Tech Fest 2015 review: Early Bird Thursday
So Tech Fest is over for another year. Hopefully you caught our prompt post-fest rundown last week, but as promised, we’ve a whole lot of words to get out about pretty much every single one of the bands over the weekend.
As is customary, we’re breaking it down by day. With no further gilding of the lilly, we present to you Tech Fest Day One: Early Bird Thursday:
All photos for Thursday by the wonderful Hannah Cole. Check out her photography work here.
1:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Opening a festival is an incredibly daunting task, and one that this year falls to London progressive four-piece Sentience. Featuring a bassist with the first of many daunting hairdos of the weekend, they start a little nervously, but certainly grow into the set after a couple of songs. Indeed, Ollie’s temperament begins to match his locks, as he gets bounces around the stage with entertaining exuberance; definitely what you need to kick things off.
They’re perhaps a little less urgent that they could be musically, with some sections meandering or taking a while to get to the point. Drummer Oscar in particular is shown up a little by this year’s drastically improved sound, but there’s some tightening they could do all round in terms of songwriting. A promising start, nevertheless.
2:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
This is the sixth or seventh time we’ve collectively seen Kiwis Agent since they moved to the UK a couple of years ago. Normally to be found projecting an aura of moody brilliance, they feel a little lack-lustre today. It’s not unexpected – we’ve often found that the second band of whichever day suffers from poor turn-out – and the band’s hybrid of elements of progressive metal and grunge may also be just a little bit too gentle for a campsite that is firmly in the mood to party.
However, hearing familiar material being played does confirm that the quality of sound on the second stage has taken a big step up this year compared to 2014, which both bodes well for the weekend as a whole and makes the choice cuts from Agent’s 2013 album Kingdom of Fear sound as good as they ever have, and new single “Death In The Afternoon” much beefier than its recorded version. It’s also a bit of a pity that there is not more new material on offer, but today’s show is also only the third with new drummer Dean, who seems to have slotted comfortably into his role.
3:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
London quintet Brutai are the first band of the weekend to pull a reasonably sized crowd up to the crowd barrier for their set. The band have been making considerable progress over the last year or so, sounding and looking more confident every time I see them perform. This afternoon is no exception, and their chunky, melodic modern metal lends itself well to the acoustics of the room.
The band are performing with stand-in bassist Christian, whose assured performance utterly masks the fact that he only had a fortnight to learn the set. Certainly, anybody unaware of the brevity of his time with the band would be unlikely to pick it up from the show itself. Impressive stuff.
In between songs, in a set comprised of the majority of their 2013 self-titled EP and their forthcoming album’s lead single “Relapse“, the band throw assorted items of merch out into the crowd, including t-shirts and copies of the EP. It’s a neat trick to keep people in front of the stage, but judging by the general reaction, most people didn’t need much persuasion.
Drummer Mathieu struggles a little with a misbehaving cymbal stand that doesn’t appear to want to stay upright for love nor money, and at times keyboardist Alex’s backing vocals sit a little too high in the mix, but neither of these issues seem to impact on the set to any great degree. Alex and vocalist Felix have clearly been working on their harmonies, and they too sound even better than they have in the past.
Having seen the band play at least half a dozen times in the last year, I might be suffering from a slight sense of over-exposure to this set, but closing song “Flood” sets almost every head in the place nodding. In half an hour, Brutai reminded their existing fanbase how much they are progressing, brought new fans into the fold and stoked anticipation for the album they are in the process of recording. Mission accomplished, I would say.
4:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Like The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza in black, late replacements Monasteries deliver the heaviest set of the day. A wall of sound, served up by a forest of strings, they’re dense. Very dense.
Unfortunately, as a result of this, much of the intricacy is lost; there’s a clearly a lot going on, but with the thunderous goings on of the low end, you can’t really tell unless you’re watching carefully.
But this isn’t really why you listen to a band like Monasteries; you watch them for the face-contorting, gurn-inducing rhythm, the violent pace, and the sense-assaulting vocals – and they have all that in spades. Frontman Jack Kinsey is a bulldozer of aggression; a rottweiler at the gates.
Ultimately, it does sometimes feel like an exercise in “how slow can you go?” with the lack of high-end variation, but it is quite well received, and the first mosh pits of the weekend break out as various interested parties and just-arriving punters sidle in to see what all the racket is about.
5:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Another big crowd greets Shattered Skies for their third appearance on a Tech Fest stage, on an early bird bill stocked to the gills with a core of returning favourites. The decision by the festival to cover the skylights in the roofs of the sheds holding the stages is already being vindicated, with the enhanced lighting rig coming into its own and providing a ‘proper’ gig atmosphere, despite the sun still riding high in the sky outside.
I recall that it was their set at Tech Fest 2013 that saw my first exposure to fan favourite “15 Minutes“, and two years on there’s still nothing else quite like its irrepressibly swung groove; equally heavy and theatrical. The band are all on fine form, and singer Sean especially so. I can’t quite work out if the half mic-stand that he seems to be making his trademark is a Freddie Mercury-ism too far, or a stroke of genius, but he does seem to make it work. Certainly, it solves the conundrum of what to do with his hands – something with which many frontmen struggle.
Sadly, there is no brand new material in the set, but “Haunted” from The World We Used To Know, finally released earlier this year after at least two years in gestation, gets a successful first live outing. I understand that the band are working on a follow-up album, so hopefully we won’t have to wait quite as long for that.
For a band that actually perform relatively infrequently, their live show is both tight and assured, with all members looking comfortable onstage. There’s a danger that the bombast that Shattered Skies bring to both their songwriting and performance could descend into something of a cheesefest, but the high quality and evident sincerity keep them on the right side of that particular line.
The set ends with “The End and the Rebirth“, which neatly wraps up everything that is unique about Shattered Skies’ tunes in one four minute package; it’s perky and melodic, but also rammed with deft technical flourishes and a surprising heaviness. I’m certainly left with the impression that if the band spent a bit more time on the road than they do now, they would very quickly find themselves playing to ever bigger audiences.
6:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Between two or three of us here, we’ve seen young Londoners Exist Immortal more times than we can count by this point. Since breaking into our collective consciousness a couple of years ago, the five piece have released an EP and an album – the sublime Darkness Of An Age from last year – but more pleasingly than all, they get better every time we see them, and have polished their live show to the point where all they can really do is add more sparkly lights and banners to their stage – they’re that good. Tech Fest actually takes care of the lighting today, adding to the spectacle further.
Notable by omission is original guitarist Tom Montgomery, who recently left the band to pursue life behind a camera, but fill-in James Hewitt has slotted in pretty seamlessly and fits in with a group that has worked damn hard to be this good.
Par example: frontman Meyrick. Half way between Grizzly Adams and SOMETHING, his command of the crowd is easy – but it’s his actual performance – powerful and precise – that is of particular merit.
Recent-ish addition Charlie behind the kit is another revelation. He’s really elevated the band on a technical and performance level since joining, and works in perfect tandem with the ultra-talented David on bass. Chunky doesn’t even cover it.
The songs from Darkness Of An Age, now permanently ingrained in our neck muscles, sound muscular and beefy. Pleasingly, the crowd is pleasantly large for only the sixth band of the weekend, and highly responsive. It’s great to see, as we’re beginning to see the next waves of the scene solidifying their craft for the years to come. It’s awesome to see it coming together.
Red Seas Fire
7:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Red Seas Fire are the first of a small clutch of bands to have put in an appearance at all four Tech Fests to date, and just like their 2012 set in Alton, their early evening slot represents something of a milestone event for the quartet. 2012 saw the band saying farewell to guitarist Nolly after he answered the call to play bass for Periphery, and 2015 sees both bassist Jon and guitarist Pete treading the boards for the final time.
There’s clearly a lot of love in the room for the band amongst the biggest crowd so far, and the first legitimate pit action that I witness of the weekend. Almost inevitably, the band tear through a ‘greatest hits’ set, with a selection of tracks from right across their repertoire, even reaching back for a track pre-dating the trio of EPs that have neatly tracked their progression as a quartet over the last three years.
The band are clearly giving it everything they have, and Robin’s voice cracks a little between songs, but he still hits his clean notes comfortably. Robin also confirms that he and drummer Jake will be keeping the band alive, and Pete will remain involved in a more ‘behind-the-scenes’ capacity. During the final song of the set, Pete leaves the stage to play from the pit, surrounded by friends and fans alike.
Once again, Tech Fest has provided the backdrop for the ending of another chapter in Red Seas Fire’s career. A fitting send off for the departing members and a timely reminder of the growth in the band’s proposition over the last couple of years. As they leave the stage, I certainly find myself hoping that they can find new members capable of filling the now vacant slots and continue to build on the foundations they have worked so hard to lay.
8:00pm, Hands On Printing Stage
The truly defining moments of Tech Fest are generally defined by the entire campsite emptying to watch one act or another. Normally there’s some buzz around the tents, whoever’s on, but you know something special’s going down when everyone drowns tinnies, zoots and Nerf guns and heads over to the stages.
Aussie import Plini is the first of these acts this weekend. A guitarist and composer of some considerable skill, he’s become a bit of a favourite of the UK Tech Metal Facebook group – the scene’s quasi-official forum – and so there’s a lot of good feeling in the room from the off. Elevating that feeling even more is the presence of a couple of the scene’s favourite personnel: drummer Mike Malyan has played more Tech Fest sets than anyone else over the years – every year so far with Monuments, at least a couple with The Algorithm, various super jams, and I believe a stint or two helping out Uneven Structure and Skyharbor. Joining the fun is Jakub Zytecki; Polish guitar wizard and member of festival favourites DispersE.
Along with bassist Simon Grove, who’s travelled along with Plini, there’s word that the four have only had two four-hour practice sessions together – but you’d never be able to tell. Simon and Mike work in perfect unison, trading off beats, gorgeous tone and wonderfully constructed lines.
The man himself plays with a graceful ease, eyeing the stage and assembled crowd around him almost lazily – and always with a cocked smile. The songs themselves sound fantastic; drawn mainly from his ‘Things’ trilogy of EPs, they’re jammed out with expert virtuosity. Jakub often takes his turn in the limelight, making his impressive fretboard histrionics look easier than eating cake.
The good feeling across the room comes to a peak prior to penultimate track “Away“. A prolonged bout of applause and whooping encapsulates just what makes this festival so special: that a guy from thousands of miles away can come to a field in Northamptonshire and find hundreds of people into his strange – by popular standards, anyway – music and be received with such warmth is testament to this unique community.
Honestly, this could have been the headline set of the night. As it is, they had to set up for the main act of the night, but everyone could have left it at that and been more than happy. Here’s hoping Plini can come back again soon.
9:30pm, Hands On Printing Stage
Setting the mood with a trip hop tune to warm up the crowd, Early Bird headliners Hacktivist burst on to the stage, beginning their evening with 2014 single “False Idols“, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Their stage presence is forceful and full of attitude as usual. ”Hacktivist” and “Unlike Us” turn the crowd into a flurry of bodies under Ben Marvin and Jay Hurley’s command, and it’s evident that Hacktivist’s experience of handling large crowds – thanks to their relentless touring – shines in these moments.
They pack their set with most of their well known tunes from their EP (bar “Cold Shoulders,” surprisingly). Only one new song makes an appearance: a slightly more melodic number called “No Way Back“,; a fleeting glimpse of unreleased material, that featuring a sung chorus from guitarist Timfy James.
They do, however, add another cover to their repertoire. Their well known take on “Niggas In Paris” is joined by “I Got Five On It“ by Luniz which, while not exactly a new song, is a refreshing addition to a set that has done the rounds over the last few years.
Having Hacktivist back at the festival is a nostalgic way to show how the festival has also grown since its humble beginnings in Alton, and stands as testament to how much the scene has developed. Given how much they have been exposed to the mainstream media, it’s also a nice reminder that not everyone has to stay on the fringes.
As with last year, once the headliners have finished their set, late-night proceedings shift to the Double Slit stage, home during the day to a variety of workshops, talks and masterclasses from a wide variety of esteemed and learned folks. This year, the collection of acts and attractions to the afterparties follow a broad theme each night – and Thursday night is slam night.
The setting is a little peculiar, though. A tiny stage set in a cavernous space, albeit moved away from the windows that constitute an entire wall of the building this year, with no form of stage lighting other than the lights of the shed itself and nothing running through the PA other than the vocals, not even the kick drum. Not really ideal gig conditions, I’m sure you’ll agree.
This does not, however, deter Bicester’s premiere deathcore unit A Trust Unclean from doing their very best to level the building completely. Mingling older tracks with choice cuts from their upcoming EP Reality Relinquished, they entertain a pretty sizable crowd that’s definitely up for a first night party, and a bit of a windmill. Lead single “Perverse Agenda” even gets the weariest of heads properly banging. With some seriously impressive drumming and those trademarked, punishingly brutal grooves, their set is both pulverising and a tremendous amount of fun.
Certainly, the set has me properly excited for A Trust Unclean’s EP launch show, due to take place at Camden’s Black Heart on August 2nd. They will be joined that night by Osiah, who also make an appearance here tonight. One of the drawbacks of the enormous space in which the stage is set is that unless you are pushed right up against the barrier, the sound doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. For Osiah’s set, I stand just outside the shed and from that vantage point, it does sound like the world is coming to an end with some Black Tongue-esque slow-motion beatdown, so I resolve to pay much closer attention in the tighter confines of the Black Heart next month.
Rounding off the night is a somewhat peculiar set from London’s Acrania. Following the abrupt cancellation of a headline tour that was due to take place in the week running up to Tech Fest, the show was also billed as the final appearance of bassist Ben Sutherland and guitarists Jack Simmons and Sam Baker – however the band take to the stage in the early hours as a four-piece, with Jack completely absent.
The band seem to be hampered by the set-up even more than the preceding two acts. This was particularly the case for drummer Jake Hadley, because playing at blast-speeds on a tiny, un-mic’d kit rendered the majority of what he was doing utterly inaudible – and considering the real fulcrum of the efficacy of slam is in volume, their sound is fundamentally eviscerated.
But nevertheless, the band plough through their set, and the pit is a constant hive of activity. However, when it becomes impossible to tell who is dancing with sincerity and who is larking about, one does have to wonder quite where this type of moshpit action is going. Either way, people seem to be having an awful lot of fun.
Oddly, vocalist Luke Martin chooses to say very little about the departing members – only that the band would be going away for a while, but as it transpired, the band posted an RIP message on social media just a few days later, making the set a very strange swansong for a band highly regarded in death/slam circles.
Check back at a later date for reviews of Friday, Saturday and Sunday!