Thursday, January 24, 2013

Camping at Download

Download festival 2012 part 1
I was already a bit late for booking any hotels for the download festival, so I had no choice but to get a camping ticket and consequently get the whole camping gear. I am as clueless as it can be about pretty much most stuff but camping is a whole different territory for me. So, I started searching for information. My first spot was Download forums, where someone pointed me to camp loner. After joining their facebook group and digging some posts I knew that I am up for some serious research and consequently shopping.
First thing you need to get for camping is a tent. Finding a tent can be tedious. I started searching for the criteria to select a tent. Here is a list:
Occupancy : Always have a bigger tent than the number of people occupying the tent, for example for a single person a double tent is better because you need to put you stuff inside the tent.
Weather: Since this is England and it pisses like there is no tomorrow almost all the time, so double sheet tents are ideal. You also need to ensure that tent can withstand high winds, but that is mostly dependent on how many ropes and pegs you use for tying the tent to the ground.
Ventilation and warmth: The tent should be able to let you breathe and at the same time, given you are in europe it should not let too much cold air to get in. This basically helps you to sleep without covering your head. Mosquito nets on the tent entrance can be pretty sweet addition.Anything and everything else beyond this can be customized to different requirements.
 So after going through a lot of shops and visiting a lot of website, I finally selected Gelert Eiger 2.
Next thing on the list to get for the camping is a sleeping bag, generally you would like to buy something to keep you warm without spending too much money so I quickly selected Lichfield Trekker. Additionally this bag can also cover your head(if you want that!).
Third thing on this list is Mat, now I was torn between buying something inflatable or a flat mat, I was also worried if I would need something which is waterproof. This has lot to do with the fact that ground is(may be) totally uneven and your preference for cushioning for the bed. Back in India I have no issues with sleeping on ground with little cushioning, but due to super cushioned beds in England, my back is now used to cushioned beds. However, I still just brought a simple NATO olive mat, mostly because it was cheap and my room mate(who is an ex soldier) said I would be a sissy if I get an air mate.
Now you need few more things like waterproof jacket(s)  and Wellington boots(or gumboots), I spent about 20 £ on each. Although it later turned out wellies were totally worth it and I lost the jacket during Black sabbath performance without even using it once. I also brought carabiner hooks, water bottle, thick (or trekking) socks for wellies, quick drying non odorous towel, Torches or flashlights, batteries, waterproofing spray, car battery charger, few ropes(in case I have to tie my tent tighter, don't get any funny ideas here), foldable stool(which was a total waste) and some other miscellaneous items and toiletries. 
I started hoarding food, mostly a lot of haldiram(Indian food brand) snacks, fruits, chocolates etc. After arrival of my tent, I tried opening and tying it up so that I know how to tie it up and how big it is. It is important to give a trial to your tent before the actual usage. I also tried putting my mat and bag inside the tent in order to check the space. The tent was designed in such a way that until unless the place is completely flooded(or about 10 cms of water) there is no way water can get inside the tent.
I booked national coach to the Donington castle along with the locker at the download site. I reached Victoria coach station about 9:30 am and waited with the other metal fans for our bus. Unfortunately this was the quietest bunch of metalheads I have ever seen.  All of them  were sitting silent throughout the journey or whispering among themselves. At arrival near the Donington castle the traffic was getting stagnant and we spent a hell lot of time just on the road near to the bus parking lot. I forgot to mention that even while the bands were starting to play at the festival on 8th, people had already left for the festival on 6th for camping and other activities in the village. While I (un?)officially joined the camp Loner, I was in the group of last arrivals at the camp loner. I had exchanged my number with couple of people including the most interesting of the lot Miss Liny, who was coming all the way from the Amsterdam. I was getting updates from these people about the camp setup and their whereabouts, while I was stuck in the traffic. As soon as I arrived near to the entrance of the festival village, I changed my shoes to the wellies because it seemed my shoes wouldn't survive that kind of mud. At the entrance they  provided us with the wrist band after usual frisking and ticket verification. This wrist band has to be tied at all times. Immediately I entered the so called festival village and started to have a look around; the village had all sorts of things including food and merchandise shops to information kiosks to Swings and comedy club. However to reach anywhere you have to wade your way through atleast half a foot of mud. I started traversing my way around to find out the "yellow camping area", which everyone else was camping at. Liny called me to inform that she has already reached and waiting for me. As usual I wandered a bit before finally finding my way to the yellow camp. Apparently there were two yellow camps, just next to each other, It took me a while to figure out that she was at very end of the camp. Finally I met her and my first guess was, "Is she Sri-Lankan?", it later turned out she is Tamil.
Anyway, we set up our tents, while I misplaced my tenting hooks underneath my tent(later to be discovered at the night). The camps were way more organized than what I expected. There were overhead flags and banners to provide direction and sense of Landmarks. Each of these camps had their own information booth, security and snacks/coffee booths.  But it was hard to find out your own tent among the swarms of tents everywhere because pretty much every kind of possible tent was there. Inspite of me trying to memorize the pattern, I almost always have difficulty in reaching the right spot without getting pass it atleast once. The best and worst part of our camping location was proximity to the toilets. I wont say these were the worst toilets I have ever been to, but you cannot expect much in such situation. There were no issues with water availability in the area. Some toilets even had toilet rolls and hand sanitizers!!!
Liny told me she is doing her second masters(Whaaa???) and she is on tight schedule for just one day to see Metallica. I have to say she is bit more nuts than I am. I missed big four because of my not so tight schedule at uni last year and here she is running to another country in middle of some important assignment. From now on, she became my partner in crime. I tried texting and finding others but with no luck, some of them have already gone to the performance area, while others were still setting tents.
After doing a bit more inspection of the area and securing my music player in the lockers, we headed to the performance area. I desperately wanted to see machine head again, but to my dismay they had already performed by the time we reached. There were multiple stages including Ronnie James Dio stage, Marshall stage( the main stage) and few other small stages. The area was swarmed with people, there were multiples of tens of thousands people there. These stages were absolutely freaking monstrous, nothing of the type I have ever seen live. Multiple display screens everywhere, huge arrays of sound speakers, lot of the promotional booths and camps and barricades placed at multiple stages. One of the interesting thing I forgot to mention here is that distance between the arena and the camp was almost 4-5 kilometres. We were travelling this distance with few inches of mud everyday couple of times, not to mention our boots used to get stuck in the mud every now and then. However there was a small patch of concrete road between village and arena, walking on that concrete road was more irritating after walking on soft mud for hours. On one side of this road there was some sort of Donnington exhibition hall, seems like that area is used for more than just rock festivals. When we reached the main stage, Chase and status were performing on main stage and Nightwish were performing on other stage. To be frank neither me nor Liny has tiny bit of interest in watching any of them. So we kept looking around and got ourselves some food. There was all kinds of food available at village including vegan food(lolwat?). Next Prodigy performed on main stage and the Slash on other stage. I watched the prodigy for a bit, but here is the thing as much as they sounded good on their recorded songs, they sound pretty shit live. I didn't even bother to worry going towards the slash. Anyway, I won't be reviewing any of band performances in this post, this post is dedicated to 3 days of fun and exhaustion at the camping site.
We kept wandering around the performance area to check other small stages and look for more food(In my defence, I was very hungry). Near one of the stages there was this really really elevated ride, which basically makes you feel zero gravity(not technically, but almost like it) and there were chicks(or dudes?) screaming on these rides. Now coming to people(or as I call them rock devotees), there were all sorts of people in crowd right from the children to middle aged to all kinds of ethnicity. One of the most diverse crowd of people I have ever seen in my life. While I was standing near the locker, I met this guy who travelled all the way from the Brasil and I was awestruck by this tenacity. I mean if I don't repay the favour by travelling back to the Rock in Rio, I would be damned. There were dudes dressed in skirts(yeah right) and dudes with full punk pink mohawks and chicks dressed as pikachu. I don't even understand what were the purpose of some of these dresses in a rock festival, but pretty much every bizarre( or otherwise not so bizarre) attire was there, I mean I felt like I am the most normally attired person on the earth in such a colourful crowd. After making all these obeservations we returned back to our camps travelling all the way in the mud. The worst section of the mud was sludgy one near the common areas like the lockers. It took us 20 minutes to get across few feet at this location. Liny was getting stuck more often and had to be pulled out every once in a while, LOL. While we were on the road back to our tents, there was this guy standing in the middle of the road dressed with cartons and shouting "I am optimus prime, give me free hugs", LOL. And then  from nowhere another dude starting hugging him shouting, "Optimus, I am your father", LOL. Then we also came across few chicks, who were rolling in the mud and laughing. I can only theorize that they were high as kite. Well this ain't her but this should give you an idea.
Meanwhile at Download 2012

We were dead tired when we reached back to our tents. We chatted for few minutes before retiring. I cannot believe I managed to get few hours of sleep and woke up only when the temperature inside the tent started rising in the morning. After deciding which all bands we are going to watch, I headed to find other camp-loners in the yellow camp, after a lot of texts and misdirections(for atleast 40 minutes) I was able to meet Ryan, who was trying to contact me since yesterday. Soon after meeting him, I also met Shawn. Shawn took us to the site where rest of the yellow camp loners were camping. I spent some time exchanging pleasantries with the rest of the group. These guys had no plans of going to arena any time soon, but Liny wanted to get her seat booked in the front row. So I headed back to our site along with Shawn, who was camping close to our tents. After having our breakfast Liny and I waded our way through shit tonnes of mud to get to the arena. Thankfully it was not raining, however it was overcast and the mud has become a bit more solid thus resulting in much more effort to make our way through. The arena was not all that crowded when we reached, so we made our way towards the front rows easily. Infact Liny was standing in the very first row near the barricades and kept standing there all the time. I on the hand kept wandering around a lot to get food and drinks. On these multiple screens around the arena they were either showing previous performances or interviews or you can send a text message to be displayed on the board. Text messages were very funny ranging from quotes from the movie "300" to invitation for sex, marriage proposals, jokes, lost and found. The most common shout during entire download festival was "Spartans, what is your profession" and chants of "huu huu huu" followed all over. Download has it's own internal jokes as well, number 836 was being called upon all the time and as I came to knew he was a security crew member and he basically showed devil horns in previous year's festival. Later after finishing of our day at Arena we made a little detour towards official Merchandising shops. Apparently there were atleast 3 shops, I wanted to get something besides a Tshirt, but I ended up buying a Black Sabbath Tshirt and Linny bought a Download Tshirt. Due to all this standing and walking all day long, I was having trouble walking back due to blisters in my feet, but we somehow managed to get back. I guess I slept immediately after coming back to the tent. Next day Liny has to pack her pack bags in the morning and leave. Unfortunately for her she couldn't see Black Sabbath. After her departure, I headed to place where other yellow campers were hanging out. We sat there for a couple of minutes chilling. Later at about mid noon we moved to the arena where a lot of awesome bands were suppose to perform today. We grabbed drinks and food and sat down a bit far from the area and the crowd. I met another guy who was working for RAF. I talked to him about selection procedure for RAF officers, which seems a bit relaxed compared to IAF selection procedure. But as he pointed out that India can afford having wider selection criteria due to the sheer numbers. Anyway, while we were sitting enjoying the sun, there was a group of hot girls snorting white powder. While the girl in white skirt was pretty cute, I thought it was a really bad idea approaching a pretty stoned girl.
As soon as the Anthrax hit the stage, I moved towards the centre of the arena, while others kept sitting there and enjoying the weather. After the end of all the performance on that day i.e. after Black Sabbath finished, I texted these guys and we met back at the yellow camp. I bought some Indian snacks for the Clint, who seems to enjoy hot/spicy stuff. I also brought my music player  and attached it to a mini speaker. We kept chatting and sitting there at the last night of the festival, while these guys were drinking JagerMeister(or some cocktail thereof). Weather was fantastic at this hour and Ryan was making plans for the next visit while pink floyd was being played in the background. I was returning back to my tent after saying my goodbyes and I saw some drunk(or high) chick climbing on the flag pole and security guys were trying to bring her down. The response of the security guard to this situation was absolutely hilarious, he said "As much as I like to see girls getting up on the pole, sweetheart come down, this is really dangerous." Some kids in a big group were shouting in unison, "Spartans, What is your profession" followed with the  shouts of "aahoo" and rallying around the yellow camp. When I returned back to my tent, I realized that the headquarters of this Spartan army was right next to my tent. Apparently these kids called themselves as "Party boy Spartans" and wanted to invade other countries. At times they were also talking about pissing on other tents, which made me a little worried(I don't want to carry a pissed tent back home). There is nothing more dangerous than the piss drunk teenagers at a rock festival. Although they were funny especially everyone was talking with same odd accent and talking about dining in hell and for whatever reason they were obsessed with obtaining bread for their quest. Anyhow, I managed to get some sleep in my tent for the last night in the Download festival. I I woke up at time, packed all my stuff with relative ease and walked my way towards the Bus stand. The first thing I did before boarding on the bus was changing from the wellies to proper boot. My feet thanked me a tonne for this act of mercy on their soul(s). The journey back home was very quite, this time it was purely due to the exhaustion instead of lack of enthusiasm. With so much gear, I was getting a lot of curious looks everywhere in underground and overground. I was too tired to be bothered with anything but thinking about my bed. I slept for hours as soon I returned to my bed. I can certainly say this is one of the greatest experiences I ever had in my life. I will write band performance reviews soon(I know I have not been upto it lately).