My journey to the wonderful UK Tech Metal Fest 2015 began as all great adventures do, with a reluctant morning wank and a 6 hour drive to the north. No wait – sorry – that’s how all tragedies begin which, if anything, is a more apt description of my life in general. But regardless of how you term my travels, that is surely how it began.
I travelled to the hallowed grounds of Blackpool in a van called “Lunchbox”, accompanied by a mentally ill bald man, a diabetic lifeguard and a bearded man whose tolerance of me dwindled with every squeaky, hayfevered throat-breath I made beside him. Lunchbox chugged along safely and delivered us to our destination to pick up a few fellow travellers. I didn’t catch their names because I couldn’t understand their thick accents, but from what I’m told they’re actually friends of mine who I’ve known for a while. Strange.
We arrived at Tech-Fest on Wednesday night and pitched up ready for the earlybird entertainment on the Thursday. It’s a strange thing, arriving at Tech-Fest… A wonderfully strange thing. And I’m not talking about wonderfully strange in the way that a good poo can make your left leg go numb, I’m talking about the romantic, nostalgic excitement of knowing you’re about to spend 5 days in such an awesome environment. My merry band and I immediately start bumping into friends from last year’s festival and feel that familiar welcome that the Tech-Metal family do so well. I’m not going to segue this line in… in fact by even mentioning that I’m highlight the fact that it’s an addendum which I’ve crowbarred in, but here’s a sentence I want you to read: The most memorable part of my day pre-bands was stumbling across this wonderful middle class suburbanite utopia:
“Just out of shot is an Ainsley Harriot flag I helped construct. Look at that fencing though. Gorgeous”
For those of you who have read my articles before and are wondering how I’ve made it through three paragraphs without referencing a self-imposed narcotic blackout, fear not – we’ll get to that. However, for the first two days of Tech-Fest I was almost completely sober for reasons I still can’t really remember, understand or justify. I will say this of my sober demeanour, though… a friend sent me a photo, and it speaks for itself…
“I told you, Fred, It’s Scotch or Hammers and you drunk all the Glenmorangie!”
“Bands, you self-indulgent cunt!” I hear you cry, interrupting my narcissistic masturbatory deluge. Yes, there were those too. I was keen to get in and start enjoying the music as early possible and so the first band on my list was SENTIENCE. SENTIENCE enter the stage with commendable confidence for a festival opening band. They begin to plough through slow, groovy riffs laden with the slippy slappy bass and big guitar textures. The frontman was pretty cool and was doing his best to engage a fresh and sober audience. Unfortunately, I decided to leave briefly after the first two songs as, being the first band on, the sound had not been fixed for the room yet and everything was uncomfortably (and get off my lawn whilst you’re at it!!!) loud and treble-y. I returned with some ear plugs and saw the last song. Low, gnarly vocals from the frontman were a stand out, and big syncopated slappy guitar/bass riffs are the driving force of the show. Nothing mindblowing, but a good solid start to UKTF 2015.
Next up on the same stage were Agent all the way from New Zealand. Agent take the stage with Fender Stratocasters and Jazzmasters in hand which made a welcome divergence from the plethora of 8 and 9 and 26 string guitar we’d soon see across the weekend. The sound quality had noticeably improved since Sentience’s set, and Agent milk this boost as they flood the room with big, bass heavy textures. I try to avoid critique through comparison when I watched bands but it’s hard to escape the enormous influence Tool must be for this band, as songs like “Collecting Scars” have simple reek of them, right down to the guitar tones and the haircuts.
However, other songs include a a mesh of different timbres, including a number with a punkier, thrashier edge, and others with more pop-style melodies. I did really enjoy their set and there are plenty of qualities about the band that made them a pleasure to see, however two things of note for me that detracted from the performance were often uninteresting vocal melodies and a stage presence which gradually wilted like the flowers left in the care of a botanist’s grieving widow. One of my favourite parts of the set was a long, atmospheric moment toward the end which involved textures from all instruments, building to a heavy climax – a great example of dynamic and emotive control.
“When will my husband return from war?”
Third up was Brutai, whom mount the stage with safety in numbers in mind, because there were about eighty-two of them. Or six. More likely, six. Definitely six. Amongst them was a keyboardist, which I’m always happy to see because I love bands that can provide their symphonic or textural elements with live performance rather than a backing track (not that I’m criticising backing tracks – several bands I perform with use them!). Brutai blend technically tinged, rolling heavy riffs with emotive poppy melody and song structure, which combines for a winning effect, and since returning home and listening to their tracks online I’ve definitely been made a fan of their songwriting – especially the large harmonic textures that accompany the chorus melodies. In terms of their live performance, I thought that things were a little loose and could have done with a little more rehearsal time, and felt that the backing vocals (and vocals in general) were a little under par for the rest of their music. The band, and the vocalist especially, have a good energy and carry the crowd well throughout their set
Taking a brief break from music, I went for a lie down and ended up accidentally falling asleep for several hours with my naked hairy rump fawning for the appreciation of passers-by through the unfastened porch of my tent. Whoops. I arose from my inappropriate slumber just in time for PLINI.
Now, I’d heard an enormous amount of fuss about PLINI building up to his set, and hadn’t the gumption to actually check out his music prior to the performance. It turns out this was irrelevant, because I own everything he’s ever done now. Plini’s set was absolutely breath taking; Magnificent, marvellous, and a thousand other superlatives. Plini’s music at first seems like it fits neatly into the prog box with Dream Theater, but delicately borrows from the musical vocabulary of jazz fusion giants like Allan Holdsworth and Frank Gambale and dunks it in an enormous, beautiful, poignant, melodious stew to brew with the kind of tonal optimism of Shawn Lane (think “Grey Pianos Flying”) and transmutes all this data, with convincing chutzpah, into an adventurous and utterly captivating musical journey (Waiter, more journalistic clichés please!).
“Plini succumbing to the enormous gravity of the Tech Fest Singularity Stage Scrim”
Plini’s music is an absolute godsend, and is both intellectually and emotively engaging from start to finish, dancing between dynamic extremes and always always with an ear for the song as a whole – which is devastatingly difficult to pull off for instrumental music like this. I have absolutely no doubt that Plini will be one of those musical figures who is revered by musicians in history for his contribution to the musical library. Thank you for your performance, Plini, and thank you for your compositions. Needless to say, his expert team of musicians including Disperse’s Jakub Zytecki perform, despite their age, like seasoned professionals effortlessly executing every nuance of the music. One Hundred and Six out of Ten.
After Plini’s set I needed nothing short of an Enema to calm my loins, but had to settle for a sit down and an ice cream cone which, with my intermittent lactose intolerance, would effectively achieve the same thing. I stared into space and wondered two things: 1) “What on earth can top that?” and 2) “Why am I bleeding from the face?” It appears that I was either a miracle religious omen on canvas, or more likely was simply suffering a haemorrhage of the general area de visage. Fortunately, I didn’t die and could continue to go on and enjoy Hacktivist, which I’m fairly confident is a good thing.
“I tried googling Enema first, lord knows why I couldn’t find a suitable picture…”
Hacktivist were essentially just right royally fucking dench. They sounded absolutely enormous. The 8 and 9 string guitars stomp along carrying the heavy aggression of their riffs, punctuating syncopated rhythms in unison with the slapped bass and kick, forming the perfect locked in rhythm section for this kind of music. Hacktivist stand as a brilliantly unique member of the Tech Metal musical family, and have carved themselves a niche which nobody seems to be able to join them in, probably because they’ve already got that shit locked down. The two frontmen of Hacktivist are a master-class in stage presence and crowd control. From moment to moment and song to song, the crowd are absolutely eating up anything J Hurley and Ben Marvin say or do. As much as it irks me to use this word un-ironically, they absolutely embody swagger. In fact, the whole band do. Exuding a collective confidence which brings every person in the room into their world, Hacktivist power through their set going from stride to stride. Enormous mosh pits open up as the UKTF audience just can’t but help have fun. It’s also a great joy to see a largely white audience awkwardly sing along to “Niggas in Paris”. But that’s the point: fun. Hacktivist are fucking fun. I haven’t enjoyed a live set with that sort of vigour and balls for a while. Hacktivist were the perfect band to close the early bird stage – a great booking on the part of UKTF – and put us in exactly the right mood to continue the party into the early hours.
… Or sit in a tent and get really high and shout loudly about spring rolls and bus fares until you pass out. I didn’t dream that night, but if I had it would have been a good dream. Probably about bears. Bears in a beautiful world of rainbows… bears in a beautiful rainbow world without dysentery. Right up until I woke up for day two…
– Devin Bellend