If there is one piece of advice that I could have taken on board as I look at my slightly younger and more foolish self from a week ago, it would be to bring the bloody sun cream, for Sonisphere, bar one or two annoying showers, was a scorcher of a weekend. I now, as a result look like a flaky lobster, and definitely writhe from the pain of sun stroke.
Accessing the festival from London was swift, taking me just 20 minutes to get to Stevenage station from King’s Cross. Now in what would become the second of many errors, I decided to rely on my mate Baz to pay me some cash that he owed me, leaving me without any notes. What I didn’t know was that the free shuttles I praised in my preview last week were no longer free and as a result had to walk all the way back to the nearby retail park whilst carrying a 20 pack of lager. Perhaps I could have done better at reading the FAQs, but I still felt it could have been made more obvious before I walked all the way down the hill.
Thankfully the weekend was by no means a write-off and my cry-baby antics ceased the moment I got on the coach, for I landed the last seat at the front and met Andy, first-time Sonisphere goer, follow cynical bastard and soon-to-be camp site buddies as he invited me to join him, his girlfriend Lisa and her mates Tom and Archie. Never before have I met someone who already had his tent pitched for him yet have a heavier bag than myself; the contents of beer (logical) and Tuppaware with pasta was an interesting choice of festival masochism.
Beer, Honey Jack Daniels, and other miscellaneous spirits were the order of the afternoon and after a few hours of heavy drinking, I went to the toilets – They were the typical portaloo affair, but didn’t get too messy compared to some of the other festivals that I have been to in recent years. It was then time to go back to my camp, but wait, where was it again? Blue 5? After searching for hours, I got the awkward call from my mate Baz telling me that he had finally arrived at Knebworth House. How was I going to explain to him that I couldn’t find my own tent? I broke the bad news and he pitched in a spot on his own and went to party in the Bohemia stage whilst I clamoured for some hope for the best part of ten minutes before giving up and going to find the party. I found that by the way, I always find the party. I managed to bump into Tom from my camp, only to find out we hadn’t arrived back and that he was also lost, but at least he was cosying up to some girl – fair play to the lad, for someone who is only 17 and looks like, as someone put it, “Jesus wearing a Blink-182 t-shirt”, he had clearly talked a good game!
Friday arose and it was time to carry Baz’s light tent the best part of about 50 paces to my camp, which was a lot more easy to find once I realise we were in Blue 4 as opposed to Blue 5. The music kicked off at around midday with Shrine, a heavy-yet progressive band who packed out the Jagermeister stage, and they were decent! In fact I’d go as far to say that they are my new favourite band. The good music continued to flow with Centiment, Empire, Comeback Kid and Max Raptor grabbing me by the metaphorical danglies, which was beautifully accompanied by some festival cider, expensive but refreshing all the same.
The afternoon became a write-off (an emergent theme), largely thanks to the legends in my camp bringing some playing cards, which can only mean one thing, drinking games! Me and Baz introduced an old Northampton favourite of ours, paralyser, which is based on nominations and downing your drink if you get the same card twice (or get the dreaded down-it card). Naturally I fell victim to all of this, drinking four tinnies within the space of twenty minutes, three of which I had to down. The evening became a blur; I may have seen The Prodigy and I’m sure I’ll remember about thirty seconds of it eventually, but I did hear that they were most excellent.
Remember the information tent I mentioned in the preview? Well, it really did turn into a party at night and I remember most of it as my memory started to return, hooray! And I got chatting to a hot girl, hooray! Her brother was there too, boo! But he was wearing a Red Fang t-shirt so we got on well, hooray! Then, the strangest thing happened – “Punch me”, she said. I thought she was joking at first so went for a playful rib-tickler, but no this girl was real, and we’re still at the information tent at this stage by the way. “No, punch me!” again she cried, me getting more reluctant by the second (naturally), to which she then goes and wallops me right in the face as a statement of intent. She did manage to calm down eventually, but then abruptly started to take responsibility when she couldn’t find her brother, and disappeared, never to be seen again. In hindsight, I’m not sure whether to call her a weirdo, or whether I’m even more attracted to her now, but I do know I’ll be telling my children this story!
What was I talking about again before seguing into the next Fifty Shades book? Ah yes, the information tent! It was easily my highlight of the festival, visiting each night either on my own or with friends to get my party on to some great classics spanning across all the decades. It was usually a different theme each night, the Sunday being my favourite as it reminded me I DO know the words to Busta Rhymes ft. Mariah Carey 11 years on.
The talk of Saturday was lead by Babymetal, the J-Pop/Death Metal sensation. With hits such as “Gimme Chocolate!” and “BABYMETAL DEATH” propped by three robot looking Japanese girls dancing like lunatics, and a surprisingly decent backing band, it was hard not to be won over by their overtly Japanese stereotype. They did however roll a weird video saying through metal they would end bullying forever, before asking the crowd for a “WALL OF DEATH”, still not as funny as them shouting “WE ARE BABYMETAL” about a thousand times at the end though. Deftones were also a highlight, but for more music related reasons. Not only was front man Chino on form, but me, Baz and his girlfriend Minda who had turned up the previous night, all managed to get to the front while Bruce Dickinson’s WW1 display was on. There is nothing, I mean nothing more delicious than the tears of an Iron Maiden fan saying “Waaaaaah, I’ve been here for six hours” when we got there in three minutes and didn’t even push anyone in the process. I really hope he got sucked into the mosh pit and got a reality check.
Food at Sonisphere was great; Gourmet Burger Kitchen serving delicious burgers, the pulled pork place doing, well, sausage actually (with pulled pork), and Uncle Gio’s calzones were back in full force at Sonisphere, where I managed to get one for half the price every day thanks to the hero at the counter. I would go as far to say that Sonisphere managed to deliver one of the best range of food available. I mean the Goan Fish Curry sounded vile, but hey have some kudos points for variety.
Saturday night’s itinerary included shouting fire point instructions out loud to passers by, watching wheelie bin jousting behind the Blue 5 toilets where I’m certain someone was knocked out cold in the process, and then as we were walking back, there stumbled a naked man, standing there bare, proud and happy to wave at confused passers-by. Some other guys then brought over their chairs and beers and set up their viewing position in the middle of the lane, watching in pure comfort. But it got even weirder, as the guy then started to shave off his atrociously hairy bush in front of a captivated audience. I get the feeling that by telling you these events, I perhaps stayed a bit too long.
Sunday was the day I remembered that I actually had a guest pass on – I generally avoid the guest area as much as possible as it can feel like a snob-fest at times, lacking in the endless possibilities for fun that you get in regular camping. But I did decide to wander to the guest bar for a bit to hang out with my friends Emma and Amy, giving them the exact same review that you are currently reading. They then picked up on the fact that I had shot my throat, rendering my voice to sound like Pat Butcher and mocking me to no end. It was good fun for a while, but I felt out of my depth eventually, so decided to see Mastodon who absolutely dominated the mainstage with their impressive collection of headbangers across all of their albums. The festival closed out with Metallica playing a blinder of a show with the lack of inspiration from the crowd in picking a “By Request” setlist equalling the “perfect” set list for me, although a bit of Frantic wouldn’t have gone amiss.
As a final night camped together, we all decided to go and watch the wrestling. This turned out to be a bad move, as we found it to be boring, so deemed it the right decision to dance one more time at the legendary information tent. Time passed, and before we knew it, we were pulling an all-nighter, thanks in part to a dude giving out alcohol drank from a watermelon (or watermelawn as he pronounced it). We then discovered a camp near us chanting along to Alestorm and decided to join in, not before being booed by the crowd for failing to sing a decent sea shanty. A successful night had by all, we decided to rest for about an hour or two before packing/destroying our tents and leave our separate ways.
As you may have been able to assert, my Sonisphere was heavily based on the experience, but it was an experience that I have missed from the big festivals in the UK since, well, the last Sonisphere back in 2011. Download in comparison is a top festival, but it was marred by the poorer organisation and long walks to get anywhere. At Sonisphere, I was only ever ten minutes from fun, and that was at most. The organisation was exceptional; the nice little touches such as staggering the main stages to prevent big clashes, the information tent party that will go down in history, and even the free bottle of water we received at the train station makes them, for me at least, more in touch with their audience, and felt more akin to the great mid-size Euro fests you hear about like Groezrock and Hellfest. Download, Reading and Leeds really do need to start playing catch up, for the music festival experience isn’t getting any cheaper, and I for one would rather go to Sonisphere, a small festival or an infinitely cheaper European festival than anywhere else…even if it does mean that I may get decked by a girl again.
More on Sonisphere here.
Photos: PG Brunelli