After organizing which bands to see over the course of the day, using the flawless Download 2011 smart phone app, the first point of call is Fighting Wolves at 11am on the Red Bull Bedroom Jam Stage. The foursome, consisting of three Irishmen and one Englishman, are a medium to heavy rock collective with emo tendencies and a thirst for noisy music. With an average turnout for this early a start, the lads get started and get loud pretty quickly. Breaking the noise for a moment, the band tells the audience, “You’re all gorgeous people,” and explains that they have only had five minutes sleep. Jumping back in to the thick of things, another heavy instrumental floods the speakers creating the underlining accompaniment for some melodic, and at times screaming, vocals. During the song, the band’s front man is seen playing the top end of his guitar with both hands whilst standing with the pick in his mouth. After introducing the band’s individual members, and what they look like, one of them states that they feel they look more like their ‘ma’ than their dad. ‘One Minute More’ - a catchy record with a melodic punch that gives the crowd something to learn quickly, closes the set.
Another acoustic set is on the cards for the press today; this time it’s British rock legends Skunk Anansie who are put under the spotlight. Still touring and spreading their brand of pop/rock to the world, this was a moment that just couldn’t be missed. Running through three songs, the first being ‘Brazen’, the other two are taken from the band’s latest offering ‘Wonderlustre’. With time to dig at guitarist Ace, Skin makes it a point to rib the string man because when asked to do a certain record he shy’s away when trying to remember the chords. “You’re going to do it later on stage anyway,” Skin jokes. What’s about to happen is no joking matter however. Skin’s vocals are perfect, like a chorister in church at Christmas. Now in her forties, this woman sings better than any female vocalist out there, and the fact that this is an acoustic set means the audience is focused on her voice explicitly.
Skindred provide one of the performances of the weekend on the Main Stage. Rocking a shiny Union Jack blazer, top hat, red shirt and white tie, Benji makes it a point to promote live music. Screaming, “Keep supporting live music! The internet is cool and all that but keep supporting live music,” Benji then asks, “Who here is in a band?” After an array of hands goes up he continues with, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” Whilst notably a thrash reggae band, you’d be forgiven for trying to put Skindred’s music in to a box and failing, especially when one minute they’re shouting, “Yo, yo, yo,” over a drum n bass inspired backdrop, and then the next they’re causing mosh pits with their courageously mental rock riffs. With everything from rubber dinghies being walked about the audience, to a big girl in a little tee crowd surfing and being cheered when appearing on the jumbo screens, these guys mean business. The funniest part of the set comes when the Benji breaks down the meaning of the ‘Newport Helicopter’. Making sure everyone in the audience takes off one piece of clothing – “Even you big tits,” referring to a flasher from a previous song, the crowd then persist to put the item in the air and on the count of three start to swing it around. Donnington has never looked so eventful, or colourful. Playing ‘Warning’ off of the band’s new album, after yet again Benji’s brash but hilarious stage comments – “Who the fuck are those cunts? We’re called Skindred,” the audience have just been treated to a performance that’s going to be tough to compete with.
Zipping over to the Pepsi Max stage to catch the end of VersaEmerge’s set was a decision that won’t be regretted. Highly regarded as the ‘next to blow’, the FueldByRamen three-piece, who have recently become a two-piece, are an emo revelation. Yes they’re constantly getting compared to label mates Paramore, but these guys sound crisper, more elegant, yet at times edgier than the Hayley Williams fronted group. Seeing pintsized singer Sierra jumping around the stage like a woman possessed is not only exciting, but at the same time a bit of a turn on. As attractive as she is, she’s a rocker. Giving our ears a break from the hardcore, tracks like ‘Mind Reader’ and ‘Fixed at Zero’ are a nice break away from the madness.
A few technical difficulties result in a lack of vocals during the last few songs, but Sierra’s passion and dive in to the front of the crowd at the end of the set more than makes up for this. VersaEmerge are definitely a band to keep an eye on over the coming months.
Having already played an acoustic set earlier on in the day for the media, the time arrives for Skunk Anansie to play the Main Stage. Running on to the stage kitted out in a fitted black cat suit and overly ambitious feather collar, which has her looking like a mix between the female lead from Kanye West’s ‘Runaway’ video and Grace Jones, Skin looks ready for battle. Opening with ‘Yes It’s Fucking Political’, complete with air kicks and crazy facial expressions, it goes down well. While today’s weather had been slightly more reserved, the second ‘Charlie Big Potato’ booms through the audience’s ears the sun decides to show itself, and after a few tracks gets so hot that sunburn becomes the norm. Stepping off stage for a second and re-emerging featherless, but with a bit of cleavage showing, much to the crowds delight, ‘My Love Will Fall’ from the band’s latest album is up next.
Catching the end of the King Blues set on the Pepsi Max Stage, the band finish up with their early smash, ‘Save the World, Get the Girl’. As political as these guys can be, especially since their latest album ‘Punk & Poetry’ sounds like a modern day anti-government war cry, it’s always nice to hear them revisit the fun and care-free single that put them on the map. Playing to a rowdy crowd, as well as a few new crowd members – due to the falling rain outside now turning the fields in to tiny mud traps, the lads give a good performance and thank all those present for being a part of it.
Choosing who to see the night out with is no easy task, especially when you have Funeral For A Friend, System Of A Down, and Alice Cooper all playing until close. Hmmm... Decisions, decisions. After great deliberation it’s decided... there’s absolutely no way you can miss Alice Cooper when he’s in town. So off to the Second Stage this scribe goes and upon arrival there’s no surprise to see an army of fans from left to right, front to back, which is a testimony to how appealing Alice Cooper’s stage shows are, and tonight proves no different. Choosing to open with ‘Black Widow’, Cooper is a real showman.
Knowing how to work his audience, commanding them in a soldier-type fashion, whilst wielding a fencing sword, he launches in to ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’. Slinging his jacket off and really getting in to the swing of things, Cooper then uses the sword in his had to conduct the audience while they recite his lyrics back to him. With everything from sex dolls to a ten foot Frankenstein’s Monster making appearances during this show, even the money paid for the entire weekend wouldn’t be enough to cover the workload that Cooper puts in. Birthed in to an era when just standing around with a guitar wasn’t enough, he still keeps the energy levels cranked up to 11. At one point he is even seen wrestling a real life snake around his neck. With songs such as ‘Cold Ethyl’ and ‘Hey Stoopid’ exciting fans more and more, even from the back you’re able to see a sea of swaying arms, heads, hats, and all. Continuing to wow the crowd with on stage trickery, he not only stabs a photographer chasing him during ‘Wicked Young Man’, he also has his own head chopped off in a guillotine whilst ‘I Love The Dead’ bellows throughout the field. Potentially ending his set with the classic ‘School’s Out’, which is a crowd pleaser, and quite possibly the only song where you can’t hear Cooper’s lyrics over the audience’s singing, the man on stage slides off to then reappear in a shiny diamante jacket holding a huge Union Jack flag singing ‘Elected’. With confetti raining supreme alongside the miniature downpour of actual rain, this has been an incredible Saturday evening. Anyone wanting tips on how to perform need to give Alice Cooper a call.
Heading over to the camping area with the rest of the masses, there’s one more stop that needs to be made. While music is of course top of the bill at any Download Festival, there are a few extras at this year’s event, namely ‘Madame Pain’s Boudoir Circus’. Think ‘Moulin Rouge’ meets ‘Freaks’. With half naked individuals being suspended from ceilings, trapped in cages, and even swinging from ropes and trapezes, it’s a bizarre but utterly entertaining way to see out the evening. Oh yes, and be sure not to annoy the frumpy and incredibly dominant ringleader or she might just put you in a cage herself.