The legendary Download Festival has just made its first announcement. Headlining will be Def Leppard, Slipknot and Tool, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly or heavy music filling out the lower stages. Joining them will be:
Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
Me First and the Gimme Gimmes
Reel Big Fish
The Amity Affliction
Not bad for a first announcement eh? A couple of beers and a lighter in hand during Def Leppard’s Photograph will be a classic rock delight. The exhilaration of 90,000-odd people screaming along to Slipknot’s Duality is unparalleled. And FUCKING TOOL ARE BACK! However, there are some qualms and issues that come with this latest announcement, and as ever when looking for the cesspit of humanity, we look to social media.
Broadly the reaction to Download’s opening salvo has been positive. Lots of people talking about how much they love metal. One great big ‘Hands Across America’ style love in. But of course, there’s always balance in the world and so there is a lot of shitposting. Some have even gone as far as to claim that a positive reaction is collusion between the organisers and the press! A few issues have been raised, and so we need to talk about Download.
Some detractors are labelling the festival announcement as boring. Fairly easy to debunk, with just one look at the breadth of genres available in the lineup. The three headliners are all distinct leaders in their respective fields. Add to that thrash from Trivium and Power Trip, prog from Opeth and serious party vibes from Skindred and Rob Zombie. It’s a wonder as to how anyone can be as seethingly unhappy as some are. There’s even ska to skank yourself silly to with Reel Big Fish’s inclusion.
There’s been a criticism that Download is playing it safe in this announcement. It’s a statement that requires a two printed response. The inclusion of the famously contrarian Tool is blatantly a savvy choice to shake things up as a headliner. In 2006 they opened their set with the 11-minute opus that is Rosetta Stoned, so everyone there could tell it wasn’t exactly your radio friendly typical two hours. There’s the addition of art rap duo, Die Antwoord. Hailing from South Africa and playing experimental hip hop, their songs are as much social critiques as they are field filling bangers. It’s certainly an odd choice, and whether or not they will be well received on the day is yet to be seen, but Andy Copping et al have certainly thrown a curveball at their audience here.
The second point to address is, why wouldn’t Download want to play it safe? Recent new headliners have been notoriously greeted with a muted response. Avenged Sevenfold’s 2014 top billing debut was seen as something of a damp squib, Muse recurved a vitriolic response online in 2015 and Biffy Clyro – a band who have historically ascended through the ranks of Download – played to a half empty field while everyone went to watch Rob Zombie shout ‘yeah’ for an hour. The biggest festival draws so far have been Iron Maiden in 2013, Black Sabbath in 2012 and 2016 and, presumably Guns ‘N’ Roses this year. People are voting with their feet and fingers against a diverse lineup and new headliners, so ever likely Download would book bands that are guaranteed to have mass appeal. It’s a business after all. If the festival doesn’t make money, it doesn’t exist and goes the way of its predecessor, Monsters of Rock.
There’s a complaint made that it’s the same old headliners year after year. This is empirically bollocks. Def Leppard will be headlining for the third time, Tool for the second – their first UK festivals show since 2006 – and Slipknot will be on their fourth. This is all out of 16 years of the festival being active, so at most Slipknot and Maiden have been there a quarter of the time.
Avid fans in 2014 staged an online campaign under the now memeified moniker of #WhyNotDyingFetus upon the announcement of Donnington’s headline acts. It was an effective strategy as Dying Fetus saw themselves opening the main stage on the Saturday. If people have such a problem with a lack of new bands coming up through the ranks, or a dearth of different headliners, then they should do something about it. Why not start a social media trend, or better yet, go and support the bands they love; see the gigs, buy the merch, tell their friends.
Download face themselves in the unenviable position of trying to please everyone. It’s a thankless and impossible task. No announcement will ever satisfy the masses, and certain headliners that people clamour for may be ill fitting, too expensive or simply not interested. Imagine the furore and the cost incurred if Pearl Jam, Blink 182 or Green Day were announced.
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters has expressed his love of metal on numerous occasions, and is beloved by the rock and metal world unanimously, but that doesn’t mean that Download can have them. The rumours of the cost of GNR’s 2018 set range from £2 million to £6.5 million, and the Foos have done Glastonbury. Metal is undeniably, financially up a creek, so the chances of Download affording a band that sell out any stadium they like are slim to none.
If you’re one of the people complaining about the Download line up, fine. Don’t go. But don’t expect the festival to always be there, and certainly don’t expect it to always cater to you. If you want new headliners, support them. Maybe in years to come, with the right level of audience backing, we will see Ghost, Parkway Drive, Architects or Five Finger Death Punch ascend to the coveted slot. Bring Me the Horizon are Reading and Leeds’ now so they’re out. Download looks absolutely stunning on the strength of one announcement, and we can only hope that young and hungry bands get the chance to fill out the rest of the bill. See you in the field.