Download Festival

The six standout moments from Download Festival 2023

Download Festival’s 20th birthday was a total rager, to say the very least. Amping up to 11, the monumental weekend pulled out all the stops. With a mammoth four-day span, rather than the usual three, festival-goers knew they were in for something extraordinary – and Download certainly delivered. Here are its six standout moments.

With dual Metallica sets, a totally fresh headline act in the form of Bring Me The Horizon, and some of the finest weather in ‘Drownload’ history, this was a weekend for the history books. Its 100,000 fans travelled far and wide to soak up the occasion, eager to raise an overpriced pint in celebration of the festival reaching its second decade, having dominated the rock and metal festival scene.

Download Festival

Photo: James Bridle

We may be glad we’re no longer broiling in the confines of a sweaty tent, but as we battle through our week-long hangovers and slather on the aftersun, we thought we’d cling onto the magic of the weekend just that little bit longer by rounding-up the standout moments this year’s event had to offer.

While minds may immediately jump to the unspeakably epic ferocity of Slipknot’s closing set, or the stunning performance of Enter Sandman, we thought we’d remind you of some more specific stand-out moments. So, let’s reflect on some of the best moments of Download Festival’s four day extravaganza…

Bring Me Amy Lee

This year saw the Download Festival headline roster receive a rare injection of some fresh blood in the form of Bring Me The Horizon. In a blaze of pyrotechnics, the metalcore staples proved themselves as worthy headliners on Friday evening, serving up one of their most ambitious sets to date. 

Amidst the chaos of gyrating aliens clambering onstage and Oli Sykes goading the crowd to amp-up the energy, the setlist also saw a pair of brilliant collab tracks. Taking advantage of the festival’s line-up, Nova Twins were able to swagger onstage for ‘1×1’, as well as Evanescence’s Amy Lee coming out for ‘One Day Only Butterflies Will Be Left In Your Chest’. Lee even stuck around for one more track, performing ‘Nihilist Blues’ in place of Grimes, and the decision proved remarkable. Lee’s vocals elevated the woozy anthem to totally new heights.

Bring Me The Horizon

Photo: Abbie Shipperley

Placebo Knocking Out Nancy Boy

Placebo have become somewhat notorious for their set choices in recent years. Never buckling to fan desires, the alt-rockers have favoured newer tracks over their most iconic anthems. While the decision has allowed tracks from 2022’s Never Let Me Go to shine, quickly becoming a core part of a Placebo set’s DNA, some fans have felt like a key puzzle-piece is missing.

And that’s exactly why, as Placebo charge through their set on the Opus Stage, the familiar distortion of ‘Nancy Boy’s opening riffs caused fans to lose their minds. There was a moment of disbelief, people doubting their hearing, totally convinced Placebo wouldn’t be performing the track. It felt surreal, the track lying untouched since 2017, yet there it was in all its queer-coded, timeless glory. It proved the perfect cherry-on-the-top of a glorious set, and a great way to mark Placebo’s Download Festival debut.

Download Festival

Photo: Matt Higgs

Ice Nine Kills Slaughtering The Download Dog

Horror-inspired metalcore outfit Ice Nine Kills are known for their quirky theatricality. Frontman Spencer Charnas is practically unrecognisable without a blood-stained prop knife in hand. Their main stage set was therefore exactly as one might expect; the band dressed in classy suits and bowties as they churned through emo-tinged heavy metal singalongs and gruelling breakdowns.

Yet the set truly peaked when the Download Dog found himself at the hands of Mr. Charnas; waltzing innocently onstage, towel wrapped over his shoulders, the Download Dog ‘unwittingly’ stumbles into a trap. In a Psycho-inspired shower scene, the Download mascot met his demise, and was tackled to the ground and slain. Charnas even made a point of stabbing repeatedly on each drumbeat. Gnarly stuff.

Download Festival

Photo: Andrew Whitton

Bob Vylan Are In The Doghouse

The gloriously gruelling force of Bob Vylan is irresistible. Taking to the Avalanche Stage on Saturday, the duo easily won over the crowd with their grime-infused, distorted breakdowns and furious flurry of rap-punk anthems. As the set churned on, the punks had already proved themselves as formidable duo, yet they’re never ones to do things in halves.

Announcing a secret set at 11pm on the Doghouse stage “after Metallica’s bedtime”, we’d not seen the last of them… And, by the time James Hetfield is supposedly all tucked-up, the duo take to the Doghouse with a vengeance. It’s a rampage of iconic tracks, swerving from ‘Wicked & Bad’ to ‘We Live Here’ and even taking on audience requests. It’s totally punk in every way, a chaotic slew of charm and venom. A Nirvana cover of ‘Territorial Pissings’ is cut short due to tech issues, but this added to the sense of every moment being rough around the edges in the very best way. 

Download Festival

Photo: Todd Owyoung

Skindred and Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale Serving Up A Warning

If Welsh collective Skindred are on your festival line-up, you’ve done something right. Perhaps one of the most exhilarating and charming live acts around, if you’re ever wanting to amp-up the party, these nu-metallers are a reliably riotous time. Bursting onstage to Star Wars’ ‘Imperial March’, the cheeky appearance of frontman Benji Webbe is a far cry from Darth Vader. Brimming with energy and a mile-wide grin, Webbe is clearly here for a good time. 

Melding reggae swagger, drum n’ bass and a gutsy snarl of punk, the set is enough to rouse movement out of everybody. The set is a total delight, and when ‘Warning’ comes around, Webbe announces the cherry on top: a feature from Halestorm’s magnificent Lzzy Hale. The duo prance around the stage, the energy electric as fans tear off a layer in order to swing something above their heads for the Newport Helicopter.


Photo: Matt Higgs

James Hetfield Puffing On A Cigar For Eight Minutes

Metallica may have headlined a quarter of all Download Festivals to date, but they’re still able to knock out a few surprises. This year saw the heavy metal titans performing not one but two mammoth sets over the weekend. Much to fans’ delight, the dual sets were unique, with no repeats in sight. 

While the selection of glorious rarities and iconic anthems served as a once-in-a-lifetime treat for ‘tallica diehards, perhaps one of the greatest moments took place during Master of Puppets deep cut ‘Orion’. A total epic in its own right, the eight-and-a-half minute track was undeniably enhanced by James Hetfield puffing on a cigar throughout. Yep, in perhaps the ultimate display of machismo, Hetfield absolutely annihilated his fretboard in the name of rock n’ roll, powered by nicotine. Pretty bloody cool if you ask us.

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