Thursday 

With the blaring heat of the sun continuing to dry out the UK, the Tech-Fest campsite is somewhat uncomfortable as metalheads alike attempt to put up their tents. The site is not yet full with the festival mainly beginning tomorrow. Thursday (or day zero) is attended by the most enthusiastic fans who want to experience the early musical performances. The sudden arrival of a mini tornado in the midafternoon is certainly stirring things up a bit.

 Performing on the Waghorn Guitars stage, the smaller of the two stages, Fractions (8) aren’t holding back despite their early afternoon set. Soaring vocals from Christophe Hare show immense talent and ability in their live performance. The instrumentation is tight with heavy bass and distortion on the guitars, yet the mix does not overpower the vocals as it so easily could. The heat of the stage is not comfortable but both band and audience are pushing through and enjoying the excellent performance. With such a high standard being set on day zero by a band on the smaller of the two Tech-Fest stages, the rest of the weekend is looking promising.

 Ravenface (8), also performing on the Waghorn Guitars stage, blow the audience away. The talent in this band is incredibly, particularly Leah Woodward’s intricate riffs and melodies which complement the heavier chord sequences. Ravenface’s performance of some heavier and lighter tracks creates an effective contrast and provides the melting metalheads with some respite from headbanging. This isn’t stopping some die hard metallers, however. Ravenface bring something different to the festival with the prominence of melodies in their tracks; their focus is not predominantly on rhythmic heaviness throughout all instrumentation parts and vocals. James Denton’s and Jack Ormond-Prout’s vocals harmonise adding to the detailed sound of their tracks, layered with guitar and synth melodies. Once again, the quality of bands performing at this early stage of the festival is incredible.

 Japanese metallers Crystal Lake (9) take the heaviness of the festival up a notch. Performing on the larger Winspear stage the larger speakers enhance their already ground shaking sound. Crystal Lake’s stage presence is extremely dramatic and heavy. Their cover of Limp Bizkit’s Rollin’ certainly appeals to the crowd, adding new dimensions and depth to the track. The audience is a sea of flying hair and headbanging. Ryo’s aggressive vocals have immense power behind them and give darker tones to the Limp Bizkit cover. Incredibly high energy levels are radiating from Crystal Lake and engulfing the audience, this is especially prevalent in the performance of their track Six Feet Under. Heavy guitar tones and bass create a powerful rhythmic heaviness that is then enhanced by the vocals. With the guitars carrying more of melody sections and split chords allowing more harmonies to be heard, the predominant heavy rhythmic nature of the tracks is not becoming overbearing. The reactions from the crowd and Crystal Lake’s performance feel like that of a headliner – it well and truly feels that Tech-Fest 2018 is beginning in full force.

 Headliners Heart Of A Coward (7) have decided to create an interesting atmosphere leading up to their set by having Three Lions blasting to the awaiting crowd. With heavy anticipation for the oncoming football match from many of the Tech-Fest goers, it’s not too surprising that the stage is full of people singing along. With the recent change in lineup, seeing Kaan Tasan taking position as new vocalist, it is uncertain how well he will be received. Ultimately, Heart Of A Coward give a good performance; the instrumentation creates a huge wall of sound with prevalent bass tones and heavy distortion. Tasan’s vocals are pretty well balanced among the instruments and his stage presence is highly interactive with the audience. The continuing football references are going down well. Comparing HOAC to the previous performances, they lack an extra something. Crystal Lake’s performance in particular had a captivating effect whilst, Ravenface and Fractions have unique aspects to their tracks which enhance their original sound. Despite this, Heart Of A Coward certainly continue to support the high quality of bands performing at the festival so far.

 As Thursday draws to a close, the overwhelming excitement of the high quality of bands performing builds anticipation for the days to follow. The variety of bands performing, including those who are of the tech-metal genre and those that fall into other metal sub-genres, maintains the enthusiasm and caters for fans of all preferences. With the standard being set so high, will the bands performing on Friday follow suit?

Friday 

 Friday brings the arrival of many more festival goers and sees empty spaces on the field filling with tents. The unfortunate announcement of Jinjer no longer being able to make the setlist is disappointing for many fans. Despite this the organisers of Tech-Fest successfully rearrange the acts reducing the effect of what would have been an empty slot. Unfortunately, at such short notice another band was unable to be found to fill their slot.

 Glaswegian metallers From Sorrow To Serenity (8) give the Winspear stage a heavy shaking in the mid-afternoon. Gaz King’s aggressive vocals exert immense force enhancing the power of their tracks. The instrumentation is tight making the guitar riffs clear and identifiable in the mix of heavy tones without becoming too muddy. The complexity of riffs used in From Sorrow To Serenity’s tracks shows off their instrumental and songwriting skills; melodies are not overused or overpowering other aspects of their sound.

 The Dali Thundering Concept (7) are following From Sorrow To Serenity having been moved from their original opening slot of the Winspear stage to account for Jinjer’s absence. Unfortunately for The Dali Thundering Concept, this move of their set may have been related to their technical difficulties. Despite this, their heavy bass and guitar tones work effectively particularly in rhythmic aspects of their tracks. Sylvain Conier’s aggressive vocals create a harsh tone that complements the instrumentation. By including solos and other melodies in the guitars breaks up the heaviness and develops the sound further.

 Hailing from Denmark, Vola (8) captivate their audience at the Winspear stage. Vola incorporate influences from ’70s progressive rock, electronic, industrial and other heavy metal genres creating detailed tracks with immense depth to them. Performing their tracks live enhances their sound giving the stage a fantastic atmosphere. Asger Mygind’s soaring vocals take Vola’s sound to a new level, emphasing the contrasts between the heavy, rhythmic tones and more intricate melodies. Vola take their set up a level with their final track, Stray The Skies. The audience are clearly enjoying Vola’s set, yet on hearing the title of this track the atmosphere grew to extremes. With so many singing along and losing themselves in the sound, Vola’s set has something special connecting with the crowd on a new level.

 Bleed From Within (7), the second Glaswegian band to grace the Winspear stage, create a wall of sound that reaches levels of enormity. The sternum-shaking vibrations from the bass create slight distractions from the performance itself. Bleed From Within give a good performance with all instrumental parts being played to a high standard and Scott Kennedy’s vocals are well positioned in the mix. Following Vola’s set of well-developed and experimental sounds, Bleed From Within lack a unique edge. Their tracks at times conform to the generic heavy metal sound yet have the potential to be developed into something more. Bleed From Within have a good stage presence and clearly have a large number of supporters present who thoroughly enjoy their music.

 Australian progressive metallers Voyager (9) are headlining the Waghorn Guitars stage. Their stage presence is excellent with great interaction with the crowd and energy flowing from their performance. The sound is almost perfect, Daniel Estrin’s vocals need to be slightly louder on occasions but the sound from the two guitars is immense. Guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay use panning and harmonising throughout the tracks which contributes significantly to Voyager’s unique sound. The power from the heavy guitar tones follows the rhythm of the bass and percussion to emphasize the depth on certain tracks whilst on others, the guitars enhance the keyboard and synth melodies. The ability to utilise the guitars in this way reveals the great abilities of Voyager’s songwriting. Estrin’s soaring vocals take their tracks one step further as his distinctive voice adds a different tone to their tracks, without detracting from the heaviness of the sound. Estrin’s use of a keytar is a brilliant edition to Voyager’s set especially their ludicrously heavy breakdown covering Darude’s Sandstorm. The heavy tones they use with the well-known synth line work perfectly. With the entire crowd headbanging along the opening of a mosh pit is not surprising and creates an immense atmosphere.

 The first of the Friday headlining acts, The Contortionist (7) are performing tracks that are incredibly heavy. The bass is vibrating through the hanger’s structure and campsite beyond. At least festival goers can listen from the comfort of their tents. As their more recent works are progressing away from prominent heavy parts, it appears they have returned to their heavier roots for Tech-Fest. They performed Reimagined, one of their more recent tracks which was released last year. This track has elements of heavy sections and more stripped-down sections, despite this the bass continued to resonate throughout the site. 

 Headliner SikTh (7) are technically very good musicians however, the reception from the crowd is very mixed. The complex nature of guitar riffs and alternating time signatures show their talent as musicians and in-depth knowledge of composing. The nature of odd time signatures perhaps makes it difficult for listeners who want to head bang in time and move to the music; this removes part of the crowd experience. For those who want to immerse themselves into the festival, the nature of SikTh makes that difficult despite their amazing technical abilities.

 Friday’s line-up continues to display a wide variety of sounds through some distinctly different bands. The quality of artists performing remains high following on from Thursday’s line-up. As the heat and the festival continues the bands and fans are coping pretty well under the circumstances, which is good considering no change is looking likely for the remainder of the festival. Saturday is set to bring more high-quality music from the likes of Arch Echo, DVSR and an increase in chants of “it’s coming home”.

Saturday 

 Saturday dawns and the campsite is alive with football chants – hopefully the bands won’t be completely overshadowed by the match.

 Valis Ablaze (9) are no strangers to Tech-Fest having previously performed last year. The release of their album Boundless in-between their two Tech-Fest performances built up their following; they have moved up to the larger Winspear stage for their 2018 set. Their performance last year featured the guest vocals of Drewsif Stalin; this year Valis Ablaze have White Dove as their guest vocalist on their track Frequency. Slight technical issues occur as White Dove’s vocals aren’t initially audible fortunately this is rectified as the track progresses. Her vocals add a complimentary tone to Phil Owen’s soaring vocal line. Valis Ablaze perform as a tight unit, intricate guitar riffs are audible and heavier sections brings powerful sounds. Contrasting heavier and lighter sections in their songs creates variety across their tracks and the heavier sections have a greater force having been built up from a lighter section. Aggressive vocals add a harsher tone to their tracks whilst soaring vocals with more of a melody line lift their tracks to new levels.

 Performing on the Winspear stage, Arch Echo’s (9) instrumental set brings something different to the Saturday line-up. Their technical playing abilities are exceptional; incredibly intricate guitar melody lines, prominent keyboard sections and heavier sections bring the focus to instrumental playing. The lack of vocals does not negatively impact Arch Echo, if anything, including vocals would distract from the instrumentation and add unnecessary layers to the mix. The balancing of the instruments in Arch Echo’s sound is excellent. Many performances involving keyboards often result with the keys being too low in the mix and blending with the bass sounds. Bringing the keyboard to a more central focus enhances their tracks as the keyboard tones come across so clearly. The American band appear genuine, as do the majority of musicians at Tech-Fest, more than happy to speak to fans after their performance.  

 DVSR’s (8) performance is anticipated greatly by many fans, well those who aren’t busy crowding around laptop screens by the merch stands watching the football. The Australian band enter the Winspear stage to a great reception from the crowd, partly as vocalist Matthew Youkhana is wearing a football shirt. DVSR unfortunately make one fatal error – never state when a gig is the first gig outside of your home country for it is a cue for things to go wrong. Bassist Julian Frank Ellul’s strap locks break leaving him balancing his bass while stage crew hurriedly try and fix it with duck-tape. The crowd does appear to be rather entertained by the spectacle as more and more tape covers his bass. Ellul does not let this prevent him from performing – continuing to play accurately the sound DVSR produce is huge with dirty, heavy distortion tones. Further technical issues then begin to occur and DVSR show their resilience as musicians and carry on and it pays off. The audience are incredibly kind towards them and is amazed at how tight and energetic their performance is despite issues. Technical hiccups aside, DVSR deliver a fantastic set.

 Tech-Fest is wonderful festival full of curiosities: Thursday saw a mini tornado and now a small plane is doing alarmingly angled flips above the site. Proceeding to draw a love heart with smoke in the sky it is a rather heartwarming sight, as the crowd ventures back to the hangers for the next acts. Martyr Defiled (8) resonate throughout the campsite, the hangar walls can be seen shaking somewhat worryingly once again. With all the football themed activities of the day, and England winning 2-0, it is not too surprising that football references are continuing to be made by most acts. Martyr Defiled certainly had an interesting way of contributing. Matthew Jones’ aggressive vocals echo across the site accompanied by heavily distorted guitars and as they reach their breakdown, “it’s coming home” is heard growling from Jones.

 The Acacia Strain (8) headline the Winspear stage. With a large crowd gathering outside the stage door they seem to be a popular choice among the festival goers. The Acacia Strain give an aggressive performance predominantly led by vocalist Vincent Bennett. Sticking his middle fingers to the crowd, making blasphemous comments and spiting water metres into the air before lobbing water bottles at the crowd – this behaviour conforms to negative stereotypes of metal gigs. As a performance, it works brilliantly. The crowd are going wild, a huge pit opens, and the atmosphere is full of energy. The heavy instruments perform tightly creating a huge wall of sound. Some of their tracks feel generic in style but their performance enhances their sound. Despite the aggression performed by Bennett, his heartfelt appreciation for the fans and brutally honest comments of finding something in life that brings happiness form a wonderful connection between band and audience.

After party act Chiasmata (9) perform impeccably. Despite the small stage for the after party artists Chiasmata have a brilliant stage presence. Guitarists Cailum Finnegan and Alex Lescionok hold their presence with intricate guitar solos. Vocalist and bassist Zoe Gale’s energy is incredible, her ability as musician and vocalist are fantastic live. This combined with her movements and dancing on the small stage radiates her confidence. Their progressive sound and experimentation with songwriting, including soaring vocals, high pitched screams and complex instrumentation melodies brings something unique to Tech-Fest. Chiasmata belong on the Waghorn if not the main Winspear stage. The energy and support coming from the crowd reveals their current fans and their performance will have earned them many new ones.

Saturday ends leaving only one day of Tech-Fest left. The incredible talent seen across all stages shows how many highly proficient musicians and bands are present at the festival. The support from the audiences shown to all bands, whether well established, suffering from technical difficulties or newer bands wanting to build up a fan base, is incredible. It shows how appreciative and supportive Tech-Fest is to all acts.

Sunday 

It’s Sunday, the festival is coming to an end and many campers are tired and sunburnt however, there’s still a full day of music to be had.

 Stömb (9) create a dark, dramatic atmosphere on the Waghorn Guitars stage, despite it being early in the afternoon. The French progressive metallers produce an immense sound with heavily distorted guitars and bass. They perform flawlessly; every riff and chord progression are meticulously tight creating clarity on intricate sections. The instrumental set, similarly to Arch Echo, provides extra variety to the festival by turning the focus onto instrumentation and songwriting ability. The incredible atmosphere engulfs the audience. Considering it is the last day and Stömb have an early slot, the audience consists of a good number. The band keep their set atmospheric in-between tracks; remaining rather quiet until the end of their set, at which point they state their gratitude to the audience. This silence enhances the dramatic tone of their tracks throughout their set without the interruption of speech.

 Tech-Fest not only provides master classes as well as the incredibly high quality of music performances. The master classes give an excellent insight into the playing styles of various bands and provide advice to musicians hoping to kick-start their career. Voyager’s Dual Guitar Lines masterclass (9) hosted by Simone and Scott provides an insight into how Voyager use two guitars to enhance their sound. With a brilliant use of spoken and performed examples of panning, chords divided over guitars and harmonising techniques, their master class provided excellent explanations. Steph Knight (8), director of Domino PR, provides a master class on PR and how to build up the profile of a band. Sharing her knowledge and experience in the industry, Steph is clearly an expert in this field and the advice is greatly received by musicians in the audience.

 Loathe (8) perform on the Winspear stage and are proving to be a popular choice with a large crowd gathering for their set. Loathe’s equipment links distinctively with their sound – seeing Orange amps on the stage and the band members entering the stage with Fender Squire guitars and a Fender Jazz bass are not necessarily expected from a band of the metal genre, but the dirty tone Orange amps provide is a central part of the tone of Loathe’s tracks, distinguishing them from the other bands. Their dark atmosphere is enhanced visually by the inclusion of distorted black and white footage displayed on screens above the amps. Technically, the band’s performance is tight; the contrasts of Kadeem France’s harsh vocals, along with clean and distorted vocals from guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe enhance their tracks by combining a variety of sounds and tones.

The greatly anticipated secret act leads to an atmosphere of excitement building as their set approaches. The barrier placed before the stage door and extra security increases the suspense – a crowd gathers awaiting the opening of the stage door. Sleep Token (9) are the secret act – subtle hints dropped on their social media had led to suspicions of their performance spreading around the festival. Themes of secrecy are continued as the masked band members enter the stage keeping their identity hidden. Sleep Token’s performance is unique from all of the artists at Tech-Fest. Their incredibly dark and somber atmosphere with heavy bass lines engulfs the audience. The heart-wrenching vocals pour forth incredible depths of emotion. The vocalist’s dramatic and expressive movements add an extra layer to their performance, creating a visual sense to accompany the music. The keyboardist’s female vocals add a tone to the mix the compliments the lead, male vocals.

The final headline act of Tech-Fest 2018, Betraying The Martyrs (8), end the festival with a bang. Their performance is high energy with fast, heavy tracks. It’s not too surprising that a pit opens almost immediately. Betraying The Martyrs perform cohesively with each instrument contributing to their explosive sound. Only when they discuss football do Anglo-French relations become strained. Despite this the vocalist from Leicester, Aaron Matts, and French band members have a great stage presence and performance abilities. The final night of Tech-Fest would not be the final night without a wall of death and an inflatable plane. The stage security are becoming quite annoyed with the plane flying over the barrier but as it lands on the stage and Matt sings with it between his legs, it can be safely assumed the band find it amusing. The vibrant, party atmosphere sees band and audience enjoying the set.

As the audience stream out of the stage after Betraying The Martyrs, there is a sense of sadness. The dismantling of the Waghorn Guitars stage sets in that Tech-Fest 2018 is coming to an end. The past four days have seen some incredibly talented bands perform. The atmosphere in the stages has been incredible with so much energy from both bands and audiences, despite the constant heat. The community feel of the campsite and friendliness of all has made the festival – it isn’t just the music that makes Tech-Fest special; it’s also the people.

Words by Holly Royle 

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