roars "We're going to fucking explode together," with a half-hearted response, and then finally gives up, announcing that we can mosh or chill out. When a false start to 'Fugue' due to out of tune guitars upsets the rhythm, it's obvious today is not Trivium's day. 'We Are Fire' and 'Gunshot' can't turn it all around either; a depressing end to Download. - Ali Ryland

Man Raze - 4/10
Just a mention of Phil Collen (Def Leppard) or Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) in association with any new band would be cause for celebration. Put the two of them together, and things are a little more uncertain. However, VF was convinced that this would be a recipe for something different, rather than the shambolic mess it sounded like. We were wrong on both counts. Technically Man Raze's set was a solid and proficient exercise - the solos were sweet as a nut, Collen pulling off his rock gurn with convincing aplomb. But for the other 2 minutes, 30 seconds of every song, Man Raze sunk back into a pedestrian Sunday rehearsal vibe. You might as well have been in any old man pub across the country, watching three guys plod away at their craft - and judging from the muted reaction from most of the crowd, a lot of them wished they were. Who'd have thought two of the most celebrated musicians in the country could create something so boring? What made this ten times more disappointing was that a mere 24 hours later, Collen would be back on the Main stage kicking out one of the best sets of the weekend in Def Leppard. When the mighty fall, they fall hard. - Ruth Booth

Sevendust 3/10
Sevendust had never played Download Festival before and they were quick to point out that they hoped “build a relationship”, with those gathered at the Second Stage. Forty minutes later their attempts revealed themselves to be, well and truly, in vain, as their tired faux-aggression did little to excite those who'd (foolishly) opted to miss the 'Don't Stop Believin' sing-along across the site by Journey. Tracks such as 'Scapegoat' fell flat for all but the most devout fans launching themselves around the sweaty heaving throng and there was a noticeable number of drifters making their excuses before the end of the set. Ultimately, the ferocious melodies of a band like Sevendust deserve a setting far from the large, blazing hot fields of Donington, but any excuses being made on their behalf quickly dissolved with the explanation that Sevendustmay be from across the pond, but music is universal”. It may have taken you a while to make your way to Download Festival boys, but next time please try and leave the tired clichés at home. - Jamie Barker

Bring Me The Horizon - 2/10? ?
"And we will never sleep, 'cos sleep is for the weak" seems the only lyrics out of BMTH's entire discography that are sing-along worthy. The rest of 'Diamonds Are Forever', as well as the remainder of their collected works, is unintelligible. Obviously that's a given with screamo, deathcore or whatever core they are now. Yet there's no thrill of a good band under all the Drop!Dead clothing, Nottingham incident hype and a 'pretty' face. Instead, it's a scrawny boy running down into the crowd yet afraid to dive into the deep mass for fear of mussing his hair. The impressive stage presence they used to flaunt is lacking, and definitely in trouble. "Who here's on acid?" Oli Sykes asks, and after a few confirmations, pronounces "Nice one!" It's no wonder he's so looked up to. Here, Bring Me The Urinal is a much more apt name for what once may have been a creditable band. - Ali Ryland

Hollywood Undead - 3/10
In these worrying, BrokeNCYDE-populated times, it's worrying that bands like Hollywood Undead are not only taken seriously, but are also handed the opportunity to open the Main stage at one of Britain's biggest festivals. Their Download performance did little more than underline why Linkin Park fans should never be allowed to purchase samplers or mix with those who have a mask fetish. Their onstage comments were cringeworthy, but somehow there were more people there to hear them than there would be for Faith No More's set later that night. Techniques such as getting the crowd to shout "fuck" did little to mask the terrible music they churned out and, thankfully, bemusement reigned supreme amongst many of the crowd members. Hollywood Undead's online popularity cannot be allowed to transfer to "the real world". Shame on Download for allowing them the platform from which to try. - Jamie Barker

Random Events

On Friday, VF finds Jesus (aka Adam from London) wandering around the arena. He says he's most looking forward to Faith No More. Other costumed highlights included a Spartan, a pair of cows, a tribute ZZ Top beard, and two guys who were 12 months late for last year's KISS’ makeup record attempt.

Black Stone Cherry's set prompted the only moob flash of the weekend.

Highlights from Steel Panther's banter included "You know, I saw Steve Perry [from Journey] and he's had so much plastic surgery he looks Asian," and "We love you! Remember, if you're a hot chick, come backstage so we can fuck you!"

"Did you see that? A fucking aeroplane goes overhead! The weirdest thing I've ever seen!"
says Joe Elliott. The excesses of Def Leppard's eighties hayday may not have been as extreme as we were led to believe.

Lady Gaga was the most popular choice for covers this weekend, with both Faith No More and You Me At Six covering 'Poker Face'.

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