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LIVE: Download Festival 2023 – Friday

If you weren’t wearing sun cream before, you certainly are now. Day two starts the true heat of the weekend, along with an even larger crowd than the shorter day yesterday attracted. The merch lines are getting longer, the afternoons are getting sweatier, but there’s an energy in the crowd you can almost taste. Not […]

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If you weren’t wearing sun cream before, you certainly are now. Day two starts the true heat of the weekend, along with an even larger crowd than the shorter day yesterday attracted. The merch lines are getting longer, the afternoons are getting sweatier, but there’s an energy in the crowd you can almost taste. Not quite exhausted from the weekend but there just long enough to really be in the festival mood. Perfect weather for screaming lyrics until your tongue turns to sandpaper. But how are the acts?

Words: Fiachra Johnston and Lisa Fox.  Images: Penny Bennett, Jemma Dodd and Download Festival  / Abbie Shipperley / Todd Owyoung / James Bridle

Stand Atlantic

It’s never easy opening the main stage but if anyone can stay cool under the heat, both metaphorically and literally, it’s Sydney’s Stand Atlantic. It’s an easy going affair but by no means a static one, with ‘Wavelength’ getting the crowd up and moving. Vocalist Bonnie Fraser sticks to the front of the stage, feeding off the early afternoon crowd’s emerging energy as she leads their most loyal fans in a savage rendition of ‘Deathwish’. Stand Atlantic are one of those acts you see live that feel like they belong on the Vans Warped tour on a sunny California day, and while they need to settle for a swampy day in Donington, their pure pop punk style makes for a great first show of the day. As WARGASM’s Milkie Way says during the Kerrang interlude adverts constantly on shuffle every 15 minutes says “You’re all looking sufficiently sweaty right about now.”

Nova Twins

Where Stand Atlantic feel like a VWP classic, the music of Amy Love and Georgia South – aka Nova Twins – belongs to crowded punk basement venues. Though Love whirls across the stage wildly, and South absolutely kills it in the bass solos, they are let down somewhat by the massive stage and its sound mixing, the minute details of the performance lost to its sheer size. That by no means slows the Twins down, and their energy is still infectious. ‘Antagonist’ is the best sounding of the seven song set, its deep and chunky bass ends reverberating throughout the arena and amps up the crowd even more as the duo lose themselves in the madness of ‘Choose Your Fighter’. It’s more a mark on the festival for misplacing Nova Twins than the duo themselves, and had this taken place in one of the tents, who knows what kind of havoc they could wreak.

Hot Milk

Apex stage really belonged to the women of rock today as Han Mee leads Hot Milk up to the base plate alongside co-vocalist Jim Shaw. Though it’s an early show, Hot Milk crank up the heat with some unexpected pyro throughout their set, as ‘Wide Awake’, true to name, perks up the crowd. Mee picks up the pace to respond, a symbiotic energy forming, and at one point she busts open her knee on the guardrail. Caked in blood and surrounded by flames? Not a bad way to cement yourself in the annals of Download history. Shaw also kills it when it comes to mixing rap into tracks like ‘Candy Coated Lies’, however some poor sound mixing means his most powerful moments are regretfully diluted. It’s not the first time this has happened on Apex, and it mires an otherwise tremendous set.

Demob Happy

The Avalanche suffers greatly from the heat throughout the week but being the most available source of shade, it still draws many people under its awning which in turn means more eyes than usual on smaller acts. Despite only having six songs to turn the mood in the Avalanche around, the suave trio immediately set to work revitalising a waning crowd. How Matthew Marcantonio is able to perform vocalist duties in a full purple suit in the muddy humidity of the tent is anyone’s guess, but the crowd are appreciative of the daring fashion choice in 25 degree weather during, ‘Succubus’, the wailing open guitars cutting through the heat. Delayed by nearly 40 minutes due to a medical emergency, the boys of Demob Happy still manage to give an absolute riot of a performance and turn a crowd originally just escaping the heat into loyal fans.

Crawlers

Though they came to fame recently through TikTok, Crawlers no less deserve the crowd they’ve drawn at the Avalanche than any of the other tenured bands that came before. Draped in a lesbian pride flag plucked from the crowd, Holly Minto gushes about the  group’s opportunity to be here. To mark the occasion, a special heavy rendition of ‘Come Over (Again)’ is played, to the delight of the crowd. It’s a love-filled set, the crowd both receptive and giving throughout the short but impactful six song outing. On what is the start of a weekend long stifling heat, Crawlers and their audience turn the tent into their own personal oasis.

The Blackout

The Blackout, The Blackout, The Blackout. Oh how you’ve been missed. From the moment the band’s banner is unfurled, chants of “We are the dynamite” blast forth from an excited crowd. Packing as big a punch as the last time they played Download (way back in 2010), Wales’ finest blast right out of the gate. ‘Children of the Night’ has the audience in a frenzy, which threatens to burst when vocalist Sean Smith jumps into the crowd.

It’s not long before Gavin Butler jumps in too, much to everyone’s delight. Bouncing around the stage, the sextet have all the energy of a band in its heyday and they have the crowd in the palm of their hand. Mics are spun, mullets are slammed, middle fingers are raised, crowd surfers surf, and everyone is in ectasy. The crowd might be a few years older (and we even spy some kids belting out lyrics with them) but for 40 minutes we are transported back eight (or is it seven, Gav?) years. It’s like The Blackout has never been away.

Emotions are running high, both on the stage and in the audience as Sean Smith declares “I’ve got goosebumps.” The packed tent is treated to banger after banger. ‘ShutTheFuckUppercut’, ‘I’m A Riot? Youre a Fucking Riot!’, ‘Higher & Higher’ – and then, all too soon, it’s over. Closing with ‘Save Our Selves (The Warning)’, including the whole tent kneeling and erupting (which saw more than one set of old knees crack), the crowd are left hungry for more. Hopefully this isn’t the last we hear from boys from Merthyr Tydfil, because it’s clear The Blackout still means everything to a hell of a lot of people. In fact, from the sounds of it we won’t have long to wait before they’re back. What a treat! [LF]

Empire State Bastard

If you wandered into Dogtooth just to see what a band named Empire State Bastard’s deal is, your first thought may have been “Is that Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro?” and, well, it is! Neil’s newest project, alongside touring guitarist and Oceansize frontman Mike Vennart, aims to get as heavy as his voice allows, and believe us, it is heavy. While they only have two singles from their future record out for streaming, their set is filled with incredible content we can’t wait to get our hands in, though some unfortunate feedback issues mean both Neil and Vennart suffer from blown out mics at one point (near unavailable with the black metal screeches coming out of Neil). It’s an incredible set that showcases abilities Neil and Vennart have only been able to demonstrate occasionally, with vocals that are going to blow folks away come their full debut.

Architects

It’s been a long time since opening for Bring Me The Horizon’s first ever headline show (In vocalist Sam Carter’s words, “I wasn’t even in the fucking band yet”), and in the ten years since their appearance at a UK Download, Architects have changed so much. They deserve all the hype on the big stage now just as much as they did back then. While there’s not a lot to remind us of days gone by, bar a ripping version of ‘Nihilist’ and the evergreen ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Royal Beggars’, Architects are happy to evolve with the times, Carter chugging spirits and strutting in sparkling sequins while the band absolutely shred the singles of the last two records. Guitarist Josh Middleton is sorely missed, but it does not dampen the heaviness on ‘Impermanence’, or the closing chugs of ‘Animals’. As the energy only grows and grows in the crowd you start to wonder why it took so long for Download to bring them back.

Carpenter Brut

With the crowd for Amy Lee and Evanescence at Opus fit to absolutely burst, we look next door. Alongside Perturbator yesterday, Poitiers artist Carpenter Brut brings synthwave to Download, turning the Dogtooth into his own personal 80’s slasher flick. He’s an unusual pick for the festival, but the energy is fantastically unique within the tent, an engrossing neon lightshow pairing up with the mix of 80’s glam metal and disco, with suitably epic guitar and drum solos from Brut’s backing band. Brut spreads his set out between his albums, pulling from both the acclaimed EPs of ‘Trilogy’ to the glitter-dipped horrors of ‘Leather Terror’ and ‘Leather Teeth’, even dipping into some live rarities like ‘5 118 574’ and ‘Chew Bubblegum’ and, of course, the ever popular cover of Michael Sembello’s ‘Maniac’. Despite never uttering a word, Brut’s set drives the crowd into an absolute fervor, a suitable communion for the main event that is to follow…

The Church Of GENXSIS

Bring Me The Horizon did not come to Donington alone. If you attended this year you will invariably have seen the roving bands of hooded individuals and on-screen ads during the intervals of a mysterious man inviting you to a specific part of the Arena (“Where can I get some good fish n’ chips?” playing over the speakers will be burned into the memory of every attendee for years to come). The location? An unremarkable shipping container. Solving the treasure hunt tucked away in the Download Arena provided those dedicated enough with a coin that gained entry into the container. One concertgoer described entering, having their tarot read with a uniquely themed deck, before being led into a dingy bathroom scene and signing their name with your fingers on the wall. Attendees left with the coin and a necklace for the church, suitably confused by the affair, but left with a feeling that some large announcement was coming from the band.

Bring Me The Horizon

The church has been established, it’s time to go to mass. Bring Me The Horizon are the dark horses of this weekend, despite their ever growing success over the last two releases. While Slipknot and Metallica are prime candidates for headlining a Download weekend, BMTH felt a little off theme for what is usually a more classic metal/rock show. It marks a noticeable shift towards more scene and modern ‘core’ music compared to previous years, and it was anyone’s guess as to how festival goers would take to Oli Sykes and co’s electronic-infused rock, especially in their upcoming EP, which was formally announced just after this show.

However, as the opening drop of ‘AmEN!’ hits, to the closing samples of ‘Steal Something’, BMTH’s ninety minute set have the crowd completely enamoured. Our host tonight, aside from frontman Oli Sykes, is head of the Church of Genxsis, Parasite Eve-L, whose takeover of the human race is told throughout the show’s setlist. BMTH’s set up helps tell this story, a two level screen setup shifting from grand cathedral aesthetics to shivering tundra wastes, and even fleshy, mechanical behemoths in the case of ‘Kingslayer’. From the classics of the ever popular ‘Sempiternal’ such as ‘ House of Wolves’, to more recent work off the ‘Post-Human’ EP like ‘Teardrops’ and the newer ‘LosT’; every track feels like it’s meant for the grand Apex stage. ‘Dear Diary’ sets the entire stage alight in pyro, and proves that Sykes is well and truly back when it comes to live screaming. There’s little bits of banter here and there, the gang immediately making fun of their acoustic cover of ‘Follow You’ (it’s a bit Coldplay, but…), and expertly balance moments of chaos in tracks like ‘MANTRA’ with the slower, emotional beats they spend with the crowd in ‘Drown’. BMTH have the crowd in the palm of their hand, the group swaggering across the stage with all the confidence required in a Download headliner.

It wouldn’t be an anniversary without a reunion though, and returning to join on their respective guest tracks are the Nova Twins and Amy Lee. ‘1×1′ never felt the same without Love and South, and their misfit energy mirrors Sykes’ as they blast across the stage. Lee remains hauntingly beautiful for ‘One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will Be in Your Chest’. We even get a spectacular rendition of ‘Nihilist Blues’ with Lee taking over the duties of Grimes, as she builds up to a huge drop that incites even Oli (“Jump you little shits!”).

As they finish on the classic ‘Can You Feel My Heart’, Eve-L is finally prevented from exterminating the crowd with a simple onscreen captcha, closing out the night in typical BMTH sardonic fashion. While it would have been nice to have seen some classics from the first two records for the sake of Download, Bring Me The Horizon stand by their recent work, and with good reason, it’s utterly fantastic on the Apex stage. Concocting one of the weekend’s most hypnotic, inventive, and explosive sets, Metallica and Slipknot have been put on notice. If you didn’t think the boys from Sheffield belonged here before, they’ve given you ample evidence on the contrary.

Bar some rather ridiculous lines for merch and water, and some occasional tech issues, Friday is about as successful as it could have been. Bring Me The Horizon and a host of younger bands have proved they belong as much as any classic punk or metal band does, and the positive reaction here ensures they’ll be welcome back for a while to come. As Saturday approaches though, the real question remains: can this quality keep up for two more days?

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