When Download Festival announced it was finally coming to Australia, it also promised the “authentic Download Festival experience” would make its way down under.
The first-ever Aussie edition of Download more than lived up to that promise, bringing a stellar lineup of heavy acts from across the globe to Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse, as well as other iconic features of the UK festival experience like the Inflatable Church and various food and beverage concepts. Heck, they even brought the rainy weather!
In a country starved for rock festival action, and in a city where music is as important a part of the culture as having four seasons in one day, a little rain was unlikely to stop the metal-loving masses from fronting up to unleash hell in the mosh. To borrow a line from Wayne’s World 2 (itself borrowed from Field Of Dreams), “If you build it they will come.”
Ocean Grove exploded onto the Black Stage with ‘What I Love About A Natural Woman’. However, on a stacked festival lineup, sacrifices have to be made, and so a quick dash to witness the carnage of Clowns was made. Arriving to find them blasting through ‘Never Enough’, vocalist Stevie Williams gave his whole being to his performance, as he and the rest of the best punk rock band in Australia set an unfuckwithable standard for the day.
NSW metalcore monolith Northlane were up next on the Red Stage, and they brought the first monster crowd of the day. Smashing through barnstorming cuts from each of their albums, the pit was well and truly activated as punters lost their minds to every single note.
Bad Cop/Bad Cop had everyone in a great mood at the Avalanche stage, bringing the tent to life with their joyous skate-punk/power-pop mashup. These four femme Fat-Wreckers won over NOFX’s Fat Mike first, and then they won over Download Festival with an infectious energy and wonderful stage banter (“I can’t find my pick, it fell out of my boobs, sorry, can someone fetch it?”). Even the dudes wearing Nails merch loved it, displaying the true power of a festival like this — musical discovery and camaraderie.
Of Mice & Men rocked the Black Stage to its core, but I like my metal like I like my coffee (powerful and black) so I checked in with a barista and then Sabaton and Nails (punishing, bleak, probably better suited to a smaller venue, but crushed it) for a quick hit of each, before heading to see Adelaide band Trophy Eyes‘ huge singalongs.
Heads banged, air guitars were played (even the rare air-bass!) and limbs flew everywhere during Gojira‘s set, the French band entrancing the masses with ‘Silvera’ and ‘The Cell’ while also announcing they’ll be coming back down under for a headline tour soon.
UK pop-punk stars Neck Deep were next on the Avalanche Stage and they drew a noticeably younger but absolutely hyper crowd who pogoed along to every moment of the set. The hypnotic sounds of Mastodon brought all the bearded folk to the Black Stage, and it would have taken exactly one minute for newcomers to understand why they’re considered to be one of the finest bands walking planet earth.
Like him or loathe him, Falling In Reverse frontman Ronnie Radke has a magnetic charisma, which makes it hard not to enjoy any live performance he’s involved in. The band’s music isn’t anything particularly special, but it’s catchy and varied, and provides a kind of sugar rush that few other bands can. Radke even took a FaceTime call from Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix on stage during a cover of ‘Last Resort’, and then did a shoey of straight vodka while singing a self-referential song called ‘Just Like You’ featuring lyrics like, “I am aware that I am an asshole.”
Washington DC’s snotty commercial pop-punkers-turned-Hollywood-stars, Good Charlotte, took over the Red Stage to a mixed response from the restless and inebriated pre-Limp Bizkit crowd, with half of the audience stoked to see the Madden brothers and the other half sticking middle fingers in their direction. As the hits started to come, most of those middle fingers went down, as everyone joined in with the choruses of ‘The Anthem’, ‘Boys and Girls’, ‘Little Things’ and ‘Dance Floor Anthem’.
Limp Bizkit. Are there two words in the musical world this side of Nickelback that when combined create a more immediate and divisive response? Depending on who you ask, they’re either the funnest band in the world or an unbleached skid mark of the late ’90s/early noughties. Wherever you fall on the scale, there’s no denying they have songs that make you want to move, and that’s exactly what Download Festival did the moment a black body-painted Wes Borland hit his signature guitar tone and Fred Durst burst onto the stage in his Yankees jersey to thunderous applause.
Launching straight into the nonsense of ‘Hot Dogs’, monster hit ‘Rollin” and crushing groove of ‘My Generation’, it was like we’d all been thrown into a DeLorean set to ‘early 00’s backyard rager’. Ass goon was drunk (yes that’s exactly what it sounds like — a goon bag smuggled in inside someone’s ass. I didn’t ask or partake, just witnessed), ‘jazz cigarettes’ were lit and the pit took on a wild primal energy which would remain for the rest of the evening.
Limp Bizkit’s only real misfire was an ill-advised cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Durst may be a rockstar, but he’s not quite an icon, and Cobain’s shoes are not his to fill. Still, the whole set felt like a party and as they closed out with ‘Take A Look Around’.
The instantly recognisable figures of Chuck D, B.Real, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk took the stage against a simple backdrop and burst headfirst into an incendiary version of ‘Prophets Of Rage’. Both MCs came out firing on all cylinders, and the ex-Rage Against The Machine crew were locked in instantly with their new frontmen.
There’s a lot of differing opinions about the concept of Prophets Of Rage, with some cynically referring to them as the ‘Profits Of Rage’, but on the strength of the songs, it’s hard to truly question their motives, even if the new original music doesn’t quite pack the same punch as that from any of the three acts the band is composed of.
Anyone questioning whether Korn could justifiably take the headline slot of a festival in 2018 would have had their doubts squashed with a single glimpse of the monstrous audience that greeted the opening strains of ‘Rotting in Vain’ from 2016’s The Serenity of Suffering. Thousands upon thousands of people screaming along as if it was an old-school classic.
Jonathan Davis led from the front in his trademark style, with dreadlocks flying and custom mic stand on show, inciting a raucous crowd to yell “fuck that” in preparation for a crushing rendition of ‘Ya’’ll Want A Single’. The opening bagpipes of ‘Shoots and Ladders’ brought a new level of carnage, the funky ‘Twist’ had people busting a move and a gargantuan version of ‘Got The Life’ had the earth shaking as Korn turned the clock back to another time, when rock festivals were king.
As always, NOFX brought the quality stage banter, with a through thread of a battle with Korn (whose sound kept bleeding into the tent) over volume levels, offering plenty of great remarks — “We don’t need to play as loud as you Korn, because we’re better than you, think of it like it’s an argument, where the loudest person is always the wrong one.”
For a band that’s been around since 1983, NOFX still feel fresh in a live environment, and that hasn’t always been the case. It’s truly rewarding to see Fat Mike, Eric Melvin, El Hefe and Smelly, in what appears to be a good place. Sure they made a few mistakes, but no one cares because it just adds to the authenticity of the show — a lot of younger bands could learn from that willingness to be human in front of a festival audience.
Overall, Download Festival Melbourne was one of most enjoyable one-day festivals I’ve attended, with everything from the layout of stages to the availability of facilities and variety of food and drink seemingly well thought out. Everything sounded, looked and felt great, and the crowd responded by being an absolute blast to be amongst.
Hopefully this is only the start of Australia’s relationship with Download. Andy Copping, if you build it, we will come.