Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Download Festival Review part 5: Food+drink, facilities, organisation, and atmosphere

   Thus far I've covered all the bands and notable performances from my Download experience, but there's more to a festival than simply the bands. While yes, no festival would succeed without a great lineup, I've found there are several other core areas which have a huge impact on the whole festival experience. I've broken these factors into 4 categories in order to keep them consistent across all festival reviews.

Food + Drink

     Living off of festival food for an entire weekend was a bit of a scary idea going into the trip. Based off my Heavy T.O., Mayhem fest and Ozzfest experiences, I expected insanely overpriced poor quality food while minimal selection. Thankfully it turned out that European festivals are more along the lines of overpriced mediocre food with huge selection. There was the occasional food stand with top notch restaurant quality food, but you had to search and sample for a few days before you found them. I tried a different food stand for each meal of each day, and was rarely disappointed. The food was still quite expensive, ranging from 3£ for something small to 10£ for multi-item meal, but relative to the generally higher cost-of-living in England, the festival food prices were barely inflated compared to North American festival food. Beers weren't too overpriced for a festival at 4.50£ for a pint. Selection was poor with the choice of beer or cider and no brand selection but the sponsor brands Tuborg and Somersby were quite satisfactory.

Best thing I ate: Falafel
Falafel's were among the cheapest foods available and some of the vegetarian food stands served and the one dedicated Falafel stand (they made nothing else) made falafel's on a whole other level from any falafel I've ever had.

Worth thing I ate: Burger
It's a good sign that it took me several minutes to think of any meal that i didn't enjoy, but at last I remembered my first lunch of the first day: a very boring burger. It wasn't bad by any means, but tasted like a cheap burger and bun combo only reserved for school fundraisers and employee appreciation bbqs.



     Never underestimate the importance of the facilities at a festival, it doesn't take much for 60 000 people to turn a clean lineup of toilets into a disaster zone. Download had some of the best festival facilities of my trip, even including a complimentary new pile of toilet paper ever morning (while other festivals expected you to pay for toilet rolls at the festival shops). Download did have free showers but they were oddly located in the middle of the festival village, so for some it was a 15 minute walk to and from the shower. Free clean showers were tough to complain about though.

     The campsite itself was incredibly packed, with about 10x the tent-density that I would later see at Sonisphere, but this just lead to making a lot of random friends with everyone around you. The campsite grounds were a field of long grass, so it was a decently comfortable bedding, but it was near impossible to sleep so that added little benefit. 

     Download was possibly the hardest place to sleep imaginable, with a metal circus in the village blasting music, parties all around that raged all night and low flying planes to wake you up every hour or so. I attempted to get a solid amount of sleep the first night but quickly gave up and decided to join the party and survive a weekend replacing sleep with caffeine. 



     Nothing turns a festival from great to terrible faster than poor organisation. It's one of the worst things in live music when you go hoping to see all these amazing bands and end up missing 3/4 of them due to them all playing at the same time, switching time slots or any of the other ailments that frequently plague festival lineups. To my pleasant surprise, the organisation at Download was on a whole other level from North American festivals. 

     Download posted the stage schedules on the side stages rather than requiring you to purchase a schedule. More importantly the bands stuck to the schedule, and it was very rare that two bands I was interested in seeing were on stage in the same time slot. Download organizers seemed to actually understand how different bands will attract different people and usually slotted the heaviest and most extreme bands at the same time as pop punk or radio rock acts. Any bands I missed at Download were because I like most genres, but as an example I couldn't blame Download for putting Behemoth on at the same time as Linkin Park; the two bands don't share too many common fans. 



     Now here's where Download annihilated the other festivals, the general feeling of the entire experience. I knew no one going into the festival and felt like I was friends with every single person coming out. Download had me smiling non-stop for the entire weekend, with subtle acts like checking wristbands by high five-ing security giving the festival an incredible cheery and friendly vibe. There were also several on-going jokes throughout the festival amongst the crowd, such if at any point during the day, if anyone yelled "STEVE", the sound of people yelling for Steve would carry for miles, followed immediately with many more joining in with yelling ALLEN in response. It all started right infront of me on the first day when someone was genuinely looking for their friend Steve, and the whole thing got hilariously out of hand from there. Another common random occurrence were points in the night when the sea of tents would perform what can best be described as a shouting-wave. Similar to how sports crowds raise their arms and do "the wave", but this involved random yelling and everyone joining in when the noise got near to them. No one ever knew why the shouting started, but you could listen as the sweet sound of random drunk shouting carried across the hills. The crowd were fantastic during live sets with everything from insane mosh madness to beautiful sing-alongs. The 60 000 mass of people felt as if it were one huge community of music fans. Random events in the middle of the day such as medieval fights also gave the festival a unique atmostphere. 


Ultimately Download was one of the best weekends of my life, I would recommend it to anyone, and would go again in a heartbeat if I ever get the opportunity to do so.

This brings an end to my Download review.
Thanks for reading!

David, I'll see you when I see you,


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