A miraculously dry day at Download sees droves of half-drunk, half-sunburnt red faces heading to the main arena for Friday night's headliner System of a Down. Having played at Download last in 2011, SOAD were definitely due a return to the main stage at Donington and thousands of people are already packed in to watch.
Starting strong with 'Suite-Pee' and 'Prison Song', blending seamlessly into 'Violent Pornography' (which I realise sounds rather rude…) SOAD make it known that they mean business. It's rare for a band to be respected and liked across the board, but it really seems like System aren't the great divider that other headline acts seem to be. Droves of people are coming in from the second stage where Sum 41 are just finishing up, and the standing is packed all the way to the back of the arena.
With his now white-streaked beard, Serj Tankian holds the crowd in the palm of his hand and a giant screen behind shows clips of black and white movies and news stories during the bass heavy 'Aerials'. It's bone-shakingly heavy and there is a deafening chorus of people joining in around us, Download have got the main stage sound absolutely spot on this year, it's pitch perfect from way back into the arena.
Into the much loved 'Bounce' for some limb-flailingly chaotic pogoing, during which a man in an extraordinarily short tutu with "Twat" sharpied across his forehead, almost loses what's left of his dwindling dignity, followed shortly by the incredible 'Psycho' and 'Chop Suey' – absolute classics. The guy on the front row wearing a full tuxedo is going berserk and I know how he feels, this is shaping up to be one of the best headline sets Download has ever seen.
After a solid 45 minutes of play without so much as a pause, Serj yells out to the crowd "Download, how you fucking doing out there?" and that's our lot. SOAD truly came to just smash it up, not stop for a chat. For a band heavily invested in political topics and lyrics, I had sort of wished for a quip or two regarding yesterday's UK election results, maybe something about being well hung…
Closing out with the enormously enjoyable 'Toxicity' and 'Sugar' SOAD have pulled off a near perfect headline set, and despite the obviously lower numbers at the festival this year, everyone seems to have turned out to see them do it. Roll on day two!