With Early Bird Thursday out of the way, things really begin to ramp up on Friday, which, as is customary, sees the schedule tighten to that there is rarely a point at which a band is not playing, yet still allowing for you to watch absolutely everyone, if you’re able.
On paper, Friday looks a well-balanced mix of weedly prog and gurn-inducing heaviness; plenty for all. Here’s what we thought of (almost) everyone:
All photos by Evie Murphy.
12pm – Hands On Printing Stage
Despite the customary heavy Thursday night partying, there’s a healthy turnout for Londoners Zephyr, who are first up. They’re clearly very happy to be here, and that translates into the palpable energy with which they perform their technical hardcore.
It’s not overly fancy, but it pops well enough, drawing ever more punters through the doors, and most tellingly, the crowd holds until the end of the set – although this is a brief twenty minutes after starting, opting not to use their full slot of thirty.
A new track is by far the strongest, throwing Chimp Spanner-esque leads over some weighty riffs, and this perhaps the biggest takeaway; if their new stuff is the best, they’re probably at least worth a second look if you get the chance.
12:30pm – Carillion Guitars Stage
Harrison White, Ross Jennings, Moat Lowe and William Young
Novena have the dubious honour of being the first band to play on the main stage this year – yet for a band playing their first ever show, with no previously released music, there are an awful lot of people here to see it.
There are a number of reasons why such a large proportion of the campsite has gotten their shit together in time to catch this debut performance – not least number of familiar faces taking part in the show. The project is has been a labour of love over a number of years for Harrison White, who led the impromptu covers set during last night’s afterparty, and stood in as No Sin Evades His Gaze’s second guitarist on this very stage last year. He’s also joined by NSEHG’s bassist Moat Lowe and guitarist Dan Thornton. The harsh vocals were recorded by Gareth Mason, previously of Slice The Cake, but are performed today by Clockwork’s (and The Monolith’s) William Young. Oh, and the clean vocals are provided by Ross Jennings, who sings for some band called Haken - you might have heard of them.
Novena break the tension of playing their first show together in these circumstances by announcing “Hello, we are Novena. This is our last song.” Because, you see, their debut EP, Secondary Genesis, is a single, solid thirtyminutes of music, broken more into movements than songs. Obviously, the phrase ‘single, solid 30 minutes of music’ means but one thing: prog odyssey – and what a journey Novena take us on. There’s what we can probably refer to now as a ‘mid-period Opeth’ vibe throughout, as the arrangements twist and turn through heavy riffing, occasional four-part harmonies and spacious, dreamy passages.
Harrison divides his time between guitar and keyboard as the mood dictates, with Ross and William hanging back or leaving the stage entirely during lengthier instrumental sections. Drummer Cameron Spence is seen wearing a huge smile throughout, and rightly so; the composition is just absurdly mature, and they draw on the collected experience of all members to deliver a remarkably assured debut performance.
Culminating a thoroughly triumphant outro, Novena’s set is met by a huge response from the sizeable early crowd – and again, rightly so. Having quietly worked away, virtually in secret, Novena have emerged practically fully formed and confidently marked out their spot on the prog-metal landscape. Let’s hope they can find time in their various and busy schedules to perform with some regularity.
Make Me A Donut
1pm – Hands On Printing Stage
Nathan Botelho & Valentin Miéville
Possibly one of the best band names of the weekend, Switzerland’s Make Me A Donut are the first band many are seeing while feeling the effects of the Thursday’s customary first night debauchery.
To cut a long story short, they won’t have been feeling sluggish come the end of the half hour. Joining Thursday’s Jonestown set as my favourite discovery of the whole festival, seeing the second stage as packed as it was means I’m probably not the only one.
A performance armed to the teeth with massive riffs, Make Me A Donut throw in these unexpected interludes which prick up the ears like a meerkat looking out for predators, showing just how diverse they are.
To top it off, MMAD are arguably the happiest band of the weekend – and why shouldn’t they be? Forget being one of the best unknowns; they may just be one of the best bands to play Tech Fest 2016 full-stop.
1:30pm – Carillion Guitars Stage
If you somehow missed your morning bacon sandwich then London newcomers (relatively speaking) Harbinger pack more than enough meat to provide your protein fix with a mixture of gurn-worthy riffs and spider-fingered tech.
Guitarist Charlie Griffiths and bassist Kris Aarre are particularly animated, clearly enjoying the decent-sized crowd. Most of the members have been in other bands within the scene at one point or another – other axeman Ben Sutherland was at one time bassist in Acrania, Charlie in Doomed From Day One - and so there are plenty of friends present, but Harbinger have ridiculous crossover appeal and it’s hardly surprising that so many find the prospect of them appealing.
Single “Subsidised Slaughter” brings some absolutely stonking groove and a satisfyingly sanguine solo from Ben, whilst the opening riff of closer “A Fractured World” is a masterclass in tech-death.
The setlist picks itself, seeing them play recent EP Paroxysm front to back. They’ve naught else recorded at present – although EP two is reportedly well, well underway – but there’s more than enough variety to have turned the heads of the crowd, no matter their primary interest; progressive song structures, fretboard acrobatics and fiery attitude, paired with every single member’s remarkably complete delivery, means it’s not hard to imagine Harbinger climbing their way rapidly up the Tech Fest bill in years to come, and deservedly so.
2pm – Hands On Printing Stage
A Night In The Abyss
2:30pm – Carillion Guitars Stage
Josh Hillier, Jack Higgs & Reuben Bescoby
A Night In The Abyss present a welcome shock to the system; in what becomes an increasing regularity, this year’s Tech Fest presents a lot of really, really heavy bands.
The shock to the system they present is a welcome one, if not quite executed as the band would have liked. I fully get what singer Josh Hillier is trying to do: his lows are on point, no complaints there – but when attempting growls on a higher scale, sometimes they don’t quite hit the right heights. You can’t blame a guy for trying though, and the ambition is admirable; it’s no easy feat to say the least.
The true MVP of the performance is guitarist Chris Homer, whose facial expressions alone are a highlight of the whole day itself. If you saw Cyclamen bassist Hitoshi Mizuno last year, you will know what I mean, and Chris is this year’s equivalent, and alone gives Make Me A Donut a run for their money in terms of sheer glee.
3pm – Hands On Printing Stage
Ricky Roper & Chris Keepin
If A Night In The Abyss were heavy, Osiah make them look like a Disney cover band. Undoubtedly the heaviest act of the entire festival, only Frontierer, with their brutal form of insanity, come close; Osiah present an almighty wall of sound like a tsunami made out of riffs and anger.
If you were looking for an event with the same power of two colliding planets, Osiah are the closest thing you could get within the confines of a shed meant for showing off your prize-winning sheep (made more true by engraved hoof print on the floor).
Granted that this isn’t particularly one for the guitar nerds, but they’re exactly what you’d expect and everything they needed to be; so heavy that even the mighty Zeus couldn’t lift it.
The Hirsch Effekt
3:30pm – Carillion Guitars Stage
Ilja John Lappin
German trio The Hirsch Effekt have been riding high on my list of bands not to miss under any circumstance this weekend. Listening to their third album Holon: Agnosie made me wonder just how they would translate it to the stage with just three of them. The answer came swiftly: with incredible success.
Opening with “Agnosie”, the band cram angular, dirty grooves, Dillinger-level franticness and a thoroughly grandiose chorus into seven minutes. The intelligent, invigorating songs are practically bursting with good ideas and their decision to stick with their native German for the lyrics also lends the songs an extra twist to ears so accustomed to hearing English.
With sudden diversions into unexpected territory, like bossa-nova, they manage to generate a sensation that practically anything could happen at the next change in these surprisingly long compositions. Guitarist Nils Wittrock covers as much of the stage as he can during the instrumental sections of the songs, making his way down to the barrier and up onto the backline before dashing back to the mic, and John’s thick basslines fill out the sound, which is further embellished with orchestral flourishes on the backing track.
Fundamentally, The Hirsch Effekt have taken a whole bundle of familiar elements, and rearranged them into a hitherto unseen configuration. This is what ‘progressive’ should really be all about. It’s hugely compelling, and the half hour set passes in what feels like moments, which is a sure sign that you have been well entertained. Outstanding.