UK Tech Fest 2018 Festival Review
Newark-on-Trent had nothing but the best summer weather to offer for this year’s UK Tech Metal Festival, and the blazing heat was inescapable, no matter if you went indoor or stayed outside. You see, the two stages are situated at the Newark Showground, inside big livestock sheds, and the sun on the metal roofs were more than enough to have sweat dripping from the audience members, not to mention the poor bands.
For the two of us, who were Tech Fest virgins, the festival was nonetheless a very pleasant experience. The audience is lively, but very friendly and easy-going. The festival is extremely well run, bands being on time, and changeovers going smoothly and quickly. The staff is generally pleasant, smiling and helpful, something that rubs of on the audience, making it easy to meet new friends if you are so inclined. In general the amount of assholery is far less than certain other metal-festivals I have attended. There also is a wide selection of foods and drink on the festival grounds, meaning that you can relax and enjoy yourself between your selected shows.
And talking about shows, the festival runs over four days with more than fifty bands performing. In addition there are industry workshops. So it is hard to attend everything, even if the shows on the two stages do not overlap.
The festival offered a selection of workshops ranging from music masterclasses to music industry related topics. Voyager’s guitar players Scott Kay and Simone Dow explored the challenges of dual guitar lines and explained how being two guitarists on stage requires a particular approach: the workshop was highly interesting and was accessible to anyone, including people like myself who are not musicians.
Corinna Kearney, a lawyer specialized in the music industry, made a very informative presentation about the dos and don’ts for up and coming bands; she explains very clearly some of the loopholes that can be found in record contracts and gave tips how to get the best deal for each parties involved. She answered questions from the audience mainly composed of musicians eager to get advice.
Steph Knight, a PR specialist and sponsorship manager at the festival, looked into the different aspects of promotion for bands, festivals and music related businesses. She shared her experience about networking, the power of social media and gave insights on how to land a job in the PR industry answering questions from journalism / communication students.
As there was so much to cover, this festival review will be a selection of some of the more interesting gigs we were attending during this scorching Tech Fest weekend.
Thursday was a slow start for us, and not a full festival day, but we still managed to see a few bands. Ravenface, and Siamese were two that stood out. Blackpudlians Ravenface delivered a brutally powerful gig to start out our festival weekend, it was especially nice to witness the work of guitarists Jack Ormond-Prout, and Leah Woodward which both possess considerable skill on their instrument. Definitely a nice way to start a weekend of good music, drink and friendship.
Danish Siamese was another highlight. The Danes, which announced themselves as “RnB-core”, on stage, offered up a very catchy, melodic and almost danceable form of metalcore. Fronted by the charismatic Mirza Radonjica, and featuring guitarist Christian Hjort Lauritzen which also skillfully handled an electric violin on certain parts of their songs. A very nice surprise, and something that the audience seemed to appreciate as their gig was well attended even though it was quite early in the day.
Friday it all started with From Eden To Exile. The Northhampton lads hit the stage hard, and never relented. Pounding the audience with their uncompromising blend of thrash, death and sludge. Spearheaded by their new vocalist Tom Franklin, which I later was told only had a few days to rehearse for the gig, they impressed and delighted the early attendees.
The French weirdos of The Dali Thundering Concept were up next for us. The band is hard to describe, performing their unique blend of deathcore and djenty, technical theatrics. Once again a vocalist that sounds angry enough, but ends up not dynamic or interesting enough to keep our interest peeked through the entire set. Sadly they were also plagued with some technical difficulties during their short set. Nonetheless a entertaining performance.
American guitar virtuoso Chris Schiermann followed. We had looked forward to seeing how his music translated to the stage. His self-titled album was released at the tail-end of 2017 and is a great listen, filled with interesting and delightful compositions. Luckily he more than fulfilled our expectations, despite the sound being a bit muddled early on in the gig. Backed by a rock-steady band, his technical guitar-solos, and melodic runs, played over a somewhat djenty backdrop, clearly impressed the onlookers. Schiermanns positivity radiates from the stage, and it’s clear the man plays every note from the heart, making him a joy to watch on stage. Another perk : Arnaud Verrier, drummer of French prog metal band Uneven Structure was on drum duties and delivered a tight and powerful set, despite only having a few days rehearse.
This is Turin was the next on my list of interesting bands, and they also delivered. A tight and energetic band fronted by a imposing frontman in Darryl Jones. Their gut-punch of technical black and death-metal were warmly embraced by the audience, leading the gig to become one of the heavy highlights of the Friday.
After a time-out from the blazing heat, it was time for another catchy Danish experience, namely VOLA. I have seen the band on a couple occasions, and they never disappoint. Their UKTM performance was no exception, and the band seemed very at ease as they worked though a set consisting of tracks from their impressive debut album “Inmazes”. The band has a talent at writing layered and complex, yet melodic songs, and performed them with great professionalism. They also honored the audience with a new song, which sounded interesting enough to amplify the anticipation many fans might have related to the danish boys’ upcoming sophomore album.
One disappointment of the day, was that Ukrainian Jinjer had to cancel, due to apparent visa-problems. Sad, as we both had looked very much forward to their set.
Luckily another band we had looked very much forward to took stage a bit later. Australian band Voyager has been playing the prog scene for many years with 6 albums in their bag (they have performed at ProgPower Europe and ProgPower USA several times), the Aussies were ready to tear it up on stage, even if they admitted themselves that the heat was unbearable, and far worse than in Australia. However, despite the furnace, the band delivered a killer show full of energy with catchy choruses. The audience happily joined in, jumping up and down, and loving every minute of the performance. It was pure joy to see them perform tracks like ‘Hyperventilating’ and ‘Misery Is Only Company’ with their unique combination of groove, heavy riffs and 80s inspired melodies. Their rendition of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ with Danny Estrin playing the keytar exemplified how much fun the quintet had on stage, and how well it translated to the audience who was clearly asking for more.
Then it was time for what Rune had described as his “possible highlight” of the festival, namely The Contortionist. The American band has steadily been expanding their sound and atmosphere, and is at the forefront of their own brand of atmospheric, technical and progressive metal. With the release of their recent flawless album “Clairvoyant” as a focal point, they entered the stage with all the confidence and pathos necessary to perform such high-concept music. Featuring lots of the amazing tracks from both “Language” and “Clairvoyant”, as well as selected older material, this was one of the most convincing performances of the weekend. The sound was good, and the interaction between the performers and the audience seemed natural, emotional and enthusiastic. A great show.
At the end of the Friday, djent-godfathers Sikth entered the stage. I’ve never been able to fully get into their music, but they performed at the festival with great energy and impressive skills. The band have played UK Tech Fest before, and it’s easy to see why they keep getting invited back as they can be said to be a more than worthy headliner for the first full day of the festival, and fully embody the main musical style of the event. The audience went home, or back to their tents, drunk and satisfied, that’s for sure.
Saturday was a slower day for us, as there was fewer bands we were keen to see, but some good gigs were still attended.
Pure unadulterated technical death metal was what the boys in Pravitas used as a wake-up call for a audience that was clearly still reeling from a tough Friday. But it was hard to stay still for the remarkable technicality these Leeds lads displayed. The skill on display was very impressive, but the band still manage to interweave enough melody into their vigorous tracks to keep it both interesting and head-bangingly catchy. A nice way to start the day for sure.
Valis Ablaze was a breath of fresh air with their more melodic and less screamy progressive metal, and a nice start to our day of concerts. With their great 2018 debut-album “Boundless” under their belt they seemed hungry and excited, even if it was early in the day for a lot of the audience, and the sweltering heat showed no sign of letting up. The bands sound is impressively atmospheric and emotional, and despite the live-sound not being perfect, they managed to translate a lot of that magic to the stage.
Next on our program was the funky Americans of Arch Echo. I really enjoyed their self-titled album, but wondered a lot how their nerdy, complex and instrumental music would translate to the stage. I had no need to worry, as the band performed with a contaminating energy, smiling and brimming with positivity. The whole band looked to enjoy themselves, especially keyboardist Joey Izzo who could hardly contain his enthusiasm. Their intricate fusion of jazzy licks, djenty metal and progressive passages impressed and awed the audience, and the sound was clear and precise. A very positive experience.
The Voynich Code entered the stage with an intensity rivaled only by the blistering sun, and blasted out their brand of technical deathcore. The keyboards, together with at times surprisingly adds a melodic, almost oriental sounding, tinge to the bands rhythmic assault. The only let down is the vocals, that are extreme, but a bit to deathcorish and adds little to the overall sound. But all in all an enjoyable gig from this spirited gang from Lisbon.
The Acacia Strain had traveled from across the pond to headline the Saturday of the UK Tech Fest, and from the crowd is was clear that a lot of people were looking forward to experiencing their crushing deathcore live on stage. From the get go it was clear that these guys are among the more professional bands of the genre. Having been around since 2001, and having released eight albums, they know how to work the stage and get the most of of their sludge-infused brand of metalcore. Vocalist Vincent Bennet seemed tireless, as he kept the audience on a tight leash, never relenting or letting go. Once again, metal, or deathcore is not exactly my cup-o-tea. But you just have to appreciate solid handiwork when you see it. With The Acacia Strain the festival had a robust and definite finale to their Saturday.
So it was time for the last day of a long festival. The heavy sun, as well as heavy music and festivities seemed to leave a visible mark on the audience. Even though most soldiered through with smiling reddened faces and straightened up for one final day of brutal tunes and great performances.
I, being French, had to go all the way to Newark to see Stömb, a French instrumental prog metal band. They had the hard task to open the last day of the festival, still in the blazing heat (we will never emphasize enough how it was). The quintet delivered a powerful, dynamic set and their take on instrumental progressive metal is uncompromising. Swaying between atmospheric parts and heavy passages, they powered through the gig with musicianship and technical proficiency (despite some sound issues at first). Bassist Alexandre seemed to go through transcendence on stage creating a bond with an audience that clearly appreciated their live act as their merch table was quickly taken over by a storm (or should I say a tornado, as there actually was a tornado on the camping site during the festival!).
One of the most pleasant surprises of the festival was Conjurer. I could kick myself for not checking out this Midlands four-piece earlier. You rarely see a band unleash such force and unbridled malevolence anymore, and I was instantly reminded of one of the many death metal gigs I attended in the early 90s. There is an underlying layer of ominous complexity and unease to the blend of sludge, death, black and post metal this young band performs, that tops most of the other bands on the festival bill. It can almost be described like the difference between a cheap slasher flick, and an intricate novel of Lovecraftian horror. One leaves you in a flash, while the sinister concepts of the other does not leave your mind that easily. The performance was nothing but impressive as the band pummeled the audience with track after track showing an almost refreshing arrogance from stage. This is, in my opinion, the way extreme music is meant to be performed. Merchandise and their discography was promptly purchased after a gig, from a band that seemed as humble and friendly of stage, as they did look imposing and arrogant on stage. Great show lads!
A more traditional mix of melodic and technical death metal was what Bloodshot Dawn offered up as they entered stage. Most of the traces of old-school thrash seems to have disappeared from the bands music, being replaced with more catchy guitar leads and solos. All in all this seems to work well for them, as their style of metal was both enjoyable and different enough to create a welcoming refresher from the more metalcore-approach of the main festival line-up. The band, who is based out of Portsmouth and Hampshire , has been around for 15 years, something that shows quite clearly in the professionalism and skill displayed on stage. I’ll be looking to see these guys again for sure.
Let me start by saying that I have no real idea how to describe the music of the wild-eyed Germans of The Hirsch Effekt. Despite being four albums into their career, they are still annoyingly hard to categorize. Maybe if Dillinger married The Mars Volta, and decided to play metal it would result in something like this band, but on the other hand, that description leaves out so much. On stage they perform with an impressive ferocity, while still being able to deliver their labyrinthine music with a degree of finesse that is simply astonishing. From the first note of ‘Lifnej’, from their most recent effort “Eskapist” the three-piece gave it all on stage, and were rewarded with acclaim from an fervent audience. Truly one of the best performances of the weekend.
When headliner Protest the Hero was cancelled, the audience wondered about their replacement. Rumors got around the festival that it might be a British band called Sleep Token. Neither of us had heard about this band before, and after a mysterious soundcheck where the venue remained locked, we walked into it not knowing what we were going to experience. We came out of the gig almost one hour later completely blown away by a visual and sensory experience. This elusive collective Sleep Token wearing masks on stage delivered a mesmerizing and hypnotic show.
Swaying between soft and heavy, light and darkness, soft and powerful vocals, their sound is nothing like you’ve heard before. It reminded me at times of Leprous, Agent Fresco, other times of Radiohead and Massive Attack…it’s definitely a genre defying band. The frontman, only known as Vessel, almost seemed in agony on stage, as well as sharing powerful, raw and intimate emotions. With only a couple of EPs behind them and being extremely discreet, one can only imagine the band has already a lot of experience though. An extremely overwhelming gig, and the only one where our whole group of friends fully united in the opinion that is was an amazing experience.
After the mind-blowing experience that was Sleep Token, it really felt like the perfect end to the festival for us. Still I managed to hear a couple of songs from headliner Betraying The Martyrs. The Parisians had stepped in to take over the headliner spot for Protest The Hero, who, to the dismay of many, had to cancel their performance at this years festival. Still, from our position on the sidelines, it seemed the festival had chosen a great replacement. The bands music is definitely based in metal/deathcore, but has many other elements to draw from, preventing their songs from becoming run-of-the-mill chugg-fests. With a firm grip on the audience they blasted their way through a set conciliating of tracks from their whole career, thus ending a great festival weekend in style.
We have to thank the festival organization, volunteers, bands and audience for a great weekend, We’ll be back!
Finally I want to thank Bob Smith, and Vouter Van de Kamp for providing us with great pictures.