When it comes to reviews I realise that I am, for want of a better expression a verbose bastard. So for those of you who don't want to delve any further into my UKTF experience, yet want to know what the atmosphere was like, let me provide you a quick capsule review: Its a brain-melting, friend making, life affirming experience. Filled with brilliant music, hilarious capers and friendly people – Get your backside and all it's attached to along to Next Years Event!
Got that? Great.
Huge Thanks to Lee Harper Photography for the gorgeous photos
Part 2: Saturday, Sunday, Monday
Saturday shed it's dressing gown and stretched, sultry and enthusiastic in the sharp Nottinghamshire light. The sun, strong of force with its early morning greeting, had turned the assembled tents into temporary, plastic saunas; occasioning an almost universal exodus by the campers for ablutions, breakfasts, beer and blazing; not necessarily in that order.
But this was not about to dampen, or more appropriately, grill, anyone’s spirits. Simply because being at TechFest was to share in a collective sense of joie de vivre, a sensation that one does not normally experience in general life. You greeted everyone that you passed, with a cursory nod or a celebratory hug, either way the cumulative effect was the same. Striking up conversations with absolute strangers became so commonplace and so warmly reciprocated that ceasing to do it after returning to normality took conscious effort and a heavy heart.
The morning passed for me in an odd mixture of relaxed conviviality and mild panic; chatting with friends or searching for musicians scheduled to be interviewed. This was because today was, press-wise, our busiest day. This would mean I wouldn't see any bands until late afternoon. However I am reliably informed that Orion, Now Voyager, Lies of Nazca and Stone Circle all played excellent sets worthy of greater attendance.
It must be stated that the smallish daytime audiences should not be associated with any appreciative reticence or laziness on the behalf of the collected Techfestians. The roofs of the stage hangers were made from a combination of corrugated iron and plastic; meaning that heat could gain entry but not escape. Consequently at the height of the day the temperature inside lunged towards a formidable 34 degrees. Combined with a lunchtime musical start, the unfortunate corollary was that crowds numbering only 40 or 50 were common.
This being said, some artists have a special relationship with their fans which inspires great feats of devotion and commitment. Who are so suffuse with natural charisma that fans forebear any hardships lightly so that they might see them perform. And Drewsif Stalin is one of those performers. When he took the stage at 2.30pm what must have been 300 people had already assembled. As the temperature of the main-stage area climbed ever skywards Drewsif along with his chanteuse Nikki Simmons put forth a performance that can only be described as sensational. Muscular riffing, rhythmic dexterity and a sense of timing that any comedian would kill for are just some of the tools that he can Snap-On at will.
Every one of those in attendance felt that they were watching a friend do his thing. Not without good reason. As over the previous 72 hours Drew had become a ubiquitous presence; everywhere I looked, there he was: large as life and twice as talented, making strangers into friends and fans into drinking buddies. The lack of any real separation between “VIP” camping and the rest of the site facilitating a mingling of fans and bands that was so complete it ceased to be a novelty in no time; leaving people to commune in the most natural way possible: as individuals devoid of designation. And Drew's magnanimity was just that bit more emphatic than anyone else's. Literally, everyone I quizzed about it over that weekend seemed to have their own “Drewsif enhanced my life” story. Even me…
…Friday folded the cloak of midnight around its shoulders and strode off into the past. Leaving in its wake a coating of heavy mist which descended in moments, bringing down with it the temperature and a medium skim of moisture laden air. I was stood outside of my tent braving the comparatively chilly air, trying my best to keep papers dry and roll a cigarette. When who should hove out of the mist like some Djentlemanly apparition but Drewsif himself. Clad in a capacious, turquoise shirt with an impish lop-sided grim serrated across his face.
“Hey Man” he said, his resonant basso profundo voice vibrating the mist.
“Hey Drew!” I replied, shivering slightly as my fingers wrapped themselves around the tobacco.
“You look cold.”
“I've been warmer Old Chap.” and scarcely had the words passed my lips when my whole body became enveloped in a Drewsif Stalin bear-hug; it was surprising to be so suddenly embraced by this mountain of musical magic but absolutely in keeping with the egalitarian nature of the whole Festival: everyone pitches in with friendship and love for music and thus the communal bowl overflows with joy. Making such interactions not only possible but compulsory.
For ten minutes we stood and hugged, or should I say, I stood and smoked while Drew hugged me, cocooning me in his warmth, until my cigarette was gone and someone else needed his ministration……….
The next act I was determined to catch was late inclusion Maxi Curnow, with the live debut of his STEM EP. Accompanied by the Monumental (ahem) Mike Malyan on drums and Chris Gregson on bass, they worked their way through Stem, which is, should my opinion be trusted, a phenomenal piece of music; a paragon of progressive possibility, aquiline in it altitude and mercurial in its transitions.
Despite several technical and performance issues (The trio only had time for 2 rehearsals prior to TF) the show was a delicate and coveted success for all that had anticipated it. Its victory only matched by Maxi’s in the “Best Dressed Man at TechFest Contest.” A fictional contest, it should be understood, of my own devising; so named because of the sibilant resonance in the rhyme scheme. Say it aloud to yourself- its surprisingly pleasing. But all flippancy aside, he’s a champion, Surrey's nicest man and a big hearted human. STEM can be downloaded here; all proceeds go directly to an Indian orphanage.
A quick recharge, of both glass and clothing led into a headlong spring from my tent to the main stage so as not to miss a moment of Nexilva, whom I have seen several times recently, yet the desire to witness their incendiary live show has not diminished one iota. Even in the brightest of daylight, the atmosphere they conjure is darkly chilling. Their melodic sense, a filigree of jagged shapes and textures floating over the muscular momentum of their rhythm section. Although they may have begun physically wilting towards the end of their set due to the intense heat, that it was hardly noticed in their playing is a testament to their fortitude.
Much like Nexilva by this point in the day I was flagging, a combination of interviews, searching for bands, forgetting to eat and the ambient pressure of the heat was far too much for my fragile body to handle and I needed a moment or two of restorative meditation in conjunction with a hearty meal to bring me back to the surface.
Unfortunately this would mean missing both The Algorithm and Meta Stasis; both of whom, according to my co-opted correspondent “Fucking Smashed it Mate!” I should really cast the net wider when it comes to tertiary opinion but he declares this statement with such pre-eminent vehemence that it would seem churlish to cast any doubt on his enthusiasm. And TechFest is certainly no place to crush either passion or dreams. So, I took it at its face value, and within the confines of this reminiscence you will have to as well, but this disappointment is tempered by the fact that both are cracking bands.
From the outside looking in, the inclusion of Jon Gomm on the TechFest bill may have appeared to be a left-field decision. But across the whole weekend I didn’t ask anyone who they were looking forward to, without having the reply include his name. So the level of anticipation as he sound-checked (to an exacting degree) was palpable. The breath of the audience hung baited in the air as he began his set; with what was basically a 7 minute R’n’B song about lost love and the crowd lapped it up.
From this it was evident that we were going to get John Gomm undiluted, without any concession to the fact he was playing a metal festival. And in the true spirit of equality the crowd reciprocated; initially by starting a ‘circle pit’ which morphed with startling speed into a Conga Line and then by crowd surfing to his most well-known song ‘Passionflower’; much to the man’s delight it must be said. His style of playing really is a marvel; constant retuning’s emphasising the harmonic interplay and that he is also his own rhythm section just adds to his beguiling artistry. My prevailing memory of him will be the way that he zoned into the guitar before each song, just like a bob-sleigh driver before a race; a window into the intriguing psychology of this genius musician.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Monuments, but after having my mind blown so completely by Mr. Gomm I was in no fit state to bounce around. So I retired to my tent to listen from afar and rationalise for myself what I had just seen.
Sometimes you sleep at festivals, on other occasions you remain tethered by an elastic reality to consciousness in such a way that allows you to rest yet remain aware and cognisant of the conversations happening around you. This way how I spent my night; wrapped in a cocoon of celebration at the conversations happening in my vicinity. In turns hilarious and intelligent and occasionally both. Politeness is not often an adjective that one would associate with a festival crowd and please do not think by me using it here that I am saying that the TechFesters are an insipid bunch; far from it. They are vibrant, clever, artistic, inventive, impassioned, compassionate, funny, caring and thoughtful. But the fact that a good, nay, great time could be had by everyone without causing the swathes of irritation that is de rigur for festival life, is a testament to the politeness and the basic goodness of those in attendance.
So, it was with a head full of conversation and laughter that I awoke on Sunday morning. My brain finding room for both excitement and sadness in its synaptic symphony; excitement that today I would be seeing 2 of my favourite bands of all time; Sikth and The Ocean. But Sadness that our time remaining at TechFest was manifestly finite.
But before I had time to shed any tears for the FuturePast, I had to go and see the boys from Doomed From Day One kick things off on the 2nd stage. Despite this early time slot, they powered through their set of hardcore infused Death Metal with a veracity of performance that many older and more experienced musicians could do well to notice. Aggressive yet facile in its use of syncopation, their music is thrilling and highly motivational. However much I enjoy their current crop of tunes, I do feel that they are poised to write the songs that will lift them up to the next level of success.
Some more press business meant missing out on Shields and Kodeks but I was determined to see Aeolist; who had produced my favourite EP of all last year. Especially as Luke, their drummer was going to be playing despite seriously damaging his wrist during some camp site hi-jinx.
In the circumstances their performance was inspiring. Once again, they made my spirit capitulate to their sublime facility with melodic structure. They manipulate the audience without having an agenda and this is perhaps why their performance is so impactful. Not that it is without guile but it is devoid of cynicism or other arch considerations; which lets the true cognitive beauty of their music ring through. And notwithstanding a broken wrist Luke is still one of the best young drummers in the whole of the UK. I just hope he can forgive me for the bad luck.
An unexpected number of ad-hoc interviews meant I would miss Exist Immortal (who are great), Friend for a Foe and Destrange (“Both Fucking Smashed it Mate!”), as well as a number of other acts I would have loved to encounter in a live setting. But needs must on these occasions and festivals are as much a place for bands to engage with the press en masse as they are for musical entertainment. Though after 3 days of doing this, it was with a light heart that I wrapped up the last of my interviews, plaited my hair into pig tails and skipped into the arena to see Aliases.
Whom were finally getting to play at TechFest after circumstances had unfortunately colluded against them at previous editions and a bicycle accident had even cast doubt upon their set this year. But they and the expectant crowd was not to be denied this time around. As they bounced around the stage electrifying the audience with their effervescent brand of melodic Tech. New material from their up coming LP was debuted much to the delight of those assembled. Thunderous in their approach yet delicate and dexterous when they need to be, this is a band, who, with the right wind behind them could become a force on the world stage. Having said that I must iterate that they are already large and in charge in the hearts of the UKTM scene.
The next band I saw was the mighty multi-national collective that is The Ocean, playing their formidable album Pelegial in its entirety. Their set pulsed with the kind of power that a lot of bands can only dream of. Commanding the attention of a slightly smaller than anticipated crowd, with the ease of genuine professionals. Their frontman crowd-surfing time and again, much to the visible concern of ever present security guard and all round hero Lewis Jewell. The crowd, however, held up their end of the surfing bargain and nothing untoward happened. Except, that is, a grand time being had by all.
I guess the reason for The Oceans' audience being smaller than expected was that pretty much everyone was steeling themselves for the ultra anticipated set of Tech Metal progenitors Sikth. Tamping down their excitement and loading up on their favourite intoxicating comestibles.
And so it was that I looked out over a emphatically empty campsite as they took to the stage. The arena packed almost literally to its rafters, with the hum of expectation honing the tremulous excitement to a definite and incisive point. This expectation was not to be left unfulfilled. Sikth played like a band who might never play another show. Fluid and percussive from the start they launched into Bland Street Bloom immediately instigating the largest mosh pit of the weekend. Indeed by the midpoint of their set, it seemed as though the pit would expand to include; the sound engineers, those watching at side stage, the security behind the barriers and even the bar staff located next door. For an incendiary 90 minutes they played with a power than seemed enhanced by the intense and jubilant crowd reaction, which in reciprocal turn hyped the crowd even more.
As is always the case, enjoyment compresses time and as quickly has it had started, it was over. Leaving 600 sweaty, disheveled but exultant revellers to spill from the venue back towards their tents. Trailing away with perspiration masking the streaming tears, entranced by the moment and the fulfillment of what, for many, would have been a fantasy.
To me, this embodied the whole experience of TechFest. From Wednesday night right through until a bleary Monday morning, I saw dreams being made flesh all around. Not all dreams the size of a Sikth reunion show, but hundreds of individual moments of aspirational simpatico; seconds fulfilling and golden. These moments are the sustenance by which we survive our daily humdrum existence and we go to festivals in the wan hope that, perhaps, we can find them and refuel our stocks of joy and hope. But rare are the places that offer them in such glorious abundance, as they have been over this weekend.
The whole experience engendered in me a sense of what being part of the Summer of Love must have felt like. The primacy of collusion; when place, time and intention harmoniously coincide to create a pervading feeling of relaxation, opportunity and contentment. A feeling, moreover, so genuine, that the normally destructive pairing of self-awareness and over-excitement could not put it asunder.
This is what music festivals should be about; a temporary commune where like-minded individuals collect together to worship together at the twin Altars of Friendship and Music.
……….Monday was goose grey to begin with. Perhaps not showing its colours off too early was its way of showing sympathy towards us and that we would have to leave this place, our temporary haven and head back to our own necks of woods and daily grinds. I packed with focus and attention to chronological detail because my taxi was due to collect me at 8am sharp, ready to convey me to my coach; back to London, back to reality.
But as the clouds began to burn away, revealing a cerulean blue sky, a realisation began to dawn on me. An epiphany that there was no need to be sad or feel blue about leaving Newark; for we had all shared in creating this sublime experience. That for the people who had been here, loved these moments, celebrated the spectacle, rejoiced in the music and made these friends; this was the beginning of the rest of their life. Secure in the knowledge that nothing had been faked and all of this had happened, that TechFest was real, actual and not a figment of my romantic imagination. So much more than a feeling………..
See You Next Year. xx
– John Whitmore