LIVE: Download Festival 2024 – Friday

By Katherine Allvey

Download XXI, followup to last year’s anniversary spectacular, aims high. With Pantera’s return and Sum 41’s graceful exit on the cards, there’s plenty of huge names to make this a weekend for the history books, but the real action’s on the smaller stages. Download always manages to cram in some of the freshest and most vibrant acts out there, so let’s see how they measure up.

Words: Kate Allvey Images: Penny Bennett and Download Festival


Vocalist Addie Nicole Amick strides across the stage like an evil angel as we nervously put our plastic ponchos on for Halocene, second on the bill on the Opus stage. They’re gliding beyond their reputation as ‘Evanescence with trap beats’ to create songs far more powerful than you’d expect to hear at lunchtime on day one of Download. ‘Repent’, dedicated to Amick’s mother, is designed to be screamed and ‘When Demons Come To Life’, “about my declining mental heath” according to the vocalist, embraces the darkness within, but it’s their cover of Thirty Seconds To Mars’ ‘The Kill’ that shines brightest.

Scene Queen

“One thing about me is that I hate men in bands, and I wish they’d just shut up,” snaps bimbocore sensation Scene Queen while she sips a cup of tea in a bikini. Veering between heavy layers of innuendo on tracks like opener ‘Finger’, it’s her blistering clap backs against pop punk misogyny on ‘18+’ that lead us to start taking her seriously. She’s the exploiter’s nightmare, using her Barbie sound as a switchblade against those who’ve wronged her. ‘Whips and Chains’, her song about ‘beating the shit out of guys who spike drinks at the bar’ is a vicious aggro pop revenge tale, and when she drops her pasted-on smile to reveal a scowl, it’s beyond relatable. 

Soft Play

Compelling and compulsively laddish, the “two man boyband from the garden of England” bring the chaos, ironically declaring that ‘Punk’s Dead’ on one of the most punk tracks to be heard across Download this weekend. ‘Act Violently’ and ‘Everything and Nothing’ get their live debuts, as does a pink stetson from stomping drummer Isaac Holman and whole field’s worth of gloriously distorted sound. Holman takes the lead on the very Stooges ‘Fuck the Hi-Hat’ screeching at the end of each line as Laurie Vincent takes to the distance to stomp out his feelings, spider tattooed fingers slashing at his guitar. We endlessly punch the air and make soggy stamps into the sodden earth to each irresistible beat.

Black Stone Cherry

Southern rock is a huge draw for the Download crowd, and suddenly the realisation that we’re really here dawns on us. Black Stone Cherry revel in their cliches, an evening breeze blowing back their long hair. ‘Again’ maintains a huge presence with its gorgeous acoustic guitar intervals slotted between drums solos like a boulders tumbling from a cliff face. Songs from their last album get their moment in the sun too; ‘When The Pain Comes’ has so much more bass power than hinted at on studio recordings, and ‘Out Of Pocket’ seems to expand out in every direction simultaneously. There’s a distinct Tom Petty influence on ‘Like I Roll’, but they don’t fall back on merely replicating their heroes. There’s a reason that their distinctive sound has seen them notch up eight Download invites and, with a voice quite that majestic, Chris Robertson and pals will undoubtedly be back again. 

Royal Blood

Playing to an oddly empty arena doesn’t put Royal Blood off in the slightest, with many folk heading up to the top of the hill for Busted’s set rather than remaining at the Apex stage. Royal Blood’s fans, many of whom carry signs and banners for the duo and who persevere through technical difficulties that halt two songs, are rewarded with a set that sounds like the outcome of shaking up a bottle of sour lemonade. The splintering sound of the bass-as-guitar rolls like a storm front on the spiralling ‘Boilermaker’, and placing that song next to the dirty, Muse-ish ‘Out Of The Black’ is setlist gold. 


Rumour has it that the pan-European experimental folk collective requested as late as slot as possible to take advantage of the darkness for maximum effect, but the sun’s position in the sky doesn’t diminish their drama in the least. A figure masked with an animal skull spreads incense smoke to the sound of birdsong to signal the start of their set, and in procession they walk on as shamans to receive a blessing. After a full five minutes of silent theatre they gravely begin to howl, and we wonder if this is a show or they’re opening a hellmouth, our cheers confused and nervous. Tribal chanting builds like a call from the dawn of time, and heads begin to bob as we clap politely between songs, if there even can be said to be discreet songs. Are they even a band or are they better described as a cult? Many of the static crowd are rapt but those who wander past do so giggling. You can’t deny the primordial power of what Heilung are doing, or the majesty of the booming throat singing rolling across the hills of Donington, but their place on the bill is perplexing. They’re definitely at least tangentially related to rock and metal, but with Busted playing around the corner, the sounds of pre-Christian Europe feel asynchronous. You can’t shake the feeling that, by the end of their set, Heilung now possibly own our immortal souls. 

Funeral For A Friend

It seems like the most popular move among the crowd is to switch stages midway through Queens Of The Stone Age and head around the increasingly treacherous hill for Funeral For A Friend, eager to catch Holding Absence’s Lucas Woodland in his role as Matthew Davies-Kreye’s temporary replacement. A huge light and a roar, signals the start of ‘This Year’s Most Open Heartbreak’s slapping full powered aggression, with Funeral For A Friend as hardcore in their emo sound as they’ve always been, the screamed vocals waking our weary souls. Seamlessly, they slide into ‘Juneau’, with Woodland offering a tactfully understated performance focused on the power of the music as a whole rather than individual members. He stands poised for the longest time, mic stand over his shoulders, guiding a deeply intentioned singalong

“We need more, wake it up!” It’s impossible to ignore the twisting, winding melody of ‘All The Rage’ held together with grunge tuning. Without fanfare, Charlie Simpson pops up to lend his vocals, proving his range is far greater than Fightstar or Busted have showcased so far. In the distance, we hear snatches of Queens Of The Stone Age, who feel positively cost in comparison to the welshmen on the Opus Stage. Funeral For A Friend create unease in the most positive way possible, and lesser band would have crumbled after losing their frontman, and most of the original lineup, along the way. As last year’s tour proved, the Funeral For A Friend sound is greater than the sum of its parts and capable of moving the dampened crowds of Download to fine voice.

Queens Of The Stone Age

Dark Americana is what’s fuelling the Download masses today, so the opening chords of ‘Little Sister’ which open Queens Of The Stone Age’s set are treated like rays of midnight sunshine. Frontman Josh Homme, black shirted and bearded like a cowboy prophet, imbues each chord with enough force to split the clouds. ‘Burn The Witch’ must win the prize for most brutal use of lap steel to date as it squeals like it needs oiling for its pain, while Homme jerks behind like a de-stringed puppet, demonic against a scarlet backdrop. Yes, the big hitters from ‘Songs For The Deaf’ suffer a little without the nastiness of their original incarnation in the hands of Mondo Generator’s Nick Oliveri, but no one could deny the potency of ‘Go With The Flow’, which wails and booms as the perfect main stage tune, simultaneously still challenging and rewarding. ‘No One Knows’ still resoundingly hits, with just a hint of sadness on downturn of each line, a quiet lull to nothing with a whispered bassline before a triumphal return.

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