Here we are again. As I start to write these words, I’m sitting on an almost completely empty train as, barring a short tube ride, the last leg of my journey home from Tech Fest 2017. I’m feeling remarkably chipper, largely thanks to my alcohol-free life, a hotel room for the weekend and having learned lessons from my previous four Tech Fest experiences. I just have a bit of a dull ache in my legs after four days of minimal sitting and my back is staging a minor protest following some ill-advised dancing at last night’s afterparty (but more on that later). If you really fancy it, you can also look back on what I had to say in the immediate aftermath of Tech Fests 13, 14, 15 and 16 for bit of a nostalgia overload.
Tech Fest is now as solid a fixture in my annual calendar as Christmas and International Polar Bear Day, and expectations do funny things to you. I didn’t get massively excited in the lead up to the weekend, and now that it’s over I don’t really feel that sad. I feel content. I feel satisfied. It doesn’t actually feel like all its been that long since Tech Fest 2016, and 2018 will probably arrive before I know it. That thing about time moving faster as you age resonates with me more and more each year. This does not diminish the fact that Tech Fest continues to meet our high expectations. I might not be fizzing with the same type of energy as a 6 year old in the grips of a sugar binge at Disneyland, but we still had an exceptional time. Overall, Tech Fest 2017 for me was less about the thrill of discovery of new bands and more about watching bands I’ve been a fan of for some time all taking a step up, and some of those a whacking great step up.
As is perhaps unsurprising after six years of Tech Fest, real life prevented a noticeable number of regulars from past festivals from attending this year, but the hole they left was filled by an influx of folks joining us in Newark for the first time. The relaxed, open and helpful vibe largely remained intact, which is a stunning testament to the strength and spirit of a community that I am incredibly proud to be a part of. In a number of ways – some of which might not have been visible to many attendees – there was a running theme of triumph over adversity through the weekend, bringing out numerous examples of selflessness and sacrifice. It is amazing what can be achieved when everyone pulls together, and we saw many examples of that this weekend, big and small.
As is customary, I would like to extend our most heartfelt gratitude to the core Production and Stage teams who work astonishingly hard to bring the order that allows us all to have a weekend of carnage for little tangible benefit, along with the army of volunteers who manned gates, handed out cups and did all the things you don’t really think about, but would really notice if they weren’t done. I won’t name names for fear of missing anyone, past the Holy Trinity of Simon Garrod, Amanda Follit and Helen Tytherleigh, but without the crew running the show, we’d just be a loose collective of internet nerds instead of a fully functioning community. What you have done means more to us than we can properly express.
As is also customary, before I sit down and try and figure out what the fuck I have scribbled in my trusty notepad while watching a grand total of thirty eight bands, here’s a collection of selected highlights and observations from the weekend. As is also also customary, this is obviously drawn from my experience alone, so if there’s something that really sticks out in your sun-baked memories that isn’t here, please pop it in the comments for posterity.
* Thursday night saw the site visited by a fully Biblical thunderstorm that, supposedly, delivered three months of rain in one hour. As well as giving some only just erected tents a most thorough drenching, it came perilously close to shutting down the show completely as water invaded the sheds holding the stages in sudden and gigantic quantities. I happened to be stood in the central shed, holding the merch stands and bar when the gutters running down both walls over-flowed, unleashing cascades down the walls and over the painstakingly laid out merch displays. ‘All hands on deck’ was a most appropriate phrase, and the largely unspoken joint efforts meant that everyone escaped with minimal consequences. The weather then smiled on us for the rest of the weekend. Maybe one year we’ll have to endure a full weekend Wet Fest, but on the evidence of Thursday, we’ll manage just fine.
* The full, unmitigated horror of the Tech Fest branded mankini. There is just one in existence, and let’s hope it stays that way. My eyes.
* The return to site, after two years of absence, of the absolute force of nature that is Drewsif Stalin and his band. It’s very hard not to have a good time in the man’s presence, on-stage or in the campsite.
Drewsif Stalin – photo by Hannah Cole
* A whole array of moshpit antics, including two particular individuals who really stood out for me; One chap with an extended wardrobe of glittery outfits that one might have expected to see more at a funk and soul weekender than in a tech-death pit, and a young lady who brought some much needed femininity and expression to an arena usually dominated by testosterone and thoughtlessness. All-inclusive moshpits? Only at Tech Fest.
* Discovering just how many times one man can lose and rediscover his big red ‘I love Aruba’ cup. It’s an awful, awful lot.
* After finding out that the security guards who arrived on site wouldn’t have known a metal festival from a packet of biscuits, and so had no idea what to do when the crowdsurfers started appearing, or it seems how to do very much at all except sit in a chair playing Candy Crush, some of the burlier punters sacrificed their weekend’s debauchery to man the crowd barriers and make sure that everyone made it through in one piece. And not just one big flat piece. These guys were total heroes, and my standard vantage point allowed me to watch them work. If you didn’t know the back story, you’d never have known these guys hadn’t been working as a unit for years. Legends. Big, hairy, muscly legends.
* Exist Immortal‘s Mikey Gee borrowing vocalist Meyrick’s ego ramp for his solo in their set closer “Follow Alone“, a perfect little moment of showmanship.
* Several reminders that Tech Fest crowds can actually clap in time, even to a waltz.
* That waltz came in the middle of Igorrr‘s set, which blew what was left of a great many minds early on Sunday evening. Including my own. God only knows how I’m going to write that one up.
* An epic battle for the ages in the middle of the Textures set, featuring a T-Rex and a Flamingo. Props to the two ladies with the inflatables for playing along and to Textures vocalist Daniel for seeing them in the crowd and conceiving the battle. That T-Rex was also seen crowdsurfing during Novena‘s set, but more on that in a moment.
* Carcer City headlined the second stage last year, and brought a set to the main stage this year worthy of the main stage of Download. These guys deserve to be massive; their dues have been firmly paid.
Carcer City – by Hannah Cole
* Ex-Monasteries vocalist Jack Kinsey popping up on stage during Harbinger’s set for possibly the world’s shortest guest appearance. One guttural growl and out. But, bloody hell, what a growl.
* In a similar vein, Obscura vocalist Steffen gleefully shouting “Sing along!” before unleashing another truly ungodly vocal emission.
* Watching a toddler with an enormous grin and the most adorable little ear defenders enjoy Oni‘s set. Perhaps it was the electronic xylophone. And, let’s face it, who doesn’t like fluffy mallets?
* Seeing a circle pit whirl around a video cameraman and The Colour Line‘s Sam Rudderforth during what will be their final Tech Fest appearance, and almost their last ever show. We love those guys, and the raw, visceral energy they bring to the stage. And to the speaker stacks. And practically any other surface that will support their weight. I’ll say this here and only once: don’t break up, you fucking fannies.
* A Trust Unclean still bringing their patented brand of groovy filth, despite the inconvenience of losing their drummer barely two weeks ago. Well done to fill-in Steve Padley; that was a hell of a hill to climb.
* A whole bunch of bands we’ve been following for some time delivered barnstorming (shedstorming?) sets: Core of iO, Shattered Skies, Hieroglyph, Valis Ablaze, Harbinger, Exist Immortal and A Trust Unclean. It’s been a pleasure watching you guys grow.
I can hear my bathtub starting to call my name, but before I go and soak my aging bones there are just two more special people I’d like to mention, if you’ll indulge me.
Mike Malyan with Novena bassist Moat Lowe – photo by Hannah Cole
The first is Disperse drummer Mike Malyan. Mike has almost certainly played more sets on Tech Fest’s stages than any other individual, having been seen in action with Monuments, The Algorithm, Disperse, Skyharbor in 2013, Plini in 2015, various superjams, and probably more I’m forgetting. This year, he was due to take his place behind the kit for two sets, the first with Maxi Curnow and the second with Novena. A sudden and severe medical problem rendered him unable to physically drum, just hours before his set with Maxi. For anyone else, this would have meant the instant end for those two sets, but not for Mike. Cobbling together a rig from borrowed equipment, Mike provided drums for these two sets sat instead behind a Midi keyboard, triggering drum samples. I know the technique has been used in the studio before, but to my knowledge it’s never been done onstage with literally no time to rehearse the new method. But it really worked, and had you sat on the floor, unable to see the stage, you really wouldn’t have known. An absolute triumph of dedication, determination, imagination and a frankly indecent amount of talent. We all salute you, Mike, get well soon.
Harrison White, far right – photo by Hannah Cole
The second is Novena mastermind, professional weirdo and all-round good egg Harrison White. Outside of the production team, Harrison effectively embodied the spirit of Tech Fest 2017. On top of the spectacular Sunday afternoon Novena set (including the tribulations of Mike’s condition above) and encouraging a weapons-grade level of silliness out of the crowd for the purposes of a video, he gave a lecture on how to behave in rehearsal, marshalled the superjam, led the masses in a late-night ‘wonky jam’ of random campsite instruments, helped instigate a special camping group for newbies and solo campers, and treated the whole thing as a great big splendid game. Again, I’m probably forgetting some aspects of his astonishingly busy weekend. Seemingly indefatigable in his good-humour and relentless friendliness, his seemingly infinite reserves of energy are a slightly exhausting inspiration for us all. We salute you too, Harrison, stay as splendid and as utterly hatstand as you are, you magnificent bastard.
Right. Now I must step away from the laptop and plunge into something warm and wet. Let’s hope it’s a bath. Stay tuned for some more detailed thoughts, musings and memories of what went down on the stages of Tech Fest 2017, and mark your diaries now for 2018. It’ll be here before you know it.