Live Review : Tech-Fest UK on July 4th and 5th 2019
As I jump out of the taxi at Newark Showground it immediately feels like I’ve never left from twelve months earlier. This is only my second trip to Tech-Fest UK, but already I can say it feels like returning home when you enter through the main entrance. It’s a festival that genuinely creates a feeling of welcoming, inclusion, passion and dedication. And lots of technically impressive Metal musicianship. Lots. Add in some great on-stage performers, enough merch to sink a battleship, plenty of booze and you’ve got what is now my favourite festival. First seen in 2012 (and at Newark Showground since 2014), the not-for-profit festival has only been possibly thanks to the tireless devotion of founder Simon Garrod and his annually returning group of volunteers.
Early bird Thursday sees the action starting with more space between bands, but the intensity and excitement is no less for it. There’s no easing in here. Leeds youngsters The Mechanist set the scene well, and with a mix of intricate guitar and bass work, vibrant drums and violent vocals the Tech-Fest ethos is already in full flow. Jonestown kick in with frontman Harley Anderson brutally growling wide eyed at the crowd. These guys are as violent and brutal as metal gets, and they're a delight I look forward to seeing more of in the future. As we move into the main stage room we have a change of vibe with Voices From The Fuselage. They provide a set of soaring, interweaving guitars behind Ashe O'Hara’s melodious voice. Similar to TesseracT, they have some great songs and an endearingly apologetic stage presence. Give them a chance and you'll love them I promise.
In contrast, Polaris are confident and assured, delivering catchy, up-tempo metalcore faultlessly. Their song-writing demonstrates an understanding of their own technical musicianship with a variety of subtle changes throughout. This is exhibited clearly by the expert balance between clean and harsh vocals. However, the key to these Australian’s inevitable success will be that their songs are distinct and memorable. That’s something you can’t teach.
Another thing you can’t teach is what Thursday headliner Jon Gomm can do with an acoustic guitar. Yes, he does actually try to teach the whole crowd the basics of using a single acoustic guitar to recreate a drumkit, bass and guitar…but there’s no way any of us has a chance of getting close to it. Jon is an absolute genius, and the entire room (mainly sitting on the floor) is silent in awe. He meets the festival remit of being technically superb, but what surprises me is how entertaining his set is. That rings true for both his amusingly honest anecdotes and captivating performance. If you like his recordings then you have to catch him live, and if you’re not sold on his recordings then I guarantee you’ll be a convert like me once you’ve seen him in the flesh.
Friday (and the first sore head of the weekend) swings into view, and the first band we see are Dividium hailing from Hull. Their early billing belies how fantastic this band are. Frontman Neil Bailey has an awesome vocal range and array, with a truly distinct and characterful clean vocal which switches effortlessly into harsh screaming. Neil spends the majority of the set singing from the middle of the mosh-pit to the delight of the crowd. The rest of the band are equally dynamic and technically spot-on, allowing elements of The Dillinger Escape Plan to interplay with more traditional Metalcore.
Siamese take to the main stage and by the end of their set I’m their #1 fan. I might even move to Copenhagen to see more of their gigs. It’d be expensive…but worth it. There is a humble yet confident engagement with the crowd, which is both endearing and befitting of their vulnerable yet upbeat pop tech-metal. The sound balance for them is fantastic, and their performance in turn matches the elegant yet powerful composition of their songs. Every single band member contributes to the cohesive whole but also plays out their own technical stage show, none more so than Christian Hjort Lauritzen on the violin (a very cool violin in the shape and colouring of The Joker’s face from Batman) who cleverly uses it to replicate synth parts organically. They’re simply awesome, and genuinely offer something for everyone.
Cold Night For Alligators hail from Germany, but they could easily be another Danish export. If anything they deliver a sound similar to VOLA but with cohesive Metalcore elements added to their songs. Each song has beatdowns and staccato guitars which inevitably break to glorious, velvety pop choruses. On record Hjalte Bertelsen easily covers the range and diversity of the harsh and clean vocals, but the technical difficulties that they face after the first song seems to put them all off their stride a little. Having said that, they still put on a great performance and offer something that really intrigues me for the future.
I’d seen Red method just a few weeks earlier supporting Krysthla in Manchester, but was eager to catch them on a much bigger stage. They set about their business with antagonistic forbidding and stare down the crowd from the off. They're professional, slick and deliver an impressive range of nu-metal nuanced technical elements in their sound and stage show, but there’s something of a disconnect with the crowd, possibly because it’s so damn hot in the room. In any case, we venture outside to our now favourite drinking point – the double-decker bus bar. It's the friendly, welcoming and unique aspects like this that make Tech–Fest such a treat.
We make it back inside for the start of Ravenface, one of the bands we've been most looking forward to seeing. I’ve not seen them live since last year's comeback performance, and the release of new album “Breathe Again” promises much. They've slimmed the line-up, but the sound they produce is luscious in its depth and flavour. They're melodic geniuses vocally, on guitar and on the bass. The background technical guitar work is befitting of this festival, and the vocal harmonies in particular are divine. As a British band working hard to capture the attention and airtime that continental bands are commanding, I implore you to give them some time.
The final band we watch today are Icefish. This is the band’s first ever foray to the UK, and the levels of professionalism and studio perfect performance are astounding. You could almost describe them as a prog version of Alter Bridge. The keyboards are a major foundation in delivering their electro-pop-tech-rock, with a large dose of melodic tech-metal panache. A really satisfying end to a boiling hot but superb first full day no one could deny.
Words by Matt Fraser
Photography by @wtchfndr
Festival: @uktechfest / uktechfest.com