Well isn’t this bizarre? Usually you’d click onto one of my articles here at Respawning and expect me to either be blabbing on about FIFA, or trying to force a bunch of awesome games into some sort of top 10 list! Well not today as this time I’m here to discuss another love of mine – Music. More precisely live music and my love for festivals, especially Download Festival. I’ve been to every Download since 2007 bar this year (Mostly due to my old ass body being unwilling to camp) so it’s fair to say I’m quite experienced with everything to do with Download, especially when it comes to announcement time…
Yesterday afternoon saw the announcement for the first set of bands for next years Download in June 2020. As is often the case when the guys at Download announce anything, they were met with a ton of backlash and negative comments; this year mostly centred around how recently and/or often the newly announced headline acts have played the hallowed turf of Donington Park. So are Download in the wrong here, or are they just doing what’s best for business?
Let’s have a look at the issue that a lot of punters seem to have. KISS, Iron Maiden and System of a Down are the three headline acts for 2020 and a lot of people are frustrated that its the same old set of bands coming back around again. Do they have a point? Well yes. Out of these three headliners, KISS (Who will be playing their last ever Download show) played the festival the longest time ago having headlined back in 2015, however next year will mark the fifth time the band have played Donington including the Monsters of Rock days or the third time if you just include the Download era. I think it’s a little harsh on KISS to say they’ve shown up too many times, but for argument’s sake we’ll let it slide.
Next up is Iron Maiden and now we’re talking… Maiden last played Download in 2016 on their Book of Souls tour, and next year’s appearance will mean Steve Harris and co have graced the grounds of Donington a whopping seven times (Five just including Download). Now as a massive Iron Maiden fan I need to put my bias to one side and agree that people may have a point here. Now let’s have a look at System of a Down… SOAD last headlined only two years back at Download 2017, and 2020 will mark their fourth headline appearance at the festival. Although they haven’t played as many times as KISS and Maiden, I can see people being annoyed given how fresh their 2017 performance may still be in most people’s mind… So are Download wrong to go back to the well with these three acts?
I’d say for the intimidate future, not at all. All three bands are bona fide ticket shifters and the good folks at Download can rest easy for another year knowing that ticket sales will take care of themselves off the back of this announcement. I believe the majority of people who have an issue with these repeat bookings are the sort of dedicated fans (Like myself) who turn up, year after year, no matter the weather or line up. The people who have seen the likes of KISS, Maiden and SOAD three, four or five times a piece (Just at this one festival, let alone elsewhere) and are thirsty to see new blood take to the stage. The problem though is that people like us aren’t always necessarily the target audience, as the festival bookers have to look at not only bringing in new people, but also bringing in the people who only treat themselves to the occasional festival if their favourite band is playing, and chances are that persons favourite band is going to be an Iron Maiden or Slipknot (Another band famous for repeat bookings), rather than one of these newer bands most regulars want to see in the limelight. It would also be stupid on the festivals part to not book these legendary bands when they’re available, because let’s be honest, they won’t be around forever and instead of moaning and complaining about how many times we’ve seen them, maybe we should appreciate them while they’re here before we wake up and realise just how lucky we were.
But what about the not-so-immediate future? This is where there’s an issue for Download Festival. As mentioned above, these legacy acts won’t be around forever, and there’s a real strong argument to be made that the festival is drastically unprepared for a future without the likes of Metallica, Guns n Roses and Iron Maiden. In recent years we’ve seen farewell shows at Download from Black Sabbath, Motley Crüe, Aerosmith, and come June, KISS. This means that the pool of headliners that Download have to rely on is becoming smaller and smaller, especially when you include the tragic losses of bands such as Linkin Park, The Prodigy, Soundgarden and Audioslave – All of which were safe bets for Download as potential headline acts (I realise that some of these bands may continue on without their key members but they’re unlikely to be headliners)… So what do they do? Promote fresh blood is the obvious answer but this is way easier said than done.
Now Download do have a history of bumping up younger bands to the headline spot and the results have been mixed… The biggest success story for me is Slipknot. It’s easy to forget that before 2008’s ‘All Hope is Gone’ album, Slipknot were not exactly a go-to for festival bookers looking for headline acts. It was Andy Copping (Download’s head booker) who first took the risk of taking ‘the 9’ and putting them on top of the Download line up in 2009, where they absolutely smashed all expectations in what is still to this day the greatest live experience I have ever witnessed, solidifying Slipknot as an undeniable headline act for the rest of their career. Very similar words can be said about My Chemical Romance and Avenged Sevenfold, who were both bumped up to headline spots in 2007 and 2014 respectively. Much like Slipknot, the idea of either of those bands playing anywhere on the bill other than headliner seems ridiculous now, and that is in part thanks to Andy Copping and Download taking a risk. That doesn’t mean a few fresh headline acts haven’t backfired though…
You can look as far back as 2005 for Download’s first questionable headliner when Feeder headed up the line up alongside Black Sabbath and System of a Down… Yeah, one of those things is not like the other. 2008 saw the disastrous headline booking of The Offspring, who although brilliant, weren’t enough to sell a mass amount of tickets, and let’s not forget another headliner from that same year – Lost Prophets… Moving swiftly on! To be fair to Download, there hasn’t really been another failed headliner since then with only Biffy Clyro struggling to pull in a large crowd in 2017, but given Biffy’s success outside of Download, you could see the reasoning behind the booking. The main reason for not having a failed headliner since 2008 though may come down to the original argument of Download booking the same batch of headliners over and over again, showing that yes, these booking aren’t always inspiring, but they are safe and reliable and given that Download Festival is a business before anything else; who can really blame them?
There’s no doubt that eventually it will come to the point where they don’t have a choice but to promote youth. So who could possibly step up? Looking back to previous years there have been a handful of bands who have climbed their way up the bill while drawing huge crowds in the process. Alter Bridge is one that instantly springs to mind, and Andy Copping has even hinted before that they could headline, as well as bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, but both these bands aren’t exactly spring chickens and that boat may have sailed. Outside of that I can’t help but look at Five Finger Death Punch who always go over super well at Download, and feel like they’re only one stellar album away from taking that top spot, though in my opinion could do with a sub headline spot first to test the waters, especially given they can’t even sell out an arena tour as things stand… Both Volbeat and Bring me the Horizon feel as if they may be in the same boat as 5FDP, though neither seem to pull the crowd as successfully as 5FDP do year in and year out so who knows. This is an absolute mine field for me just thinking about it, I dread to think what it must be like in the Live Nation offices having these same conversations! In reality only time will tell, it only takes one massive album form a younger band and for Download to take the right risk at the right time for everything to click into place. The only worry is that it will need to happen more than once to fill the spots of the aforementioned departing legends though when I look at the likes of Ghost, Architects, Parkway Drive, Creeper and A Day to Remember, I can’t help but feel we may well be in safe hands going forward.
There’s also many gigantic bands who would be more than capable of headlining Download who have never even stepped foot on Donington soil (While under the Download name anyway), bands such as Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Van Halen, Green Day and Blink 182 would be fresh yet established bands who would easily sell tickets to the masses. Though I can’t help but feel that if they wanted to play, then they would have already and there must be some reason unknown to us why it’s never happened. Though maybe the time is approaching to really push for one or two of these acts to come and save the day, if it needs saving at all.
So should Download have taken a risk with younger acts for 2020? I think now is not the time… Let KISS have their farewell. Let Iron Maiden remind us all why they’ve headlined this badboy so many times and let’s all lose our collective minds to bangers such as Chop Suey!, B.Y.O.B and Sugar, because the truth is that we may not have many more opportunities to do so in the future. Though come Download 2021 and beyond, they may have no choice but to bump up some fresh meat on at least one of the days. Don’t be worried though, I can almost guarantee all this has been discussed at a much higher level and all we have to worry about is making sure we remember our wellies! Now c’mon, all together now… “SCREAM FOR ME DONINGTON!!”Become a Patron!