How Spiritbox won Download Festival

For this week’s subtweets, Jenessa Williams gets the lowdown on the exciting new band causing a stir in heavy rock

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It’s a tale well told at this point that if you were a young woman into alternative rock in the mid-noughties, you often had to work quite hard to find relatable artists amongst all the pentagrams and leather-coated lads. They were absolutely female performers out there — Amy Lee, Tarja Turunen, Christina Scabbia to name but a few — but they were often deeply glamourous and a little intimidating, particularly if you were only half-invested in the heaviness, like me. At risk of exposing my own scene ignorance, it has felt like it has been a while since non-male rock fans of my age had a funny, agemate artist who makes light work of the transition from cleans to screams, not shy of connecting on a human level as they do it. In 2022, we might need not look any further for the answer; that frontwoman is Courtney LaPlante, and the band is Spiritbox. 

So how did they get to this point? For those not initiated, Spiritbox are a Canadian group, formed in 2017 out of the detritus of heavy group iwrestledabearonce. Dissatisfied with the direction of the music, LaPlante and her husband Mike Stringer quit and started Spiritbox, building a committed audience through a strong online presence. While their work is often labelled as metalcore, it is clear that they also borrow significantly from atmospheric, progressive and industrial styles, creating something that feels like a very modern take on rock (see ‘Sun Killer’ or ‘Secret Garden’). Given that LaPlante is just as likely to get giddy on Twitter about a new Beyoncé album as she is to recall her first experience of hearing Cannibal Corpse at the age of five, they feel like a band with plentiful versatility, their melodies luring in even those who tend not to stray much further than pop-punk.

Spiritbox released their debut album ‘Eternal Blue’ in 2021 to broadly positive reviews, but were unable to visit the UK in its leadup thanks to COVID restrictions, meaning that until recently, any appreciation of their live performances was broadly taking place on TikTok and Twitter. In 2022, they’ve been doing an incredible job of making up for lost time; alongside the likes of Nova Twins and Static Dress (who are both also extremely good, FYI), they slayed their appearance at Bring Me The Horizon’s Malta weekender, and more recently, went viral after nine-year-old Harper from Somerset took on their breakthrough track ‘Holy Roller’ on America’s Got Talent. Doing a pretty spot-on impression of LaPlante’s deep roar, she was invited out to sing at the band’s London show, the stuff of rock’n’roll dreams. 

An appearance at last weekend’s Download Festival also appeared to define itself as something of a Spiritbox ‘moment’. One of the most anticipated acts of the festival, they packed out the Avalanche tent long before they arrived on stage, totally in their element as they ripped through a dynamic set that demonstrated exactly why they’re racking up so many millions of views. “What a first date, we’ll do another…” laughed Courtney at one point; “Next time we’ll buy dinner”. By all online fan accounts, they absolutely crushed it.

As both a packed Download Tent and Harper’s young deathcore tribute show, having a visible band like Spiritbox thriving in the scene means everything. It is the thing that gives little girls the courage to do it themselves, the versatility that actively encourages diverse audiences through a meeting of scenes and styles. With a frontman like LaPlante, young women are given solid evidence that you don’t need big-budget costumes or standoffish theatrics to fit in in heavy rock; you can just get up there and let out the dualities of your voice, not having to choose between being the ‘screamer’ or the ‘singer’. 

Most pertinently, when bands like Spiritbox can fill large tents on their first UK visit, big festivals like Download can no longer hide behind the falsehoods that women don’t sell. While stature and track record does obviously matter, festival promoters must embrace the role that they have in incubating and supporting the headliners of tomorrow, allowing the most exciting artists to step up to the opportunities that they are trusted with. Having already announced that the 2023’s edition will include four different headliners, there has never been a better time for a festival like Download to push themselves out of the comfort zone of Iron Maidens and Biffy Clyros and let a younger band take a stab at the big time. Spritbox might not yet be big enough to take on the whole thing, but there is no real reason why they couldn’t be part of a co-headliner slot with other acts of similar promise and scale, or at very least take on the job of high-up mainstage support.  

In terms of inspiring the next generation, Spiritbox have already proven that they can more than live up to their name, but their journey is only just beginning. With proper industry support behind their talent, who knows how far Courtney’s roar can truly carry?