Gig Review: Download Festival Pilot 2021

All eyes were on Donington Park for the launch of Download Pilot – an experimental 10,000 capacity festival as part of the second phase of the Government’s Event Research Programme. No social distancing, no masks – and no limits on moshing.

Photo: Dannee McGuire

What makes the smaller pilot structurally unique from its former editions is intimacy. Gone are the long walks from the campsite. This year, camping within the arena gave Download the rapport of other small festivals like 2000trees. There was no feeling of being guinea pigs for a scientific event – it was almost disconcertingly easy to shrug off the new normal of the last year.

With complexities around international travel hammering on in the real world, Download kept it simple: it committed to only UK acts. Not a bad thing at all – it gave many British acts the chance to shine on a bigger stage. As said by Saint Agnes, “for you this is a Sunday morning, for us this is a dream”.

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There is immense gratitude and tears from the artists performing for the first time in 16 months, from the first acts Death Blooms and Malevolence to the very end with Bullet for My Valentine. The Friday and Saturday headliners Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes and Enter Shikari couldn’t stop expressing their feelings at being on stage again, with Frank stopping the show to say ​“Excuse me if I soak this in at every opportunity!”.

Within the gates of Donington Park, everything was normal as usual. Skindred received a hero’s welcome and brought the return of Download Festival tradition ‘Newport Helicopter’ where 10,000 people swung their t-shirts in celebration.  Sleep Token mesmerised the crowd with emotional soundscapes of mysterious masked metalling. While She Sleeps and Creeper assaulting the senses with masterful performances, living up to their late evening slots.

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As festival goers return home to regular Covid restrictions to submit the results of their post-event PCR tests, the future of UK festivals hangs in uncertain balance. One thing’s for sure: Donington Park is still ringing after an event like no other. Live music is coming back.

Header photo: James Bridle

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