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Pre-Tech Fest technical issues don’t ruin the show with Felix Martin and friends

Felix Martin DispersE Aeolist Mask Of Judas Stone Circle poster

With just days left on the Tech Fest countdown clock, a number of tours are snaking around the country featuring bands that will be congregating in Newark at the end of the week. Last Friday, Camden’s The Unicorn played host to No Consequence, Drewsif Stalin’s Musical Endeavours and Friend For A Foe, and members of some of the bands were spotted in the crowd this evening to see Felix Martin’s first UK show.

Openers Stone Circle are a young band that make it worth turning up early. They pack a surprisingly big and meaty crunch, within their long twisting song structures.

Unassuming frontman Joe has a convincing growl on him, as well as credible singing voice. Their sound comes across as a hybrid of Alice in Chains, Opeth and Black Sabbath. Their performance is tight, together and refreshingly backing track free. Their stage craft needs some work, but that is only a minor quibble. Their short, twenty minute set is over far too quickly, so it was pleasing to hear afterwards that they had secured one of the last minute replacement slots at Tech Fest itself. Definitely worth checking out.

Long-standing Tech Fest favourites Mask of Judas are up next, albeit appearing as a four piece due to the absence of second guitarist Reece. They very nearly become a trio as the bass head takes a kamikaze dive off the amp towards the end of the first song and gives up the ghost entirely. Thank heavens for DI.

Even if, being a man down, the sound is a little thinner than it usually is, the band still kick out a beefy groove. Guitarist Sam’s hands are a constant blizzard of tapping, really making full use of his eight strings. Vocalist Jo is on positively fearsome form and the rhythm section of Joe and George keep everything locked down tight and are clearly having a whale of a time doing so.

This is the first time I’ve seen Mask of Judas since last year’s Tech Fest, and – particularly with the newer tracks – there is a palpable feeling that they have improved on all fronts. Balancing tech, groove and unbridled ferocity, there’s a bit of something for everyone. The band are readying material for a new album, and that’s definitely going to be worth a look when it appears.

It’s not all that long since Aeolist graced a London stage as part of the Tech Fest all-dayer. Like Mask of Judas, they are also a member down, with Paul’s basslines being picked up by the backing track.

One issue with the band having penned, effectively, an EP length single track is that the capacity for variety is dramatically curtailed. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with their lightly Dillinger-inspired tech-prog, but I am struck with a strong and unshakable sense of deja vu. With the exception of vocalist Bradley, the set is performed more with precision than with passion. Having seen the set barely a month ago and with the knowledge I will be seeing it again the following weekend, I don’t feel much compulsion to watch the whole thing this evening.

I gather that shortly after I wandered away, a technical issue brought the set to a temporary halt whilst various magic boxes were reset, so hopefully they will be back to their full fighting weight by the time they hit the stage in Newark.

More minor technical snags keep both DispersE and their audience hanging around for a few minutes past their start time, but it is worth the wait as the Polish quartet have the clearest sound of the night. There’s no denying, though that the focus of the sizable crowd that has gathered is directed to the right hand side of the stage, towards guitarist Jakub. Boy, that guy can play. A more tightly huddled group of dedicated acolytes gather directly in front of him, filming every movement of his fingers and sharing incredulous glances. Even people who are not usually moved by guitar solo histrionics, like myself, can’t fail to acknowledge that Jakub’s talents place him right in the vanguard of the guitarists of his generation.

But a handy guitarist does not a great band make on his own. The good news is that the remainder of DispersE certainly are not just making up the numbers. Vocalist/keyboard player Rafal has a strong voice and is comfortable engaging the crowd. The rhythm section are tight and imaginative.

It all comes together gloriously on a loose cover of The Prodigy‘s “Voodoo People“, which works far better than it has any reasonable right to. DispersE are one of a select few bands returning to Tech Fest for a third straight year, and tonight’s performance shows precisely why they have earned that distinction.

That Felix Martin is even playing tonight represents a certain amount of triumph over adversity. Continuing the theme of the evening, his band is also a member short. His drummer is absent, with them telling us from the stage that he was unwell and unable to make the transatlantic trip. With almost indecent haste, Felix and bassist Kilion put together some programmed drums to perform the set. The show, as they say, must go on.

Felix’s instruments and playing style are really without compare. He comes equipped with solid and hollow bodied guitars that effectively play host to two parallel seven strings necks. Felix’s percussive style, with dual handed tapping across both necks, is thoroughly bewitching. Jazz and (naturally) South American influences sit comfortably alongside the tech friendly metal sections. For guitar technique aficionados, his performance is both a feast and a voyage of discovery.

However. it is more of an intellectual exercise combined with a hard core dose of guitar porn. The absence of live drums does add to the feeling that the show is more of a demonstration than a gig, but that obviously can’t be helped – nor should it detract from the Herculean efforts undertaken for Felix to be playing his very first UK show for us tonight.

I’m sure that over the course of the tour, the backing track will be tweaked and Felix and Kilion will become more acclimatised to performing with it. For students of the guitar, Felix really is a must-watch. You really will see things you’ve never seen before. For everyone else, the novelty factor still warrants a look-in, but don’t be too surprised if your attention isn’t quite held for the full duration of the set.