Entertainment, Music & Gigs

Lessons We Learnt At Download Festival This Year

Alternative music festival Download has been running in the UK since 2003. They expanded to France and Spain in 2016, and March 2018 saw their first Australian go. Traditionally, the festival has been a multi-day event in the UK, but they’re starting small on their first one here: one day, ten hours, twenty-nine bands.

The Flemington Racecourse grounds were littered with stalls: pro-animal groups like Sea Shepherds and the Melbourne Hunt Saboteurs; pop culture merch stands brimming with Rick & Morty gear, rock tees and accessories; the smell of incense, chips, wet grass and sweat. The festival offered useful stuff like a phone charging station (paid, mind you) and vegan/gluten-free food options amidst the slew of food trucks and stands. There was even an inflatable church where people could get fake-married.

The four stages were laid out in an attempt to keep them close so people could run from band to band; the noise bleed wasn’t too bad between the punk Avalanche stage (inside a tent) and the main stages, while the Dogtooth stage (locals, metal acts) was tucked well away on the opposite side of the grounds.

People Can Be Amazing And Frustrating

Of course, Download had some of the problems of any other large-scale event: confusing wristband access (with little real benefits for “VIPs”), strewn rubbish and Aussie weather. The mess, especially, was proof that people can’t have nice things; I watched a man sidle up to a bin and deliberately throw his garbage beside it. People made little to no attempt to find bins- though, in fairness to the punters, there could have been more – and by 6pm, the ground was carpeted with crushed cans and cardboard food boxes, stomped under moshing feet.

A festival’s worst enemy can be its audience. Almost every time a band took to the stage, beer cups and cans would fly towards them. What compels this action? Is this just a bit of dumb fun, the purpose of which I will need explained to me, or is it a sign of contempt for the performers? Most of the bands seemed happy to be there (“Be safe, party on and raise your horns!” Screamed Amon Amarth singer Johan Hegg) but the crowd felt rife with preciousness, gatekeepers fiercely protecting their fandoms.

Nostalgia Goes Both Ways

The loathing directed towards pop-punk act Good Charlotte was evidence of the day’s divisive tone. I managed to get rather close to the stage, because people poured away from the mosh pit, sticking their middle fingers at the band as they went. I heard tell that much of the pit was booing them. GC frontman Joel Madden innocently asked the crowd: “I think we’re the poppiest band here today. I just wanna sing, it feels good to sing, doesn’t it?”

This idea of objectively “good” and “bad” music feels so juvenile and wasteful; I once was the kind of person to think this way, deriding people that liked “poppy” music (I was so boring and sad!), but what use is it? Can’t people just like things if they want to? Some people I met, in black metal tees, looked down their noses at me when I mentioned I was excited to see Good Charlotte. Even punk icons NOFX couldn’t help but stick the boot in.

People in Guy Fawkes masks, South Park tees and “CUNT” hoodies sang along to nostalgic bands from most of their youths, like Limp Bizkit and Korn. For a festival mostly full of black metal, power metal, thrash punk and screamo acts, the nostalgic nu-metal acts did the best of them all, crowd-wise. This is both the benefit and downside of the nostalgia ticket. The lineup ended up being too skewed for a lot of punters that clearly wanted a more defined genre mix.

The Gender Diversity Thing

Although the audience gender divide was split a bit more evenly, Download had the same gender problem that most festivals have, too. Of the twenty-nine bands and their collective members (one-hundred and twenty-nine), only nine women graced the stage, four of them from all-female punk act Bad Cop/ Bad Cop. I actually really liked the line up, don’t get me wrong. But I can’t help but feel that it’s just not enough, as an organiser, to throw up your hands and say that the acts aren’t there, or the one you wanted were busy. As some festival heads have said, perhaps we need to do better.

All in all, it’s good to have another alternative music festival in town and the organisers seem to agree: Download will be returning next year, and adding a Sydney date. For their maiden Australian event, the whole thing was a decently-run and relatively chaos-free event. Up and at ’em, Download!

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Writing and podcasting, usually while listening to Phil Collins.

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