This was the fifth edition of UK TechFest. I’d been to one before, Johnski to two. We both noticed the improvements since our first visit in 2013. The bands and atmosphere were good but then it was all a bit rough and ready. Newark Showground is now the venue. It’s spacious and well set out with a neat campsite, a wide range of reasonably priced food outlets, helpful staff and good and working facilities. The two stages are in large hangars, which are divided by a large area with a bewildering array of TechFest, label and band merchandise. So let’s start by saying “well done” to the organisers. (Andrew)
It was midday when the proceedings began. Giving us a pleasantly mellow wake-up call was the Cornish progressive metal collective For The Oracle. Boasting seven members, they filled the smaller Hands On Printing stage, scattering it with a range of percussive instruments. When in full flow, we were treated to a pair of saxophonists (an alto and a tenor), a pair of drummers and three guitarists. They’re a young band with a confident, active frontman in Sam Lawson; a definite positive, which you hope might soon inspire his rather more chilled-out accomplices as their experience grows. Their music flows beautifully, rising and falling with his vocal. There were also some pretty eclectic Floyd-ian touches, some Afro beats (“Princess”) and jazzy drives that see them successfully combining the twin universes of Incubus and Tool (Johnski).
I know a bit about parallax boards and measurements, so I had an inkling that The Parallax Method might play music with mathematical structures. An impressive crowd of over 100 spectators gathered to witness an mesmerising display of complex instrumental shapes and patterns. Technical mastery overshadowed any warmth, of which there was very little. Both the music and the band, who were probably nervous and certainly looked uncomfortable, seemed very earnest. “I’m popping out for a smoke”, commented my friend and fellow spectator Jonathan. I silently told myself he wasn’t going to miss anything. Actually he did, but for the wrong reason. “Thank you. Enjoy the festival”, announced the band spokesman. Hang on. “We haven’t finished yet”, he added as we all proceeded to troop out. So we stayed for another five minutes of sophisticated shoegazing proggery. This set had great technical qualities but it was like the world’s longest interlude (Andrew).
The feisty Hull/Sheffield quintet Dividium sport a fired-up frontman who was ably backed up with a technically-proficient, bouncing crew. In fact, the scruffy-bearded Neil Bailey is a bit of a card. He seems quite happy to refer to himself as “the fat lad” and is keen to point out that, despite his jams, “the chafing is real, people.” His large strides make sure he covers the whole stage quickly and hopefully saved him from too much discomfort! Their melodic tech metal is built around solid grooves with added bluster and a variety of vocal techniques. Bailey started out colouring his with a somewhat ropy operatic lilt before he fell back into a much more confident series of deathly roars balanced by sweet harmonised cleans. Their new album got a good airing with “Eternity” and “It’s All Gone 19” the standouts. The latter blew away the cobwebs by creating a huge wall of battering sound with a monstrous series of breakdowns built in (Johnski).
From Sorrow to Serenity weren’t showing on my original list. Thinking of similar previous experiences with Aeolist and Day Six, unexpected bands have proved to be pleasant surprises, and so were these Glaswegians. Immediately cutting in to hardcore energy, the philosopher come politician come vocalist screamed or cleared this throat violently, as you prefer. But this wasn’t raw violence. The riffs were magnetic, the structures were well thought out and the timing was excellent. “Thanks for getting up early: this is the wake up call”, announced the vocalist. It was about 1.40pm. The tall, wiry bassist stood on the monitor and looked menacingly into the crowd. The band moved and twirled, the crowd banged their heads and the dangerous djenty rhythms with technical twists and atmospheres just added to the violent expressions of anger. The intensity level was 150%. So while the social and political undercurrent of the songs’ themes may have been rancid and cutting, as a performance this was a breath of fresh air (Andrew).
Ah, Loathe. Now it’s unfortunate that neither I nor my fellow scribe spent enough time (no time in fact) to see this band. It is therefore not fair to comment on them, other than to say that in the spirit of metal bands in general, they were accessible between sets and joined the crowds to appreciate other bands playing. I did hear an appreciative cheer when they finished, and saw a few people wearing their t-shirt, so hopefully they’ll be back and I can give them my attention next time (Andrew).
Shifting across to the Carillion Guitars main stage, U.S. progressive modern doom quintet Dark Orbit lost a member somewhere and appeared to have shifted their sound to one spouting a wall of death with scouring, astringent roars and heaving kicks of hardcore. With their Voyager backing track kicking in briefly to set them up, they soon settled into proceedings and provided us with plenty of energetic power-housing built on explosive grooves that build to euphoric crescendos. Chad Kapper, their long-haired, heavily built vocalist dominated the stage by constantly pacing between his drummer at the back of the stage and the crowd, planting a right foot on, first, the riser then the monitor. His main partner-in-crime (a pretty decent Phil Lynott lookalike), John Schiber, was a blur of action, constantly growling through bared teeth and fighting his guitar to set up a constant undercurrent of groove. There were plenty of “invisible oranges” on show and pumping fists thrust into the sky but, shorn of the futuristic affectations that tint their fine EP, on stage they veered too much towards just a single-colour slab of sonic destruction (Johnski).
Explosive death metal erupted as the five members of Belial went about their business. The band identity seemed to be about facial hair, neck tattoos, aggression and what? The vocalist pulled a nasty face, kept telling us “we’ll move this place” as if trying to convince himself of this, and growled some more as the grungy wall of noise continued. “It’s a heavy one”, announced the vocalist unnecessarily. Same riff, different song. “Parasite” had a bit more punch, irregularity and interest but all in all this was a storm, which blew over without damage. Some in the crowd were more than enthusiastic than I was, but for me Belial just dropped back into the pack of the other fourteen bands with the same name (Andrew).
During one of the few breaks between sets, I met Jake from The Schoenberg Automaton. I asked him what to expect. “Something abstract” was his reply. Thanks to a purposeful build-up, these Aussies subtly took us into a higher place with powerful and heavy groove lines, supported by ferocious vocals from the aforementioned Jake, striking with his flowing ginger beard, lanky frame and multi-coloured beachwear. Game on. I and my fellow spectators tuned into a world of irregular chaos, stepping up, stepping down and constantly changing but hugely interesting and enjoyable. There was death metal somewhere in amongst all this irregular timing, melodic lines and metalcore anger. Visually, the band showed great personality and presence. Jake disappeared as he lay on his back on stage, continuing to growl before getting up athletically and continuing his theatrical display. This was organised chaos at its best. Outstanding guitar solos appeared in the middle of all the noise. Each progression was gripping and exhilarating. Jake swung round like a madman in time to these maniacal and ever transforming instrumentals. I didn’t know where to look to find the action. It was everywhere. Jake stormed the crowd. I detected a faint melody in the thunder. The set ended with “Where Are We, In a Cube”. There was an infusion of jazz and moments of doom while Jake swayed robotically. The music was weighty, mobile and dark, but also thanks to the good grace and humour of the band, it was all great fun too. The animated crowd had been gradually lifted to a state of fever pitch. Paradoxically the irregular metal didn’t seem disjointed but had a good flow. This is what live performance is all about: Interesting, carefully crafted and powerful music, presented in an audience-friendly way (Andrew).
There was no time to take breath. After The Schoenberg Automation I made my way over to the other stage, where triggering drums, a massive groove line and heavy, heavy metal signalled the arrival of Abhorrent Decimation. But this wasn’t just about heaviness. There was melody, and those groove lines were rampant and transfixing. “Love is the answer. Now is the time for love”, proclaimed the beefy vocalist. What? It became apparent that this man had a magnificent sense of humour. “Technical issues … what a place for this to happen”, he commented as men fiddled behind him and adjustments were made. Soon we were back to growly and brutal melodic assaults. Abhorrent Decimation just didn’t mess about. This was like Deicide with melodies to die for, sheer authority and firepower. A little Eastern sample was slipped in, but this was about the riffs, the groove and the unending motion. There was a purity about this assault. The guys from Loathe looked on enjoyed the set with the rest of us. “Have fun. We are”, exhorted the beefy man, who invited a left side – right side sing-a-long as “Echoes of the Vortex” got under way. It didn’t go to plan. “This side has given up. Fuck ‘em”, he concluded. Finishing with “Terminal Reality” off the “Miasmic Mutation” album, the band’s feisty but crowd-friendly attitude, the djenty grooves and the complete co-ordination, which had won everyone over, were there again. Superb music, great crowd interaction and sheer entertainment: you can’t ask for more (Andrew).
I walked across into a packed room. People were chanting “Potato”. I saw Serbia’s Destiny Potato at this event three years ago. Here were the first clean vocals I’d heard so far. They weren’t great. The lady singer, who herself seemed surprised at the level of support for the band, couldn’t hold a note. She was no Anneke van Giersbergen or any of the singers from Tristania. The songs were commercial, a bit gothic, but ultimately I found them dreary. Destiny Potato gave off the presence of a big band with all the gestures, but these slushy, soulless songs lacked personality and came across as a form of mashed up melodic rock-metal. So you’ll gather it wasn’t speaking to me but as I looked round heads were swaying and many of the sizeable crowd were appreciating the show more than I was. “Addict” had a bit of Eastern mysticism with a djent underscore. I liked the heavier tones and the lady’s growls were good. Overall I didn’t enjoy this set as much as I had others. Destiny Potato seemed to be unwittingly cultivating a rock star image, but in spite of that managed to convey likeable personalities. The crux of this for me though was that the songs weren’t strong enough (Andrew).
Now here’s a Parisian modern death quintet who sound like The Faceless mixed with Gojira. Oh yes, there’s storm a-brewing. Pitching a series of arpeggios up against an avalanche of breakdowns, Atlantis Chronicles hit heavy and they hit hard. “The sea is everything… the cycle will soon be completed” intoned the Biblically-deep voice from the gloom. It’s the eerily-atmospheric spoken intro to their new album and, as there, they followed through with the crushing “Otis Barton”. Loaded with deathly roars and vast intakes of breath that build into great whooping Randy Blythe-esque screams, the whirling dervish that is Antoine Bibent set out his stall early, bouncing from pillar to post, and was soon slicked in sweat. The aquatic backstory continued throughout their set allowing us to follow their journey and very soon the audience was drowning in a monstrous conveyor belt of sound. They were clearly loving their art, sporting shit-eating grins and throwing many “thank you guys” to the baying crowd. Their genial, amenable attitude of course comes paired with their ability to tear the neck from your shoulders so be warned (Johnski).
Earlier, the spokesman for From Sorrow to Serenity had declared their allegiance to Fit For An Autopsy, with whom they had been touring. The intensity level now was stepped up. Fit For An Autopsy came on stage and kicked some ass, as no doubt they would refer to it. But it was ass-kicking with twists, turns and technical patterns. The crowd created a big circle. The moshing began with the second song “The Jackal”. This was a typically big performance by a US band: much posturing, much aggression, a constant wall of sound, demonstrative gestures from the band members, time to let the spectators take it in and react. And react they did. The moshpit erupted in wild fury during “Saltwound”. A case of tough guys playing for tough guys? But this New Jersey hardcore was laced with subtly deep and dark melodies. For some reason mention of the USA by the vocalist didn’t go down too well. This was neatly sidelined. Thunderous and edgy metalcore energy was matched by slick presentation. An interruption to deal with sound problems threatened to derail the momentum. The guitarist was still having problems in “Still We Destroy” but the show must go on, and so it did in its loud and vociferous way. The moshers followed the roaring vocalist’s instructions. A frenzy was whipped up. There was something tribal about the progression – perfect for the moshers. The place went wild to reflect the musical violence on the stage, and carnage on the floor. It’s important not to forget the musicianship. To a shuddering backdrop, it was sharp and tight, and of course heavy. The set ended with the anthemic “Absolute Hope, Absolute Hell”. With its technical twisting to entice us, and a hint of Killswitch Engage’s “Daylight Dies” about it, spice was added to the usual potent mix of brutality and metalcore. It was a fitting end to a dazzling display, even with a couple of technical interruptions, of controlled and uncontrolled frenzy (Andrew).
Oddly enough Sithu Aye is pronounced C2-A which makes the main man sound like something out of a Star Wars film. With the Glaswegian’s touring trio also on show we are privy to the full instrumental tech experience. They may look like lost extras from The IT Crowd but they certainly know their onions. Plenty of rise and fall, arm-waving instrumentals, sweeping melodies and a strong Animals As Leaders meets Pelican vibe. However, with the focus solely on the music’s sole architect, the pleasure of watching him (and indeed the rest of the band) noodle away, head down, performing string gymnastics, wore off rather quickly. Even with the rhythmic slides hitting neck-breaking grooves and with Sithu’s own baby brother’s bass thumping away it all too quickly began to feel like watching a YouTube masterclass. If I wanted that I’d have headed over to the mysterious Hangar 3 – they’ve been giving guitar demos out there all weekend to a small crowd of cross-legged die-hards. Perhaps I should sit down? No better not – there are a few bobbing heads and thoughtful scratching of chins so perhaps the same die-hards were in! Even when the pace lifted it soon settled back into swing – honest to God, there was some bloke next to me at the barrier checking his own Facebook feed (Johnski).
Fallujah was the band I’d come to see. Judging by the t-shirts, I wasn’t alone. After the release of the band’s impeccable “Dreamless” album earlier this year, there was nowhere else I wanted to be today. The musical machine gun started. Brutality, subtlety, expansive guitar sounds, pumping drums and flashing lights were just some of the ingredients. The bass rumbled through, up and over us. A circle was formed and the moshing began. Technicality was overlaid with the brutally explosive core and the intransigent sound wall. This set’s output was heavier than I remembered “Dreamless” to be. It was good. “Abandon”, one of my favourite tracks on the “Dreamless” album and for me the highlight of the live set today, was heavy to the point of being apocalyptic, but then in the same piece came the subtle shimmerings of the guitar from the heavy progressive end of the spectrum. Ethereal guitar work, djent rumblings and bass and drum thunder combined. The mosh pit raged. The spectators around me looked stunned. “If you like technical and melodic metal, you’re in the right place”, pronounced the vocalist when introducing “Scar Queen”. Epic structures fell out of this sophisticated technical metal. Fallujah continued to tear us apart with the technically infused “The Dead Sea”. We heard an ambient passage. “Are you ready to wake up?” asked the vocalist. In fact I concluded it wasn’t about waking up but grasping the complexity here. So much was going on with the mesmerising guitar passages, epic sections, deathcore vocals, massive explosions and the enormity of sound that the thoughtful elements of the crowd relied upon motivation from the vocalist. I lost count of the number of times that he barked out instructions: “make some noise”, “I need you to headbang/jump/whatever”. The prompting was necessary. It was as if the crowd needed rehearsals for this multi-layered feast. We jumped to order to “The Void Alone” before enjoying a more chilled-out section, then finally we were treated to the thunderous depths and headbanging properties of “Sapphire”. I sensed universal appreciation around me of the vastness and range, but the reaction of the audience confirmed to me it was also difficult to grasp. It was a great show from Fallujah, with great moments of majesty, but it was a lot to take in and I concluded that we needed prior preparation for such sheer enormity (Andrew).
Progressive chaos is probably the best way of describing Canadian quintet Protest the Hero. I could list their names but it seems more appropriate to list them as “black beard”, “bare feet”, “beach sandals”, “giant ginger beard” and “backwards cap”. They launched into a quick one-two, “Bloodmeat” and “Sequoia Throne”, raining down maniacal string rushes onto the bouncing fans before silence fell. Frontman Rody Walker stepped up to the mic and announced that as these two were their best songs, “it’s all downhill from here”. Ah, that dry Canadian sense of humour. And with that the pace of the gig was set. Short bursts of violent, tight, abortive arrhythmia littered with Walker’s heartfelt, effusively melodic cleans and then a long pause to deliver another barbarously witty comment or pre-organised sideshow. With a marriage proposal, some law-breaking, a tour story and a couple of stage dives from Sithu Aye all included, the gig began to feel like a bit of a cabaret act. Now whether you lap that up or yearn for more of the music is a personal choice but myself and a large proportion of the pit were grinning like Cheshire cats.
“C’est La Vie”, “Hair Trigger” and “Limb From Limb” went down a storm with those famous scrambling guitars pulling polyrhythms and staccato breaks as if from the ether. Then, with the band downing tools, Walker broaches politics for his next dig – “How do you guys feel about Brexit?” A mixture of boos and cheers, naturally, goad him into “You lot are fucked up!” His constant ribbing of the crowd and the perfect marriage of wry smile and an accepting British public meant the skits went down a storm. And if all else fails he had self-deprecation to fall back on. As an example, we are treated to some freestyle rapping on “…this stupid fucking progressive metal rap song” which it turns out Rody loathes. “I fucking hate it – I’ll try not to pass out”. With the party in full swing it’s easy to see why this lot were originally named Happy Go Lucky! As the gig swung round to its inevitable encore, the high-pitched crowd whoops picked up and all hell broke loose as they rewarded us with “Mist” from 2013’s stonking “Volition” album. The full stop was provided by the samba dance track which kicked in from the sound system as the lights go up and an exhausted crowd filter outside. Time to reflect on another superb day witnessing the brightest and best at tech metal’s premier UK festival (Johnski).
Reviewers: Andrew Doherty / John Skibeat
Photos: John Skibeat