UK-Tech-Fest in Newark has become a permanent fixture in our calendar. 55 acts over 4 days plus workshops and masterclasses. No clashes on the two main stages and it’s on the doorstep for us. It is entirely run by volunteers and is a friendly, interesting, fabulous event. Long may it continue.
Pulse of Nature – Normally this music is performed in Imax theatres and planetariums by a full band with a video extravaganza. The album of the same name features over 95 musicians, so it was going to be interesting to see how this would transfer to the second stage at Tech-Fest. What we got was a stripped-down version; just the main man, Chilean born Javier Sepúlveda and drummer Leo Margarit from Pain of Salvation. The rest was all on backing tapes. Being the opening act on the first day it was sparsely attended, but those of us who were there experienced a sublime, ethereal rendition of material from the album. Javier eased us into the festival, first on his 7-string Skervesen guitar, and then – what we had all been waiting for – his 16-string Claas guitar (more about this later). What a fantastic start to a much-anticipated weekend.
Midway through the afternoon, Javier Sepúlveda gave a master class on the third stage. He talked about the techniques he uses on his 16-string guitar, techniques he learned from Felix Martin. He demonstrated chord triads and splitting the notes between the two necks in order to play it very fast. The co-ordination is mind-blowing. His guitar is custom built by Claas and consists of two 8 string guitars side by side. Javier plays the bottom fretboard with his left hand and the top one with his right. Both necks are tuned to the same normal tuning. He finished by playing an instrumental version of ‘Thanks to Life’ by Chilean singer Violeta Parra who tragically took her own life in 1967.
The final band for the day on the second stage were Jonestown. The band from Brighton closed the Fireball stage with a well-received set of brutal metal including songs from their 2018 release “Dyatlov”.
Everything now switched to the main stage, starting with Voices from the Fuselage. By now most people who were starting the festival on the first day had arrived and the main hall was quite full. The band seemed pleasantly surprised and rewarded us with a flawless set. Ash O’Hara’s seemingly effortless vocals are beautiful, and they soared throughout songs from the band’s two “Odyssey” albums. The excellent sound really brought out the class of this band. Needless to say – they went down a storm.
Next up were Polaris. All the way from Sydney, Australia, this band were the big surprise of the day. The five-piece delivered an energetic metalcore set that had everyone paying attention. Screams from frontman Jamie Hails, complimented by cleans from bass player Jake Steinhauser. The weekend’s first big circle pit developed as the band blasted through songs mainly from their debut 2017 album “The Mortal Coil”. Follow that!
And now – for something completely different! Jon Gomm is a very talented acoustic guitar player/singer from Blackpool. As we entered the main hall for tonight’s headlining act, we were greeted by a sight not usual for Tech-Fest. The crowd control barriers had been laid flat on the floor and half the audience were sat in rows stretching back almost to the mixing desk. Available floor space was sparse, and we ended up at the back but with a clear view. Jon uses some very unusual techniques in his playing, including adding various drum sounds by hitting or flicking different areas of the guitar body. His set included instrumentals and songs including Gloria, which is about his first girlfriend complete with a story to introduce it, and a new song which he said was the first (and last?) time he’d played it live. The audience loved him, and he seemed genuinely astounded by this. So, the first day came to an end and it had a kind of wow feeling about it.
The second day started with coffee, beer and a dose of Death Metal. Abhorrent Decimation were just what the doctor ordered to blow any remaining cobwebs. The five-piece from London dragged us into Friday and gave us a good “wakey-wakey” shake.
Danish band Siamese came highly recommended. Having missed them last year we were keen to see them this time round. Their latest album “Super Human” has become a familiar one, so most of the songs were ones we recognised. The band’s sound could be described as pop/metal. The songs are catchy and well structured. Vocalist Mirza Radonjica-Bang has a beautiful clean singing style and the musicianship in the band shows in spades. Christian Hjort Lauritzen alternated between guitar and violin and the whole thing was a delight. Siamese were certainly one of the highlights of the day and indeed the festival.
Cold Nights for Alligators. This Danish band were on our list of ones to see. Unfortunately, technical issues before and during their set took some of the momentum out of the performance. Apparently they suffered the same thing last time they played Tech-Fest. They still got a good reaction from the understanding crowd and we enjoyed the bit we saw. Such a shame, especially when you only have a 30 minute time slot.
Andy James is an English guitarist who has previously been a member of Budgie, I Legion, Sacred Mother Tongue and The Fields of the Nephilim. He now releases solo albums, the latest of which is “Arrival” released in 2018. Joining Andy on stage for this gig were two guys who he has worked with for many years; Craig Daws on bass and Lee Newell on drums. This tight little unit performed a faultless professional set with Andy playing jaw dropping, spiralling guitar wizardry. The highlight of the set being the exquisite ‘After Midnight‘ from “Arrival”.
Next, over on the small (Fireball) stage, were the intriguing Red Method. Guitarist Quinton Lucion sports an 8 string Jackson guitar, and a silver-grey mask. Keyboard player Alex Avdis, head shaven one side, long hair cascading down the other, lugs his battered keyboards with the words ‘NO MORE’ scrawled across the front, around the stage like a true showman. The band have a striking image, kind of Mad Max meets Slipknot! They are visually entertaining, and the songs are catchy and heavy containing big grooves and hooks. ‘Messiah‘ and ‘Split‘ are both from the upcoming debut album “For the Sick”, due for release later in 2019. Vocalist Jeremy Gomez apparently performed despite suffering from acute bronchitis. What a star. This six-piece UK band are definitely one to look out for.
It’s six o’clock and time for Icefish. A UK exclusive, this band are billed as a Supergroup. Drummer Virgil Donati has played with a host of people including Derek Sherinian’s Planet X. He was one of the seven drummers who auditioned for Dream Theater after the departure of Mike Portnoy. Frontman and bass player Andrea Casali played with Italian progressive metal band Astra. Marco Sfogli is an Italian guitar player who has played with many artists, notably James LaBrie and keyboard player Alex Argento has released albums under his own name. The band’s debut 2017 album “Human Hardware” was on show this evening. Strong clean vocals, nice guitar and keyboard work and technically intricate drums from Mr Donati (including a short drum solo). The hall was only half full but songs such as ‘Lost’ and ‘The Pieces’ went down well and the band seemed pleased.
The rest of Friday finished on a heavier note. Archspire from Vancouver were originally billed on the main stage on Sunday, but due to a logistical problem got moved to the Friday headline slot on the Fireball stage. The room was packed, the view was limited, the band played at 100mph, it was hot, it was sweaty, and everyone loved it. Black Tongue from Kingston Upon Hull delivered what was probably the heaviest, dirtiest sounding set of the weekend. The packed main hall reacted accordingly. Then the second day was almost over, just one act to finish it off. And finish it off they did, Dying Fetus from the USA, launched into a blistering set. It’s a marvel how just three musicians can produce the wall of sound that this band do and keep it up for 90 minutes. We took no notes or photographs, we just let the heavy metal goodness wash over us. Then to bed and preparation for day three. Halfway through and that wow factor was still there.
On paper day three looked the strongest line-up, especially the main (Line 6) stage. First up US sludge-metal band, Armed for Apocalypse. This three-piece got the crowd going straight away and a circle pit soon formed. The band were celebrating 10 years since the release of their debut, “Defeat”. Pre-festival research indicated 4 members of this band, there seemed to be a guitarist missing today. As it turned out this was a recurring theme over the next two days. Anyway, a good start to the day.
Next, from Trondheim, Norway – 22. A quirky little band from the land of the Fjords and hometown of our friend and fellow The Progspace editor, Rune Belsvik Reinås. The band describe their genre as New Energy Musik. It’s progressive pop/rock, similar in style to Leprous in places. A very enjoyable set taken mostly from their 2018 album, “You Are Creating”. The band obviously have a lot of fun on stage and the sizable audience had fun too.
Staying with the main stage, from Mannheim, Germany; The Intersphere. This band’s material is very varied, all clean vocals but often going from softer subtle passages to heavier sections within the same song. The 2018 album “The Grand Delusion” deals with the very deep question: “How real is reality?” – Christoph Hessler, Thomas Zipner, Daniel Weber and Moritz Müller work well together and it was a very enjoyable 30 minutes.
Continuing the International theme, from Venezuela; guitar virtuoso Felix Martin. Fortunately, Felix now lives in Los Angeles but is still strongly opposed to the regime that governs his country of birth. His latest album is titled “Caracas” and features traditional songs and styles from Venezuela. It is dedicated to the people who continue to fight for freedom. On a lighter note Felix plays self-designed guitars. For today’s performance he selected his 16-string twin neck, which is very similar to the one played on Thursday by Javier Sepulveda (who was also on stage with Felix playing bass). The line-up is completed by drummer Eular Morais from Portugal. What follows is a mind-blowing display of dexterity by this multi-national combo. Leaning up at the side of the stage was Javier’s 16-string guitar, and the prospect of seeing both him and Felix playing a 32-string tech-feast was an exciting one, make no mistake. Sadly, due to a holdup earlier in the day, Felix had to cut his set short, so this phenomenon was never witnessed.
Over on the Fireball Stage, South African rockers Deity’s Muse only had a handful of people to play to, but never-the-less gave a solid performance. Drawing from their album “Convergence” and EP “Lungs Full”. Enjoyable to watch, just not many people watching.
Back to the main stage and yet another different country. One we had been looking forward to, Shokran from Russia. Hang on, where’s the bass player? On a backing tape, that’s where. Disappointing, but the remaining three put on a blistering show, seeming to stick to the heavier tracks from their albums “Exodus” and “Ethereal”. Dmitry Demyanenko posed on the right-hand side with his sparkly golden 7-string guitar and matching gold medallion, firing off rapid solos. Vocalist Andrew Ivashchenko leapt gymnastically around the stage, geeing up the crowd. It was powerful, almost brutal but not quite what we had expected. ‘Golden Pendant’ from the latest album injected a little melody into the set. They had a decent sized audience who stayed to the end.
Now it was time for a band that organiser Simon Garrod has been championing. From Oxford TTNG (formerly known as This Town Needs Guns). The band describe themselves as Indie, their discography spans from 2008 to 2018. The band members are listed as: Tim Collis, Chris Collis and Henry Tremain, although there was a fourth member on stage singing. The guitar work is quite intricate, and the songs have a mellow feel to them. Not everyone’s thing but they had a good crowd and went down well.
Another UK exclusive, technical death metal from Australia’s Psycroptic. On a day full of superb bands, it would take a lot to stand out. These guys certainly did that. A brutal, driving, powerful set featuring songs from their 2018 album “As the Kingdom Drowns”. The boys from down under absolutely nailed it and the audience lapped it up. Everyone was now well and truly ready for the headliners.
As with many bands at Tech-Fest the headliners were a first time for us. London based Monuments had so far eluded us until now. The band had announced the departure of singer Chris Barretto literally days before the festival. His replacement was named as Andy Cizek of Florida band Makari. Andy’s debut performance with the band had been three days earlier in Brighton. This appearance was part of an ongoing tour showcasing their album “Phronesis”. The set was surprisingly short; under an hour. It was, however, excellent from start to finish. Andy handled the vocals perfectly and guitarist Olly Steele gave us a masterclass on his Ibanez guitars, first 7 and later 8-strings. It’s always a good sign if you can enjoy a band without knowing any of their material. Monuments are one of those bands. A definite highlight of the festival and a fitting end to day three.
The last day had arrived, everyone by now feeling a bit jaded, due to the sun, alcohol and the aural pummelling over the previous three days. Project Mishram from India, eased us into the day with their east meets west style of music. This seven piece band mix western genres (rock, metal, jazz etc) with Indian classical music. Mishram actually means ‘Mix’ and also denotes the number seven in Sanskrit. Incorporating flute and violin as well as guitars and drums the septet from Bangalore gave us a very entertaining 30 minutes, including a rendition of their new single ‘Cynic Machine’. There was a good crowd in and everyone seemed to enjoy the show very much. Later that afternoon, there was a Konnakol vocal masterclass with vocalist Shivaraj Natraj and drummer Sanath Shanbougue. This was also well attended and some joined in with Shivaraj as he demonstrated this element of Carnatic music. Konnakol is based on number patterns and is the spoken component of solkattu, a combination of konnakol syllables which are spoken while counting the tala with the hand. Sort of an Asian math rock!
Back to the Fireball stage for Mask of Judas. Oh no! There’s a guitarist missing. This UK five piece became a four piece for today’s performance. Sam Bell couldn’t make it as he had other commitments. So, it was all down to Reece Fullwood to play all the guitar parts. Jo Challen’s vocals sound a bit like Tatiana from Jinjer in places. She has the full range of styles at her disposal; growls, screams and angelic cleans and slips seamlessly from one to another. Reece made things look easy on his 8-string guitar. The set consisted of material from the excellent 2018 album “The Mesmerist”. So, another brilliant British band to keep an eye out for, hopefully next time with the full band.
Over to the main stage for the rest of the day. Another great UK band from Glasgow, From Sorrow to Serenity. This time there was an extra guitarist on stage. It was Craig Gowans of Bleed from Within (also from Glasgow) who played here last year. That was one of the best sets of last year’s festival. This year these Glaswegians also proceeded to deliver one of the best shows of the weekend. The recently released album “Reclaim” was the source of much of this lively hour. It’s was that time of the day when the lighting starts to have a real effect on the show but you can still see the band. Guitarists Steven Jones (who is also in Bleed from Within) and Craig Gowans threw shapes, their long hair flicking back and forth. Andrew Simpson would occasionally wander to the front of the stage and stand as if taking a break. With his bass guitar slung across his shoulders behind his head, he would leer at the audience as if trying to goad them into some sort of frenzy. Drummer Ian Baird seemed to have a permanent grin as he laid into his kit with gusto. Gaz King on vocals put heart and soul into his delivery, face contorted by the sheer effort. We missed this band when they played here in 2018, but very glad we didn’t miss them this time. Ah well, yet another band to keep an eye on.
Down to the last two bands of the festival. From Stockholm, Sweden Vildhjarta. The name in Swedish means ‘Wildheart’. There would appear to be six members, but it was difficult to say how many were on stage. Best guess is four. The stage was so full of smoke and all dimly back-lit, that you rarely caught a glimpse of anyone. Some were there sure enough and they played a loud powerful set, much loved by the crowd. The last album was in 2011 so most of the set must have been from “Måsstaden”. There are also two EPs “Omnislash” (2009) and “Thousands of Evils” (2013). It was dark and mysterious – and very enjoyable. There are rumours of a new album, we’ll see.
So, to the last band of the festival, Leprous. This is a band that we have seen quite a few times and in four different countries. We had no real expectations this time around. Sometimes they can be excellent, sometimes a bit boring. You never can be sure what sort of show you are going to get. What we got here was Leprous at their best. Again the stage was smoky and back-lit so all we could see were silhouettes. But what the hell, we were on the last band of fifty five. Over forty hours of music behind us. Plenty of amazing bands, great company and a few beers along the way. The weather had been kind, hot at times but not as hot as 2018. Back to reality tomorrow, but how real is reality? For now though we let these talented Norwegians take us through to the finish line.
Many thanks to Simon and all the Tech-Fest team for another outstanding festival. We will be back next year.
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