Download opened its gates to early campers with so much going on in the Village was easy to see how this festival is an all encompassing event like no other.
With cult films in the Cinema tent as well as comedy and pre-party bands it is well worth heading along early and making a holiday of the festival. With planes flying over the site there is a real feeling of getting away from it all.
The dust blew over the sun-scorched earth as you entered the aptly named Village where there is always a great sense of community. Walking through the market stalls and the fun fair rides you may well come across people enthusiastically appreciating a roaring song's beat down and just generally being themselves enjoying the atmosphere.
Further into the belly of the beast, the campsites have various groups from all corners of the UK and beyond, getting involved and intermingling as they challenge each other to beer bongs for the shining prize of a wrestling belt.
What hits you most though is the enthusiasm for music, with many a friendly yet passionate conversation on the bands performing over the weekend.
With over 100,000 music fans descending on the 'spiritual home of rock' the weekend kicked off in full force Friday with a plethora of acts across the 4 stages.
First band to open the Main Stage for the weekend were Boston Manor who bounded onstage with a heartfelt scream. Their emotive punk anthems drifting out across the already burgeoning crowd. With that classic hardcore hugging the mic stance, singer Henry Cox was bouncing around full of energy. The pounding track 'Lead Feet' was pure pop-punk with its catchy hooks and a breathless pause of anticipation between songs led into latest single ‘Halo’ from the upcoming new album which is due out this September.
Over on the Dogtooth Stage at the same time Cellar Darling singer Anna Murphy's sugary vocals contrasted beautifully with the heavy backdrop of their sound. Black Moon was a standout track, with a classic Faith No More-esque clear bass and captivating chorus. Avalanche was another great standout track with the line ‘this is who we are' echoing their confidence for uniquely combining grand heavy riffs and the folk tones of the hurdy gurdy while driving drums break though fusing heavy rock with folk in a wonderfully poetic storytelling style.
Walking through the site, there were a fair few people in fancy dress, more than expected … an inflatable dinosaur, umpa lumpas, multiple jokers and most notably a group of bananas who seemed to be at every great set we saw.
With their new album 'Bay Dream' out next week Californians Culture Abuse were over on the Zippo stage starting out on their European tour, unfortunately we only caught a small part of their set, but it was well worth hurrying along to the Avalanche stage for Employed To Serve. Flocks of keen people were making a beeline for the tent and you can see why they drew a good crowd. We caught the soundcheck where you got to hear the full force of Justine Jones' awesome screams isolated. Amusingly the in between set backing music was lighthearted and cheesy, meaning 'Another Day In Paradise' accompanied Justine's raw and fiercely formidable mic checks. A point made clear by the instruction 'just me in the monitor, no-one else wants my vocals please'. From last year's album 'Warmth of a Dying Sun', standout track of the set was the brutal 'I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away'. They let the crowd know that they are playing the album in full on tour next month and the tent was heaving with revelers with the banana dudes keeping the pit going. So powerfully strong vocally, with awesome deep screams we loved the Justine's voice pushed through with just a tinge of melody. Pounding drums and beat down awesomeness enthused the audience in this set full of energy, where the whole band was on form and Justine was top of her game, a sea of constant hair screaming to the sky.
Walking back across the site we caught a little of Avatar on the Main stage who clearly have a good sense of humour to their set, they introduced 'Smells Like A Freak Show' saying “if they say you look like a freak show, damn right, if they say you sound like a freak show, damn right … you haven't seen the best bit” as he paused and took a great whiff of his armpit, “we smell like a freak show”.
Back at the Avalanche stage, NYC alternative hardcore band Stray From The Path who recently had Employed To Serve joining them on tour stated they were on a mission to bring pissed off music to the world. As a self-confessed outspoken band, they gave a rousing introduction to their track 'Good Night Alt-Right' “everything we're talking about everything we're doing is real and it's from the heart. All these songs are about real important issues that are going on in our world and in this generation. I look around this tent and all I see is beautiful people coming together in support of music that they love”. The band then asked the crowd to raise their fists in the air “one thing that is not welcome at a Stray show is racism … this is for anyone who's been a victim of segregation or racism” as they launched into a blistering barrage of driving punk and a snippet of Dead Kennedys 'Nazi Punks F**k Off'. The inter-song banter continued as they stated they were “not proud to stand on this stage and tell you Donald Trump is the president”. Closing tracks 'The House Always Wins' and 'First World Problem Child' defiantly blended piercing vocals with squealing guitars and pounding rhythm section. “The people want a riot" they sure did, with their immense crowd interaction and driving sound in this packed out tent.
Next up on the Main stage, Marmozets opened up with 'Play' and 'Meant To Be'. The marching drums and stadium-worthy Muse-like guitars gave a really fired up start to the set. Becca has a great urgent tone to her vocals which can switch in a second from a harrowing scream into fierce melody. By 'Particle' the drummer was so enthusiastic headbanging along to each precision beat. It was great to see them in a main stage slot, they showed it was well deserved and did it justice. It was an entertaining set with unwavering stage presence from the whole band. Becca told the crowd how last year they were “camping with you lot” showing they are still down-to-earth as they continue to rise in popularity. Again on 'Move, Shake, Hide' there was expert switching from awesome expressive screams to sassy singing. The storming 'Vibetech' had a great breakdown with the band tight band on all counts - bass and drums powering and building up, quiet parts throughout the set gave a fresh contrast where Becca's voice really shines through. They have a great dynamic, literally family as are made up of two sets of siblings. The set went down really well with loads of movement in the audience more than you might expect in a mid-afternoon slot.
Next we headed back to the Zippo stage to see the nuclear level energy entity that is Andrew WK. Looking out over the crowd he remarked that it was "so beautiful" before bringing out the guitar shaped like a slice of pizza for a solo the whole crowd clapped along. It's at this point and during his frequent flurries on the keys that you're reminded that not only is he the undisputed king of party, but also a talented multi-instrumentalist. He then dedicated 'She Is Beautiful' to all the women, and following that enthused that the song 'Tear It Up' was unsurprisingly a song about tearing it up all night long. Bringing his positive party vibes to an already friendly and partying festival he stated "it feels good to be alive" and really meant it - he clearly loves what he does with a full on unwavering passion and the audience in turn is infected by the party vibes, no more so than after the epically long countdown finally erupts into 'Party Hard'.
Back over on the main stage Volbeat played 'Lola Montez' about a "shady lady named Lola, are there any shady ladies out there? Sure there are I can smell you". Anchored by a heady mix of rockabilly, early rock & roll and metal Volbeat put on a great show.
Canadian hard-core metal band Cancer Bats were next up on the Avalanche stage playing material from their new self-released album 'The Spark That Moves' which was out a month ago. The Beastie Boys cover 'Sabotage' got a good reception from the crowd with a roar in unison eminating out from the tent as the final beats of the intro punched in, unfortunately we weren't feeling it, as a cover of an awesome song although a good rendition it leaves out some of the essence of the best qualities of the classic track ... a cover is best when it ingeniously or substantially changes the original. The rest of the set was really good executed with furious energy and finished with sustained chants for more after.
The Bronx were next up on the Avalanche stage. Dedicating a track "for all the cavemen and women" they were one unit of boundless energy with constant guitar solos and crowd surfing aplenty. Playing 'Side effects' and 'Two Birds' they then dedicated a song to Anthony Bourdain "for everyone that loves music and art".
Napalm Death headlined the Dogtooth Stage with songs like 'Scum' the title track from their '87 debut it was a roaring heavy set. One guy came out of the tent with a bloody nose seeming fine with it, like a badge of honour from a truly energnetic set. They played "two very different songs" that were all of 1 second long, short but oh so sweet.
Avenged Sevenfold said how "the UK was the first country to embrace us this goes put to you". With a massive production and a two hour set delving into their extensive back catalogue they paid service to their oldest fans, going all the way back to 2005 classic ‘Unholy confessions’. With ‘City Of Evil’, ‘Hail To The King’ and also songs from latest surprise album ‘The Stage’ the Californian group proved that they are here to stay as festival headliners.
You Me At Six delivered the second stage headline performance – as they announced their new album at the festival while punk Legends Bad Religion smashed through punk masterclass and tech metal front-runners Tesseract headlined the dogtooth stage.
UK metal torch-bearers Bullet For My Valentine roared through rock-club anthems ‘Tears Don’t Fall’, ‘Scream Aim Fire’ and new hits ‘Letting You Go’ more as they march toward album number six ‘Gravity’.
With the sun shining the atmosphere was electric in what is widely regarded as the UK friendliest festival, celebrating inclusivity, self-expression leaving us looking forward to the next 2 days.