Download Festival 2019 Review: Slipknot, Def Leppard & Tool Headline

Mud, metal and a blistering return by a new look Slipknot...

Matthew Higgs/Download Festival

Download Festival has a habit of really getting under your skin. When the heavens open and the ground quickly loses its stability and structure, it's that sort of ingrained, irresistible draw that makes the struggles a lot easier to take. And boy, were there some struggles at this year's event.

Despite being hosted in June every year, Download has an uncanny knack for occasionally being a beacon for torrential, catastrophic rain. Not mere summer showers, you understand, but the kind of downpour you might expect from a particularly gloomy boyband video. Or from the inside of an actual shower.

On the back of days of that kind of weather, the Castle Donington site was met with a particularly testing challenge, but thanks to the precedent of other boggy, soggy years, it's not one the crew had to meet unprepared. The ground may have turned into soup for a lot of the campsite areas and the Village, but the show - as they say - had to go on. Even without some of the less hardy souls who chose to leave early. And also those who felt they had no choice.

At times like these, you have to admire how resilient any event is and Download has history with being steadfast and sturdy. This is a purely rock-based festival after all and the only major festival to stick (mostly) with one genre. Of course, that's not a reductive idea, because the genre is a spectrum as rainbow coloured as you could ever imagine. But there's still something to be said about the event's reluctance to adopt other musical ideas to the detriment of its core.

Rain and mud come, just as other musical fashions, but Download stands like a mult-limbed monolith, arms opened and packed with a welcoming charm you just don't feel at any other festival. For it not to lose any of that even when the sky hadn't stopped leaking for months-worth of rain in a few short days isn't just something to be impressed by - it's something to be fiercely proud of.

And so it was for all of the mighty-hearted fans who made the trip to the Midlands to catch a weekend crowned by Def Leppard, Slipknot and Tool, and featuring a broad range of icons, upcomers and oddities. Naturally, it all began at the start and Friday...

3. Friday

Def Leppard Download Festival 2019
James Bridle/Download Festival

With the weather still mercilessly unforgiving, Friday kicked off - as it always does - slightly later (at 1pm) than the other two days. But playing early is no graveyard shift. While Tesla drew well on the Main Stage, the nostalgic appeal of Skid Row on the Zippo Encore was too much to ignore knowing we were careering towards an old school night of Whitesnake, Slash and Def Leppard.

Then came the exceptional Blackberry Smoke on the Main Stage and while their country blend probably deserves a touch more sun, they brought their own with a rousing cover of The Beatles' Come Together.

As was said before the festival kicked off around these parts, you don't see Clutch on a bill and avoid them and the Maryland rockers proved, once more, exactly why that's the case. The soaked crowd lapped up their appearance and their call to arms was a funk-baked, razor-sharp set you only get from real live show veterans. Is it possible they're getting even better?

The end of Friday and the "main event" of the first day was the long run from Whitesnake, with David Coverdale on charming form as ever, through the sublime technicals of Slash and into Def Leppard, playing Hysteria in full. The middle section of that trio might have sagged a little (but only through familiarity rather than contempt), but the book-ends of the bands who feel like touring buddies was a hell of a way to spend an evening.

Both Whitesnake and Def Leppard are immaculate and lots of other bands from their era (or their zenith, more fairly) could learn a lot from their stage craft. Coverdale is a colossus of a front-man and it's hard not to be completely blown away by his presence. Long may this resurgent nostalgic wave continue.

So, now onto Saturday...


WhatCulture's former COO, veteran writer and editor.