An Interview With Download Festival’s Kamran Haq: “It’s definitely a fresher look on Download, we’ve got a lot more younger acts playing this time, and I’m excited, really excited”

Download Festival 2024 v2 Line Up Header

With Download Festival 2024 firmly on the horizon, at the end of last year Rock Sins had the opportunity to catch up with one of Download’s top team, promoter and booker Kamran Haq. We had the opportunity to catch up with Kam on recovering from Download’s epic 20th anniversary edition in 2023, aspects of the line-up for 2024, the way the cost of living crisis has hit festivals such as Download and much more….

Rock Sins: Before we get to Download 2024, I just want to touch on this year and say congratulations, you survived an extended Download. How did you feel once it got to the end of that Slipknot set on the Sunday night? Did you all need to go collapse into a heap somewhere for a few days?
Kam: Relieved! Laughs, I was exhausted and sunburnt. Three days of a normal Download is a marathon, but four days this year was an endurance test, I’ll tell you that. But the crowd, I couldn’t believe they had that energy for Slipknot. That was my main worry, by the time we got to Ghost and Slipknot on the Sunday night I thought no-one was going to have the energy, especially with how hot it was and how dusty it was. Seeing that energy for Slipknot, kinda gave me a second wind, it was unreal.
RS: I thought it was a genius move to put Bloodywood first on the main stage on Sunday. Myself and all the group I was with, we were all seriously flagging after Metallica on Saturday night. Bloodywood were absolutely incredible and they had so much energy and I think it just recharged the entire place.
Kam: Absolutely. I think that’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen at Download at midday on a Sunday. Followed by Lorna Shore as well, that was such a great start to the Sunday afternoon.

Rock Sins: Based on what we’ve just been talking about, are you glad we’re back to three days this time for Download 2024?
Kam: Yeah, although I feel like it was very special to do four days for the 20th anniversary. Three days is more manageable, but it was really special doing four days this year for sure.

Rock Sins: We’re a few weeks on from the announcement, the dust has settled a little bit, especially compared to last year when I think we caught up half an hour after the announcement so this is a little bit different, how are you feeling about it all now it’s been out there for a little while?
Kam: I’m excited. It’s definitely a fresher look on Download, we’ve got a lot more younger acts playing this time, and I’m excited, really excited. Comments online have been really positive, especially focusing on the fact we’re going for younger acts. People are really excited to see Fall Out Boy headline for the first time. Queens too, and obviously Avenged returning for their third time headlining, so I’m really excited to have them back.

Rock Sins: We’ve been through this before in terms of “you can only book who is available”, who’s on a touring cycle and all these kinds of things, there definitely seems to be a thing with a certain section of the audience that are like “We want new headliners!! NO, NOT THOSE NEW HEADLINERS?!?!?”, do you guys ever feel like its slightly impossible to please a certain section of your audience? People have been crying out for you to do what you’ve done in booking two new headliners, but you still get people going “Ugh” in terms of those new headliners.
Kam: I won’t lie, this year has been tough in terms of headliners, we approached quite a few possible headliners, but I think a lot of festivals are finding the same thing this year across Europe where the big headliners who have been out since the pandemic aren’t available this year and so a lot of people are scrambling for headliners. Thankfully we managed to get Queens, Fall Out Boy and Avenged and I’m happy with the headliners but we are never going to keep people 100% happy, especially with Download.
RS: As well, following on from last year, having Metallica twice, which in itself didn’t please everybody, Slipknot and Bring Me, did you feel, maybe not that it’s an impossible job to follow that but a very hard one? The 2023 headliners were one of the best groups of headliners Download has had in the 20 years of the festival.
Kam: We definitely made a rod for our own back with how big this years’ line-up was. Obviously being four days, the big anniversary, having Metallica twice as you said, a new headliner in Bring Me and then the old guard, well, they’re not really the old guard but a heritage act in terms of their history with Download in Slipknot, it was always going to be very hard to follow. I think with this years’ line-up, it is fresh, it’s younger, it’s something different.

Rock Sins: Do you think as well, last years’ line-up had so many of those bands who could’ve maybe taken the step up, Alter Bridge, Ghost, Parkway, Evanescence, that also impacted your options? As a tangent, I’m not sure how many years’ you’ve been doing this but I’ve never seen a crowd as big at the second stage as the one for Evanescence this year, we couldn’t get anywhere near it and that’s not something I’ve personally had happen before. That maybe suggests they could be booked as headliners for the main stage at some point in years to come.
Kam: Ghost as well, it was a similar situation to Evanescence. It was so busy for Ghost, even for Placebo it was absolutely packed on the second stage. I definitely could see Evanescence, Ghost, Parkway, someone like Gojira, even Sleep Token as possible new headliners for us in years to come.

Rock Sins: Obviously those outside of the Download team don’t know how the day splits are going to pan out yet, looking at “the logo bands” on the poster if you want to call them that, there’s a lot of potential to please what we’d call “the Slam Dunk audience”. You’ve got Fall Out Boy, Offspring, Bowling For Soup, Sum 41, Billy Talent. A lot of bands who over the last couple of years have been very high up the bill at Slam Dunk, was that a conscious decision to go after the Slam Dunk audience this year or again was it just the way it fell out and who was available?
Kam: It definitely wasn’t a conscious idea, it just happened to be that all of those bands were available for us this year. We love all of those bands anyway – we love The Used, we love Billy Talent, Sum 41, Bowling For Soup obviously have played the festival a bunch of times. Offspring were obviously meant to play in 2020 but of course that never happened so it’s great to have them back finally for 2024, four years after they were meant to play. But it definitely wasn’t a conscious idea to go after the more pop punk acts. We’ve got a really good mix of everything from pop punk to emo and death metal to hardcore and then just your more standard rock bands. It’s a really good mish mash of all styles.
RS: Download often gets the “it’s not metal” crew complaining, but you’ve also got quite a lot for them this year. You’ve got Machine Head out of festival retirement in a very big slot judging by where they are on the poster, you’ve got While She Sleeps and anyone who saw them at Alexandra Palace knows what a good time that’s going to be….
Kam: Absolutely, and if you dig deeper into the line-up, you’ve got the likes of Thy Art Is Murder, Black Dahlia Murder, Slaughter To Prevail, Dying Fetus, loads of really really heavy bands playing. Probably more so than we’ve ever had actually. I think once people start discovering some of the bands on the line up they see it’s not just “Reading and Leeds” which is what a few people have said.
RS: As you say, going further down the poster, you’ve got Bleed From Within who were brilliant the last time they were here, URNE who are making their Download debut, so it really is up and down the line up if you know what you’re looking for.
Kam: You know one of the ones I’m super excited for, and they stand out like a sore thumb on the line-up is Heilung. I’m so excited for them to make their Download debut and play for the first time. I had them play the Hammersmith Apollo in January 2023 and it was one of the most insane shows I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like a ritual, it’s the only way I can describe it. People were leaving the venue with their jaws on the floor.
RS: Feels like they’d fit very well with Sleep Token at some point.
Kam: Oh yeah, it would be very cool to have those two bands play together.

Rock Sins: Last year when we were talking about bands lower down the bill we talked about Fixation and how you’d found them at a festival in Norway and picked them up, got them over to do Download which was their first festival outside of their own country. Is there any of the bands on the line up this time that fit similar circumstances? Anyone who’s particularly caught your idea travelling around and then thinking “yeah we’ve got to have this act”?
Kam: Yeah. One definitely was Storm. He’s like 13 or 14 years old, one of the youngest acts we’ve ever had play the festival or will ever have play the festival. He blew my mind, actually it was in Norway again that I saw him for the first time, in September. His stage presence, everything was just unreal. It reminded me of Yungblud mixed with BMTH. He’s definitely one to watch. His Dad is his manager, there’s no real big booking agent or big management company or anything like that behind him. I saw him at a festival and he blew my mind so right there and then I was like “you are going to play Download next year”. He was over the moon. So I’m really excited to have him play for the first time.
RS: You say Storm is one of the youngest, moving to one of the other acts on this years’ line-up, is Harper THE youngest?
Kam: Laughs – Harper is actually THE youngest person ever to play Download. Really excited to have her. It’s going to be her first ever show as well.
RS: No pressure then, nothing like starting at the top!
Kam: Laughs Yep, no pressure. She’s very professional, obviously she did America’s Got Talent, and she played with Spiritbox at Islington Academy and she was unreal. It’s going to be one of the don’t miss sets of the weekend, it’s going to be a special one.

Rock Sins: I know it’s not something you guys have direct involvement with but every year Download starts with The Boardie Takeover. Some really great bands have played the takeover in the last few years like InVisions, The Five Hundred, Seething Akira, Fury, Crushed By Waves, TheCityIsOurs just to name a handful. None of the bands who have played The Takeover have yet made it to the main line-up for whatever reason. Is there any chance of them break that ceiling this year, is it something you’ve looked at at all?
Kam: It’s definitely something we’ve looked at. I’m not saying 100% a boardie band will ever play (main) Download but I’m sure they will in the future. Someone will break through and we’ll have them on the main line-up. We always keep an eye on it. I saw Seething Akira before there in 20..22? I think, I saw them play and they were incredible. But I always keep an eye on the boardie bands and go and check some of it out on the Wednesday night.

Rock Sins: One of the things I think was most heralded from Download 2023 was the revamp for District X. I think having it covered made a massive, massive difference. Is that something that’s going to carry on from here and to continue with the programme of entertainment you had on in there? Between the DJ’s and the takeover and the other stuff, it seemed to be the best received maybe its ever been.
Kam: Jenny and Dannika in our team have spearheaded the District X line-up and curating that, and the work they’ve done on it since 2022 has been amazing. Now having it as a properly covered, massive tent that holds ten thousand people, the atmosphere in there was insane this year. Absolutely bonkers. I couldn’t believe how crazy it was. It’s definitely something we want to build on and make even more of, especially the after hours entertainment. People come to Download to see the bands but then they want entertainment at night too. So we have to deliver something cool for people too. We’re also looking to have more secret sets, more acoustic sets as well in the campsite and in the village.

Rock Sins: One area I think you’ve had a bit of pushback with is the fact the event has gone from four days to three but the price hasn’t dropped. To the average punter or anyone who doesn’t work in the music industry, that looks like Live Nation have done a bit of a cash grab. Talking to bands as we do, we’re hearing stories of costs of touring going up from 2023 to 2024 by as much as 50%, tour buses costing up to 50% more than they have this year and things like that. Obviously festivals are slightly different to bands running their own tours but I imagine a lot of the same challenges must apply?
Kam: Definitely. The general costs of putting the festival on have gone up 30 to 40%. Even more in some cases depending on staging, lights, everything. The cost of pretty much everything has gone up exponentially since the pandemic. Like you said you’ve got friends who are in bands, the cost of buses now is insane, some of the time bands can’t even get buses. We’ve had bands ringing us up two weeks before the festival asking “do you know anyone who can get us a tour bus?” because there literally was nothing available. It’s difficult right now, of course that goes for the cost of living in general, so we’ve had to increase prices accordingly in line with that. That’s not easy for us obviously, we do want to keep it a reasonable ticket price but the cost of bands and touring in general have gone up significantly.
RS: I think it’s important for people to hear that side of it, to understand the cost increases and just what goes into running a festival of this size.
Kam: It’s not cheap putting on a festival like Download, I can tell you that!

Rock Sins: You’ve announced somewhere between 70 and 80 bands in the first announcement (author’s note – this was before Limp Bizkit were announced before Christmas). When can we expect to see some more, and are we likely to get the day splits then?
Kam: We’re still looking at another 20 – 30 bands still to be announced. In terms of when, you might get a little surprise before Christmas (author’s note – that was Limp Bizkit) but we’re looking at early 2024 for the next big announcement. The day splits might come later, we’re not 100% on that right now, but there’s still some big names to be announced.
RS: That’s very interesting. I don’t know if you ever visit some of the Download Festival groups on Facebook, you have people playing what I’d like to call poster logo maths, in terms of trying to work out how many big acts you might still have to add. Obviously for a lot of people Download is the highlight of their year so they spend a lot of time invested into trying to work out what you guys might do next.
Kam: There’s still quite a lot of decent sized names to be announced for Download next year. I’m just going to go and have a look at the group now, but there’s definitely a few sizeable names still to be announced for next year.

Download Festival 2024 is headlined by Queens Of The Stone Age, Fall Out Boy and Avenged Sevenfold. Limp Bizkit, Machine Head, Royal Blood, Pantera, While She Sleeps, Babymetal, Bad Omens, Bowling For Soup, Sum 41 (in their last ever UK festival), URNE, Bleed From Within, Holding Absence and dozens of other bands appearing across the weekend at the UK’s spiritual home of rock and metal, Donington Park. Download 2024 takes place from the 14th – 16th of June (campsite open 12th – 17th of June). Tickets are on sale now on this link – so snap them up now!

Download Festival 2024 v2 Line Up Poster

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