Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Canadian's first taste of the European festival season: Download Festival Review part 1

Part 1: Joining the Hoard

     When you approach graduation, everyone seems to be coming at you with the same question: "Well, what are your plans for the future?". For me, there was only one plan: Get to Europe, Experience metal festivals. I've been living my whole life seeing images and videos of these monstrous 20 000-150 000 person festivals and dreaming of the day I could surf that sea of people, join in on those football field sized circled pits, and spend 3 days partying with thousands of metal fans. So after 17 years of school and no job lined up for me, I decided to hop on a place and just go for it. With minimal preparation, almost no plan outside of a few festival tickets, I went to Europe for a month.

     I arrived in London and immediately hopped on a bus taking me up to Castle Donnignton, the small British city that hosts one of the finest Rock, Metal, and Hardcore festivals around: Download Festival. The lineup this year featured a fair amount of standard rock headliners, but hidden within the side stages are some of the best live bands on the planet. This was going to be my first time seeing Opeth, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Chevelle, Thy Art is Murder, and countless others. The main reason I chose Download: the return of one of the greatest, and possibly the most underrated, progressive metal bands of all time: Sikth. Sikth is one of my favorite bands, and the idea of being there to experience the first time they hit the stage in almost ten years, in their home country, got me excited enough to buy the ticket right then and there.

     I had already heard lots about Download festival and even watched a few live sets from past years, but nothing could have quite prepared me for the weekend ahead of me. I began to realize the scope of how huge this festival is while still many kilometers away from the festival grounds. While I'm quite used to the "metal crowd effect", when an area close to a venue will become flooded with metalheads, but never before had I seen this effect on a European festival scale. Witnessing nearly 60 000 metalheads marching to the festival grounds was an experience in itself. This is the equivalent of if half of the city of Guelph just all got up at once and marched into a randomly selected field. Everywhere you looked you saw people who were unmistakably geared up for a metal/hardcore festival. With a crate of beer behind them, a backpack large enough to travel the world, a funny hat, and their favorite metal tee, these people marched in hoards so large that vehicular traffic was at a complete standstill for miles in every direction. 

     I joined the hoard and struggled through carrying my 85L backpack, packed to the brim, for several miles but was eventually greeted by the wonderful sight of the entrance gate. Immediately when you enter the festival grounds you arrive in "The Village", which more closely resembles a giant Metal-As-Fuck carnival. You could buy anything you need to survive, decorate yourself, or intoxicate yourself. There were even movie screens, makeshift metal nightclubs, carnival rides, hookah bars and so much more. After arriving at the far side of the village I was struck by the wonderful sight of thousands upon thousands of tents. Literally tents as far as the eye could see. I wandered up and down the aisles for about twenty minutes until I eventually found a prime spot to camp out for the next 3 nights. 

     I set up my tent for the first time, threw my bag inside and rushed off the check out the main festival grounds, aka "The Arena". It didn't take me long to stop rushing as it becomes immediately apparent that there's a 20 minute hike between the campground and The Arena, even for VIP campground it was about 15 minutes. However, 20 minutes and two beers from a friendly stranger later, I passed through the gates into The Arena, and my festival experience had officially begun...

Next week I discuss what bands I saw,
who was awesome,
who was disappointing,
and how the Irish guy camped next to me never stopped drinking.

David, I'll see you on Friday.

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