Metal is back baby: Download Pilot 2021 review

Yes, I might have met Wargasm in Bullet – they’re even lovelier than I expected

First, I want to say how grateful I am that I enjoy metal, and could thus come to this currently unique event, and actually enjoy it. The Download Pilot was still Download, and that means its all metal, all the time- and it’s beautiful. The reduced size of the line-up and lower number of festival goers did not affect the legendarily friendly vibe at all- metalheads are still the easiest people to befriend, and the obvious love everyone was showing for the music creates an amazing community spirit.

Indeed, by having only two stages, they prevented clashes and allowed everyone to see all of everything, fixing two of the biggest “problems” with download- endless F.O.M.O from too much good music, and impossibly large crowds turning the festival ground into a re-enactment of the battle of the Somme.

Enter Shikari Download Pilot
Shikari had a very impressive light show, substantially enhanced by the reflective properties of drizzle

The bands, all of whom played for expenses, were on amazingly good form given they haven’t played a real concert in the last year and a half. Enter Shikari, particularly, showed that they have the potential to be a true headline act, playing banger after banger in an extremely high energy show that I could have easily mistaken for a standard Download Festival headliner.

Skindred, While She Sleeps, and the Franks, both Turner and Carter, also delivered their consistently amazing live sets, showing once again that the art of performing has not been lost over the last year of hell. Upon Monday morning voices were hoarse across the campsite from all the screaming that these grade A showmen had led us on.

Frank Turner Download Pilot
Frank Turner honestly seemed like he was about to explode with excitement from actually playing a real gig

From the smaller acts, the standout show was Wargasm, mixing some elements found in modern hyper-pop with metal aesthetics and lyrics for an extremely powerful and exciting performance. Even if you don’t think their recorded music is worth your time, make sure to check out one of their live sets. Their shows are on another level, and unfortunately due to them being a new band in the times of plague, very few people have yet to have experience them, at least properly, from a real pit.

Wargasm Milkie Way download pilot
I think my little sister might have fallen in love with Milkie Way

Thankfully, Download, pretty consistently, has the best mosh pits in the UK. The pilot event was no different, with the high concentration of experienced metalheads leading to a mosh pit experience which is both relatively safe, as people stay up longer, and pull you up faster, and extremely wild. Where else would Jesus Christ himself surf over you on an air bed? If you love being crushed in a crowd of sweaty, dirty punks and screaming your heart out, this is the best place to do it.

Download Pilot pits
Pits are pretty much universal- I didn’t see everyone, but I didn’t see an act who didn’t have at least one mosh pit form

The festival did fall a little short organisationally- men’s toilets were in short supply, and poor condition, while showers were overly plentiful. Decor was practically non-existent, with even the traditional download dog mostly missing from the site, let alone the great festival totems. Nighttime activities were limited to a silent disco which for Friday and Saturday had a half-mile queue, and the bars were both poor quality and overpriced, and thus near empty all weekend. The sound was mostly good, but several artists had their vocals a little too quiet. All of these things are remedied by the absolutely titanic single improvement they have implemented this year:

one camps in the arena.

Now, normally people complain about separate arenas because it stops them bringing in drinks, and means they have to be subjected to undignified searches/hassling by security, building unnecessary and unhelpful animosity between festival-goers and security. This, actually, isn’t my problem with downloads standard arena set up. The problem is it is normally a full forty-minute walk between campsites and arena, essentially stranding everyone from their tents for the day, as a round trip back and forth is basically never worthwhile. Having us in the arena, with the stages, was a complete game-changer, especially considering Download’s well-earned reputation for bad weather. Being able to get changed, or get water/food, or check your tent for early signs of flooding is vital, and the conventional set-up of download makes it almost impossible.

Download pilot campsite
It was at most a ten minute walk from ones tent to the main stage- literally nothing by download standards

The Download Pilot wasn’t flawless. It could have been prettier, had better bars, and nicer toilets. However, the smaller size of the event worked to its advantage, with the sheer size of the full festival causing problems that were avoided this year. From a rock fans point of view though, it was the best weekend I’ve had in, quite frankly, I don’t even know how long, and returning to any festival site as soon as possible is vitally imperative for all of you.

I could even described it as Wargasmic.

Download Pilot crowd main stage