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Tech Fest 2014: Day Three

By the time Saturday rolled round, we felt like old hands. Literally – after our previous night’s exploits and dropping waaay after our bedtime, the old bones were aching a bit. A restorative shower and energy drink on my part (7am’s the one, as you miss the queues and the accompanying poopers from across the way) and we’re back ready for Saturday, which promised even more tech, even more metal, and also something a bit different with the much-anticipated arrival of acoustic virtuoso Jon Gomm.

Photos once again from the wonderful KTcroft Photography!


12pm, Second Stage

Time to reach for the stars, and check out the delights of Mancunian ambient tech-metallers Orion. Striking out with a heaviness that belies their astronomical name, the quintet completely own the stage; particularly guitarist Ryan Robb who is clad in a Death Grips t-shirt and spins around like a maniac.

The music itself is infectious, drawing from older TesseracT and Circles in its ambient and melodic twists, with a capacity to hit hard with a punch when required. Phil Owen stands out with his well-developed vocals, both harsh and clean contained within his powerful lungs such as in “Illusions”.

Despite the serious nature of the music, Orion clearly have a sense of humor, as the spoken word intro to one track demonstrates: the ‘dicks, assholes and pussies’ clip from Team America leaves both band and audience members smirking as the track kicks in.

As their set rounds out, it’s impossible not to feel compassion for poor drummer Nath Mcleish, who by this point has melted into a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing puddle – albeit a puddle with a smile on his face as the crowd applaud loudly. Mission accomplished; stars reached.

- Mark

The Bellerophon Project

12:30pm, Main Stage

Who doesn’t love a bit of jazz – or should I say djazz? German instrumetalists The Bellerophon Project clearly do, and bassist “Uz” von Hinkelstein clearly also has a healthy love of strings: 9 of them, to be precise. His bass is a monstrosity, and sounds it as well as he slaps and taps his way through the mind-bending material from their Mental Abscess EP with a concentrated look on his face.

He is flanked by guitarists Andreas Schaberer and Ben Reichert, who along with drummer Manuel Lotter are also similarly gifted with their instruments, turning the set into a performance of instrument wizardry which embodies the Tech-Fest spirit. The grooves they hit are compelling, and the audience are soon nodding along in appreciation.

Manuel does most of the talking between songs, appearing both surprised and humble about the warm reception they receive, and it clearly feeds into the energy they pour into their instruments. While obviously not the most visually engaging of shows due to the technical nature of the music, The Bellerophon Project put in a memorable performance nevertheless.

- Mark

Lies Of Nazca

1pm, Second Stage

The little I caught of Italians Lies Of Nazca was a little disorientating, I have to admit. Again, in the 1pm crowd-death slot, there wasn’t a massive gathering, and even arriving late to the set, I was easily able to make my way to the front.

The sound didn’t do them much justice, as much like countrymen Damned Spring Fragrantia – whose t-shirt frontman Matteo Boscolo is wearing – there is a lot going on with the music. All three stringsmen are fairly static throughout as a result, spending most of the set watching their fretboards (although Ivan Vidale does move around a bit, to his credit) so this is perhaps something to work on, so that Matteo is not the sole source of movement. Perhaps it was nerves and the intimidation of playing in a new country for the first time.

I’ve looked into them on record since, as there’s certainly something there, and they’re quite good on record – but very much a genre fan’s band for me.

- Chris


1:30pm, Main Stage

Corby quartet Acoda are more late additions to the bill. They have just been out on tour with Now, Voyager, and it is quickly apparent that the pair of bands will have complemented each other well. Acoda play an angular form of metallic hardcore with some moments of real bite. Both Guitarists and their bassist contribute to some degree to the vocals, which adds to the variety of textures. They pull off some particularly impressive harmonies between them as well, which underscores how well practiced they are.

They put in a strong performance and clearly have a repertoire of strong songs. Whilst not necessarily something I would normally choose to listen to, they definitely hold my attention for the duration of the set. Given the rising temperature in the shed, this is no mean feat. I will not be at all surprised if their name is on the lips of many melodic hardcore fans in the coming months.

- Simon

Now, Voyager

2pm, Second Stage

I was really bummed to miss Now, Voyager as they were one of my picks of the weekend – but alas, I was embroiled in interviews at the time, and the other guys were otherwise engaged, so we have to apologise to NV for dropping the ball there. Next time, guys!

The post-set buzz, as well as the number of their bright blue t-shirts we saw pop up, confirmed that it was probably as good as expected though.

- Chris

Drewsif Stalin

Nikki Simmons Drewsif Stalin - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

2:30pm, Main Stage

Few people personify the phenomenon known as ‘djent’ more completely than Drewsif Stalin. A towering character, literally and metaphorically, his good natured presence has been conspicuous on site all weekend. The punters respond in kind, and he draws in a positively gargantuan crowd for a 2:30 set time.

Having gradually made the transition from bedroom project to a touring unit over the last couple of years, Drewsif and his band run through a set of their slightly more serious material, leaving the bulk of their comedic pop covers for the afterparty show late on Sunday night.

All the requisite hallmarks are there: the syncopated stabs, the low tunings, the Milton Cleans. Nikki Simmons provides some slinky tones over the top. Drewsif mugs, gurns and perpetually throws all manner of preposterous shapes across the stage. Few bands, if any, are so obviously having as much fun onstage as this quartet this weekend. On one of her many trips up to the crowd barrier, Nikki upends a large bottle of water over her head, much to the obvious delight of the chaps in the front row. I’m sure that at least a couple of them will be slipping back to their tents after the set for a good hard think about that particular moment.

Obviously the pair’s cover of “Wrecking Ball” makes an appearance towards the end of the set – which actually marks the very first time I’ve ever heard the song all the way through, either as a cover or in its original form. Drewsif goes on an extended foray right into the heart of the crowd as he plays, posing for selfies as he goes, much to everyone’s delight.

The final instrumental “Deadly Serious” sums up the band perfectly for me. I honestly didn’t find many of the songs from the first part of the set all that memorable – almost a work in progress – but “Deadly Serious” captures Drewsif’s puppyish charm and enthusiasm perfectly. Drewsif and his chums probably aren’t going to win any prizes for originality, but they do what they do with such gusto and playfulness of spirit, it’s hard not to be won over by them, particularly in this setting.

- Simon

Stone Circle

3pm, Second Stage

The problem with following Drewsif Stalin is that, at this time of day it is sweltering and results in a lull in audience numbers. Stone Circle fortunately take it in their stride and deliver a convincing set of progressive and melodic death metal.

Picking up where Opeth left off before they went all prog rock, and with a dash of Gojira‘s technicality injected, the riffs that Joe Ashwin and Tom Skelton concoct range from forceful to fragile, excelling in both styles. Ashwin’s vocals are similarly dichotomous; his harsh snarls trade off marvellously with his more dulcet tones. Meanwhile, drummer Sam Hill bashes on his kit with gusto, and James Pearce’s bass-playing keeps a rock-steady foundation with his bass-playing.

The axemen stay relatively static, which suits the atmosphere; there’s no need for flashy stage presence or garish lights display here, as the music speaks for itself. The half-hour rounds out, the band take a bow and the audience give them a hearty round of applause. A wonderful set from a promising band.

- Mark


Terraform - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

3:30pm, Main Stage

Desperately late additions to the bill, given that Napoleon gave barely 48 hours notice of their non-appearance. The notice was so late, in fact, that Terraform’s drummer was unable to make the trip with them. Programmed drums in the live environment always feel a little bit odd and clinical, but sometimes these things can’t be helped.

Ultimately, this means that the band’s set becomes a neat microcosm of one of the broader problems with the tech/djent scene as a whole: too many guitarists, not enough drummers. There seems to be something of a trend developing for bands sporting three guitarists, but too often the third guitarist is almost entirely redundant, as is the case here. There are few, if any, moments in Terraform’s set where all three are doing different things, which surely has to be the point of having them all. If the only thing an extra guitarist does is bulk out the sound, then the same effect could be achieved with a split signal from one guitar into two amps. The vast majority of the set sees two guitarists playing identical riffs at the bottom of the fretboard, whilst the third adds the de rigueur high-end single note atmospherics.

The songs aren’t particularly exciting and there is no discernable unique selling point. It is perhaps unfortunate that the circumstances that have led to their appearance here today has given them a higher billing than they are really ready for, but nevertheless, there is much more work to be done and a lot more imagination is required before Terraform can be seen as a force to be reckoned with.

- Simon

Maxi Curnow

4:15pm, Second Stage

Not every set manages to go off without a hitch, and it’s shame that it occurs for Maxi Curnow‘s debut gig with STEM, an experimental djent project which has an EP featuring Monuments‘ Mike Malyan on drums.

It was a joy to hear Curnow’s singing; emotive and crystal-clear with occasional harsh moments, it worked perfectly with the music both in mellower and tech-ier moments. Malyan is also a joy to watch as he weaves his way round the kit, while the two guitarists are a little less animated.

Unfortunately, an issue with the monitors impedes the band’s progress, for which Curnow is incredibly apologetic, but soon enough they are underway again, and the rest of STEM’s set plays out wonderfully. Picking up a copy of the EP is highly recommended, not least because of its proceeds going to a charity for an orphanage.:

- Mark


Nexilva - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

5:00pm, Main Stage

North-easterners Nexilva are one of the bands in the scene at the moment whose star is rising fast. From last year’s modest 2:30pm slot, through effectively headlining this year’s London all-day primer, and to being the last act before the evening’s main events, they’ve certainly come a good long way, and are met with a crowd to match.

Festival stages are somewhat different to club shows, and as with various niggles across the weekend, to have such intricate and dense compositions meant they were always in a little bit of anger of not quite coming across as well as they should.

As such, it was a little bit like a case of “Lost Keys (Blame Acoustics)”. With the assault of two guitars and a bass, on top of the absolute battering Connor Jobes gives his drum kit, the delicate and quite essential backing track – which gives the music it’s highs and no small wedge of extra depth – is lost at times, and it’s a real shame. This isn’t to say that they rely on the keys, but it’s certainly something that fans will have missed.

What an onslaught, though. “The Misdirection Of God” has that je ne sais quoi, and throughout it and many others, frontman Gary King is almost demonic in his dynamic delivery.

There are moments of lucidity amongst the madness – some cheeky stops in particular – but some sections are a little bit wanky, and are either lost and feel underwhelming, or feel otherwise superfluous – for me, at least. But this is Tech Fest, of course.

The keys do find their way back to the top for the last couple of tracks, and this helps immensely with giving the full Nexilva experience. Altogether a performance to be proud of.

- Chris

The Algorithm

The Algorithm - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

5:45pm, Second Stage

Like Drewsif, it’s now hard to imagine Tech Fest without an appearance from Remi Gallego. The acceptance of The Algorithm so completely into the family is testament to the broad-ranging, open-minded and welcoming attitude of the tech scene which fuels this festival. For this headline slot, the area in front of the second stage is rammed long before the intro tape starts to roll.

Remi bounds on stage, and certainly as a first for the significant number of Algorithm shows I have seen to date, picks up a guitar himself. Switching between the guitar, a keytar (of all things) and his trusty band of dials, knobs and sliders, he plays a set fairly evenly weighted between debut Polymorphic Code and the recent and marvellous Octopus4.

The new material goes down a storm: the more straightforward nature of these tracks helps the show to blur the lines almost completely between a traditional gig and a rave. A particularly bouncy and good natured pit develops, and with the sun behind clouds, the temperature is bearable despite the fullness of the room.

Access Granted”, shorn of the rick-roll/”Careless Whisper” comedy interlude that appeared during most of the tour last year, really does the business as one of the finest progressive builds….well, pretty much anywhere, really.

Jean Ferry from Uneven Structure is filling in for Mike Malyan behind the kit on this tour, given that Mike is busy with Monuments. He handles the complex tracks with ease – and it would be hard to tell the two apart on the audio alone. But audio is really all I get – this is definitely one set where the low stage heights are keenly felt. It really is hard to tell what is happening onstage without standing on tip-toes.

Octopus4 showed that The Algorithm’s music was maturing, and tonight’s show proves that the live show is developing right along with it. Remi and Jean are hitting London just a few days after the festival, and I decide without hesitation to go and see them play again. Outstanding.

- Simon


Meta-Stasis - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

6:30pm, Main Stage

Demented electro-death metal seems a bit of an odd-one-out on a Tech-Fest lineup, but look closer and you’ll spot a few hidden connections. For a start, Meta-Stasis‘ origins were born from Ted Maul and SikTh, so it’s a given the music is going to be off-the-wall. Their stage show matches it: the band emerge in paint-spattered slogan-scrawled overalls and are smeared with black painted underneath, and immediately launch into an animated performance.

The most striking member is the keyboardist, a maniacal blue-haired tower with a Guy Fawkes mask who has no qualms about bashing into the crowd to get them fired up. Meanwhile, the other musicians churn out a fascinating sound, filled with twisted riffs, well-considered solos and a drummer who is simply incredible to watch. The fantastically-named Solomon J Lucifer Christ puts in a passionate vocal performance, squeezing every bit of his lungs out into his guttural snarls as he parades the stage like a caged animal. Being violent with the microphone eventually results in a fault with the cable, but that doesn’t deter him: he just grabs a guitarist’s backing mic and soldiers onward. As their set closes out with a bang, there are no doubt some stunned faces in the audience, but it’s an impressed series of claps and shouts that accompany Meta-Stasis as they leave the stage. An indisputable extreme highlight of the day and the festival.

- Mark

Jon Gomm

Jon Gomm - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

8:00pm, Main Stage

Whilst there was much speculation about who would replace Glass Cloud when they pulled out of the festival shortly before the main headliners were announced, but I don’t think anyone was expecting Jon Gomm to fill the slot. Replacing 9-string heaviosity with a solo acoustic artist was a bold move, but it becomes clear almost immediately that the gamble paid off handsomely.

Jon kicks out his well-known cover of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” as the second track in his set to a huge audience that treat it as a sing-along, and it receives the biggest ovation I have witnessed of the weekend so far.

Jon, for his part, takes it all in his stride and is gently amusing in his between-song banter. His percussive guitar style is uniquely captivating – for everyone, it seems, except a few that have probably had a bit too much beer and forgotten that you generally listen with your ears rather than your mouth. But apart from a handful of folk that either don’t realise or don’t care about the volume of their drunken chatter, the crowd is respectful and probably quieter than at any point other than a scant couple of hours when everyone was asleep over night. Like a lull before the storm that would be the Monuments set, it is a most welcome respite at this stage in the weekend.

Jon’s slightly boggling repertoire of sounds allows him to build complicated and credible sounding rhythms full of different tones. In an obviously well-rehearsed section, he builds up a multi-part song piece-by-piece, which has the audience enthralled. It goes from the sublime to the ridiculous when he adds bass and guitar parts to the percussion, then sings over the top. Seven distinct parts played by one guy with one instrument. Amazing.

There’s an undeniable sense of occasion to this set that will probably only be topped when SikTh step out on to the stage to round off the festival tomorrow night. “Passionflower”, the song which largely made his name by going viral across social media, is met with cries of almost orgasmic delight from the crowd, and features some of the most incongruous crowd-surfing outside of that dude at the proms earlier this year.

An unusual set almost demands an unusual response from the crowd. So rather than a circle pit, a circular conga opens up instead. If anyone needs convincing that Tech Fest is the friendliest, warmest festival on the circuit, then the reception that Jon is given is all the proof they should need.

- Simon


Monuments - KT Croft Photography - Tech Fest 2014

Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography

9:30pm, Main Stage

When you talk about the current British progressive metal scene, it’s hard not to talk about Monuments – or at least it should be. There’s been maximum buzz around them, and although their rise was curtailed a little by a slew of vocalist issues, it seems that these have been solved – big time – with last year’s arrival of former Periphery and Haunted Shores frontman Chris Barretto.

Monuments performed on Thursday night of last year’s festival, and promptly spent the rest of the weekend partying it up as part of the Tech Fest Family. It’s safe to say their Saturday top slot was well deserved.

The crowd’s response matches the billing, that’s for certain. Chris has them in the palm of his hand and there’s a fantastic reaction. He shows that he really is the final piece of the puzzle. The throng moves as he wants, and he responds in kind, spending long stretches standing on the barrier interacting with them.

Monuments had just come off a very difficult European tour, where problems with buses (plural) breaking down were topped by Barretto damaging one of his toes (one of his feet tonight is in a cast. Browne later says that this was the worst show he’s played – in at least a very long time, anyway – as things start to unravel.

Mike Malyan’s kick drum malfunctions at least three times; skins break – such is he force of his hammering – and the thing is eventually screwed in to the stage to stop it moving. Various other bits and bobs we’re not party to seem to hamper the momentum of the show, and it’s a real shame, as they began with as-yet unrivalled gusto. I don’t know if it was just me, but the energy feels a little off for a while – understandably – but it’s true testament to Monuments that they do actually get it back. It would have been easier for it to taper off and let us into the night a little flat, but Barretto enacts his now customary trick of getting the crowd to crouch and them jump up at an appropriate point in the song. It might seem trite, but it works, and by the time the encore comes Tech Fest is jumping once again.

This is the first chance I’ve had to hear material from The Amanuensis live, and it is the real deal. “Origin Of Escape” and “The Alchemist” in particular have a pounding energy, and mixed in with older classics, there’s evidence that the Monuments live show is coming together nicely – issues or no.

- Chris


After last night’s exploits with Seething Akira and Collisions, plus about three hours sleep, we ultimately gave Sean de Burca and the Super Jam a miss.

- Chris

And that leaves us three quarters of the way through the festival. Return in a few days for Sunday’s final day report!

Angel writer banner Simon Chris