Download Festival / 2023

20 Years of Surviving the Death of Subcultures. An analogue photo reportage by Marilena Vlachopoulou.

Once upon a time, there were Mods, Rockers, Punks, Hippies, Emo’s and Chavs. Now, we rarely can look at a group of people and think to ourselves, “hey! they look like we’d have something in common.” Sticking it to the establishment has been the fundamental right of young people all over the world. I mean, how better to express yourself than a uniform that would help identify potential friendships and communities while channeling teen angst into an expressive outlet? Over the years, the ever-churning authority of the internet has dictated what’s “in” – including alt fashions, tattoos, piercings and, in many ways, much more extreme looks and styles. In a way, we’ve become desensitised to the alternative; it’s become mainstream. It’s commodified alternative subcultures, turning them into an online persona, “vibe” or “aesthetic” rather than IRL expression and a place to find community. Oftentimes, that community was rooted in music. What better alternative community than Download Festival? Download Festival continues to stand out as a bastion of individuality and expression. The festival’s diverse lineup of bands, its welcoming atmosphere, and its commitment to creating a safe and inclusive space for all fans has made it a haven for subcultures to continue to thrive in the real world. Acts such as Ville Valo and Carcass are staples of the sounds and styles of these festivals, which, in its 20th year, the 100k+ strong crowd of alternative lovers brings a long-lost sense of community where you can spot exactly who’s there to see which bands. Musicians will always be trendsetters, and alternative acts will create mini-mes, intentional or not. Some kids in corpse paint? Must be here to see Behemoth. That guy in the cut-off denim jacket, long curly locks headbanging his heart out? Metallica. The nice thing about Download is that not only does it play host to the “classics” of subculture – there’s actually a huge growth of newer fans, new looks and uniforms of their own. Creeper’s sleek look inspired a small army of black and white suited fans to tear up the Dogtooth Stage in a cult-like way that I’ve not seen since the inception of the MCRmy. The most notable change however has been the number of women of color, not only in attendance but hitting the stage. The Nova Twins mainstage performance felt like a pivotal moment in the festival, as two women of color ripped up the cue sheet for what was already an outsider movement. No longer were main stage acts to be white, tattooed old men, but instead, a reflection of the festival itself. BMTH bringing them out for their headline performance on Friday night highlighted a glimpse of hopefully, what’s to come. It’s difficult to find a space where you feel recognized as an individual. While it’s easy to fall victim to a homogenised society on the outside, Download has been and will continue to be one of the main homes for the alt community and a place for subcultures to thrive, regardless of what the Guardian might say.

Download Festival / 2023


Download Festival /  @downloadfest
Photo: Marilena Vlachopoulou / @darkroom.memoir
Words: Fiona Jones

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