Review: Download Festival 2018 (Melbourne, Australia)

By Jason Beardsley

Date / Venue: Saturday March 24th,  2018 - Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

We got soaking wet, we got frozen, we got sunburnt. There’s only one place in the world you could accomplish all those things in just a few hours, that place is Melbourne, Australia. The scene of the crime?, Download Festival 2018 at Melbourne’s famous Flemington Racecourse, home to many of Australia’s biggest Festivals, Exhibitions and of course the Melbourne Cup.

Australia has been longing for a festival of rock and metal for the past 3 years since the dramatic ending of both Soundwave and Big Day Out Festivals just to name a couple. It takes such great financial and personal sacrifice to bring such events to this part of the world such is the scale of our isolation, coupled with the old chestnut of inflation and the ever-changing marketplace. We needed someone, somewhere to take a punt on this great southern land and bring hope, joy and nostalgia to the rock and metal community here. Luckily enough, the experienced and highly successful Download Festival team took that punt and turned a dream into a reality.

It wasn't an ideal start to the day. Friday it was like summer, 30 degrees with the sun shining like a summers day as the Australian Grand Prix weekend and AFL season kicked into gear. Today, however, started on a cold note and pouring with rain. None of us was going to let that dampen our spirits though as we made our way to Flemington, soaking wet before we had even arrived, with no sign of the rain letting up.

As we make our way into the venue we are met with a wall of sound, bass trembling beneath our feet as the first bands got underway. We headed straight for the Red stage as Melbourne’s own punk/metal outfit High Tension hit the stage. I had to feel sorry for them as the rain hammered down for the duration of their set keeping the audience numbers down as dedicated festival goers made haste for shelter in the nearest tents and marquees. Frontwoman Karina Utomo immediately rattled rib cages as she delivered a pulsating and aggressive set with the rest of the band set the tone for what was to come for the day ahead.

We are so lucky to have such incredible music being produced right here in our own backyard, not that many Australian commercial radio stations would like to show, but Download did us proud as a healthy percentage of the line up was local acts that did not disappoint.

Ocean Grove put an emphatic stamp as one of the genuine highlights of the day as they drew in a drenched audience from far and wide, cleared the skies and surprised everybody with a unique and uplifting half-hour punk metal infused masterclass that had all the Korn fans in the house licking their lips. Expect big things from this crew as they start to solidify themselves as International heavyweights.

Speaking of International heavyweights, Northlane has been carving up stages across Europe and the US for a few years now and have been on a steady rise to fame, proudly flying the Australian metal flag. Today they once again reminded Australia how powerful they are. The Sydney siders were up to the task here in Melbourne drawing in a huge audience and delivering a mature, theatrical and spellbinding performance, tearing through the best bits from the catalogue including their most recent work Mesmer.

As the skies began to clear we took ourselves on an adventure around the festival site. Download Festival is more than music, it's a cultural and community experience with a variety of market stalls and food trucks to keep everyone from all walks of life happy. We grab ourselves a Kransky from the German Gourmet Sausages truck to start taking in the International flavours that were about to take over the Download stages. But before my 90’s childhood nostalgia kicks into overdrive, we’re met with two heavy Swedish Viking metal sets in the form of Sabaton and Amon Amarth. Both laid a perfect foundation and created a fun but blistering dynamic change. With horns in the air we charge into the night and with all their mite both bands have the crowd in the palm of their hands.

We take a quick trip to the blowup metal church, it lures me in by playing one of my personal fanboy favourites in Tool. We are all joined in holy metal matrimony. No trip to Download festival is complete without a trip to one of their famous RIP bars. Download make you feel like an important guest wherever you walk. The bars are like any other pop up you would find in the city. Well laid out, beautifully presented facilities, Power to charge your phones, sanctuary to rest your legs and have a conversation with strangers to plan out your next move, and even some games to keep the good times rolling. Like I said, it's more than just the music that has made Download a world-famous institution.

Now it's my favourite part of the night. The sun is setting and the light shows start to take effect. You know its time for the headliners to come and deliver a King sized performance accompanied with fries and a beer, showing off the lifestyles of the rich and famous after their humble beginnings. Speaking of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, one of the more strangely placed acts on the bill, positioned between Mastodon and Limp Bizkit was Good Charlotte. Nonetheless, there were a large and loyal contingent of supporters for the Pop - Punk rockers that solidified their global success in the early to mid-2000’s. It wasn't all smooth sailing early in the set with many fans that had parked themselves for the earlier metal acts turning their back and started to walk away, but as soon as the first chorus dropped they all began to sing along, realising that perhaps we all once listened to and sang those famous Good Charlotte songs such as Girls and Boys or Festival Song. Needless to say, those fans were left more than satisfied and so was my inner teenaged self as the band performed a greatest hits set layered with all those anthems we came to know and love not so long ago, it feels like yesterday.

‘Ladies and Gentleman, Introducing the chocolate starfish and the hotdog flavoured water’. Yes!. I’ve waited 18 years to see Limp Bizkit and they did not disappoint!. I was probably too young to own their albums at the time but they certainly made an impact on my life. The live show was no different despite the fact they could have snuck a few more songs in without all the cover jams and crowd banter, but that did not take away from their performance at all as they performed many of the hits that sold them more than 40 million records worldwide such as Rollin’, My Way and Take A Look Around. The band look like they still have a fire inside and the fans are still responding to this day.

In many parts of the world, politics has turned into a circus. Here in Australia, we’re no different. There are artists writing politically motivated works, however none with the aggression and angst that the likes of Rage Against The Machine have. Its time to make Australia rage again and Prophets Of Rage took the power back and made us Testify. Chuck D and B-Real bring the heat and produce a similar aggression to that of Zach de la Rocha and with that continue to Rage Against The Machine. No song in modern society lifts you, nor is more dangerous to those we employ into the power than the closing track of tonights set Killing In The Name, Sending the crowd into a frenzy. It's liberating.

So was Download Festival 2018 a success?. If today was anything to go by Download will certainly be back bigger and better in 2019!. Just ask Korn as they closed out the night on the Black Stage, carrying with them hits from their back catalogue dating back as long as 25 years ago, with hits such as Freak On A Leash and Coming Undone just the tip of the iceberg. The sound all day has been on point but Korn takes it to a whole new level, so I have to say massive props to their crew. The light show is spectacular and frontman Jonathon Davis has a huge Melbourne audience at his disposal as he lights up the Flemington Racecourse venue one last time to bring the curtains down on what has been a mammoth Download Festival 2018 in Melbourne.