Download festival: what to look out for this weekend

Heading off to Castle Donington? Our resident metalhead offers a brief guide to the highlights of rock's biggest annual event

There is something distinctly galling about witnessing mainstream media commentators gushing about Glastonbury signifying the beginning of the British summer festival season. For those of us who enjoy music that allows for a touch more aggression and energy than Mumford & Sons, the true start of the summer comes with Download, the undisputed king of all rock festivals and the only multiday event happening this year where violently banging one's head to the sound of brutal death metal and dancing like a lunatic to speaker-mincing brostep are both credible and widely encouraged options.

Reading on mobile? Watch the Prodigy at Download 2012 here

Download happens at Castle Donington, the legendary site where the hallowed Monsters of Rock festival took place annually during the 80s. In many ways the spirit of that event remains intact, but thanks to the dazzling diversity of the rock and metal scenes, Download offers an embarrassment of riches that transcends the usual idiotic cliches about heavy metal that colour the average outsider's view. Thanks to a stellar lineup featuring the strongest set of headliners the festival has ever booked, there is simply nowhere I would rather be this weekend.

My principal wish for Download 2013 is that we get better weather than last year. As much as rock fans tend towards the stoic, the thought of spending another three days knee-deep in acrid sludge while being pissed on from on high doesn't exactly inspire. It definitely looks like there will be rain, but hopefully not as much as in 2012, when dancing to the Prodigy became an act of self-preservation against the bitter winds that howled past the main stage rather than anything more joyously hedonistic.

Reading on mobile? Watch Slipknot at Download 2009 here

Regardless of the elements, the festival's highlights are easy to predict. The return of Slipknot to the stage they conquered as headliners for the first time in 2009 – with what is widely regarded as one of the most astonishing performances ever witnessed at Donington – seems destined to be one of those moments that lingers long in the memory. Having weathered the storm of losing their founder member and bassist Paul Gray in 2010, the nine-man Iowa crew have made it plain that they are firing on all cylinders once again, and few bands come close to the intensity of Slipknot at full pelt.

Iron Maiden will headline on Saturday night, performing a sublime set culled primarily from their 80s glory days, and will doubtless be greeted like the unassailable heavy metal heroes they have long been. The remarkable thing about Maiden is that they are arguably even more popular and successful now than they were when they first headlined at Donington to a record crowd of 107,000 in 1988. Grown men and women, their faces streaked with tears, will bang their heads and sing along with every word.

The prospect of Rammstein closing Download on Sunday night has less of an emotional pull, but even people who have no desire to be barked at about sadomasochism in guttural Deutsch will find it hard not to turn up to watch the band's notoriously explosive live show, where lights, fire and obscene props combine in an orgy of showmanship and eyebrow-singeing extremity.

But like any great festival, Download is not just about the headliners. Anyone requiring evidence that rock and metal are in rude health need only check out some of the newest bands on the bill this year. Everything from djent-grime scamps Hacktivist and razor-sharp Brit punks Rat Attack through to the thunderous epic sludge of Hammer of the Gods and the party-starting electro squall of Modestep is on hand to delight the faithful. Whether sliding around in earthy slurry or basking in the sunshine, we'll once again celebrate the fact that Download is where summer starts for real and, quite possibly, peaks a bit early. Mine's a pint.

Reading on mobile? Listen to this Download playlist on Spotify

• If you're going to Download, tweet us your best photo from the festival using the hashtag #iwasthere


Dom Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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