Tech Fest 2015 review: Sunday
And so we come to the closing chapter. With tired eyes, tired minds, and tired souls, we rouse ourselves for one final day of frolics, confident that this is pretty much the most fun you can have in a cow shed in Northamptonshire.
Photos by Jo Moolenschot: Hieroglyph; Bad Sign; Agent Fresco; F·O·E·S; Press To Meco; No Consequence; Mask Of Judas; Haken; Rolo Tomassi; Monuments; Decapitated
12pm, Hands On Printing Stage
I must have looked at Nottingham quintet Arakusa Yami‘s name four times between arriving onsite this morning and their opening of the final day’s proceedings. However, try as I might, I just can’t get that name to stick in my head. This is problematic. The band were added to the bill during the inevitable last minute changes, but haven’t been able to coax many out of the rain to watch their set.
Arakusa Yami plod through a set of largely unremarkable tech metal, with the saving grace of an interesting and clearly talented rhythm section, with drummer Tweak particularly standing out. For a band that has apparently existed since 2010, they have perilously little stage presence and one might think that someone had nailed the feet of both guitarists to the stage. Vocalist Tom also looks distinctly less than comfortable, and seems to have no idea what to do with his spare hand, often hooking his thumb into his pocket. It is not a strong look.
Somehow, the band also find time in their short, twenty minute set for a drum solo, again highlighting Tweak’s talents. The remainder of Arakusa Yami clearly have a lot more work to do to raise their game to match his.
12:30pm, Main Stage
Top to bottom: Valentina Soricaro; Sam Butterfield; Helen Tytherleigh
Hieroglyph haven’t played live a huge amount, but whenever we have seen them, we’ve always been mightily impressed. Opening the main stage wasn’t an easy task, but even before hand we were sure they’d be more than up to the task.
There’s vindication, and then there’s what we see today. The second slot of the day is often also the hardest in terms of crowd size – or at least was in previous years – but the Leeds/London sextet show that they have all the right ingredients for future festival mainstays, and even headliners, drawing in a fantastic number, and playing their hearts out.
Blending the polyrhythmic tendencies of the tech/prog scene with dual vocals both angelic (Valentina) and brutally caustic (Mark), the whole group is practiced, tight, and put on a great show. Their stonking low end drives big grooves, passing a lot of energy and more than a few dance moves throughout the crowd, and tracks from their debut EP Freefall bounce along, whilst new single “Solar“ receives a grand reception.
All six members are on form, which certainly helps; drummer Bradie is absolutely beat perfect throughout, matched by bassist Helen, whilst Valentina’s vocal melodies offer something special and generally unseen elsewhere this weekend. We were already really excited to see where these guys go next, but on the evidence of today’s show, it’s going to be somewhere good.
1pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Top to bottom: Joe Appleford; Jonathan Harris
Despite only being a trio, south Londoners Bad Sign show that it’s not about how many instruments you have, but how you use them. The first of a few less-technical bands today, they nevertheless make full use of the stage – and indeed the room, when two of them leave the stage and enter the crowd mid-song – making as much noise as the six-piece who preceded them.
Having enjoyed a run-in with them – along with fellow Tech Festers The Colour Line - earlier this year, it was pleasing to witness the consistency of their quality. The band’s heavier riffs are like an elbow to the face; fast, unflashy and forceful – all Every Time I Die-like in their aggression – but when the guitar breaks into some gorgeous Minus The Bear-style stuff, as they do later on in the set, Kevin Miller’s drums fill the gaps between the single guitar and bass nicely, and so despite the sparse instrumentation, Bad Sign still manage to feel huge whilst experimenting with more subtle tones. It’s quite incredible really, and the crowd quite rightly lap it up.
Mid-set monster “The Recidivist“, from last year’s Destroy EP, features vocalist Joe Appleford’s bass snarling along like one of Brian Cook’s These Arms Are Snakes lines – ever so slightly fuzzy, and hard-hitting in all the right places.
Half an hour whizzes by all to quickly, and by the end of their time they’ve drawn a good crowd in. They’re not tech, but it seems no-one really cares when the alternative is this.
The Dali Thundering Concept
1:30pm, Main Stage
Parisian brawlers The Dali Thundering Concept are already in full swing by the time I make it into the room, with the pit opened up and beefy riffs flying everywhere. I’ve been hearing positive things about the band all weekend, and it doesn’t take them long to draw me in and win me over.
There are plenty of brown-note djentisms and windmill-inducing drops in the mix, but it’s also obvious that there is more to their sound than pure brute force. The band use their considerable power with a deft touch, which probably adds to its potency.
Their set is slightly hampered by a couple of non-musical issues, however. Bassist Antoine is continually beleaguered with problems with his guitar strap. From my vantage point, it appears that the screw holding it in place has become completely seperated from the body of his guitar. Repeated attempts to temporarily resolve the issue through the age-old application of armfuls of duct tape – some while he continues to play – are largely unsuccessful. Similarly, repeated requests for the crowd to come forward from vocalist Sylvain are ignored, leaving a big empty hole for about a dozen chaps to periodically flail in.
What should have been a climactic point of the set is also unfairly hamstrung. Ashe O’Hara pops up to perform his guest spot on “Beyond Mirrors“, but the front of house sound guys can’t seem to get his voice through the main PA until about halfway through his brief appearance. Given that the band proceed as through nothing is wrong, it must be audible through the monitors, so this is a real shame.
The set seems, surprisingly, to sort of fizzle out rather than come to a clear conclusion. Perhaps I am anticipating a final devastating breakdown to round off proceedings which never quite comes. Nevertheless, The Dali Thundering Concept put in what can now be described as my favourite set of the festival from a band I’d not listened to previously. Mixing a clever and considered approach with something altogether more primal, I will definitely be keeping a close eye on what these guys get up to next.
She Was The Universe
2pm, Hands On Printing Stage
The first of two oversights of the day, She Was The Universe – named for the track from 2014 attendees The Ocean’s album Anthropocentic (indeed, they have a cover of it) – have come all the way from Nizhny Novgorod in Russia, so it’s a particular shame we’re unable to catch them. Sorry guys.
Their most recent output is last October’s Else And Where, so we’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions:
Agent Fresco (acoustic)
2:30pm, Main Stage
Top to bottom: Arnór Dan Arnarson; Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson; Þórarinn Guðnason; Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson
Last night’s electric – in every sense – set from Agent Fresco compelled me to utterly destroy my already ruined knees through dancing, but as the crowds assemble for their second – acoustic – set of the weekend, we are sure that this one is not going to be so compulsively energetic. With this in mind, I settle myself down on the floor to take the weight off, stretch out and unwind as they play.
I will admit to a certain amount of trepidation as the numbers in front of the stage grow. As Jon Gomm found out last year, keeping a Tech Fest crowd quiet enough to really appreciate an acoustic set is something of an uphill struggle – but any fears I had were unfounded. Those who want to party hard have largely stayed away, or at least do not venture close to my spot on the far side of the room.
As Arnór mentions whilst his bandmates take their seats behind him, Agent Fresco rarely play an acoustic set on a festival main stage. However, it would probably fair to assume that the majority of us here today – myself included – were first drawn to the band by festival head honcho Simon Garrod’s relentless enthusiasm for them. In these circumstances, allowances can be made.
Agent Fresco then slip into a set of reworked highlights from debut A Long Time Listening - and it is thoroughly extraordinary. I can’t rightly tell you what the performance looks like because, quite frankly, I have my eyes shut, but the sound of these songs is incredible. In their pared back form, they are even more delicate, vulnerable and beautiful; the minimalist instrumentation giving full flight to Arnór’s soulful and emotive vocals.
Emotive is the operative word here – Arnór takes the time to explain the context of his somewhat cryptic lyrics, and the over-arching theme of the loss of a loved one strikes chords and gives heartstrings a hefty tug throughout the assembled crowd. The room is as crowded and as silent as a rush hour tube train, which only adds to the power of the moment.
The set – extended by special decree from Simon to allow for the inclusion of “Pianissimo” – culminates in a thoroughly extraordinary rendition of “Eyes of a Cloudcatcher“, which pushes many over the edge completely – Arnór and myself included. It’s been a very long time since the sheer power of music has brought me to, and beyond, the point of tears. Hell, even this same set at Euroblast didn’t quite manage that when I saw it last year.
As the set ends and the somewhat dazed crowd files back outside, I’m decidedly not in the party mood, so I slip away to a quiet corner of the campsite to process what has happened. Emotions are complex and capricious, so I don’t want to end this section with ‘acoustic Agent Fresco will make you cry’, because even that expectation can be enough to stop that happening. All I know is that set, at that time and in that place, spoke more deeply, more profoundly to me than probably any performance I’ve ever seen before. And I’ve seen a lot. It was an extraordinary and surprisingly cathartic experience, and one I am sure to remember vividly for years to come. I can’t really give any higher praise than that.
3pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Top to bottom: Chris Mackrill; Joe Dahner; Josh Catchpole
One of my picks coming into the festival, Liverpudlian quartet F·O·E·S are forced to being about 10 minutes late thanks to the overrun of Agent Fresco’s set. Nevertheless, they set about impressing the assembled and emotionally touched influx with gusto; their set is mainly drawn from brand new EP Antecedence – released only two days previously – and they strike up with a couple of the more energetic numbers, like “This Is Kingdom Come“, early on to draw in the punters. Moving into the more introspective “El Penumbra” and “No Sleepers Verse” towards the middle, the EP’s first single “Rival Thrones” sits at the peak and is a real delight as always; all big hooks, big chorus, and big payoff.
On a weekend where low end, rhythm and brutality is in abundance, it’s a real breath of fresh air to have a band like F·O·E·S breaking things up in a startling manner. The size of the effects pedals goes some small way to explaining the gorgeous tones they put out, but there are tangible inflections of passion the band put into their songs, and in comes across well in their performance.
Always a pleasure to listen to, frontman Chris Mackrill’s voice is record-perfect too; strong and emotionally resonant throughout.
Whilst unflashy in terms of technicality, F·O·E·S are something of a tonic to the punishing nature of some of the weekend’s heavier bands, and we hope they made some new fans.
Press To Meco
3:30pm, Main Stage
Top to bottom: Lewis Williams; Luke Caley; Adam Roffey
With probably the most perfectly timed set of the festival, Press To Meco‘s irrepressibly perky anthems are exactly what I need to shake the last threads of melancholy from my hair post-Fresco and bring me back into the party mood.
The young trio, with Luke and Adam’s mic stands spaced far apart, do look just a little lost on the sizeable main stage, but they fill the room with big choruses, choppy riffs and their trademark, flawlessly executed harmonies. To call the band tech metal would probably be stretching the already broad definition too far, but they were welcomed into the Tech Fest family with an after-party performance last year and the punters have turned out in force to watch them.
Press To Meco virtually leak star potential, and their crisp songwriting is backed up by how much fun they’re clearly having. Guitarist Luke is also developing a neat line in amusing between-song banter, asking the crowd to confirm that they all have heads and necks before inviting them to nod them, and giving “Autopsy” a full-bore death metal introduction despite the song being anything but.
Press To Meco’s pop sensibilities and fresh faces make their periodic bursts of heaviness all the more startlingly potent, and still a bit of a surprise despite having seen them a number of times now. With the morning’s rain showers having now cleared, they provide a near-perfect soundtrack to a sunny festival afternoon. If they carry on this trajectory – and new song, “Means To An End” suggests that won’t be a problem – it surely can’t be long before they will be playing to much, much bigger crowds than this one. Great fun.
4pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Alas, Borders also fall victim to our lackadaisical Sunday planning, falling between two prime, energetic bands.
Here’s a taste of what we missed: