Live Review: Download Festival 2022 (10th-12th June 2022)
Review by Scott Reader
For 3 long years, rock and metal fans have collectively been waiting for one thing; the return of a full size Download, the UK’s premier rock festival, at the hallowed grounds of rock, Donington Park.
The last full size Download was in 2019, and was unfortunately met with the perfect storm of issues, with a site layout vastly increasing walking distances between carparks, campsites, the village and arena. Combined with huge downpours each day, this led to the suitable nickname of ‘Drownload’.
Fast forward 3 years, and the organizers committed to changes to improve conditions. These included a different layout to reduce walking time and accommodate local restrictions, and moving the village (the central hub for food vendors, market stalls, amusements and campsite entertainment) to a tarmac area to ease the impact of rain.
Leading up to the festival, the internet was full of anxiety about the festival; not only because we’re all 3 years older (and possibly not quite as fit after lockdown), but also because the festival appeared to be having some organisation difficulties. Tickets were changed from physical tickets to e-tickets at short notice. Car park passes were not sent out in time. The festival announced cashless payment across the site. Not to mention, bands disappeared from the line-up without any form of communication from the festival. All of this anxiety was unfounded. The organisation was excellent, walking times drastically reduced, and ticketing was not an issue. The minor gripe on arrival was that the site was closed at the village, meaning that dependent on which car park you arrived at, you could only access certain camp sites. This obviously affects groups attending together but arriving separately, as you really want your friends close to make the most of a festival.
After setting up camp on the Wednesday, the day is spent largely doing what one would expect at a festival; Having a drink, talking to fellow music fans and exploring the village. Download is known as one of the UK’s friendliest festivals, and that was clearly on display, with strangers welcoming conversation, and happy to talk to anyone. There’s zero tension in the air, and it’s evident that people feel at home here, where they can be their true selves.
Wednesday evening provides the Takeover event in the Doghouse, the live stage area in the village. Historically this has been a tent, but this year it was open air, and walled in with shipping containers. This was a great aesthetic, and gave the area a new and edgy feel. The Takeover is a great event, with unsigned bands encouraged to submit applications to play to the eager campers who arrive on the 1st day. The Download Forum members then select a committee, who select the bands to get an opportunity to play to the fans. This year saw Defenses, Sertraline, Veridian, Fury, Borders, Seething Akira, and Red Method get the honour. The bands all capitalised on the opportunity, providing great performances. Particular stand outs were Fury and Red Method, although disappointingly the sound was fairly poor at the stage, and didn’t travel well through the walled off area. The sound quality was enough to make it seem more important to head back to camp for some well-earned rest, as opposed to staying for the DJ sets that continue until the early hours.
The following day, without the burden of entry and set up, allowed for further exploration, and various forms of entertainment being offered. The Co-op was fantastic as usual, offering reasonably priced food and drink, and a great vibe with an in store DJ. On the Thursday, prompted by a post about vendors overcharging on social media, I did notice another concern about the festival. The cashless payment worked instantly, but, the card readers provided to the vendors had the display facing the staff, and besides the Co-op, only 1 vendor voluntarily showed the amount being charged without having to ask. Of course, this may have been isolated to the few that we visited, however, one would hope that for future vendors would be encouraged to be transparent with these transactions.
Back to the Doghouse for the afternoon, watching various entertainment, and closing the evening with a solid performance by Punk Rock Factory to a packed audience. For those who are unfamiliar, Punk Rock Factory are a YouTube viral sensation, playing punk covers of Disney songs, along with nostalgic theme tunes from shows such as ‘Power Rangers’, ‘Thundercats’ and ‘Pokemon’. Again, the sound was disappointing, but the band certainly proved that there’s a space for them on the main bill of the festival.
After 2 days of campsite shenanigans, it’s time for the big event. The main arena remained largely unchanged from previous years, with standard festival fare. Market stalls, bars, merchandise stands, and a huge variety of food vendors to appeal to all tastes. Download Festival has 4 stages, The Apex, The Opus, The Avalanche, and The Dogtooth. The first 3 stages were great all weekend, offering decent views and accessibility, and quality sound. The 4th however is a little disappointing, as it’s on an incline, so can be very difficult to see the stage unless you get there early, or are remarkably tall.
The line-up for the event included headliners Kiss, Iron Maiden, and Biffy Clyro, amongst many more including A Day To Remember, Skindred, Frank Carter And The Rattlesnakes, Megadeth, Steel Panther, Korn, Deftones, Volbeat, and Shinedown. The line-up was weakened somewhat due to cancellations, with remaining sets and changeover times being increased to account for the gaps. Still, with over 100 acts across the weekend, there’s still plenty of choice to fill the schedule.
Inevitably, there has to be some choices made, and some compromises when it comes to band selection. Given the schedule, the enormous site, queues for food and drink, and the queues for the porta-loos, a busy day at a festival this size would include about 6-7 bands.
The selection for Friday included Pengshui, Bury Tomorrow, Meet Me At The Altar, Skindred, A Day To Remember, and The Ghost Inside.
Highlights include Pengshui, providing a fantastic start, with an energetic crowd starting early for the punk/grime hybrid. Not a typical genre for Download, but they made the most of every minute, and the crowd let them know it with plenty of pits forming.
Bury Tomorrow never fail to disappoint, and this set was no different. The set highlight would have to be when Daniel Winter-Bates explaining that he was not given a safety briefing, so encourage the crowd to set a crowd surfing record. The UK metalcore heavyweights had the security earn their wages for that set, providing a memorable moment for people there to witness it.
A Day To Remember played a headliner worthy set, capitalising on their hits to get the crowd going early. There have been rumours about poor live performances, but the premium easycore band proved that they’ve still got it.
Moving on to Saturday, and a bit more stage jumping, catching Cassyette, Malevolence and Ice Nine Kills on The Opus, Bleed From Within on The Dogtooth, and finally Deftones and Iron Maiden on The Apex.
Ice Nine Kills, a quickly rising horror inspired metalcore outfit, provided the surprise for the day, with plenty of theatrics on stage, and vocalist Spencer Charnas providing beautiful cleans and brutal screams.
Deftones played a solid set, but unfortunately the pace doesn’t seem to fit well in a festival setting full of energetic acts.
Iron Maiden receive plenty of criticism due to the frequency of their appearances at Download, but were the standout for the day, with a huge stage show, and a remarkably strong performance to a packed arena.
The final day’s selection included Powerwolf, Alestorm, Rise Against, Spiritbox, Korn, Steel Panther and Biffy Clyro.
Despite recent controversy, the pirate metal pioneers, Alestorm, pulled a large crowd, and enjoyed a set dominated by singalongs, crowd surfing and inflatable swords. A party novelty act unlikely to ever rise to headline status, but a fun addition to the weekend.
Arguable the biggest “I was there when…” moment came courtesy of Spiritbox. Initially scheduled to play the smallest stage for their first UK appearance, arguably the hottest prospect in the metal scene were promoted to The Avalanche Stage after vocal fans took to social media to voice their opinions that they would fill the tent too quickly. Despite the upgrade, the tent was full before the set started. Fans gathered around the edges to catch a glimpse, and Spiritbox lived up to the hype.
Both Korn and Steel Panther raised their likelihood for future headline status, making the most of their sub headline, and second stage headline slot respectively.
Biffy Clyro closed out the weekend with an epic stadium rock show, albeit to a disappointingly small crowd. They are often mentioned as “not being a Download band”, and the audience voted with their feet on this one. Nonetheless, it was a superb way to close the weekend, and being able to relax on the grass at the back of the arena after 5 long days made it a perfect finale.
Overall, Download 2022 would be hard to improve on, from beautiful weather, great people, and excellent performances. However, we sure do look forward to returning in 2023 to find out.