How do I sum up the inaugural Download Festival of Australia? What initially may have seemed like an awkward mix of bands on the bill surprisingly worked very well. To set the scene of Download Melbourne, rain poured down onto Flemington Racecourse even before Download had even begun. But to anyone that was at UNIFY a little rain was a piece of cake. At least we didn’t have to set up tents in the downpour.
Soaked through to the socks, the entry way and Beer Hall staff seemed to iron out the kinks in their procedures with us early arrivals. I was surprised for there to not be any handouts of the site map or the set times. It was straightforward enough to find the stages, but anything we brought that was printed on paper was swiftly destroyed in the wet. There was an app, but my iPhone battery needed to last the whole day.
So I paid $10 for a laminated schedule on a lanyard which was awesome, until it somehow fell off the lanyard and disappeared, one band in. There were also stubby coolers with the schedule on it, that I saw people using as wrist bands. The Avalanche Stage (aka ‘big white tent’) became our meeting place once the Download gates had opened.
After catching up with friends (including sharing where the nearest merch tent was to buy a rain poncho), I hit the Dogtooth Stage, where Cast Down were kicking off. The triple j Unearthed competition winners were a fierce start to the day, bringing aggressive vibes in their set and going hard at it while the rain came down. Devoted Cast Down fans were two-stepping with abandon while the Melbourne band brought a ‘like us or not, we don’t give a fuck’ vibe. With solid vocals and breakdowns, the defensiveness wasn’t needed, because they clearly owned the spot they had at Download.
The side-by-side pairing of the Red and Black stages in the main arena had its pros and cons. The two giant video screens on either side meant that people getting to the stage to watch Ocean Grove on the black stage also got a chance to check out High Tension. Aside from the obvious vicious screams, the Melbourne band were really impressive and musically tight. They brought driving riffs and mammoth clean vocals, and you could tell they were giving the experience everything they had.
Ocean Grove were off the charts awesome, and a stand-out of the entire day. It was such hype and fun, and with their set it felt like Download Melbourne had officially begun. I’m not entirely sure how to word my impression of this, but to me the guys seemed to have strong ties with the experience of the festival; they weren’t just playing a set here. They felt like they were part of it, and that their set was an opportunity to celebrate that. They created even more of a festival vibe with inflatable balls that also seemed to have been signed by the guys.
The excitement of the Melbourne five piece was felt by all of us, bouncing along to “Lights On Kind Of Lover” like it was 1998. No one stood still to “Intimate Alien” and “Slow Soap Soak” was an excuse to bust a groove in our wet shoes. The entire OG experience was a celebration of individuals, all of us doing our own thing as ourselves, with this motley crew of Odd World dorks showing us the way with their individual selves clearly showing up on stage. “Stratosphere Love” ended the set. Yes, Ocean Grove, we are with it now!
After Ocean Grove, Rowan headed to the Dogtooth stage to shoot Chase Atlantic and I moved toward the Red Stage to check out Northlane.
Unfortunately Northlane‘s set, immediately up against the multicoloured experience of Ocean Grove felt pretty limited in its connection with the crowd and the festival. It was tough to drop into a different gear for the Northlane set, when the metaphorical Ocean Grove gear was so alive. The Sydney guys were deeply into their music, with body reverberating beats and masterful riffs, opening with “Quantum Flux”. Despite the solid rain, there was a significant crowd taking the set in, as they continued with “Rot”, and then “Colourwave”.
In my soggy shoes, breathing in the wafting scent of Red Bull and listening to “Intuition”, I admired Northlane’s intensity toward their music, but couldn’t help feel it was a little flat by way of vibe and sound. The band seemed to relax and open up more as the set went on, and frontman Marcus Bridge tried to inspire a sense of fun. Despite the sweet sweet riffage of “Citizen” billowing out over us, I was left deciding that it was a solid set, but honestly felt like it wouldn’t matter if we were there or not.
I caught Of Mice & Men briefly, and it was all metal horns and hair. These guys were wild, pouring out anthemic rock/metal, opening with “Defy”. Strong and assertive, they weren’t backwards in asking for a pit. A lot of my attention went toward their (impressively mowhawked) drummer Valentino Arteaga, setting a blistering pace like it was nothing. This confident band got the crowd going along with them.
The Download Melbourne food was great. The Depth Mag team at Download had lunch from That Arancini Guy. The risotto balls and seasoned chips (for the vegetarian), and chicken parma burger (for the non-vego) were so wholesome and filling, we didn’t need stop for food the rest of the day. There was enough choice of food sellers at Download that the inevitable line-ups to buy it didn’t take that long. There was also plenty of room to sit and eat.
It was from a bench in the ‘food court’ that Nails (who we hadn’t planned to see) at the nearby Dogtooth Stage blew our respective minds. Ridiculously heavy, it felt a bit like “good luck keeping up with this insanity”. Despite the hecticness, the band were 100% together, and pumped out a wall of sound made from precision metal. I suspect their fans would be over the moon impressed with their set.
Rowan ran to shoot Nails and I made my way to the Avalanche Stage to watch Trophy Eyes. The Newcastle band started with a technical difficulty, but the high vibes of “Counting Sheep” kicked off an amazing set. The flow from song to song was done really well by the five piece, and frontman John Floreani was in high spirits.
The guys from Maverick were standing with me, and joined in with the crowd surfing as favourites from Chemical Miracle were played, and belted out passionately by the crowd. To me, there was an obvious (positive) change in John’s vocals, where he’d veer toward the more melodic side of things as opposed to something more forceful. Several songs had a sense of vocal experimentation to them, perhaps hinting at the direction the band are taking their sound, or maybe just John keeping it interesting. It wasn’t all clean vocal play though, with a moving and passionate rendition of “Miracle” also included in the set.
While the guys expressed gratitude to be here, the effort and energy seemed to all come through John, with the rest of the band were subdued in their stage presence. Complete with smoke effects and blue lighting, I loved hearing “Suicide Pact”, and of course that beloved comfy slipper of a song “Chlorine” to close the set.
I watched Californian band Issues with Kill Your Stereo‘s Alex Sievers, who filled me in on some of the band’s recent history and subsequent line-up changes (read more on that here). They pulled off a very polished set and came at us with high energy. The sun finally came out and a relaxed vibe at the Dogtooth Stage was a perfect setting for band watching, as this funky and clean take on metal was soaked up by an active crowd. A more refined Issues-loving ear may have felt jarred by the adaptations of the vocals, but for a listener who isn’t fully versed in Issues, it worked.
I briefly caught Neck Deep at the Avalanche Stage, where the UK pop punk band were making themselves at home with a mesmerised crowd. Their collective stage presence was strong, with wild onstage activity and crowd connection. Huge singalongs made the fan-love apparent, and it was returned in kind with crowd interactivity, as Ben got into the crowd.
It was back to the Dogtooth Stage for Falling In Reverse, featuring the almost mythical Ronnie Radke as frontman; someone I needed to see in the flesh. The band took the stage, with Ronnie in massive sunglasses, checking us all out and getting things just so. In short, the guy is a brilliant and intense diva. A story: A hum came from an amp for the first two songs. It was definitely noticeable, even if not detracting from the performance. Ronnie’s insistence on this needing to be fixed, and fast, and the subsequent response to this made it clear that his eye and ear for his vision is a powerful force behind Falling In Reverse. The guy expects (and has) command of the stage and his people, and anything less is a source of frustration. The Falling In Reverse lyrical descriptions of hustle and hard work become fact, when the band plays a US tour mere days before being vibrant on stage in Australia.
With the amp fixed (hooray for the guitar tech!), Ronnie was more in the groove and feeling genuine gratitude of the moment that was palpable. Sharing his love for us, the set flowed smoothly and the crowd danced and rapped along with “Alone”. We were all part of this, with middle fingered hands swaying along with “Fuck You And All Your Friends”.
It was when the crowd passionately rapped/sang along with new track (and clear evolution in the band’s sound) “Losing My Mind” that Ronnie seemed to be moved emotionally by this active appreciation. He said he ‘just needed to do something’, and got on FaceTime to Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix to share the moment, with the crowd joining in with singing “Last Resort”. It was a very cool moment of the day and of this incredible set featuring unbridled entertaining expressiveness and electric vibrancy oozing from an enthused Ronnie (once everything was right), and the sonically impressive band.
Coolest moments of my life was tonight in Melbourne I faced timed @JacobyShaddix out the mic up to the phone and I sang “last resort” entire crowd went ape shit. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. What a great year so far. #loveyall
— RonnieRadke (@RonnieRadke) March 24, 2018
Rowan went off to shoot The Story So Far while I hung out with Falling In Reverse.
The main arena was reaching peak squishiness when I headed to the Red Stage for the Good Charlotte set, with those big screens yet again coming in handy. Starting their set with “The Anthem” inspired nostalgic goosebumps, as I saw a surprising number of people dancing along on this warm evening. The Good Charlotte guys have still got it, and the high energy set was playful and exciting. Joel was chatty and connective, with a lot of love for Australia. He shared that he insisted on Limp Bizkit playing at the same event, and was encouraging of women in the scene.
As I walked back over to the Dogtooth Stage (because I didn’t want to miss Make Them Suffer after they ruined me with “Save Yourself” the other day) I was trying to make sense of this line-up while I was in the thick of it. I was trying to make sense of the massive amount of crowd love that these old school songs were getting, not to mention the amount of love I saw bands like Neck Deep and Trophy Eyes getting. In my 30s and old enough to remember when these bands were at their peak, I can count on one hand the number of people I know that still carry enthusiasm for up-and-coming bands. So did these passionately nostalgic fans come to Download solely to worship their favourites? Did these early 40s people bring their adult children? Or was the breadth of the line-up somehow catering to everyone from 18 to 50+?
Perth’s Make Them Suffer know how to put on a show and their energy was fierce from the start, with aggressive eye contact and presence. Gorgeous soundscapes and roaring emotion were part of this happy band’s set, with a bouncing pit getting into it. I’m mesmerised by these guys and their combination of buoyant keys and driving riffs. With this spectrum of sound, their sound feels as living and breathing as any one of us.
All facets of the band were engaged on stage, having us met with multilayered fire as they put everything into their set and played tracks like “Let Me In”, “Uncharted”, and “Widower”. A passionate crowd backed their band with a circle pit and a wall of death. I can’t really explain it, but heavy raindrops hitting us as the set came to a close seemed to draw us closer to the wavelength of this band that seems both fierce and magical.
I went back to the now very full ‘nostalgia land’ of the main arena, waiting to see Limp Bizkit on the Black Stage. I honestly didn’t have high hopes for this set at all, so my ‘limp’ expectations soon got a swift upgrade. Frontman Fred Durst oozed cool, despite looking a lot different to the guy we knew in the 90s. He had full command over the crowd, even in an awkward audience member situation. When he said ‘get up’, we got up, and the ground shook along with us.
The band’s stage presence was so very strong, including guitarist Wes Borland being painted in solid black. The lengthy set time meant that the band used it to slowly play with us, with many moments of instrumental backing while Fred hyped it up, casually working the crowd and honestly turning us into putty in his hands. Moving (slowly) through the massive crowd from the back of the arena to between the Black and Red stages, I had a really good opportunity to see just how much people were into this. The crowd turned into one of the biggest and most chilled singalong/dance parties I’ve ever been a part of. Fred said “I came to party with you”, and he clearly meant it.
Stand-out moments included an audience member in a wheelchair being held up and crowd surfing, audience member waving his prosthetic leg in the air, an audience member singing “Faith” with him, incredible/mindblowing/amazing guitarwork, a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” singalong, and countless mini pits opening up all over the arena.
The hype easily continued and though I wouldn’t call myself a Prophets Of Rage fan per se, they won me over easily and I got swept away in their ‘fists up, motherfucker’ connective force vibe, as well as their grooving and infectious sound.
It was up against the barrier watching this marriage between bands that my earlier questioning about the line-up felt answered: Music is ageless. Music is timeless. Music surpasses generations. Whether deliberate or not, this collection of bands at Download Melbourne seemed to amplify this fact, and celebrated old school roots, and placed fresh music in front of those passionate enough to be present with it.
From that outlook and attitude is from where I soaked up the Prophets Of Rage set. I became incredibly moved by the fact that their passion to make a change and be a voice for those that need it has kept these beautiful souls active in the scene. Their mission is what drives their music, and inspires them to connect with those that’ll listen to their message.
Where the Limp Bizkit set was a party, the Prophets Of Rage set was like a jam session plus activism. They steered the flavour toward ‘Hip Hop city’ and played a medley of Cypress Hill tunes, joining the crowd while singing. I’m glad I didn’t peek at the setlists.fm website before Download, because hearing “Insane In The Brain” and “Jump Around” in a crowd of thousands was a joyful surprise. As was an emotional tribute to Chris Cornell. The place in front of the microphone remained heartbreakingly empty while “Like A Stone” was played by former Audioslave members. We used our voices as tribute, sharing a potent farewell to someone who meant a lot to us. Soundgarden were the band that opened my eyes to the brilliance of heavy music.
Finishing up with “Killing In The Name” was an amazing ending to this experience that felt really special.
While Prophets Of Rage were doing their thing, Swedish melodic death metal band Arch Enemy hit the Dogtooth Stage and Rowan caught them in all of their blue-hued majesty.
Korn closed Download for me, and I had high expectations. Standing stage right and up against the barrier, I realised that I saw Korn 21 years ago in Brisbane, standing in a similar stage orientation. Whether it’s my poor memory or simply the band’s prowess, not much seems to have changed. Their vibes were high, as frontman Jonathan Davis seemed to float in, complete with gorgeous silk kilt. Instrumentally tight, the nu metal awesomeness was a pleasure to immerse in, with bass grooves that seemed to want to jangle around inside our corpses and wake us up. We got to see Jonathan’s majestic mouth and lungs in action, with him finding his way to (what looked like) oxygen as needed. His signature scatting is always something to behold, and we also got to watch him in action on the bagpipes.
With blue misty lighting, and a brilliant half moon in the night sky above, the set hit heavy heights, but was also a relatively chilled experience more than any kind of in-your-face aggressiveness. Behind me, the crowd apparently extended as far back as the Avalanche Stage.
Korn’s full setlist was: Rotting in Vain, Falling Away From Me, Here to Stay, Y’All Want a Single, Black Is the Soul, Did My Time, Shoots and Ladders, Twist, Got the Life, Coming Undone, Insane, Make Me Bad, Somebody Someone, with 4 U, Blind, and Freak on a Leash as encore.
US punk legends NOFX hit the Avalanche Stage while Korn were on stage. There was little chance of me getting through the thousands to get back to the Avalanche Stage (I’m not entirely sure how Rowan got there to shoot them. I suspect magic).
With the first Download over, my feeling was that I enjoyed it way more than I expected I would. The combination of acts as well as the variety of stalls/bars/food/hangouts meant you could make Download your own, whether that meant you saw your favourites only, or savoured pieces of everything in this musical ‘village’. It was only once the headlining bands began that getting around became difficult. People of all ages and walks of life were there for the inaugral Download in Australia, and from where I’m sitting, it looks like it was a success.
Kudos to Depth Mag’s awesome photographer Rowan Donohue for all photos included here.