Tech Fest 2014: Day Four
And at last we came to the sad, final day of Tech Fest. I almost didn’t want to publish this, as it means ceasing to think about the wonderful time we had every day when I get home from work. I’m actually still wearing my wristband, as faded and taped together as it is, but it’ll be a while before it comes off.
That being said, Sunday was the day on everyone’s lips. The crowds swelled with day ticketers, all undoubtedly there to see the likes of The Safety Fire, The Ocean, and of course SikTh.
But there was a whole day’s worth of great action, and as well as the four of us, Katie Croft of KTcroft Photography was on hand to capture some stills.
Doomed From Day One
12pm, Second Stage
The opening set on the last day is a hard sell, but thanks in part to some blanket-bombing advertising across the site all weekend, Doomed From Day One pull in a respectable crowd. Their groovy tech-core sounds much thicker and more ferocious than it did at the London all-dayer last month, despite most of the band having been on site since the beginning of the festival.
Their set is tight, varied and punctuated with little jazzy interludes that rub shoulders with big chuggy riffs, as well as flurries of tech-tapping. Bassist Eifion Sweet is on particularly fine form, finding space between the guitars to squeeze in a variety of techniques, and drummer Daniel Ristic is obviously some sort of machine. Vocalist Sean Scott has a confrontational stage persona, and at one point invites the whole crowd over the barrier. Fortunately, nobody takes him up on the offer, much to the relief of the lone, female, security guard on duty.
There are a committed few that still somehow have the energy to throw some particularly, and intentionally, ludicrous shapes in the pit. It is clear that there is a great deal of affection for these guys in the Tech Fest crowd. The pieces are definitely falling into place for DFDO, and they seem to be right on the edge of producing something exceptional. Watch this space.
Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography
12:30pm, Main Stage
Another band we caught at the London all-dayer, Shields put a lot of energy into their early performance. There are plenty of people watching, and a number who know the words and aren’t afraid to join in, which is great to see.
After being a man down at said London show, the band’s ranks are swelled once more by a fill-in bassist, and Sam Kubrick has switched back to guitar. He also provides some well-delivered cleans to complement Joe Edwards wild-eyed, wild-haired growls.
Their modern metal/core mesh is unfussy and cathartic, and even if I don’t feel a particularly strong affinity with it, it’s not a bad way to spend half an hour.
1pm, Second Stage
For a first ever UK show, Kodeks go down an absolute treat, starting with the barnstormer that is “Alkymist”. It’s hot onstage but the Norwegians roll with it, delivering basically the whole of their eponymous EP with flawless execution. The first thing of note are the frontman’s incredible vocals: Alexander Emilsen is crystal clear and emotional, bearing a slight resemblance to Einar Solberg of Leprous in their higher register, and throwing in a hardcore-esque shout every so often to boot.
He is backed by the whole band in “Alkymist” including the drummer’s impressively loud rasp which crops up intermittently in their set. The music underneath is an intriguing blend of electro-tinged alt-metal, where the video-game-esque synths come delightfully to the fore such as in “Plettfritt Sinn”. The music is driven in part by eternally-smiling guitarist Alexander Klæboe who is more than handy with his axe, including one stunning memorable riff that hits during “Sentient”. He, like the rest of the band, uses the stage to its full potential, although Emilsen wins this award by defying gravity, clearing the monitors in a massive jump on his way back from singing on the barrier. Each infectious song is greeted with loud applause, and while few take up the offer of singing along to the Norwegian lyrics, it’s easy to tell the crowd are won over. Kodeks will be making big waves soon, trust us.
1:30pm, Main Stage
We here are no strangers to Aeolist‘s sound, having seen them twice this year already (here and here). As a quick recap: the Norwich lads plant their sound somewhere between the virtuosity of tech-metal and the meatiness of post-hardcore, and currently have one EP of one continuous piece broken into four movements.
Playing this composition in its entirety is a challenge in itself, but performing it in a sweltering warehouse is something else entirely. Quite how frontman Bradley Gallagher is in a buttoned-up worker shirt, -bellowing his lungs out – boggles the mind, but his dancing during the jazzy breaks never fails to amuse.
The sound mix is not completely on the band’s side, particularly regarding the buried lead guitar and lack of muscle in the breakdowns, but the songs still sound good, and the crowd give a strong impression of enjoyment, especially the individuals going nuts in the front row. In addition, the dynamics of the set are second to none, particularly in the agonizingly teasing build-up before the final storm.
While not the strongest set of their career, Aeolist still put in their all and come out with an enjoyable performance. Now we eagerly await new material.
2pm, Second Stage
Due to the diversity of Tech-Fest’s lineup, there are inevitably going to be some misses to go with the hits. Aeon Zen do not have the luck that Eumeria had yesterday, and their keyboard-centric prog metal vibes do not go over well with the sparse crowd. The deliberately cheesy intro tape detailing how band met festival is certainly amusing in its British humor, but the sound mix of their songs is absolutely atrocious, and replacement vocalist Tamás Czemez is rendered virtually mute for the first part of their set, eventually coming into earshot with a piercing wail.
The crowd are not won over however, despite the band’s best efforts to combat the difficulties, and unfortunately Aeon Zen do not get the reception they deserve.
2:30pm, Main Stage
There’s probably no other band whose development has been tracked as closely as that of Tech Fest’s own than Exist Immortal. Absent from the bill until the eleventh hour, it almost feels fitting that they should be given the spot sadly vacated by Destiny Potato.
Just as they did at the all-dayers and at their last London headline show, they give a characteristically strong performance. Meyrick de la Fuente spends much of the set stationed on a cleverly positioned flight case in the middle of the yawning gap between the front of the stage and the crowd barrier. It is an excellent position from which to survey the substantial crowd that has gathered to see them.
The band’s set draws largely from recently released debut album Darkness Of An Age, and it is clear that the punters are becoming increasingly familiar with the songs. Our latest recruit Will Young pops up for his second guest appearance of the day, filling in for The Colour Line‘s Sam Rudderforth on “Liberator“, which he does with obvious zeal.
Guitarists Tom Montgomery, Kurt Valencia and bassist David Billote do a fine job of sweeping the stage with their synchronised headbanging, which – equally impressively – doesn’t seem to affect their ability to play their complex riffs and licks.
The sound is also remarkably clear, but this does unfortunately highlight a potential issue. As I have said, the band have made significant progress on a number of fronts over the last year or two, but it seems possible that drummer Fergus Gardiner is being slightly left behind. The clarity of the kickdrum over the PA highlights an uncomfortable lack of precision, which the songs really require. Some more imaginative stickwork could also really lift these songs to the next level. Perhaps some hard work in a rehearsal space is in order.
3pm, Second Stage
Madcap Italian quintet Destrage were already riding high on our must-see lists, but their high energy set manages to surpass even our highest expectations. Playing a set of choice cuts from their excellent recent album Are You Kidding Me? No, they effortlessly blend tech and groove metal with the energy and attitude of an Appetite For Destruction-era Guns ‘n’ Roses.
They are propelled by some truly astonishing drumming, but every member pulls their weight, darting around the stage – and beyond – whilst remaining Rizla-tight.
“My Green Neighbour”, their tribute to shooting zombies in the face, has prompted one particularly committed fan to paint himself green head-to-toe for their set, and he goes appropriately mental when the track gets rolled out. His dedication to the cause should be applauded.
The deft tempo changes, genre-hopping song structures and impossibly danceable grooves make this one of the most infectious and engaging sets of the whole weekend. If anyone was worried about tech painting itself into a po-faced corner of wilful awkwardness, Destrage are clearly providing an escape route. Who else can play what is recognisably tech metal, but then drop in a mariachi break and round off a track with a glitchy breakbeat outro, all while retaining a party vibe?
To a man, Destrage are obviously supremely accomplished musicians, and they play with an unabashed sense of exuberant fun throughout. I can only hope that they venture back to these shores before too long for some full club shows. My only real disappointment is in wrenching myself away during the final song of the set to ensure myself a prime spot for Alaya.
3:30pm, Main Stage
Considering that Destrage only finished decimating Tech Fest’s second stage mere seconds before-hand (putting on arguably the best set yet), taking the stage afterwards is not really a position that many bands would like to find themselves in – least of all the trio of nervous American chaps that comprise Alaya.
As they took to the stage, you could see that they weren’t entirely comfortable. After all, the pressure was on – this was their first show in the UK, and they had flown all the way out from Chicago just for this. Luckily they couldn’t have picked a better place to make their debut; the band awkwardly lurch into life, but quickly, visibly shake the doubt from themselves as they are met with an overwhelming amount of love and positivity – and are probably the only band that come close to the reception of Jon Gomm.
Over the course of thirty minutes, Alaya whip through some of the more energetic tracks from their debut Thrones. Each of the members are incredibly on-point and play their roles well. Whether it’s bassist Mike Rinkenberger proudly striding across the stage, drummer David Robison’s kinetic and hilarious faces, or Evan Dunn’s angelic-meets-grit voice, the trio have a great chemistry together.
It’s interesting to note just how sublime a drummer David is; his performance effortlessly complex, without feeling the need to show off or boast. The set highlight comes when they play the rousing “Dawn Of The Dead” and Evan breaks into the incredible long high climactic note. His emotions are clearly invested as he pushes his voice to the limits and wows everyone in the audience. There were shared gasps, smiles, and looks of “Holy shit, did you just see that?!”
Alaya finished their set with a lot of people happy, both new fans and old. I certainly was won over by this performance, and I know others were as well. For my money, Destrage and Alaya were the best hour of Tech Fest, and it should be mandatory for them to return every year.
Friend For A Foe
4:15pm, Second Stage
First glances can be deceiving with some sets, and it’s only after a bit that the true nature unfolds. This was very much the case with Friend For A Foe, who started their set out with a melodic yet pulverising groove of instru-djent, showcasing the glorious talents of Michael Lumer again on drums and the strings skills of Ryan Robb, Anthony Marshall and Wayne Courtright, particularly the insane solos.
Soon enough they are joined by some friends. Nikki Simmons is one of them, popping out to do a song having had “only 12 hours to learn it”. She weaves around the stage and the crowd as she sings, clearly enamored with the reception she’s received at the festival and soaking up the atmosphere. Later, Maxi Curnow steps in for a turn with his smooth clean singing and roaring harsh vocals, doing a fantastic number on “Niacin” as he stretches over the monitors and is ably backed by Lumer, who sings as strongly as he drums.
Last on the vocal front is our very own William Alex Young, a wiry and spritely chap whose intense performance takes him over the monitors, into the crowd and resulting in a simulated emotional meltdown amid his screams. A memorable way to round out a great set from Friend For A Foe.
Modern Day Babylon
5:00pm, Main Stage
Not unlike The Bellerophon Project yesterday, Modern Day Babylon seem to attract the musicians in the audience, as the focus is all about the groove. The crowd are soon nodding their heads along, and the band run through various instrumental passages as one enveloping whole, stacked with ambience and keyboards to boost the sound.
It goes without saying that the musicians are remarkably talented at their instruments, both in the meaty chugs and noodling melodies, and the drummer certainly puts his back in it as he hammers out the drumming. The stage show may not be the most engrossing, beyond headbanging and watching how the musicians play, but for tech-geeks and lovers of instrumental music this band go down an absolute storm. Mutterings of “that damn riff” are not uncommon when exiting the room from seeing Modern Day Babylon, and I was no exception.
5:45pm, Second Stage
Pinch me, it’s actually happening. A full-strength Aliases has taken to a Tech Fest stage, with all applicable limbs (just about) intact. After their appearances at the previous two Tech Fests had been thwarted at the eleventh hour, it is both a pleasure and a relief to see them attack their set.
It takes two songs, including opener “Exasperated“, to peel vocalist Joe Rosser out of the Tech Fest hoodie he’s been apparently sewn into for most of the weekend. Considering Joe has been a member of Aliases for over a year now, it almost feels strange comparing him with original vocalist Jay Berast, but opportunities to see the band play – especially down south – have been limited whilst they have been hunkered down writing their hotly anticipated debut full-length.
Nevertheless, it is very quickly apparent that Joe is the man for the job, representing an improvement on all fronts over his predecessor. With both a much stronger voice and more onstage charisma, he is obviously the right man for the job.
With a crowdfunding campaign underway to finance the recording of the album, Aliases take the opportunity to showcase a surprising amount of new material. With five new songs appearing in the set, this was potentially a bold move, but this is a sympathetic audience hungry for new songs, so they are warmly received.
Of course, the flipside is that getting ones head around the fretboard gymnastics of Aliases songs is something that usually takes a couple of listens at minimum – so the crowd is perhaps more muted than it would have been had they stuck to previously released material, but that muting appeared to have more to do with concentration than tedium. There is a notable upswing in movement when a couple of older tracks appear at the end of the set.
And even as part of a festival bill jam-packed with prodigious talent, Aliases are a formidable unit, and the pairing of guitarists Pin and Leah is the fulcrum on which their music rests. From my oblique vantage point off to one side of the stage, I can see both of their fretboards simultaneously, and it is apparent that their different approaches to their instruments compliment each other perfectly. Bassist Joe Heaton also confirms his place as possibly my favourite tech bass player as well.
With the acoustics of the room tending to swamp a lot of the subtleties, it is tremendously difficult to gauge the new material. However, it does seem to be the case that their sound has progressed whilst retaining their defining characteristics. There is a mixture of heaviness and melody, moments of headbending technicality and more straightforward – dare I say it “sing along” – choruses. I certainly heard enough to suggest that this album is going to be worth the wait. Hooray.
The Safety Fire
Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography
6:30pm, Main Stage
Remarkably, this is The Safety Fire‘s first appearance at a Tech Fest. Of the current crop of ‘rising’ bands in the British scene, they’re probably the biggest that I could think of who’d yet to grace either of the stages, but it was only a matter of time – and it’s something they’re well aware of, and they seem more than happy to be here.
The last two times I saw the band, they were either warming up from some considerable downtime, or at the end of a very long international run of touring, so it’s great to hear them both fresh and practiced. The most notable upswing is in Sean’s voice; he sounded understandably strained last time round, but is clear as a whistle here, and hits all the challenging corners of his register.
It’s not often you get a debut as strong as Grind The Ocean followed up so quickly by another gem like Mouth Of Swords, but the effect is a set absolutely rammed with favourite after favourite. “Huge Hammers“, “Beware The Leopard” and “Red Hatchet” all cause a big vat of whirling limbs in front of the stage, even going so far as security having to step in for one or two ‘overly-enthusiastic’ moshers.
One of the great things about The Safety Fire is that they dare to have fun. Metal can be po-faced as fuck at times, and there’s a lot of fretboard watching having gone on this weekend – which is fine – but the cheeky and thoroughly affable grins of all five members are as a good an illustrator of the entire event as any. Here’s hoping they’re back again for future iterations.
8:00pm, Main Stage
I genuinely wasn’t expecting a complete rendition of Pelagial from The Ocean this evening. I had figured that with the festival slot and the revised line-up, the show would be a pick and mix affair from the band’s now considerable back catalogue. But, not for the first or last time, I was wrong, and whilst a set comprising some of the band’s heavier moments would have been fun, Pelagial is one of my favourite albums of at least the last five years – so I’m not about to start complaining.
The long-form ebb and flow of the album provides a pleasing change of pace to the frenetic, short-sharp-shock approach of many of the bands with whom The Ocean are sharing a stage with today. The trio of new musicians making their first UK appearances on the short tour leading up to the festival fill in seamlessly from the outgoing trio. Drummer Paul Seidel probably has the most considerable shoes to fill, and does so with flair.
Loïc is his typical touchy-feely self, getting up close and personal with the front rows, and indulging in at least a couple of crowd surfs in the first half of the set alone. When onstage, though, he seems to prefer to station himself towards the back of the stage, perhaps in acknowledgment of Pelagial‘s instrumental roots.
The dynamic peaks are enough to make me close my eyes and lose myself for a few moments, forgetting the dull ache in my thighs that has built up over the course of watching 30+ sets this weekend. It is a truly immersive experience.
I’d been so convinced that we’d get a back catalogue set that I hadn’t even re-listened to Pelagial in the weeks leading up to the festival, and its complete performance reminded me why I gave it such a high review score.
A forest of horns rises from the crowd for the final, grinding, ever lower, ever slower, ever heavier outro, and with the album taking up the entirety of their allotted stage time, the band depart. I was struck by the faintly sad realisation as they left that, with their remaining touring commitments taking them to Asia and Australia before they retreat to write new material, it could be at least 12-18 months before we get to see them again, but I remain confident that they will return even bigger and better than before.
Photo credit: Katie Croft, KTcroft Photography
9:30pm, Main Stage
I probably could have just posted a picture of a gurning face with jizz all over it and you’d have a pretty good idea of how THE set of the weekend went down – but it’s my job to be slightly more eloquent than that, so I’ll do my best.
Whilst the returning kings of tech made their debut at Download, THIS is the real welcome back. We all hoped it was coming before the official announcement, and were pretty confident it would happen, but from the very moment the Newark Showground gate opened, this set was the event most people were waiting for.
After the generous raffle prizes were given out, and the now customary Tech Fest group hug was administered, SikTh took to the stage – and the room immediately went (something) wild.
All things considered, there’s not a huge amount of live-worthy material for them to play. When you discount the interludes, piano pieces and what have you, there’s a core of about nine songs left – but what a core. It’s pure, unadulterated joy for all involved to hear, from opener “Bland Street Bloom” through to “Skies Of Millennium Night“. As someone who missed them the first time round, it’s orgasmic, and for the first time I really let myself go in the pit. Even for those who were there the first time (as Simon was, in their early-years support slots), it’s clearly good to blow off the cobwebs and make some fresh memories.
Naturally, the largest crowd of the festival begets the wildest pit and the most crowdsurfing, but fittingly for the festival as a whole, it’s an incredibly friendly one, and it bounces along without much malicious shoving or resultant falling over.
All too quickly it’s over, and we’re hoarse to the last. We’ve a tour to look forward to in the autumn, and beyond that who knows, but this will be a lasting memory for all involved.
Whilst this concludes the live review portion of our coverage, stay tuned for our extensive and hilarious interviews, which will be popping up very soon. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to catch the previous days here: