UK Tech-Fest is always an event to look forward to with its interesting variety of international bands, a great atmosphere and organisers who think of everything, including a fine selection of real ales. AveNoctum’s John Skibeat (JS) and Andrew Doherty (AD) were there on the Saturday of this four day event to drink in and review the experience.
Johnski’s mission should he choose to accept it? Absorbing 7 hours of instrumental technicality; music sans vocals.
So what did he learn? Well, it imbued him with a new found appreciation of the drummer’s art. From the maniacally complex blur of sticks and feet on skin to the vast swathes of silence, deftness of touch and light glances of cymbal. The variety of percussion required when creating music devoid of the human voice was vast. And whilst there appeared to be a decreasing use of bass guitar there was conversely the increasing use of ambient recordings in this art form. It was also noticeable just how often certain instruments have risen to the fore in technical music over the years – see reviews for examples.
So… back to the present tense and the first band on the bill for the day. Altostratus, a quartet named after a high cloud formation, play a groovy, light, yet complex, form of technical rock with a soft, elegiac flow. Their bassist looms large in everything they do, setting a strong rhythm, striding wildly from step to step across the stage. The twin guitarists create some beautiful finger shapes, and aren’t afraid of palm-muting or riffing. They switch guitars regularly and at one point a small black box Strandberg guitar, no bigger than a banjo, is produced. Ultimately, they do thrash out one too many bar chords for my liking and just don’t work over their cute riffs for long enough to fully immerse yourself in their songs. Having said that, there are some wonderful flurries of colour to be found in key track “Hidden In A Cloud”. (JS)
Crushing bass lines, a growly vocalist, who looked as if he wanted to cause harm, and all-round heaviness were the meat and veg from Harbinger. Actually, not so much veg. The vocalist made the common mistake of mumbling song titles but I gathered beforehand from the guy on the merch stand that most of this set came from the recently released EP “Human Dust”. I loved the hard-hitting riffs, the heavy bass line and the technical hardcore energy. One vocalist briefly became two – that’s one way of getting over the noise. This was aggressive layered technical metal without ever being too clever about it. Structures held together well even in the onslaught of such brutal chaos. Harbinger had great presence too. The vocalist had grace and humour. Heads banged, faces twisted and the bassist in the multi-coloured shirt, which made me think that a blackcurrant-consuming bird had deposited its stuff, joyously lived and breathed every moment. The band rose to the occasion. This was everything you would hope for from a live performance. (AD)
A thin and pale-looking man in a green hooded wind cheater growled and screamed like a cat, as the instrumentalists around him pumped out irregular, djenty dirt. It stopped. “We are Nycosia”, he announced politely in a refined accent. Thanks. Now back to screams and dissonance of a highly disturbing and entertaining nature. Green Man’s face turned redder as he rapped venom into his mic for our benefit. Oodles and oodles of energy and aggression poured out of every crevice. Chunk – clunk – chunk, they’re angry. Everyone’s angry but happy. Sampled distorted crawliness led to a further mentally deranged breakneck fury fest, breaking down somewhere along the line into mind-altering doom. Oompah-oompah. The experimentation knew no bounds. It was brutal. It turned punishingly dark out there. Somehow we finished up in a cosmic void. This was fine fare for 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Immaculately presented, this was warped music for creative minds. Well done. Does Nycosia come on prescription? Luckily Green Man didn’t burst a blood vessel. The man needs a nice cup of tea after all that. (AD)
With more Strandberg’s on display for Wisconsin duo (a trio for the tour) The Fine Constant, it certainly becomes apparent that it is this year’s instrument de rigeur. Adored by axe technicians for its lightness and adaptability, the guitarists here show just how adaptable they can be. Lead guitarist, Sarah Longfield, drives the twinkling top-end whereas the tour backing guitarist adds bassier textures with bar chords and riffs. Sarah’s finger shapes, speed and lightness of touch is astonishing and mesmeric in equal measure. She rarely visits the base of the guitar neck to strum, employing the finger-tapping method to great effect. Their music brings a strong arpeggio game, but sadly the performance and finished product feel vacant, like it’s missing something. Perhaps it’s the size of the stage, the loss of momentum between songs or the lack of engagement with the crowd, but for some reason the absence of vocal seems particular noticeable. (JS)
With less ambiguous arpeggios and a groovier soul, The Parallax Method, are three guys who obviously love what they do. Throughout the set, they’re exchanging smiles, teasing each other with new tricks and change-ups. Ben Edis on bass spends the whole set bobbing his head in time with his own rhythm, rocking gently forwards and backwards, and sandal-wearing guitarist Danny Beardsley isn’t far behind him. The drummer plays intense, rapid rhythms and displays huge technical skills. This band know their way around their instruments but they still fall short on variety. There is much similarity between the songs but what is there is solid. Pulling out of the groove to develop the layers would help lift what good foundations they have laid. (JS)
My immediate impression of seeing Exist Immortal on stage was that they are a well-drilled band. Co-ordinated head-banging, movement and horns gave a slick appearance. Musically, deep waves flowed through a heavily progressive sound. The singer mixed growls and clean vocals very well. Normally I pick up bands for having insufficient presence, but at the start I felt there was too much. All the gesturing and posturing were those of self-appointed, posing rock gods. The music itself had power and energy. There was plenty of energy in fact and moreover plenty of hair on stage to swing. And it flowed – the songs were strong, the riffs were solid and dark, and the clean vocals added impact to this melodic heaviness. The singer looked like Damian Wilson and when he spoke sounded like him. The vocal delivery was more akin to Scar Symmetry. Inciting the crowd to chant “we are non believers” was a bit daft, I thought, and the bassist became unhooked in his enthusiasm, but the stage performance settled down after initially being distracting. The crowd bounced, even the guy with the bandaged foot. I’d quite like to listen to the recorded version of these songs without the distraction of seeing these guys prancing about and without the wall of sound. I suspect they would be rather good. Well, on a hunch I bought Exist Immortal’s album “Breathe” (2016) so I guess I’ll find that out soon. (AD)
Maxi Curnow, producer, composer, fire-fighter and Tech-Fest favourite, always goes down well with the crowd and here it is no surprise to see just how well his unique brand of jazzy, progressive, groove-laden tech metal is received – he takes the adoration with a series of appreciative nods, thank yous and humble blushes. Further comment would be somewhat unfair seeing as, due to rumbling bellies, neither our intrepid reviewers got to witness his full set. (JS)
Dutch quartet, Exivious, featuring current and ex-members of Dodecahedron and Cynic, greeted us with the news that they were (like a couple of others) on their farewell tour. They certainly gave us a big echoing sound to absorb. Imagine yourself being in the belly of a whale, hearing the groaning of the ocean beyond its ribcage. Such was the impact of combining a multitude of effects pedals with an impressive and aggressive drummer. Some songs breathed fire, some froze in our veins. They certainly maintained a steely resolve throughout, their respective members smiling with each twist of the story conjured. Indeed, our lead guitarist seemed lost in his own little world; eyes covered by shades, ears covered by headphones, rocking and rolling his way to oblivion. With so little crowd interaction, the “all-male futuristic instrumental hit machine” left us a little bemused but certainly with something to mull over. (JS)
“Platfarm faave” was the sole contribution to humanity that I ever heard from the man on the gate at Hull Paragon station. It didn’t matter where you were going. It was always platfarm faave. The man was a legend. Not yet legends but also from Hull are The Colour Line. They certainly took the dull out of Hull. The band looked excited. Soon they were up and at us. Mayhem followed. The vocalist, guitarist and bassist ran around and jumped on things amid punk hardcore energy and noise. They wouldn’t stand still for Johnski’s photo, the buggers. The vocalist was in the moshpit and we were on the first song. I found myself confronted by the burly bassist. No time for chit-chat. It was carnage but let’s not forget they can play. Here was technical hardcore with extra ferocity but as a guaranteed bonus the rhythms were infectious and providing fuel. “I am extremely unfit”, announced the vocalist who set about disproving the point. Smash-bang-wallop: the noise was total, there was much kicking and screaming and hammering, and the songs were great. The vocalist reflected: “In our wildest dreams did we not imagine that so many people …. would be leaving the room at once”. The tension built up as “R.E.D” started with a tribal technical rhythm. The angry joy was abundant. Did I hear a little jazz insertion? Where to look? The singer was on the amp and in the crowd again. The guitarist jumped on the security guy’s shoulders. Leads got tied up. The guitarist stood on the drum kit. Heavy, heavy, thunder and chaos. The set was cut off at 4.30 but with a bit of persuasion all round, The Colour Line were back to play “Colonel Sanders Flying Machine” to delight us with more technical anarchy. And inevitably, orchestrated by the vocalist, it finished up with a mass pile-up of bodies in the middle of the floor. The guitarist confirmed to me later that the band is breaking up and they have just one more gig to play in their home city. That’ll be a riot. Newark 0, Hull 4. (AD)
It’s hard to believe that The Algorithm are a duo, albeit one with a neat symbiotic relationship, considering the level of noise that emerges from their respective tools. Whereas Jean Ferry batters various drums and cymbals with sticks, Rémi Gallego sends loop after loop skittering into the ether before backing it up all up with a chaotic set of tones and rhythmic patterns powered by synth and guitar. The effect is to place their music somewhere between dance and metal. It’s a destructive sound, bordering on drum and bass, prog and at times breakbeat. Occasionally, you’ll seriously wonder which instrument is playing percussion. Was that backbeat from the synth, the double-kick, or the guitar? The crowd are lapping it up and between songs shout “Oui! Oui!”, baying for the Gallic master-class to play on. With the drum-kit up near the front of the stage, it’s a pretty destructive sound. The force of the double-kick and the way it mashes with the guitar chugs (with the whole meshing to form what sounds like dog barks) bully your chest and lift you off your feet. They hammer through crowd favourites like “Brute Force” and “Deadlock” before letting their collective imaginations fly for “Floating Point” and “Machine”. Then, just for shits and giggles they attempt to scramble your psyche by tripping the light fantastic with “Access Granted” and that subversive section of ragga/dubstep. The circle pit slows from a mad-dash to a slow-motion jive and the party and, indeed, the day ramps up a level. (JS)
Compared to previous acts, the Gigantic stage hall was fairly empty, maybe on account of the fact that people wanted their dinner. Around 50 spectators gathered to watch Red Seas Fire. This band hadn’t set the world ablaze on the last occasion I saw them. Here again there was plenty of honest energy but what I heard seemed uncoordinated. The angry tech rhythm wasn’t especially angry. The clean vocals weren’t strong and were a bit whiny. The strength lay in the drums department. Here and there Red Seas Fire came out of their shell with all guns blazing and showed they were capable of rip-roaring, bouncing metal. Judging by the number of members of other bands in the audience, maybe Red Seas Fire could be seen as a band’s band. (AD)
My expectations were high for Uneven Structure. Other than segments, I hadn’t heard their latest album “Partition” (2017) before today, but their previous works and live performances told me I was going to witness something mesmerising, dark and epic. Normally silky smooth and lofty in spite or even because of the weight from the four instrumentalists, I found this set hard work as it never seemed to get going. Matthieu’s vocals haunt and float when he’s not growling, but here it was difficult for him to generate atmosphere above the wall of djenty noise. “Partition” evidently doesn’t engender fog. It does require immense sounds. Another guitarist appeared. The young drummer looked like was having the time of his life. The other instrumentalists exuded a mixture of gravitas and pleasure. This was too lyric-heavy. More atmosphere please. There was atmosphere and Uneven Structure built it up as is their wont, but this was no pressure cooker with ever increasing tension. “Partition” would seem to be a series of distinct experiences. I get that Uneven Structure would want to expand their sound, but it was as if Matthieu were making his lengthy vocal appeal through thick clouds. At one point the wall of sound accompanied a slow, lingering and emotional ballad. I’d not heard a djent ballad before. The power can be overwhelming. The complexity is haunting. It’s about tones of darkness. There’s little light here. It was impressive in flashes, but the sound mix and the lack of obvious logic in the musical story-telling wasn’t making this easy. Matthieu almost fell off the drum platform as he initiated a series of pungent explosions. This could be very heavy. The fog then appeared. The sad looking guitarist played a melancholic tune. The other two guitarists enigmatically faced the back of the stage as Matthieu sang and the drummer injected sophistication. The song built up and everyone was in the game again. The wall of sound and growls were as ever immense. The guitarist in front of me fell to the floor in exhaustion or emotion, not sure which. Fiery death metal followed. Matthieu incited the crowd. The crowd responded. The band lined up and subjected us to a wall of djent and enormity. Matthieu roared and floated dreamily above the deathly heaven. This was Uneven Structure of old – the start of Februus (2011) in fact. Finally, I felt uplifted. And it built up to a crescendo of power, ferocity and intensity. It was evident that the band felt it too. It was a magnificent ending but to this point I struggled with this set. The depth and complexity are unquestioned. Maybe if I’d known what “Partition” is about, it might have helped, but I felt that there was a lack of continuity coming from these heavy progressive tableaux. Matthieu struggled to rise above the intensity of sounds, and his message was lost for me. Yet in spite of my reservations and to some extent disappointment, this was still an impressive experience. (AD)
As I sat and watched the lads from Andorran death metal outfit Persefone warm up, it became apparent that something wasn’t quite right. Little clue did I have that I and the eventual audience were to witness something truly special. Just before they started playing in earnest, frontman Mark Martins Pia made a solemn announcement to the audience that their band-mate Miguel had been hospitalised before the show. However, they had agreed not to let the fans down and plough on despite no longer having a keyboard player, or backing vocalist, and as they had discovered, no compatible samples or effects (somewhat key to a complete performance). It later transpired, that they were also about to experience the full gamut of technical issues from loose ear monitors to PA system failure. However, true to their word, through shrugged shoulders, bit lips, hung heads and apologetic grimaces they “had fun” with it and put on an absolute stonker of a show. Having been accused previously of weak performances and crowd interaction, they tore into their set and constantly offered feedback, praising the crowd who reacted with nothing but joyous abandon and rapturous applause. Pia basically gave us a lesson in how important the bond between band and audience can be. He leapt from front to back of the stage; prowled from left to right. He climbed risers, speaker stacks, crowd-surfed and balanced precariously on the barriers with multiple arms supporting him. He even conducted the circle pit from inside it! The man was a tour de force. Yes, there were whole sections missing but where possible Pia sung (a surprise to even him) the clean backing vocals whilst the crowd hummed the missing samples. At one point this heroic frontman even ran to the front of the crowd to ram his mic under the lips of an intro-whistling crowd member for the masterful “Living Waves”. They improvised with a jam session to cram in “Spiritual Migration” and they climaxed with the epic “Mind As Universe”. When they laid their instruments down they found a multitude of new fans wanting to meet them to wish them and their missing brother well. This was a total master-class in going above and beyond expectations; of how to win friends and influence people and… to have a blast doing it. (JS)
Having misread the band’s logo beforehand, Obscura was a lucky dip choice for me as I knew nothing about them. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least I was coming into it without pre-conceived ideas. A couple of knowledgeable people did tell me earlier in the day that Obscura are German and play technical death metal, which given this event isn’t so surprising. A potential distraction was the fact that I was bringing myself down after the improvised brilliance of Persefone. What I heard initially from Obscura was very technical, very clinical and very heavy. A sampled symphony did nothing to dispel a cacophonous high octane death metal song. This made way for another growly song marked by more heavily technical and purposeful progression. It moved along like an industrial machine. Progress continued to be mechanical, military even. I gathered that Obscura were from Munich and released albums called “Cosmogenesis” and “Akróasis” but for me it made little difference. Each song, wherever it came from, seemed to be borne of an apparent contractual obligation comprising the establishment of an unwavering technical pattern, growls and a clunking progression. Movements were made to order. The spokesman didn’t help by berating the audience for not being interested in the explanation of a song’s timing. He invited the audience to join in – to the growly parts? Band members smiled but there was no fun. There was no spirit or soul. “Sermon of the Seven Suns” was fast and hard but with the same technical riff it still managed to be colourless. To the band’s credit, they played well and tightly, and the grooves were good, but in spite of the occasional epic moment, this was all built on a classic model and came out flat and stingy for me. So whilst Obscura’s set wasn’t actually bad, there was nothing memorable. Once they were in a pattern, they found themselves stuck in it and it was all very pedestrian. To counter my own negativity Obscura have released four albums, and judging by the healthy crowd at the merch stand and a complimentary comment by a fellow-festival goer, it’s clear that Obscura have something to offer. I just never found out what it was. (AD)
Predictably, considering their decision to call time after 16 years, melodic technical groove merchants Textures announced early on that this was to be their last TechFest. With the crowd immediately desperate to fully engage with their last chance to catch their heroes, frontman Daniel De Jongh picked the masses up in his meaty palm and carried them on a journey through their colossal back catalogue from “Drive”, “Regenesis” and “Storm Warning” to “Stream of Consciousness” and “Laments of Icarus”. The crowd-surfing was immediate; the circle-pit and moshing ensued. The band responded with shit-eating grins, breakdown after breakdown, juddering tech scrambles and a cacophony of battered drum-skins. The atmospheric backwash drifted over proceedings for “New Horizons” and the lightshow ramped up a level with sweeping spots and blazing strobes. The catcalls and whistles emanating from the crowd reached fever pitch between tracks and regular chants of “AY! AY! AY!” drowned out De Jongh’s attempts at banter. No matter, he simply waited then tore them a new arsehole with his barking vocal and skittish whoops. His range is unequalled; his rich quality of tone is to be marvelled at. Those with hair wind-milled, those with fists raised them. Then following the monstrous “Singularity”, the band broke for an unnecessarily long interlude of melodic synth. Blue lights from the stage, lighters from the crowd, but the momentum was lost, the wait monotonous. When they returned De Jongh actually felt the need to say “we’re back”. They did manage to pull it all back eventually but only by demanding a hangar-wide wall of death. The division between the fans and the onlookers immediately became apparent but those more up for the craic, soon pulled the strings of a circle pit together as the rhythm switched to a gallop. The band began pulling stunts like co-ordinated backward walks across the stage, the bassist gave up playing and allowed De Jongh to bang his mic on the strings to set the rhythm, the stage-jockeying began and the show began to descend into farce. Happily, the energetic nature of their songs and their performance pulled them through the roughest of patches and we all retired with buzzing ears and rosy cheeks. (JS)
The final word: as hoped for, this was a day of great bands, but what was particularly striking was the friendliness and natural camaraderie amongst everyone present. Even the security staff had smiles on their faces while doing their job efficiently. UK Tech-Fest world is one where people talk to strangers happily, make space for others and share their bottle of water. Band members are around to chat and everyone’s happy. World leaders please note.
Review John Skibeat / Andrew Doherty
Photos John Skibeat