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Download Festival: as experienced by a 53-year-old and his 20-year-old son

Jeremy Ransome and his son Alfie arrived back from Castle Donington yesterday after five days at the famous Download Festival...

I must admit I feel euphoric but slightly broken after this year’s Download Festival at Castle Donington. Still buzzing from the great acts and the wonderful atmosphere, but also nursing some really bad sunburn, three cracking blisters and a 53-year-old’s bad back. But I plan to do it all again next year because it’s such a wonderful, inclusive event.

People party very hard at Download but they do so with care and consideration to others and when the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary last week it was as the ultimate rock event for friends and families, couples and groups, of all ages, colours and genders. Known as the UK’s friendliest festival, it celebrates inclusivity, self-expression… and a lot of head banging.

Metallica headlined on the Thursday and Saturday evenings. Picture: Download Festival
Metallica headlined on the Thursday and Saturday evenings. Picture: Download Festival

Along with my 20-year-old son Alfie, this was only my second visit to the festival at the Donington Park race circuit, known affectionately as the 'spiritual home of British hard rock'. We said after our first visit in 2019 that it was the best festival we’d ever been to, but this time that warmth and companionship seemed to radiate even stronger among the 100,000 there.

While the loud music boomed out from two outside stages and two tents, the words I heard the most among the crowds were ‘Bless you’ and ‘Sorry’ as people sneezed among the dust, pollen and relentless heat or accidentally bumped into someone. We must have walked miles each day, going from campsite to arena, from stage to tent and back again but, despite the booze flowing for many, we didn’t witness a single confrontation… and my problems can be sorted out next year by a sun hat, a better camping bed and remembering to apply sunscreen!

But enough about the atmosphere, what about the music? Well, despite rock gods Metallica headlining two of the four days (the festival started on a Thursday for the first time to celebrate its 20th anniversary and invited campers from Wednesday), the acts were extremely varied and, with few exceptions, on top form.

A view of the whole arena. Picture: Download Festival
A view of the whole arena. Picture: Download Festival

After watching some decent comedy acts on the Wednesday, Alfie and I visited the Opus stage at 1.50pm on the Thursday to catch American act Cherry Bombs, who combine daredevil acts with fire, aerial dance and stilt walking – all to rock music. We then saw Canadian hardcore punk rockers Cancer Bats on the same stage and watched a bit of Californian punks The Bronx, before nipping to the Avalanche tent to see theatrical alternative rockers Fearless Vampire Killers.

Later in the same tent we really enjoyed South Wales fun punkers Punk Rock Factory, whose repertoire includes ‘You’re Welcome,’ ‘Let It Go’ and ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’. We stayed around the same tent for New York pop punkers State Champs before our first visit to the main Apex Stage, where Metallica reigned supreme with a totally different set to that which they would play on Saturday, thrilling all with their anthem ‘Master of Puppets’.

In between all of this, we visited booze tents and some of the dozens and dozens of food stalls. I’m a vegan and my son mostly vegetarian but we had no problems finding food to our taste, with only one meal I didn’t really enjoy among the nine I tried over the festival. There were amazing choices for meat eaters too and plenty of places selling soft drinks, hot drinks and water. There was also a plentiful supply of taps to fill up water bottles with, which was a Godsend considering the heat wave that covered the festival.

Our first port of call on Friday was the Apex Stage, where the impressive London rock duo Nova Twins were superb. Manchester pop rockers Hot Milk then starred on the same stage, followed by Welsh pop punkers Neck Deep who are big in the States and, judging by this performance, should have a bigger following here too. Australian electronic giants Pendulum were next as the main stage kept our attention, with the day rounded off by Brighton metalcore band Architects and an explosive headline set by Sheffield’s finest Bring Me The Horizon.

Bring Me The Horizon headlined for the first time on Friday. Picture: Download Festival
Bring Me The Horizon headlined for the first time on Friday. Picture: Download Festival

There are various other acts and DJs playing in the tents until 3am, and my son enjoyed some of these – I was tucked up each night before midnight. Equally,he was in the mosh pit for all the headliners and a few of the other groups, while I was happy to sit further back in a camp chair with a pint, still enjoying a great view because of the many large screens.

There was an explosive start to Saturday when punk rappers Fever 333 woke us all up with an incendiary display. Later we visited the Avalanche tent for the excellent London grime punkers Bob Vylan. Alfie watched a few more bands than me as I gave up to the heat and sought a shower and some shade away from the arena, but I wasn’t going to miss West Norfolk’s very own Deaf Havana, and they thrilled an appreciative early evening audience in the same tent. We then caught a bit of alternative rockers Placebo on the Opus stage before it was back to the Apex for another hit-laden Metallica set, including a memorable performance of Enter Sandman.

Sunday started with a group Alf and I had been eager to catch on the Apex Stage and Indian heavy metallers Bloodywood didn’t disappoint. Deathcore band Lorna Shore followed and were a bit too, well deathcore, for me, but a quick walk to the Opus and we caught Japanese alternative metal band SiM, who were great. Back to the main stage and Mongolian folk metallers The Hu impressed with traditional instrumentation and throat singing. Then it was a trip to the Avalanche again, where Jazmin Bean played an interesting set – think a rocked up, filthier Lily Allen. In the same tent, Canadian rock duo Cleopatrick didn’t really do it for me, so it was over to the Apex, where I loved American rockers I Prevail.

100,000 people enjoyed this year's event. Picture: Download Festival
100,000 people enjoyed this year's event. Picture: Download Festival

Five days in and I was shattered… but the festival rocked on and German electronicore band Electric Callboy put on an amazing set in front of a rammed Avalanche tent before it was back to the Apex for heavy metal heroes Slipknot who closed the festival in style.

There was so much going on, I didn’t even get to The Dogtooth tent, enjoy a single fair ride or spend any time relaxing in the very nice press area. But my son and I made memories to last a lifetime and I’d encourage any lovers of heavier, more alternative music to do the same.

New attractions for 100,000 crowd

This year’s Download welcomed a record breaking 100,000 attendees, making it the most successful year ever.

Huge crowds enjoyed this year's Download Festival. Photo: Download Festival
Huge crowds enjoyed this year's Download Festival. Photo: Download Festival

Brand new for 2023, a Download Megastore broke the UK record for most festival merchandise sales and the Mini Moshers campsite gave the younger generation of metal fans the opportunity to embrace the legendary festival in comfort.

To pay tribute to the Download crowd, the Humans of Download live photography docuseries launched, sharing the diversity of attendees, with their eclectic outfits and costumes being celebrated on all social channels and sites across the festival.

Apart from the headliners, who stood out?

Metallica, Bring Me The Horizon and Slipknot all put on blistering headline shows through the festival. Here are Jeremy and Alfie’s best of the rest…

Architects on Friday night were the 'best of the rest'. Picture: Download Festival
Architects on Friday night were the 'best of the rest'. Picture: Download Festival


2.Fever 333

3.Nova Twins

4.Bob Vylan

5.I Prevail


7.State Champs


9.Deaf Havana

10.Electric Callboy

In 2024, Download Festival will return to Castle Donington from Friday, June 14 to Sunday, June 16. Limited Early Bird tickets are on sale now from www.downloadfestival.co.uk

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