UK Tech Fest

Dates: July 6, 2017– July 10, 2017

Sunday begins with a bang: Oxford death metallers A Trust Unclean tear through the sort of set that sounds like an audition to be mentioned in a dictionary definition of heavy. Throwing in plenty of guitar wizardry for good measure, it is relentlessly brutal, and they certainly have the chops to fill a much higher slot in the future.

Oni then proceed to deliver on several fronts; groove-laden, but also melodic, technically impressive but very accessible in the live arena. While there are fine individual performances on guitar, bass, and (at least when you can hear it) xylosynth – whatever the fuck that is – they’re another band that suffer from the stifling heat, leading to a somewhat flat crowd.

Promising “one 32 minute song because we’re prog as fuck,” Novena are forced to perform with only 3 members of the actual band, and Mike Malyan performing drums from a keyboard because of a back injury. It’s perhaps understandable that it takes a few minutes for them to get going, but when they reach full levels of prog, it’s great fun to listen to. Massive respect (particularly to Malyan) for soldiering through.

Sarah Longfield returns to the stage after her performance the previous day with The Fine Constant for more of the same; a meandering, relaxing, guitar workout, that you just drift along with. While her technical credentials aren’t in any doubt, there’s always a sense of aimless, slightly playful wandering, and personally, that laid-back nature is where the appeal lies.

Panzerballett are the sort of band perfectly suited to an open-minded festival audience: bouncy fun; think metalheads dancing badly to the ‘Pink Panther’ theme, and other jazz/metal hybrids with excellent names (‘Vulgar Display of Sauerkraut’). It’s a set that comprehensively puts several points front and centre: Germans can be funny, instrumental metal can be a hell of a lot of fun, and everything needs more saxophone.

It’s testament to the open-mindedness of Tech Fest attendees that Igorrr can not only succeed at the festival, but be considered by most to be one of the absolute highlights. Equal parts unnerving – thanks in no small part to male vocalist Laurent Lunoir – and crushingly heavy, it’s hard to be sure whether you should be throwing down, waltzing, or breakdancing, so, logically, all three happen at once. It’s like being in an orgy with Alec Empire, Chopin, and Cannibal Corpse; an exhausting, overwhelming experience that leaves you shattered, but comprehensively satisfied. And, like all the best orgies, the closest thing to a disappointment is that the pet chicken wasn’t involved.

Ingested, the final band to grace the Gigantic Stage this year, close it with a bang, hyper-fast and hyper-brutal death metal prompting a near constant barrage of sweaty action, even though the heat hasn’t died down yet. Jay Evans is a daunting presence on vocals, constantly egging the crowd to keep the momentum going – even prompting a silent wall of death when there are technical issues towards the end. An impressive show.

Beyond Creation fall into a similar category to Obscura – for all their technical brilliance, they’re never going to be a band with sing-along anthems, or who prompt a party, and as such will always risk getting lost slightly at festivals. Take nothing away from them; they’re tight as fuck, and Hugo Doyon-Karout is one hell of a bassist, but it’s not really a set that anybody who isn’t already a fan will remember.

I’ll admit it, when Northlane were first announced for the festival, I thought it was a slightly weak outcome (I was hoping for Dillinger); but, not for the first time this weekend, I’ve had my mind changed by a stunning headline performance. Obviously, their technical djent component is well-written and near-flawlessly performed – it’s in the festival name, after all – but it’s the emotional undercurrent that sets Northlane apart from the vast majority of their peers at the festival. For every track that opened up the (now, slightly weary) pit, there was another to prompt a mass sing-along; fragile melodies washing you away, “caught in the undertow, deeper and deeper, into the unknown…”

Being moved to an after-party, with a somewhat makeshift stage did little to stifle Bear’s rage. If there’s anything predictable about their live performance, it’s the unpredictability. It’s a savage performance to an endless parade of pits, and the two people playing late-night badminton, with no precarious speaker stack unclimbable, and no crowd unsurfable. Relatively tame by their standards…

After festival thoughts: I can’t recommend Tech Fest highly enough. You hear a lot of talk about the metal family, but this is the first festival where I’ve felt it 100%, from dancing with strangers to stealing their biscuits. It’s also the only festival I’ve done where more than half the bands playing would probably be in attendance anyway as punters were they not playing. Even though the hangars can get oppressively hot, it’s highly recommended for all fans of anything remotely prog-, death-, tech-, or math- related.

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