Chris: Although our ‘Blurry First Look‘ recap in the immediate aftermath of Tech Fest every year is a lot of fun to put together, it barely scratches the surface in terms of what the 67-odd acts achieve over the weekend – which is why, if you were on site and happened to glance at the spot on the far side of each room’s entrance, a small way back from the front, you might have spotted myself or Simon scribbling furiously into a hardback notebook.
We do this for several reasons: one is habit. It’s very difficult to attend the amount of gigs we do without analysing what you see, and for our own parts, it certainly helps formulating a cogent opinion. Another is to give bands – particularly those taking early steps in their careers – an impartial pair of eyes and ears with regard to feedback on their stage show. But most of all? We just love gushing, preferably in as many words as we can muster, about those acts that make you pull appreciative and very ugly faces when they do Something Sick. You know the ones.
Be that as it may, getting set up for a weekend of gurning and vigorous neck-aerobics takes a little bit of time – tents to peg; suncream to apply and subsequently wash out of your eyes; and for us as festival wristband sponsors, a stand in the main hall to set up – so it’s just as well that Tech Fest’s customary Early Bird Thursday allows for a breather between bands. Today there’s one an hour, on the hour, for half an our, running on the Gigantic Stage only – and I somehow still fail to see a meaningful portion of a set until early evening, so I’ll pass over to my partner in crime to relay the day’s first few bands.
Simon: As is now standard practice, it takes me a little over an hour from getting my wristband at the gate to work my way through the many and various familiar faces wrestling with their tents in the campsite and find my way to the stage. This means that my first band of the festival is London-based quintet Sentience.
Things are really coming together for Sentience. They’ve been hitting the London circuit hard, so this afternoon’s set is the third time I’ve seen them this year, and they have also just secured a spot at Bloodstock through the Metal 2 The Masses competition. Putting on a considerably more confident performance than they did on this very stage two years ago, it’s not hard to see why they were successful: their melodic yet muscular prog-metal ticks all the right boxes, with Stuart’s vocals and Ollie’s slap-happy bass giving their sound a distinctive twist. There are plenty of satisfying moments, including a particularly Tool-esque passage, but they don’t quite add up into truly memorable songs. Yet, on the evidence presented here, we won’t have long to wait for them. Definitely ones to watch, and they are rewarded with a very respectably sized crowd that largely stays inside the incredibly toasty shed to watch.
Parisians Frctrd are next to take the stage, which is appropriate as they will be spending the next week or so on the road with Sentience. There are no vowels in their name, and not much subtlety in their sound. Again, there are some nice moments, including some particularly crushing, dead slow beatdowns, however the guitars and drums often fail to really lock together, perhaps due to the drummer’s propensity to slightly overplay, leaving the net result rather scrappy and underwhelming.
We arrive to watch our friends in Core of iO confident of witnessing something memorable, but were not anticipating having our retinas seared with the image of a reveller sporting the only Tech Fest branded mankini in existence. Yikes. All we can say is that we hope this isn’t a trend that catches on – but at least we have Core of iO to distract us from the horrors lurking in the front row.
I’ve watched Core of iO play at least half a dozen times in the last eighteen months alone, so I have a good idea what we’re going to get. This also gives me my best chance yet to properly judge the sound quality in the sheds this year. Pleasingly, it seems to have continued its upward trend into our fourth trip to Newark, and the intricacies of Core of iO’s upbeat and deceptively twiddly sound cut through cleanly.
The band play a selection of their best tracks from right across their back catalogue of EPs and singles, making it an ideal introduction for any unfamiliar punters. Bassist Gareth is significantly more animated than usual, making good use of the larger than average stage, and his backing vocals are sounding more and more confident. In a bold move, the band end their set with a brand new tune, “Stuck“, lifted from the next EP in their running series which is due to drop by the end of the year. Naturally, it’s a lot to take in on first listen, but seems to be a bit less complex than the Callisto songs, and features a bass-led verse. Core of iO confirm they are capable of doing Very Clever Things in a playful manner, without it sounding cheesy or contrived. They’ll certainly be touring to support their new material when it drops, and you should probably keep a space in your diary for one if those dates.
The Royal have made their way over from Eindhoven, and their arrival onstage immediately ups the tempo and aggression. Playing at the hardcore end of the metalcore spectrum, their set brings to mind memories of Promethee‘s set here a couple of years ago. With the sun (for now) baking the roof of the shed, the temperature continues to soar, making me feel particularly sorry for The Royal’s drummer given the level of exertion these songs demand of him.
The Royal have a collection of big, chunky songs, but ultimately it’s not really anything we haven’t heard dozens of times before. A request for a circle pit gets about a dozen takers, but around halfway through the set, I’ve seen enough and seek some respite from the heat in a shady spot outside.
We return to the stages to catch Tech Fest veterans Shattered Skies return for their fourth appearance at the festival. Reflecting the internal changes the band have undergone over the years, each of those appearances has been with a slightly different line-up. This year’s change comes in the form of new bassist, Chris, whose position in the band is confirmed shortly after the festival.
With (relatively) new vocalist Gerry comfortably installed and Chris holding his own, Shattered Skies run through some favourites from 2015′s album The World We Used To Know and January’s Auxilium, Vol.1 EP for a very respectably sized crowd. That crowd also marked the first appearance of a T-Rex costume that became a fixture of crowd shots and had a rather larger part to play in the weekend as a whole – but we’ll get to that later. Much later.
Surprisingly, “15 Minutes” – the song which has served as Shattered Skies’ calling card – is absent from the set, but their bombastic sound is tailor-made for larger spaces like this. They play us a new tune, “Shut In”, which is suitably driving and features some warehouse rave-style keyboard lines and backing growls from guitarist Ian. With their tappy, slappy theatrics, Shattered Skies might have been in danger of painting themselves into a corner, but the introduction of these less familiar elements to the new tune bodes well for the future.
Follow through to the next page for our thoughts on The Arusha Accord, Chelsea Grin, and some impromptu improv act called Three Months Of Rain In On Hour – as well as the first night’s grungy afterparty acts, My Bitter Half, Musica Masonica, and Conjurer!