From 14 months without live music to 72 hours of militant guitar work - Donnington Park re-opened the gates of hell to welcome Download’s Pilot Festival.
It's been almost two years since a live festival was held in the UK and last weekend Derby’s Donnington Park welcomed a grand total of 10,000 screaming emos, metalheads, and everything in-between for a very special event. Words don’t quite do the Download Pilot enough justice. Run by Festival Republic, the weekend saw a handful of our favourite acts take to stage after what feels like a lifetime of silence.
Whilst the music industry saw a colossal hit from COVID-19, this weekend was the first glimpse of hope for many of us. Welcoming guests on the condition that everyone attending provided NHS approved negative COVID-19 test results, Download Pilot showcased insane headline performances from Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes, Enter Shikari, and Bullet For My Valentine.
Setting the tone right away were Sheffield-based five-piece group Malevolence, blasting their indestructible ‘Serpents Chokehold’. Everyone bustled from their stations towards the main stage as Malevolence ensured that it was all systems blazing from here on out. As you heard the roars of the fans, frontman Alex Taylor announced, “I want to thank every single one of you for coming out here today.” Their stage lights blaring and fans from the back force themselves forward as they stampede to create some gnarly mosh pits. And suddenly this is it, the feeling we’ve all missed so much: live music, booze, singing with strangers, and simply connecting with some of our favourite bands. It all feels very surreal.
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The following day we tuned in to some of our favourites: Boston Manor, Neck Deep, Sleep Token and headliner Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes. Embodying emo rock Lancashire group Boston Manor lit up Download’s main stage with the addictive, ‘Halo’, and recent single ‘Plasticine Dreams’, taken from their third studio album ‘GLUE’. Bouncing with undefeatable pop-punk energy are Neck Deep, playing for a live audience for the first time in two years, an incredibly special moment.
Closing the evening with chaotic stage lights, female-only mosh pits, hellish screams, and a guest appearance from Cassyette, were Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes. The group played new single ‘Heartbreaker’ and a cover of Mötorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades.’
Saturday welcomed explosive performances from two bands fresh on our radar: WARGASM and YONAKA. We also saw the likes of VUKOVI whose vocal range and techniques were out of this world, and we immersed ourselves in the While She Sleeps live performance. This year’s Download Festival meant so much to many of us, and as WARGASM took to the festival’s stage for the first time, the group slammed a range of hits including their newly released single, ‘Spit.,’ ‘Backyard Bastards,’ and ‘Post Modern Rhapsody,’ to list a few – but that really got everyone up was ‘Lapdance’.
As the music industry has taken a forced hiatus from live music, it was expected that mistakes were going to be made. As we move onto YONAKA’s main stage performance, only two tracks their sound was suddenly cut out with lead guitarist George Edwards flinging himself from side-to-side, ignoring the obvious error. The band continue, as the show must go on! Fans cheer as an act of encouragement, and vocalist Theresa Jarvis shouts “Alright, well hello everyone!” as the sound returns, and as fans scream again, Jarvis continues with “Fucking hello Download, what the fuck, first time back and you can’t even hear anything,” before thrashing into the rest of their set.
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Rocking onto stage next is frontman Lawrence Taylor of heavy metal six-piece While She Sleeps. Awakening fans with annihilating guitar work and quadruple drums is explosive introductory, ‘Sleep Society,’ taken from their sixth studio album of the same name. Saturday evening was closed by Enter Shikari, paying homage to their 2020 album, ‘Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible’, but we do want to have a word about them not playing T.I.N.A! The last time Enter Shikari played Download Festival was in 2019 when they threw a monstrous headline show on the Avalanche stage. This year, Download Pilot saw the group put on one of the most memorable shows of all time, beaming stage lights, confetti, and some of their most acclaimed tracks, ‘Juggernauts,’ ‘Anything Can Happen,’ and of course, ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’. For anyone who’s ever debated watching these live, I can assure you, it’s worth it.
“Thank you to everyone that made this happen in such short notice!” shouted Enter Shikari frontman Rou Reynolds. After the cancellation of Download Festival 2021, announced in March, Download’s Pilot festival has been an incredible consolation proving just how much people are willing to fight for the music industry.
Whilst Sunday felt like a quick end to our Download weekend, there was still plenty of energy amongst both stages, and with the Download team strategically planning no stage clashes its fair to say the entire weekend was pretty faultless. “Rise and shine Download,” shouted Cassyette before jumping into hit single ‘Dear Goth,’ across the second stage. At this point you can tell the crowd are still recovering from the last two days, as Cassyette screeches, “Let’s get this one going guys, wake the fuck up,” and just like that, the front rows are taken up by a circle pit, death kicks, and head bangs. Wrapping up with ‘Prison Purse’ fans fling themselves around to what’s left of her set. As the group exit the second stage fans pace it over to the main stage to catch the unmatchable group that is Employed to Serve. As the sound of the drums boom through the speakers, frontwoman Justine Jones screams, “fucking open this shit up Download,” before spinning into monstrous ‘Eternal Forward Motion’.
Completing Download Pilot with a bang is colossal rock group Bullet For My Valentine, slamming some absolute anthems on stage, with the official live debut of their recently dropped single ‘Knives.’ Thrashing into, ‘Don't Need You,’ as their introductory, fans scream from the top of their lungs to keep up with the neck-break speed of the music. Playing tracks ‘Your Betrayal,’ ‘You Want a Battle? (Here’s a War),’ and ‘The Last Fight,’ the group had all of our attention. Ending with emo-masterpiece ‘Waking the Demon,’ suddenly beers, Download cups, inflatable balls, inflatable beds, and crowd surfers are all flung into the air at once. The mosh pits were a war zone, and fans gave it every bit they had left in them. An insane finish to an incredible weekend.
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Words: Laviea Thomas