Coming back from festivals is a mixture of relief and emotional shattering – especially if knowing you’ll be leaving UK Tech Metal Festival for the third time and possibly won’t meet some dear friends for a year to come. On the one hand, home comforts are great, but they aren’t quite the same as sleeping in a John Cena tent, drinking a lot of Strongbow Dark Fruits cider, and shooting festival organisers, TesseracT vocalist Daniel Tompkins and Paul “Chimp Spanner” Ortiz with nerf guns. In short, this was an exceptionally hilarious weekend, with a lot of riffs, interviews, alcohol and quiche. So much quiche.
The distance from Portsmouth to Newark-on-Trent is not one I’d do regularly, but I went, having barely slept like a child waiting for Christmas. Alas, unfortunately there’s this little problem that other people use the roads at the same time and traffic happens – and as such I unfortunately missed the first couple of bands. The first band I was able to catch was Brutai, who provided all the necessary ingredients of a very punchy, rhythmic myriad featuring some tight melodies. They certainly got the crowd warmed up, even if at this point, it was already insanely baking inside and out – a staple of Tech-Fest if there ever was one. It wasn’t until Exist Immortal that the heat got turned up another level, where technical prowess and soaring vocals delivered and then some – certainly proving the point that they all make a band that is ripe for the pickings of future success on a large scale. Red Seas Fire followed with another staple performance of energy and riff-fuelled aggression, that although they play very often at Tech-Fest, it was another perfect occasion where it just clicked and conjured up the first of many ferocious belters.
Plini turned heads in the direction of the more melodic side of the technical metal scene, with instrumentals that opened eyes, he captured the attentions of many with a crisp and well-mixed set of polyrhythmic portions. Thursday headliners Hacktivist provided enough energy to cap a venue the size of the Showground, and while at times some of their djent-grime felt repetitive and mundane, the latter half of their set was much better and got many a metal fan dancing like metal fans do. Then it was straight to the afterparty with A Trust Unclean where the first of three deathcore acts turned a relatively sparse crowd into a shape-throwing frenzy – ATU’s presence as a well-oiled deathcore machine kicked that off appropriately. Following them were Osiah, who upped the ante with some insanity of their own that takes guttural lows and slams to new heights. And then on the third time, God said let there be Acrania, and then there was slam. And it was heavy. Exceptionally heavy. We liked that.
Friday morning was difficult. But by the time Subversion graced the main stage with their technical wizardry, it started getting somewhat easier. The band played their atmospheric metal with precision and it proved refreshing after a night of deathcore. No Sin Evades His Gaze followed, packing a filthy strengthy punch in the face that justified their very much deserved hype in the technical metal scene. The Room Colored Charlatan played their lethargic, down-tuned groove perfectly, especially given the restraints on their drummer Cameron Witt, who was hospitalised and nearly too sick to play. With a chunder bucket bestowed under his kit, he knocked it out of the park. Absolute champion.
Sithu Aye, one of the more hyped bands at Tech-Fest this year, marked his exclusive debut in good fashion by dishing out more instrumental bangers that fit the tone of the weekend perfectly. No doubt he’ll be returning to this very friendly festival soon enough. If technical vitriol had a physical form, it would be Sunderland’s Nexilva who systematically destroy anything and everything with some of the most intricate, balls-heavy material I’ve ever heard. With a stormer of a set, it’s clear that their energy and talent knows no boundaries and they will only get better. Following on the Hands-On Printing stage is Liverpool’s Carcer City, who while not being the Tech Fest Elite Guard, armed to the brink with nerf guns and bullets, executed some further technically proficient fury that served its purpose of sending the crowd into a collective wave of headbanging.
Leprous, while personally not a fan of their studio material as much as their live shows, proved that the latter is one of their strongest qualities and continued to assert a firm grasp of their technical proficiency trophy. Even if their set wasn’t the strongest I’ve seen them play, they still hit it thoroughly and won many people over that night, deservedly so. Headliners Betraying The Martyrs came out with a bang, and despite the dividing opinions of them, proved that they can hold a crowd in the palm of their hand like no other. It wasn’t until the infamous cover of Frozen’s “Let it Go” that vocalist Aaron Matts grabbed our camping neighbour’s small Frozen camping chair and actually sat down to sing the opening stanza in his guttural, deathly heavy style. This was quite simply excellent on so many levels. It’s the fact that he respectfully gave it back afterwards as well. What a guy. The Afterparty sets that followed were two thoroughly enjoyable, bouncy, riffy pieces from Neshiima and Anti-Clone.
Saturday’s first band of the day was Clockwork, which, at this point is a huge deal for myself. Having known the guys a long time, and gigged with them in previous bands, considering where they started and where they are now – it was thoroughly enjoyable to watch as they kick their progressive technical ragers into the next dimension. Couldn’t be happier for the guys. Next up were Voices from the Fuselage; notoriously singer Ashe O’Hara was on point, who still carries with him an exceptionally ranging, pure voice that got him hired in TesseracT for a while. Needless to say, it’s brilliant here and the instrumentals are nice to go alongside it. A little while later, The Voynich Code, from Portgual, take Tech-Fest into a dimension where brutality is an appetiser, and proceed to dish out a surplus of guttural screams and mosh-heavy beatdowns, which the crowd thoroughly enjoys.
Slice the Cake’s official live debut was not long after this, and the once-studio band take Tech-Fest into a voyage they were probably expecting, but didn’t quite know how it would be done. It goes without saying that it was heavy, aggressive and tight as fuck. The band should definitely come back for more. The Sun Explodes are up next and proceed to fill the melodic-heavy-melodic alternation that we appear to be facing on the Saturday with a very enjoyable set that ends with a bare asscheek from singer Dave Maclachlan. It was bound to feature a posterior or two, alongside some good prog metal of course though. Cyclamen, probably travelling more miles than anyone at Tech-Fest, come all guns blazing and dish out their weird and fast-paced Human Abstract-esque material. Whilst difficult to get into, they are obviously popular with the crowd – but this doesn’t do anything major for me. However, I did enjoy their closing song a lot.
Martyr Defiled, a last-minute replacement for Destiny Potato have not lost a step since their early bird performance last year, and up the ante one more time with their heavy-as-heavy-comes technical death metal. Agent Fresco subheadline with an edge towards the melodic side, whilst still emotionally heavy in the right places, dish out some heartfelt ragers that if I’m not mistaken had many a member in the audience shed a tear or two. Job well done. But the night is perfectly capped off when Heart of a Coward set foot onstage, immediately ripping the crowd a new one with their hardcore-meets-djent with probably the tightest slot they have played in the many times I have seen them, and probably the best sounding live show of the festival across the weekend. This was tight as tight comes and everyone in the band was on perfect form. It worked so well and I hope they come back again soon.
Sunday, making history as the only day in the history of Tech-Fest to feature a rain stint longer than 45 minutes, always begins emotionally where everyone is gutted that it’s the last day of full tech metal they can experience in Newark for another year. Nonetheless, any sadness is forgotten once The Dali Thundering Concept execute their dense, heavy Meshuggah-level escapade into the realms of technical. It’s a nice way to wake up on a Sunday for sure. Agent Fresco make their second appearance at the festival, only this time armed with acoustic guitars and the same impressive vocal ranges and the same magic happens. It’s a nice way to break the mold of 7 strings and Axe-FX sounds for a while. Later on in the day, Mask of Judas take their heavy elements of technical and progressive and turn it into yet another decent sounding shockwave of riffs. Also those screams.
No Consequence, yet another regular of Tech-Fest, faced with the lack of guitarist Harry Edwards who unfortunately suffered a hand injury in a car accident mere days prior, still come back to their second home and win the hearts of many at the festival once again. Although maybe not necessarily doing anything overly new, their commitment and dedication is to be admired and their ragers are still ragers for days. Haken, fresh off a gig supporting Dream Theater and Devin Townsend, turn the technical dial once again and bring plentiful servings of polyrhythmic fills and riffs, sweeps and just about anything you can conjure on the guitar. It’s definitely a high point of the day for many.
The same can be said for Monuments, another band who has played every year to date, who unfortunately are faced with the difficult task of playing an instrumental set. Vocalist Chris Baretto suffered some serious vocal cord damage and was unable to perform, much to the dismay of many festival-goers. But he still came down, acting as band MC for the night, talked to the crowd and busted out gnarly saxophone solos over the dark, filthy djent that the other four played to perfection. Oh, and they played “I, The Destroyer” for the first time. Even with no vocals, it was still awe-inspiring. Stick a fork in me, life. Lastly, headliners Decapitated emerge with an unmatched aggression and knock an already impressive live repertoire into a new universe. An interesting choice for a headliner these guys were, but now everyone sees why. They are always brilliant live. New songs and old are welcomed with open arms, and many moshes was had.
So as such, this weekend was thoroughly enjoyable in terms of the musical options and line-up. Not least catching interviews with several bands across the weekend proved rewarding and entertaining, as well as meeting familiar faces in a small, but continually growing scene of close-knit musicians and fans alike. It is more like a family than your average festival. This is why Tech-Fest is Best Fest™ and we are very privileged to have a festival coming back every year, emerging as something that started as a one-time experiment. Now it is getting more recognition every year, and more people are coming.
We get to see some insanely talented bands in one place, for one weekend a year, interacting with fans in a very relaxed atmosphere, where no petty rockstar “I’m more important than you” bullshit exists. This is nothing compared to your typical music festival where there is a substantial divide amongst personnel. Everyone; from fans, press, PRs, organisers, musicians, staff and others are treated as one big family and that is perhaps more rewarding than anything else if we are to take anything away from Tech-Fest.
It always leaves me with a sad sense of nostalgia for some time after returning to normality, because this type of collective love and passion for music and each other is quite frankly, unheard of in the music industry. It just so happens that the UK tech metal scene, while small, is that very shared passion. Everything about it works and nobody is left feeling sour due to anything the festival does. There are problems that arise, sure. And things do go wrong; and sadly there are also a few dickheads here and there. But Tech-Fest is still the very embodiment of a passionate, friendly and very nerdy family of musicians, and that is why it works so well.
Bring on Tech-Fest 2016.