Chris: One of my most anticipated acts of the weekend, Rolo Tomassi are here almost immediately off the back of recording a new album. This is not their first rumble at Tech Fest; a Sunday evening slot on the second stage back in 2015 was a welcome, revitalising tonic to blast away the end-of-festival fatigue. Even if it wasn’t the best-attended set of the weekend, it was a first chance to see their then recently-released Grievances material in the flesh, which was wonderful.
This afternoon’s set is largely drawn from that record, and the material has undoubtedly been honed over the last two years of touring into the slick performance we see unfold before us. Although not complicated in the notey fashion of many of Tech Fest’s lineup, Rolo Tomassi’s music expresses its technicality in a more mathy fashion, with shifting tempos, complicated riff patterns, and contrasting styles blending around some of the rawest aggression available, even over a weekend of death metal acts. It’s touched by everything from the blast beats of black metal to the brow-furrowing fury of hardcore, and if nothing else it’s nice to have a different kind of tech to mull over.
What drummer Tom Pitts brings to the band’s sound is of particular note; the precision with which he underpins all that they do is no less powerful than it was first hearing these tunes live two years ago, and allows the frantic guitar work, James’ eerie keys, and the wonderful dichotomy of Eva’s vocal styles to shine. Never forget the importance of competence behind your drumkits, kids.
Thanks to the generally quick pace of their set, there’s time for delving into records both past and future, with “Ex Luna Scientia” – a fan favourite from 2012′s Astraea - dug out early, and then a new song called “Rituals“; a track dripping with emotion that bodes very well for the next record. We hope to see that album very, very soon.
Simon: And so to Hacktivist. It would be fair to say that my attitude to Hacktivist is complex and, at least as far as their recorded output to date is concerned, riddled with disappointments. With that being said, one would have to be stubborn to the point of blindness to deny their potency as a live band. Taking to the big stage in the early evening, this is just about their ideal environment.
Since the release of Outside The Box, Hacktivist haven’t been quite as omnipresent on the live circuit as they were in the years preceding it. Part of this has been down to the departure of bellower Ben Marvin and the installation of his replacement, Jot Maxi. I’m very interested to see, as they launch into their set and the sizeable moshpit kicks into gear in response, what the new guy brings to the party.
With band members chucking themselves all over the stage, it doesn’t take more than a couple of tunes to confirm that the change in personnel is an overwhelmingly positive one. Even with the handicap of inheriting Ben’s lyrics, Jot delivers them with more flair and fire than his predecessor could ever dream of. His scream is meatier, his flow more natural. New song “2 Rotten” also bodes well for the future, showing what he can do with his own lyrics.
Of course, the enduring problems are still there: the over-reliance on both open chugs as punctuation and on the backing track; the unwillingness to deviate from the template laid down very early on; the unimaginative rhythm section; and the fact the most engaging song in the set us still the one they didn’t write themselves.
But, at that point in time, none of that matters in the slightest for the overwhelming majority of this sizeable crowd.In terms of providing the context for party-minded people to bounce around on a well-lubricated Friday evening, waving middle fingers in the air and shouting the occasional anti-establishment slogan, Hacktivist deliver enough to hold my attention for about 25 minutes, which is a lot longer than I expected. What’s more, there are plenty of hints that they’ve taken a few steps towards producing material with a bit more substance. Which, all things considered, is a nice surprise.
Aborted. Photo by Hannah Cole
Chris: I duck my head into main stage support act Aborted, and quickly understand just why they’ve managed to survive for over 20 years and outlast many of their peers. The staging alone – which includes a pair of matching skeletons, lit up inside vertical flight cases – is enough to bring a grin to your face, but the Belgians’ sheer joy is a reflection of the grand old time they’re inciting in a highly participatory crowd.
Fresh from a shredding masterclass earlier this afternoon, Mendel bij de Leij trades off impressive, duelling solos with fellow guitarist Ian Jekelis. An extreme band in every sense, there’s little restraint, with one song after another battling to be the crushiest, grooviest, shreddiest and densest – this is the very definition of technical.
Mendel bij de Leij of Aborted. Photo by Hannah Cole
For many, that this year’s lineup has swung heavily towards death metal was a little off-putting – especially given the proggier nature of previous years – but Aborted vindicate their booking with a commanding display that helps get the festival off to a fun start; something that will ultimately become a theme of the weekend.
We hear from the festival’s production manager Amanda Follit the next day that Aborted and their tour manager had nothing but complimentary things to say about the event, regarding both the crowd reaction and general feel, to the organisation, hospitality and togetherness of Tech Fest’s incredibly professional crew, and call it one of the very best experiences they’ve had in the UK. Considering their longevity, and the festival’s resources compared to some of the country’s larger contemporaries, that’s certainly saying something.
Trevor Strnad of The Black Dahlia Murder. Photo by Hannah Cole
It still feels a little strange that a band of The Black Dahlia Murder‘s stature are here in ‘our’ little aircraft hanger in Nottinghamshire. No discredit to headliners from previous years – all of whom have stood up to the task admirably – but an internationally renowned band who have consistently broken the Billboard 200 top 50 with each of their last 4 albums standing on a Tech Fest stage is a little surreal. It really is testament to how far the team have come.
For their part, they are easily one of the most likable headline acts we’ve seen thus far. When not actually playing, the on-stage banter from and between vocalist Trevor Strnad and guitarist Brian Eschbach is charming, good-natured, and of course generally littered with profanities. This kind of ease only comes with experience, and it’s something the band have in spades.
Brandon Ellis of The Black Dahlia Murder. Photo by Hannah Cole
Recent months have seen me become a convert to the church of The Black Dahlia Murder. Not normally a death metal aficionado, there’s a quality to them that just makes them incredibly satisfying to listen to; records packed with energy and showmanship. This translates completely to their live show, where you’ve the added benefit of this sea of flying limbs, hair and fluids both bodily and alcoholic, marshalled masterfully by Trevor, to add to the controlled chaos.
The set is a crowd-pleasing mix of new and old, with classics like “Nocturnal” and “What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse“ mixed with newer cuts like “In Hell Is Where She Waits For Me” and the ever charming “Raped In Hatred By Vines of Thorn“. Although songs can at times feel like variations on a singular theme, it’s not ever a problem; TBDM’s humour and energy keep their audience entertained for the duration.
By the time we spill out of the main stage for the last time this evening, it’s very much clear to me why The Black Dahlia Murder are so revered, and why they’ve been around as long as they have. That this set was a UK exclusive for 2017 is absolutely to the detriment of the rest of the country who are not here this evening. Well played, Tech Fest.