INTERVIEW: Download Festival

Published on, Nov 2018

The Past, Present & Future Of Download Festival Australia: ‘It’s A Revelation’

“I think people, at least from [the heavy music] world, hadn’t been treated that well at a single day event in a long time, if ever,” begins Download Australia programmer Nigel Melder of the festival’s inaugural run in Melbourne.

The festival made its Australian debut earlier this year with a massive bill that featured Korn, Prophets Of Rage, Limp Bizkit, Good Charlotte, NOFX and so many more, returning this year with an even bigger line-up, headlined by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Slayer, Judas Priest, Sum 41 and more.

It was an event that restored a lot of faith with Australian heavy music fans, but Download’s origins go far deeper than its Melbourne debut back in March, and even further than its inaugural run in the UK 15 years ago.

Its inspiration traces back to heavy music festival Monsters Of Rock, which debuted in 1980 in England, and after its finale in ‘96, there was a huge gap in the market.

“The whole idea was to bring a proper rock festival back to the UK,” Download Festival founder Andy Copping says of the festival’s inception.

Copping recalls the first event in 2003, watching Iron Maiden headline the main stage; after all the effort put in, he describes the experience as “amazing”.

“That set us on the way,” he tells. The festival was unstoppable from that moment, growing every year without fail, expanding to Paris in 2016, Melbourne this year and Sydney in 2019.

“We were just wrapped up in getting that first one up off the ground and we never envisioned we’d get to where we are now,” he admits.

“I mean, back then we were two days, two stages, whereas now we’re up to four, five stages over three days with a week’s worth of camping. It’s become one of the biggest festivals in the world.”

It’s fitting that Judas Priest, who played the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival, have been confirmed as an Australian headliner in 2019.

The festival’s growth and recurring headliners speak volumes to the loyalty of heavy music fans.

“Everybody involved with the festival is a music lover,” Copping tells. “Right from the very beginning, from the outset of the festival, we included the fans and getting them to contribute and let us know what they want to see at the festival.”

Which is the same approach they used in booking Download Australia’s second run. They expanding the festival but didn’t increase the capacity.

“By adding Sydney, that’s our way of growing this year,” Melder says. “We know [what capacity] worked in Melbourne and we know what people enjoyed and we know a couple of little things we need to tweak and then we apply that to those two shows.”

The feedback from the Melbourne show was largely positive from both punters and the industry, but there was one thing they slightly overlooked – heavy music fans’ passion for merch, with Melder saying they sold out a little quicker than expected and will be remedying that for the second effort.

From wedding cakes to tattoos and more, fans are loyal to the brand and genre, which means Download has become more of a community than purely an event. “It is a revelation,” Copping enthuses. “This is a lifestyle; the people are properly brought into the festival and feel ownership of it and so they’ll go to those lengths.”

Copping closely oversaw the festival’s Australian debut earlier this year. “When we decided to expand the Download brand, Australia was something that was really set in my sights,” he says.

“Since the demise of Soundwave, there’d been nothing; there was a big, black hole in Australia…it took us a couple of years to get it off the ground and be sure that we were doing the right thing, but the response from the Australian public was incredible. Once they got a sniff that Download was coming to their country, they were all over us.”

While there are a lot of parallels between Download UK and Australia, Melder, who attended the UK event this year, says they’re still “very different animals”.

“For me, it’s really about trying to build something that will appeal to everyone, while staying true to what people associate the name with,” he explains.

“It was funny, with Good Charlotte – and this is what I love about music as it’s so polarising – some metal heads were complaining that Good Charlotte were on the bill, but they’ll play UK Download and they had a huge set, they killed it.

“I really like people arguing about bands, because it just shows their passion and their drive for defending that what they listen to. I think that’s what’s so fun about music – we all care so much, we all give enough of a shit that we get wound up that a certain act isn’t playing or a certain act is playing. I would hate to be involved in a scene where no one really cares.”

In curating the Australian event, both Copping and Melder were adamant local talent played a part, with High Tension, Thy Art Is Murder, Luca Brasi and more confirmed for 2019. “I’ve always been connected to the scene and it’s always good to give those Australian acts an opportunity they don’t come by that often,” Melder says. “There aren’t a lot of platforms for them to get up in front of 5,000 people.”

Copping’s long championed Australian acts at Download UK, from Parkway Drive making their way from an opening band to headlining, and The Amity Affliction becoming a festival favourite. When asked his thoughts on the Australian heavy music scene, Copping didn’t hesitate in answering.

“Very simple – AC/DC. There’s nothing else to be said. Yes, Metallica are huge, Iron Maiden are huge, Black Sabbath are huge, but no one comes close to AC/DC. If you want to go back in [Australian] history, bands like The Angels, Cold Chisel, Rose Tattoo, Screaming Jets; you’ve had some amazing rock bands over the years. Everything just goes back to AC/DC; what a band.”

Copping describes their 2010 headline set as one of the “most seminal moments of the festival” and one of his biggest achievements.

Another highlight is Ozzy Osbourne and Slayer touring the event next year as part of their worldwide farewell runs. Which begs the question, what happens when all the classic rock acts retire?

“We can’t fuck about, we’ve got to bring them through, and this is everybody; festival promoters, concert promoters, the media, fans, everybody,” Copping urges.

“Don’t sit on your hands, get behind the [emerging] bands that are coming through. All of us have to get behind them, nature them, bring them through and not just sit back and go, ‘Well, back in the day.’ There’s some fucking great live bands out there that are on the edge of becoming festival headliners.

“I think back to the day I made Slipknot a headliner at Download in 2009. People wanted my head, like, ‘What are you doing?’ They don’t deserve to be a festival headliner.’ They’re now a bona fide festival headliners and that was because I put my head on the line because I believed that they were a band that were going to come through and now they’ve settled in that slot.

“I can pick 20 bands out there that I think are going to come through and be headliners of the future.”

Melbourne’s High Tension are an act that Melder thinks has the chops to work there way up the line-up, which is why they were invited back to play Download Australia in 2019 after a memorable set this year. “I want to try do that every year; bring an Australia artist back and bump them up the line-up,” Melder reveals.

Copping stresses: “You have to put the new bands on and let people see them. Someone might come to your festival because you’ve got Aerosmith or Rammstein playing, but the thing is, because they’re at a festival with 100 other bands, they’re suddenly exposed to other acts that they probably wouldn’t buy a ticket to go and see. They’re watching and going, ‘Oh my god, what an amazing band.’

“Bringing local acts through is really important and just giving people a real flavour of what the scene is all about, what the community is all about. It’s about finding new bands and getting excited about them as well as seeing the biggest, most established acts.”