Download Festival boss on gender-balanced festival line-ups: “All festivals need to look at how diverse they are”

Download Festival boss Andy Copping spoke to NME about the 20th anniversary of the festival being “the biggest Download yet” and not relying on heritage acts for headliners

Earlier this week, Download announced the 2023 event would be headlined by Slipknot, Bring Me The Horizon and Metallica playing two completely different sets on two different nights. The likes of Ghost, Evanescence, The Distillers, Placebo and Architects were also confirmed to be appearing at Donington Park alongside 50 other acts.

Fans were quick to call it the best Download lineup ever and, speaking to NME, festival boss Andy Copping said: “I’m definitely not going to disagree. I’m very happy with the lineup. We’ve been working on it for a couple of years now because we wanted to do something big for the 20th anniversary. We just wanted to deliver a really killer lineup.”

Bring Me The Horizon are set to play the Friday night of Download 2023, headlining the festival for the first time ever and returning for the first time since 2014. “We’ve been talking about them headlining for some time,” said Copping. “But it has never felt right. The band were always keen to do it and there’s been a number of heated discussions about it over the years but I always wanted them to headline when it was absolutely right.”

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“Now, with a number of arena tours under their belt, some big albums and them headlining Reading And Leeds earlier this year, we just knew 2023 was going to be the perfect year for them,” he continued. “With it being our 20th anniversary, I knew it was going to be a big year for us as a festival and I wanted them to be a part of that.”

bring me the horizon reading 2022
Credit: Andy Ford for NME

Copping went on to say that Download is “always susceptible to a certain amount of criticism about who headlines, it doesn’t matter who you book,” but that never puts him off booking new headliners for the festival. “We’ve got to keep pushing bands through. We’ve done it in the past with Biffy Clyro, Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold and now it’s Bring Me The Horizon’s time.”

Speaking of Slipknot, the Iowa titans are returning to Download for their fourth headline slot at the festival, with that special relationship starting “many years ago,” according to Copping.

“They’d worked their way up the bill and in 2009, I took the plunge and gave them their first festival headline slot anywhere in the world. Now, they’re seen as a headliner wherever they go. They’ve stayed very close to the festival ever since. The fans love them, the band loves Download and having them back for the 20th anniversary, off the back of another Number One album, it’s just perfectly timed.”

Corey Taylor of Slipknot
Corey Taylor of Slipknot performs on stage during the Knotfest at Artukainen Event Park on August 13, 2022 in Turku, Finland. CREDIT: Venla Shalin/Redferns

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With Download expanding to four full days of live music, Metallica are set to headline both Thursday and Saturday night, with two completely different sets. “There’s not many bands that can dig deep into their catalogue and come up with two remarkable setlists, but Metallica are without a doubt one of those bands,” said Copping. “Every time they play, they pull out a couple of rare tracks and fans really crave that. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they’re going to give us each day.”

Despite Metallica’s 40-year career, the inclusion of ‘Enter Sandman’ in Stranger Things earlier this year saw their music suddenly exposed to a whole new audience. Because of that, Copping is sure that there are going to be “swathes of young people coming to Download for the first time, who’ve only recently discovered Metallica”.

And what can those first-timers expect? “One of the things Download has above most music festivals is that community spirit,” says Copping.” Everybody is a huge music lover.”

Download
The main stage at Download Festival 2022. Credit: Joseph Okpako/WireImage.

As well as expanding to four days, Download 2023 will see the festival continue to expand its after-hours entertainment. “In the past, it’s something we’ve just taken for granted but we really focused on it in 2022. Because of that, there was this festival atmosphere throughout the campsite from Wednesday night. We want to keep expanding that because it’s become such a big part of the festival. Download isn’t just about the bands, it’s about everything else that goes on on-site.”

The 2021 event suffered a few last minute cancellations with acts like The Distillers and The Pretty Reckless cancelling their entire European runs, with the latter blaming “unforeseen logistical challenges”. More recently, Poppy has been forced to cancel several European headline shows due to the “current climate of the world” while the likes of Animal Collective, Santigold and SOHN have all been forced to cancel tours in recent months due to to post-pandemic landscape.

Copping hopes the uncertainty will have settled by next summer “but you can never been 100 per cent sure. Bands are coming to us, saying they want to tour and we’re happy to oblige”.

Looking further down the bill, Copping is really excited to have Nova Twins at Download 2023. “The way they’ve exploded over the past 18 months is remarkable,” he said.

The punk duo are one of only five Mercury shortlisted bands to ever play the festival, alongside The Prodigy, Therapy?, Muse and Biffy Clyro. Speaking about what their breakout success means to Download, Copping said: “They’re a great band, they’ve got a great image and a brilliant attitude. They’re obviously pushing diversity boundaries as well and we need to see more of that. I think having a band like Nova Twins on the bill will certainly open things up for similar artists in the future.”

Nova Twins
Nova Twins (Picture: Federica Burelli / Press)

In previous years, Download has been criticised for its male-heavy lineups but the 2023 event features numerous acts with female musicians, with the likes of Evanescence and The Distillers in big slots alongside the likes of Witch Fever, Crawlers, Stand Atlantic, As December Falls and Brutus.

“All festivals need to look at how diverse they are,” said Copping. “It’s something we’ve tried to do over the years, and we’ve still got a long way to go but it’s encouraging there’s so many great, female artists out there. Hopefully we can help give them a platform. We’re a long way down the line from where we were, but there’s still room to improve and we want to do that year on year.”

Download Festival 2023 line-up poster
Download Festival 2023 line-up poster. CREDIT: Press

In recent years, staple Download headliners like KISS and Black Sabbath have retired from touring but, according to Copping, he isn’t worried about where the next generation of headliners will come from.

“Every year we need three headliners and that isn’t easy but there are enough quality bands out there,” he said. “There are plenty of acts that haven’t headlined Download but could: Green Day, Blink-182, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic! At The Disco, Royal Blood, Red Hot Chili Peppers or possibly Foo Fighters. We took the plunge a few years ago and had Muse headline, so it’s about widening the net.”

“Then there are the bands that are coming through now. Ghost, Architects, Parkway Drive all have good slots at Download this year but they’ve definitely got the opportunity of taking that next step to headline status. I’d like to see that happen as well. Then you’ve got a band like Enter Shikari who headlined the Download Pilot in 2021, there’s no question that they have the making of a proper Download headliner.”

Copping continued: “You don’t want to rely just on the heritage acts. Download fans are a lot more open to giving newer artists opportunities than they were, say, 10 or 15 years ago. We can’t just sit there and expect the same headliners year in, year out. We’ve got to try and freshen it up a little bit.”

Enter Shikari at Reading 2019. Credit: Andy Ford/NME

After 20 years of Download, the 2023 event is arguably its strongest, most exciting year yet. So what’s the secret? “I wish I knew,” said Copping. “It’s crazy that we’re here 20 years after we started and are quite possibly going to have the biggest Download ever.”

“I think the secret is that you’ve just gotta keep driving to get better. From the very first year, we’ve tried to get better bands, better the layout, better the campsite and better the experience. You can’t rest on your laurels. You don’t want to lose sight of the history of the event, or the history of Donington Park and Monsters Of Rock, but you’ve got to keep moving with the times. You’ve got to make yourself current.”

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