As one of, perhaps the youngest student in our BTEC class, I felt very behind everybody else, and it was quite difficult to make friends beyond the small talk in the lectures. I had been interested in going to a music festival for a long time, and somehow connected more with friends Paul and Kim, and was able to tag along with them to Download Festival 2008. I was terrified, not only because I had never been to a music festival, but looking back, I’m not convinced that I had ever even slept in a tent before. However, I took the plunge, and departed on Wednesday 11th June, to Donington Park.
DAY 1 & 2: WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY
The scale of the site stunned me, and my back was in agony before we even got to the gate. We could have done far worse though – we managed to get into the hallowed Blue Camp – close to the central village, and subsequently bloody loud. Being in a group of friends (and new friends-of-friends) twenty-four people, this was easier said than done, considering the standard insistence on being in a circle. We really took the mick by having as big a gap in the middle as we did. I got along very well with everyone in the group and it helpfully defused any brutal expectations that one might have had leading up to going to a metal festival.
When a nutty Danish guy (nicknamed ‘The Great Dane’, albeit probably only by me) dressed as the biblical Adam, and later a Care Bear, and I spotted that the camp next to us had called themselves ‘Camp Cunt Muff’, I realised that this was going to be good fun. At least for anyone who wasn’t in the four-storey human pyramid in our group, which ended with a catastrophic collapse.
This first evening was the first time that I think I ever got especially intoxicated, and I’m very glad for this. I can at least say that I had done before I turned 18, at least once. It was a really surreal experience and we ran around the loud and lit-up village. We also visited the Duracell tent for comedy, and instead witnessed a miserable failure, when a surreal comedian was booed and bottled hard. Talking nonsense at light speed wasn’t going to get him very far. It began with indifference. He then said “I guess that one is only funny in Yugoslavia”. At that moment, everyone noticed that they were listening to complete rubbish, and subsequently got a heck of a lot of rubbish thrown at him. Next came a timid looking Ivan Brackenbury and his hospital radio parody show. It was almost entirely saying something and using a song pun for the punchline (ie. Talking about getting your ears pinned back, and then playing ‘Holding Back the Years’ by Simply Red), and getting “Mrs. A” and “MRSA” mixed up, but it was brilliant.
At some point, according to the photos, I had a smiling penis drawn on my chest with a permanent marker. I have no idea why. Possibly a contrived “giving in” to have a mad time. A new friend joined in with a “FUCK ME HERE” and an arrow pointing down, written on his back.
DAY 3: FRIDAY
On Friday, it was finally time for music. The walk from camp to the arena was outrageously long, taking us all the way around the track. Only fitting, as we were there for opening time – and it was gridlock.
Apparently, Kid Rock could not make it to Download because he was rushed to hospital. As a result, Disturbed and Judas Priest played extended sets. This cruelly got a massive cheer from the crowd (myself included). It makes me wonder how well Kid Rock would have been received had he been there. Both were brilliant. I knew next to nothing by Disturbed, so couldn’t be conned (as the rest of the crowd was) when the band stopped playing at the “OOH-WA-AH-AH-AH” bit of ‘Down With the Sickness’. Judas Priest had a great stage, conceptual enough that it was worthy of a headliner (they were billed as “special guests” after all). They sang a lot of about Nostradamus, and of course, THE LAW. It was also quite obvious when ‘Electric Eye’ was on its way as a new curtain was pulled across with a giant eye, surrounded by lightning. Rob Halford sounded incredible.
KISS’ stage was incredible, and they were brilliant. Gene Simmons inevitably flew and dribbled blood, and so on.
DAY 4: SATURDAY
Only one day of music in, and even the festival veterans who I had tagged along with seemed shattered. Paul managed to sleep through the whole of Bullet For My Valentine’s set, during which I got pretty trampled. And he wasn’t the only person to as well. I found someone was passed out in the campsite, face down with a cardboard sign on his back, saying “Please Take My Virginity (Pleeeease)”. It’s an interesting tactic that having not tried it myself, I’m not sure of its effectiveness. At least he said “please” anyway.
Saturday also saw the arrival of one of the most controversial bookings of the weekend – Pendulum. I heard a lot of people groaning about how they aren’t a ‘Download band’. As it turned out, they were ‘Download’ enough that a lot of people left the disappointingly drab (at least by comparison) Incubus, for Pendulum on the second stage.
Headliners The Offspring were the sadly the biggest disappointment of the weekend. They were like a pub rock band than they were the fun and goofy skate rock band that many had hoped for in a throwback to 1999. The only banter was Noodle saying “I’ve got a really big penis!”. As immature as festival crowds can be, it didn’t win everyone over as I think he expected. I guess there needs a special charisma when trying to win over everyone with filth. Blink-182 always managed it with the silly ‘Family Reunion’. By comparison, neither the band or the crowd seemed very enthusiastic. It also didn’t help that in spite of being a headlining act, they didn’t have their own stage background. It looked as though there had been a delay in setting up the stage for them… only for them to arrive on the empty stage.
DAY 5: SUNDAY
With Sunday came my favourite set of the weekend – The Wildhearts’ infamous performance, during which everyone threw just about everything that they could at the band, on the band’s request of course. Ginger Wildheart had pondered and plucked up the coverage to cause a bit of havok – “I thought I was at a rock festival. Where are all the bottles?”.
They got bottles. A lot of bottles. They got a toilet seat. They got a toilet roll. They got mobile phones. They got a dildo. They got a cuddly toy panda on a stick. Still not content, Ginger requested a Nickelback fan on a stick, though that request wasn’t fulfilled. Ginger took great pride in catching an egg that was thrown at them (or “fucking egg” as he put it), though wasn’t so happy to tread on it (though again, he “fucking” trod on it’) – “I want you shoes, I want your hats, I want your girlfriends, I want the fucking lot, let’s make fucking history!”. And that they got, and performed brilliantly in spite of the blizzard of junk thrown their way. It was certainly cheerier than Children of Bodom would have been on the other stage (or “Children of Bottoms” as Ginger called them).
Due to a couple of technical blips, Roadie Doug was introduced to the stage, to unprecedented applause and chanting. “DOUG! DOUG! DOUG! DOUG! DOUG! DOUG!”. Ginger was in a fit of giggles by this point – “How friendly are you?”. Likewise, I don’t imagine him ever having been quite so happy for something to break onstage.
Their set was cut short, as during intended closer ’29x The Pain’, the power was cut. There are conflicting reports regarding the reasons why the band was cut off. Some say (and I agree) it was time constraints, as Ginger did a lot of talking, and others because of safety, particularly because of a knife being thrown. Some have denied there was a knife at all. I can confirm that there was. A metal cutlery knife landed luckily at my feet, and not lodged in my shoulder. The person next to me picked it up again and threw it. Whether that’s what ended the performance early, we may never know.
In a similar vein to Pendulum’s booking the day before, there was a upset surrounding the choice of the weekend’s grand finale – Lostprophets. And this was at a time that dislike for their music was the only reason for disdain. Not that I cared. I instead went to the third stage to see Jonathan Davis of Korn. He sat on a thrown for the entire set, and for most of it, all I could see was massive pole that was holding up the tent stage. Still, I think I made a good choice.
SUDDENLY, I’M 18…
So, Sunday night and Monday morning. This was a seriously fun night. I got a countdown to my birthday from my new friends. I got thrown in the air eighteen times. It was the kind of reception that I just wasn’t used to. Then, about ten men in white boxer shorts jogged past and sung me ‘Happy Birthday’. I then joined them on their jog. Again, I think that this was nothing to do with alcohol, and more me thinking that I would regret turning down any opportunities on my 18th birthday. Halfway around the Blue Camp circuit, somebody tried to yank my boxers off. They failed, but gave me a horrific wedgie, and snapped the elastic. I then learned when we stopped by a camp that was playing party songs. I then learnt that one can’t dance the Time Warp when holding your underwear on with one hand, considering that both hands need to go in the air, after being on your hips. Me doing “the pelvic thruuuust” can’t have looked great. It probably drove at least someone “insay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ane”. They weren’t deterred enough not to join the trek, bringing their boombox with them.
When returning and getting some clothes on, I then returned to my friends and conversed with some new friends. I think I’ll stop the partying stories here, because few more people really need to know what happen next. I’ll leave it at “we forgot to close the tent door, and had a much bigger audience than we should have had”.
Upon getting home, my parents were obviously happy to see me, as their first born was turning 18, but I was so tired that I didn’t care very much. I was wearing the hat shown in the above photo, which had been handed to me by the cowgirl seen behind me. Her name was Poppy, she was lovely and sadly we lost each other in the crowd very quickly. As I was in such a state, my parents didn’t recognise me at first when I arrived. I like to think that they were concerned that I had achieved some kind of intoxication enlightenment and decided, Jarvis Cocker-style “mother, I can never come home again, because I’ve left an important part of my brain somewhere in a field in [Donington]”.
My family and I later went to a Mexican restaurant, and I think that my Mum was quietly disappointed when I was so tired. This celebration wasn’t the big thing that I think she had been envisaging for the last, well… 18 years. Oh well. I was happy. For someone dull enough not to party much for my birthdays, I could not have hoped for a better and more memorable time.