An Interview With Download Festival’s Kamran Haq: “If we like the sound of a band and they fit the line up then we will book them”

Download Festival 2022 - Iron Maiden - James Bridle

The Download Festival has been for many UK rock and metal fans, the highlight of the year for almost two decades. This year, Download celebrates two full decades of gathering at the UK’s spiritual home of heavy music, Donington Park (or Castle Donington if you prefer). Download Festival 2023 is going to be like no Download before it. Not least because, for the 20th anniversary, the festival has expanded to four full days for the first time. It’s also the first time anything like Metallica’s double appearance will have happened, with the San Francisco thrash legends headlining on the Thursday AND Saturday of the event, promising two completely unique sets with no overlap, something they have done at a few festivals in the US previously.

Putting on an event of this size is a huge undertaking, and the details of which something that many folks find interesting. Who better to tell us a bit more about it than Live Nation and Team Download’s own Kamran Haq, a huge part of the Download Festival booking team that is led by Andy Copping. We caught up with Kam just after the last line up announcement a couple of weeks ago, when another forty bands including Halestorm, Five Finger Death Punch and Coheed And Cambria joined the already substantial Download 2023 line up. Kam takes us through some of the booking processes, comments on future headliners, and lots of other topics of interest.

Rock Sins: Thanks very much for joining us. It must be a big weight off your shoulders, having the second wave of the announcement out, what, half an hour ago?

Kamran Haq: Yeah, half an hour ago, although we did have a leak last night, which you probably saw online.
RS: Yeah, I did see the poster doing the rounds since early this morning and did wonder whether it was a real one or not as people have gotten increasingly good at making fake ones over the years.
Kam: Laughs, yeah, we had a leak last year back in November with the first announcement as well, about four days before the actual announcement which was frustrating to say the least. There’s not a lot you can do about it, once it gets out there it’s out there. A lot of people didn’t believe that was real because it was such a drastic change from the normal poster. Like, “that can’t be real, why is that band in that place, why have they announced these bands?”

Andy (Copping, Download lead booker) came to us and said “What if we did two days with Metallica?!”

RS: You guys must be so used to getting at least a level of that reaction every time you make an announcement. Was the plan always to do four full days for the 20th anniversary? At what point did you decide that was the way to go to mark the anniversary?

Kam: Well we started talking about it around the end of ’21, I think we only twigged then like “oh god, it’s the 20th anniversary of Download! We need to do something special”. Then the Metallica conversations started happening. Andy (Copping, Download lead booker) came to us and said “What if we did two days with Metallica?!”, because they did something similar in the US and we were like, OK, this looks interesting, and then it started to move pretty quickly. With it being the 20th anniversary, it was go big or go home.

RS: Do you think you would have still done the four full days if Metallica hadn’t been available to do what they are doing (headlining two nights)?

Kam: Yes. We wanted to do something special for the fans. Originally the first couple of Download’s were just two days and then we extended to three days, now we’re at four. I’ll be honest, three days is pretty exhausting for us, four days is going to be crippling laughs.

RS: Will you go back to three days in 2024?

Kam: Yeah, I think we’ll go back to three days. We’ll see, but I think three days is the plan for next year.

RS: Obviously chat happens, both in the community and when yourself and Andy do interviews, there’s a group of bands who have been touted as the next batch of Download headliners and you seem to have booked almost all of them to play this year. Of course Bring Me The Horizon have been promoted to headliners but you’ve also got Architects, you’ve got Parkway Drive, Ghost, Alter Bridge, Five Finger Death Punch. You seem to have ended up with almost every band who have been touted as a future Download headliner all at once. I know you are always at the mercy of who is available from year to year but it’s quite crazy the way that has worked out.

Kam: Yeah, as you said we are always at the behest of band’s touring schedules or when they’re in the studio or what have you, this year we’ve been lucky to get all these big bands together on one line up. I think the only 1 we are probably missing is Gojira in terms of bands who might be future headliners right now.

RS: At some point in the future you’ll be revealing who is playing what stage, sub-headlining main stage, headlining second stage and all that kind of thing, of course from that group Bring Me are the ones who’ve already moved up, but you’re going to be looking for statement performances from at least one or two of the bands we’ve been talking about for potential headliners for 2025, 2026 and beyond?

Kam: Absolutely. The likes of Parkway Drive, that’s going to be a special set, Architects have really levelled up…Architects haven’t played Download in a long time, they were meant to play in 2016 but couldn’t because of Tom’s health, they haven’t played Download in forever, so that’ll be a special set. Then the likes of Five Finger, Alter Bridge, Halestorm, Evanescence, they’re all going to be huge sets this year. Ghost…I cannot wait to see Ghost again.

RS: From reading the poster, if the close of the festival is something like Ghost into Parkway Drive into Slipknot, that’s one hell of an end to a Download.

Kam: I mean…yeah…it’s just nuts laughs. I think people will be pretty happy once we put the stage splits out there. It’s one hell of an ending, that’s for sure. I hope we’re all gonna be still standing by Slipknot!

Our benchmark is a band being able to sell out two nights at The O2 arena back to back, in terms of ticket worth, to be able to headline Download.

RS: Of the bands we’ve just been talking about, Alter Bridge are the ones who probably have the biggest pedigree, it’s their third time potentially subbing main stage if they end up playing before Metallica, they’ve done four or five really successful UK arena tours, obviously they had the one just before Christmas with Halestorm most recently. I don’t know if this is something you can answer, but what do they in particular need to do to go to the next level? Of all the more modern hard rock / classic rock type bands, they’re the ones who have been knocking on the door (to headliner level) for awhile now.

Kam: Alter Bridge definitely have Download heritage for sure, and they are one of those bands that probably will step up. Our benchmark is a band being able to sell out two nights at The O2 arena back to back, in terms of ticket worth, to be able to headline Download. Obviously Metallica can do that, Slipknot, Bring Me as well.
RS: That’s really interesting to hear that, I don’t think I’ve heard it stated as clearly as that before, so that’s really good to hear.
Kam: Obviously it’s not set in stone specifically to that, but we need a band who is capable of selling that amount of tickets.

RS: You’ve already touched on it with Architects, but in terms of the bigger bands, you’ve got a lot of bands who either haven’t played the festival in a very long time (Evanescence, Architects, Ville Valo hasn’t played since HIM stopped), or haven’t ever played Download (Placebo for example). Is that something you were deliberately looking for for this year for the anniversary, or just the way it worked out?

Kam: I’ll be honest with you, it just fell into place. Placebo are a band that we deliberately decided to chase after, they’ve never played Download before so that was something we definitely wanted to have on the festival. It just happened that Architects were available, Evanescence too were touring at the same time so yeah, it’s worked out really well.

RS: Going to the opposite end of the bill, you’ve got a load of great young bands playing who haven’t played Download before, or who maybe have played The Dogtooth Stage and are going to step up to bigger stages this year. What is it in particular you guys look for when you’re looking to pick up a band for Download for the first time? Obviously certain bands like Heriot last year for example had a huge buzz around them so that just seemed like a natural swell for them and they opened the Dogtooth last year and killed it, but new bands haven’t always built up a profile in the way that Heriot did, so what do you look for? Or is it a case of being bombarded by agents and that kind of thing?

Kam: To be honest I hate when I get bombarded by agents laughs. If we like the sound of a band and they fit the line up then we will book them. It doesn’t matter if agents are harassing us or not. If we think they’ll fit the line up and they’re a great band, we’ll book them. But I’m always looking for new bands. I go to five or six shows a week, I’m always on the look out for new stuff. For example, a band on the line up, Fixation, I saw them in Norway, in Oslo, a couple of years ago and they blew my mind. I saw them at a small festival there and decided I wanted them, they’ve never played outside of Norway before and Download is going to be their first international festival. I’m really excited to see them and see how they go down. Again, no agent, no managers involved, I just picked up on the band, saw them and wanted them to play Download.
RS: That’s great, and for bands to hear that message as well, it tells them they have a chance of playing events like Download if they are making good music and get heard rather than having to have the whole industry machine around them.
Kam: Absolutely, as I said, Fixation had no label in place, no agent, no anything.

RS: Obviously you don’t just work on Download all year, you book tours, you book for Halestorm and various other bands, looking at the line up especially with the new additions, we’ve got lots of American bands, Canadian bands, British bands, maybe not so many from Europe, are you still feeling the effects of Brexit, both in terms of the extra costs involved but also the logistical problems and the extra paperwork, does that have a bearing on the amount of bands from mainland Europe you’d look to book for Download?

Kam: No, not at all to be honest. The cost of touring has gone up, there’s no doubt about that. But Brexit hasn’t stopped us booking bands from Europe, I’d say we’ve still got a healthy amount of bands from mainland Europe this year. Brexit has no effect in terms of looking at where a band’s from for booking them.

RS: You’ve just picked out one of the smaller bands on this years’ line up, and we’ve spoken quite a bit about a few of the bigger bands, but is there anyone else that has been announced today that you are particularly excited for?

Kam: That’s tough, there’s great stuff everywhere. Jinjer I’m really excited for. They were incredible at Bloodstock last year, and I’ve been following those guys for the last six or seven years. Seeing their growth, especially over the last couple of years, has been insane. Have you seen them before?
RS: I saw them the year they played the Dogtooth, well, I say I saw them, I could barely get in the tent it was that busy, I half saw them from the entrance.
Kam: That year, the Dogtooth, for them and The HU especially was ridiculous. Jinjer I knew would be busy but I didn’t expect it to be twenty deep outside. The HU funnily enough we actually offered for them to open up the main stage that year but they wanted to stay in the tent so I thought it was going to be absolute mayhem. And the same thing with Spiritbox last year, having them play The Avalanche Stage.
RS: That was unreal. That was my favourite performance of the weekend last year, it was ridiculous. They are a band who have the potential to rise up the ranks very quickly if they keep going the way they are going.
Kam: Look at their current tour. They’ve sold out pretty much two Roundhouses, like 6000 tickets in London. This is their first proper UK headline tour. Download was their first ever UK show. They were meant to play London, I was meant to meet them the week everything shut down with the Pandemic. They flew into Heathrow, I think they were going to be playing The Underworld and they had to fly back out of Heathrow, they never left the airport.
RS: Obviously everything has been back open for the best part of a year now, for people like yourself and the job you do, it must have been such a strange time and it must be so good to have everything back up and running.
Kam: Absolutely. There were points where we were like “is this ever gonna end?!”, were we ever gonna have normal touring again? It was scary, it really was. Thank god everything is back up and running and it feels normal, well, as normal as it can be.

RS: We won’t keep you any longer, thanks very much for your time and hopefully you’re not getting too much flack on the socials about the announcement.

Kam: I’m still looking at the Download bingo card laughs, you can never please everybody but we try and cater for everybody in terms of death metal and grindcore to the lighter stuff, there’s a bit of everything there.

The 2023 Download Festival is headlined by Metallica (twice, with no repeats), Bring Me The Horizon and Slipknot at the UK’s spiritual home of rock and metal, Donington Park, from the 8th to the 11th of June (campsite open 7th – 12th). Weekend tickets are completely sold out. Day tickets are available and on sale from Ticketmaster now on this link.

Stay tuned to Rock Sins for further Download coverage as the festival approaches!

Download Festival 2023 Second Line Up Poster

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