LIVE: Download Festival Pilot 2021 – Saturday

By Yasmin Brown

It’s been a long, long time since Punktastic have been able to cover live music as we’ve always known it, and to be able to dive back in at the one and only Download Festival is more than we could ever have hoped for.

The crowd was smaller, as was the lineup, but after 15 months away from the pit and even longer away from the fields, this reduced capacity Download was all we could ever have hoped for and more.

Pulling together some of the greatest British talent, not even the rain could bring us down as we threw ourselves happily into muddy mosh pits, screaming until we had no voice left at all. Leaving all the weirdness outside the gates, it wasn’t long at all until it felt as though we’d never been away. And we, among our 10,000 peers, were so happy to be home

Thank you, Download – what a triumphant return this was.

Words: Yasmin Brown [YB] and Romy Gregory [RG]; Images: Matt Eachus

Lotus Eater

Joining many of their fellow compatriots leading the way in British metal on the bill, Lotus Eater deliver an impressively bruising set from the second the unrelenting ‘Jawless’ kicks in. Those who are unaware that this is their first performance with an almost entirely new lineup would be none the wiser by the end of the set; every song is delivered with the expertise and technicality of a well-seasoned band. In amongst the well-earned bravado of a band at the top of their game are moments of heartfelt emotion, like the touching mid-set dedication to vocalist Peter Collins’ late father, which feels even more poignant in these circumstances. By the time the punishingly brutal ‘Vermin’ comes round, Lotus Eater have won over everyone who was wise enough to drag themselves out of their tents before midday. [RG]


It’s hard to talk about Conjurer in anything other than hyperbole given that they are arguably the best metal band to come out of Britain in the past few years, but as bassist Conor Marshall sits in disbelief at the barrier after having finished their set in the pit, it’s almost remarkable the rest of the crowd aren’t doing the same. Opening their debut main stage performance with a brand new, unheard song is certainly a daring move but Conjurer has never been anything other than bold, and they continue on in the same fashion throughout their all too short 30-minute set. With the blisteringly brutal likes of ‘Hadal’ and ‘Retch’ getting their time to shine, there’s little doubt to those braving both the rain and the early start that this is equally the heaviest and the best set of the weekend. A perfect way to wake up on a Saturday morning. [RG]


It might be their first UK festival appearance, but the way Wargasm make the main stage their own during this early Saturday slot would suggest otherwise. Donning a miss match of outfits, this young duo have perfected their performance, refusing to allow for apathy despite the inevitable hungover state in which many of the attendees surely find themselves. This seven song setlist is explosive from start to finish, the band’s new hits tied together with a final performance of N*E*R*D’s ‘Lapdance’. It couldn’t have been more fun if Wargasm had tried. 

Whether you like this band or not, there’s no doubt that what they’re offering is as close to unique as things get these days. Their almost nu-metal sound is exciting and fresh, and their performance is fierce and fearless. We expect to be seeing Wargasm on festival lineups for many years to come. [YB]


Dressed head to toe in matching suits, Tigercub are, seemingly slightly out of place at a heavy rock and metal festival as they nervously take to the second stage. It’s not long after they launch into the first song on their setlist, ‘As Blue as Indigo’, however, for their hauntingly beautiful music to capture the crowd’s full attention with ease, their technical perfection leaving no room for complaints. While many attendees may have entered the tent not necessarily knowing who Tigercub are, there’s no way the powerful and flawless vocals of front man Jamie Hall and stunning musicianship of his fellow bandmates haven’t resulted in new fans forming on the spot. There’s little crowd interaction bar a few quips here and there, but Tigercub’s music speaks for itself – a truly gorgeous performance to be remembered. [YB]


Answer me this: is there anyone in the world cooler than Janine Shilstone? Don’t answer that. It’s rhetorical and the answer is no fucking way. Hailing from Scotland (Shilstone only has to address the crowd once for you to hear her thick accent), Vukovi have made a huge name for themselves across British festivals in recent years (2020 permitting, of course), and it’s Shilstone’s incredible personality and stage presence that has surely propelled this band to success. What’s even better, of course, is that their music is actually really bloody good, too. A fascinating combination of electronic and rock, Vukovi have tapped into something great, all fuelled by the unexpectedly pure and limitless vocals of Shilstone, and the epic guitar skills of her bandmate Hamish Reilly. You simply cannot help but love this band and despite the nerves (“I am shitting myself”), it’s an epic return to the live environment for them, and a pretty perfect way for Shilstone to spend her birthday. Launching herself into the crowd, inciting a wall of death and demanding that someone get her a drink, this is clearly where Shilstone is most at home, but even better than that, she makes it feel like home for us, too. [YB]


Another band who have made a name for themselves at festivals across the UK in recent years are Yonaka, slowly gaining traction until they’ve found themselves in the position they’re in today – playing the mainstage at massive festivals as if they were born to be there. Which, in fairness, they may well be. Their set today is not without its issues, as the sound cuts out just as they launch into the second song, but it’s not even close to being enough to shake front woman Theresa Jarvis, who continues to command the stage with the utmost professionalism until the sound is back, continuing to belt out hit after hit with the same attitude and talent as always, not letting the hiccup shake her in the least. Vukovi are a hard act to follow, but Yonaka are more than up for the task and we can’t wait until our summers are wonderfully saturated with this four-piece once again. [YB]

Twin Atlantic

One of those bands that can make any stage and any setting work for them, Twin Atlantic have perfected their inner chameleon, and today, their set is perfectly tailored to the Download crowd in front of them over at the main stage. Made up exclusively of their heavier material, their setlist is made to please this early evening crowd, as, decked out in their incendiary Scotland shirts (chants of ‘It’s coming home’ quickly ensue) they kick off with 2016’s ‘Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator’, a song which makes no lyrical sense but is raucous as hell and a lot of fun to scream along to. It’s the perfect opener for this specific set, and one that would quickly prove itself to lead seamlessly into the rest of the well thought out performance. Despite admitting to being “severely underprepared”, you would never guess that this Glaswegian four-piece hadn’t been in a room together since March 2020, executing every song to perfection with the boundless energy we’ve come to expect from them. As they bring the set to a close with the classic ‘Heart and Soul’, front man Sam McTrusty signals to the goosebumps on his arms – goosebumps we surely all feel rise on our own bodies as we yell goodbye to this incredible band. [YB]

While She Sleeps

Before While She Sleeps even take to the stage, you can already tell this set is going to be huge. The stage is dressed accordingly, with giant letters that spell out ‘SLEEPS’ sitting across the back, and the ‘Sleeps Society’ flag hanging proudly just behind that. It’s clear that the band aren’t here to mess around, and they have yet to play a single note. 

When the music does kick in, however, it’s evident that even with our highest expectations, we have underestimated just how chaotic this set is going to be, as a giant pit forms immediately following a triumphant yell of “Welcome to the Sleeps Society!”. The voice behind this warm welcome is front man Lawrence ‘Loz’ Taylor, a man born for the stage and whose energy never lets up across the 11 song setlist, leaping emphatically across every inch the stage and screaming with all of his might. His energy is mirrored in the crowd and it’s possible that Download hasn’t yet seen this many beers thrown into the air as inhibitions are lost and fans lose themselves completely in the music. In fact, we’re having so much fun that on a handful of occasions, the band decide it’d be more fun to play or sing in the crowd, too, and it’s the kind of interaction that only fuels the fans further as they grapple for a glimpse or a touch of their heroes.

It’s been eight years since Sleeps were last at Download but we’d be surprised if it took that long for them to return again after this glorious return. [YB]


As Will Gould breaks down halfway through ‘Misery’, clearly overwhelmed and overjoyed with emotion to be performing again, it’s genuinely surprising he doesn’t take the rest of the audience down with him at the sight of a live performance that’s nothing short of pure perfection. Creeper’s return to the stage is truly triumphant; at this point, it seems like a victory lap for what has no doubt been a very strange yet hugely successful album campaign for 2020’s ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’. Like most bands playing over the weekend, there is a slew of brand new material for Creeper to debut in style tonight, including recent Springsteen-esque single ‘Midnight’, which already generates huge singalongs a mere three weeks after its release.

As ever, flamboyance and unrivalled showmanship run through the heart of the set; from the get-go, Will is charismatically in character, gracing the stage adorned in an American flag whilst delicately tossing a rose out to a rapturous audience. There are so many highlights that it’s hard to pinpoint any in particular, but as Hannah Greenwood walks on stage to the Bridal Chorus (the jilted bride effect fully complete with a wedding dress) and transitions perfectly into a stunning rendition of ‘Crickets’, Creeper’s commitment to theatrics is transcendent. That’s not to say it’s all style over substance — they rip through old favourites such as ‘Black Rain’ and ‘Down Below’ with perfect execution, seamlessly blending their vigorous punk roots with the seductive Americana of ‘Poisoned Heart’. As ‘Annabelle’ jubilantly closes the set to a nigh-on delirious audience, you can’t help but hope Creeper may soon be headlining stages much larger than this. God can’t save us, but Creeper certainly can. [RG]

Enter Shikari

Where to even begin when it comes to Enter Shikari? This band is arguably one of our scene’s greatest success stories, growing exponentially as both people and musicians – and seeing their fans grow with them – over the 13 years since releasing their debut ‘Take to the Skies’. Back then, as we learnt the words to ‘OK, Time For Plan B’ and ‘Labyrinth’, who could have imagined they’d one day be a band that easily headlined a festival with confetti and strobe lighting. Certainly not the band themselves. Despite their size, Enter Shikari have always remained humble and true to their roots, and tonight is fierce confirmation of that. 

Opening with a brass band version of ‘Live Outside’, composed especially for this return to live music, it’s hard to ignore the goosebumps that spread across your entire body and the tears that threaten to flood your eyes. Immediately, it feels like a celebration, and the festivities continue across the set, a sensation of pure happiness lingering long after it ends. With a number of live debuts (at least live and with an audience), everything about it feels special, not least the dedication of ‘Anaesthetist’ to our care workers, and the use of rainbow lighting and confetti throughout ‘satellites* *’ – a colourful nod to, and celebration of, pride month. 

Front man Rou Reynolds makes sure to use up every available inch of the stage, drinking in the magnificent sight in front of him and regularly commenting on the poignancy of the evening, at one point simply stating that “this feels right. This feels correct”. And it does. To be shouting out the lyrics to ‘{ Dreamer’s Hotel }’ for the first time, to be doing the clap along with ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’, to be clambering over Rory Clewlow as his launches himself into the crowd, to be chanting that we “want to live outside of all of this”, to be hugging Reynolds… It all feels right and normal, and acts as a reminder that this is our home and when the pandemic finally calls it a day, this will be our lives again. All. The. Time. 

At some point or another during this set, everyone in attendance is left awestruck with this realisation, absorbing the beautiful moment and allowing themselves to be so unbelievably happy to be alive. Enter Shikari were always meant to be festival headliners, and 15 years after their first Download appearance, it’s finally happening right here in Donington Park. This couldn’t possibly be a more magical experience, and we only hope we get to lose ourselves in it again sooner rather than later. [YB]