Download Pilot 2021: A reflection

Download Pilot 2021: A reflection

By Yasmin Brown

Jun 24, 2021 15:15

Who would have thought a mere four weeks ago that before the end of June 10,000 of us would be standing in our Doc Martens and wellies in the rain, arms around one another, screaming along to our favourite songs?

“Never gonna happen” would likely have been most people’s response to such a notion. It certainly would have been ours.

But you’ve seen the news, I’m sure, and that is, amazingly, exactly what happened.

A three-day rock and metal festival made up entirely of British bands, all performing at a reduced capacity Download Festival — of all the festivals! — on a voluntary basis. All in the name of bringing back our scene from the brink of collapse.

At face value, the Download Pilot wasn’t any different from any other festival that’s taken place any other year. There were food trucks and carnival rides, rain and the subsequent mud, circle pits and technical difficulties aplenty… A little smaller, sure, but ultimately, a festival like any other.

Except this one hit differently.

There was something in the air before the weekend even really started. Despite the rain and the queues, there was a level of patience and kindness that felt (to use the word of the year) unprecedented. But it wasn’t just that — there was an inexplicable buzz. An intangible air of excitement that could only come from being away from live music as we knew it for 15 whole months. For many of us, that’s the longest we’ve gone without experiencing a live environment since we were children, and to know we were on the cusp of experiencing it again in all of its uninhibited glory ignited a wildfire in the 10,000 attendees that’s difficult, if not totally impossible, to accurately articulate.

As the clock ticked over to 5pm on the Friday — a time usually reserved for getting settled, getting drunk, and finding your bearings — the second stage tent was overspilling with music fans ready to mosh for the first time in over a year. Who cares if you don’t know who the fuck Death Blooms are? This is the moment we’d all been waiting for and there wasn’t a chance in hell we were going to let a little detail like that get in the way of us making the most of every second of it. Just moments in and beer cups were already flying overhead and a circle pit had opened the hell up.

We were home.

The carnage we experienced in these first few minutes would only continue from here on out. The waning of energy that you usually see as festival weekends progress simply never happened as every single one of the 40 bands on the bill received the warmest of welcomes — potentially a result of the zero clash timetable, but a significant achievement all the same. It was a welcome that was, almost without exception, met with humility and tangible gratitude from those on stage, a fierce reminder that it’s not just the fans that have missed out these past few months, but the artists themselves. For them, this is not only a bid to revive their souls, but a potential avenue into reviving an area of lost income, too. It’s easy to forget, as we work from home listening to these bands on Spotify, the extent of the impact the lack of touring has had on the livelihoods of the artists, their crew, venue managers and staff, and those who make a living off of arranging live coverage. Festivals are how most new bands make a name for themselves, and without it, there’s a lot of reliance on Spotify playlists and word of mouth that will never really have the same impact as a phenomenal live set.

That’s not to say, however, that the mood was ever quashed by these reminders, rather every mention of gratitude and surreality (of which there were countless) only ignited a belief that this might be the beginning of the end of what has been a really terrible time. Upcoming tours were announced by way of posters across the grounds, and the rotating screens by the main stage reminded us of tours that have already been planned and rescheduled. For the first time, dates in September, October, and November felt plausible and if anything, any mention of Covid and its impact on the live music industry was now shrouded in genuine hope and excitement.

Beyond the excitement, though, the entire weekend was also built on foundations of kindness and care. While restrictions were legally lifted within the confines of the park, there was a general understanding that any anxiety that may have built up over the past year and a bit would not necessarily also be left at the gates. The rotating notices regularly reminded attendees to take their post-event PCR tests, and the screens at the main stage acted as a prompt to be kind and give people space if they needed it, as well as making a point that while masks weren’t required, they were still acceptable.

These little notes only further added to the generally positive attitudes of attendees, who would catch falling crowd surfers and lift up moshers without a second thought. There seemed to be little to no pushing or impatience, even when larger bands took to the stage, and smiles, high fives, fist bumps and hugs were regularly and happily exchanged between strangers. This is a community that is, on the whole, made up of people who look to music during difficult times and as such, there’s an understanding between the individual members that connects them in such a way that doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. It’s a connection that has never been stronger than it was across these three days because it’s a connection that has been missing from our lives for so long now and it meant everything to have it back — even if just for the weekend.

So yeah, Download Pilot 2021 was certainly a little different to what you might usually expect from a festival, but not in the ways you might have considered. I have always been proud to be part of the rock / alternative / metal – whatever you wanna call it – community, but never more so than I did as I walked out of the gates towards my car for the last time on Sunday evening after a number of teary goodbyes and one last look at the sight behind me.

What a beautiful testament to our scene that such an event could not only be planned and executed to near perfection within a single month, but also that it could be filled with so much love, acceptance, and happiness in a time that has otherwise pushed us to our limits.

As if we ever needed proof that live music saves, the Download Pilot certainly gave us that and we will forever be honoured to have been involved in its revival.