Originally published in Beat Magazine.
Australia’s first Download Festival ripped through Flemington Racecourse on a typical Melbourne afternoon, leaving a bunch of poncho-clad then sunburnt punters in its wake.
The punk, metal and hardcore festival was born in the UK in 2003, spreading to France and Spain before making a stop on our shores.
Melbourne locals High Tension kicked it off on the Red Stage under a gloomy midday sky. Karina Utomo’s brutal vocals above razor-sharp guitars cut through the slowly filling grounds, priming us, in the pouring rain, for the hours to come.
Fellow Melbournians Clowns tore through their set on the Avalanche Stage, tantalising the tastebuds of all the punk kids under the tent. The five-piece came off like a happy, supportive family. So much so, they weren’t surprised when vocalist Stevie Williams made his way into the crowd, surfing and singing with fans in the pit. Plus, it was great to see him in an #ittakesone shirt.
LA natives Bad Cop, Bad Cop kept the party going. Bouncing around the stage with their classic-sounding punk tunes and sharing banter with the crowd, you could tell they were thrilled to be there. They won over a lot of new fans, myself included.
This led me onto Nails. The four-piece’s quick intensity on record translated brilliantly into the live setting, as they completely pummelled their way through thirty minutes under the sun on the smaller Dogtooth Stage.
Local favourites Trophy Eyes’ set culminated in ‘Chlorine’. The crowd sang the track’s final lines to vocalist John Floreani after he’d left the mic, waving goodbye to adoring fans. Neck Deep were up next, dedicating acoustic cut ‘December’ to Mark Hoppus before launching into the ballad. Emotion ran high through the pit.
Gojira commanded the Black Stage for the next hour. Mastodon followed, and we witnessed a masterclass in metal between the two. Bassist Troy Sanders expressed his happiness at the fact that Australia’s got a new heavy festival – with the positive feel amongst the day’s audience, you could tell they agreed.
Then, with Good Charlotte, it was time to dive back into the early 2000s. With Joel Madden altruistically teaching punters the chorus to 2016 single ‘Life Changes’, he clearly knew what the crowd were after. Smiles all round, there was a real sense of community among the fans. Nothing like belting out favourites like ‘The Anthem’ and ‘Little Things’ in a live setting.
This unifying experience carried into ‘Rollin’ and ‘Break Stuff’ – for Limp Bizkit, nostalgia was a huge drawcard. Back under the tent, Suicidal Tendencies brought the whole crowd on stage during their final song. Literally.
Supergroup Prophets of Rage closed out the day on the Red Stage with pure force. Packed with incendiary Rage Against the Machine hits alongside a hip-hop interlude spanning Cypress Hill and Public Enemy’s catalogue, intensity was high. They paid tribute to Chris Cornell, playing Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’ as the crowd filled in for the departed vocalist, spotlight on the empty microphone. A rollercoaster of emotions, before blasting back into classics ‘Bulls on Parade’ and ‘Killing in the Name’.
Dreadlocked nu-metal royalty Korn and veteran punks NOFX closed the day out on the Black and Avalanche stages respectively. Opener ‘Rotting in Vain’ set the tone for Korn’s set, with Jonathan Davis’ vocals roaring above punishing drumlines and growling guitars. ‘Y’all Want A Single’ was a brutal example, after which Davis slammed out a bagpipe solo.
NOFX lapped up their spot, jovially chatting to the crowd, poking fun at themselves and the differences between metalheads and punk rockers while complaining about Korn being too loud. They had a point – we could hear them through the tent between songs.
Soundwave is sorely missed, Big Day Out is gone, Legion failed to get off the ground – here’s hoping Download is here to stay, only to expand in years to come.
All images by David Harris.