If ever there was a festival that the phrase ‘For us, by us’ could fit, UK Techfest would be it. It now calls Newark Showground home after the idea first came about in 2011 in order to give the bands of technical and progressive metal a platform to share, both the up and coming and the established artists of the extremely talented and versatile sub-genre. Running on a not-for-profit structure, it relies heavily on merch sales to keep itself going, and for anyone that doesn’t realise, trying to keep something like this going is a full time job in itself for many people on top of their actual jobs needed to live, but with the results like they get, one can only imagine they wouldn’t have it any other way.
For those lucky enough to have the time off, Thursday was the day it all kicks off. Like most festivals, a pre-party for the early birds so to speak with a stellar line-up with plenty of bands to get you in the festival spirit. Sadly like some of us, getting out of work to get ourselves down into the sunny field would have to wait, and by the time we arrive on Friday, the day is already underway. Throwing our gear into a friends tent, we rush to the main stage to catch Abhorrent Decimation. A tech-death outfit we couldn’t miss, a shuffle in the line-up doesn’t stop them from being tighter than they once were, and it is great to see vocalist Ash looking fantastic as he beats his mental and physical weight, a role model if ever you need one! A walk around the site to get your bearings finds plenty of stuff to occupy you from the standard vendors providing beer and food, to the not so common at others guitar stalls, a chance to have a play on gear from those sponsoring stages like Yamaha guitars, line6 helix’s, Claas guitars and more, to the merch stalls, most notably the techfest merch, probably having more options than any other festival known to man.
After a quick set up at the tent and getting to meet those that would quickly become the techfest camping family, it was back to the action with Cold Night for Alligators, bringing their take on progressive metal with emotive messages to the party, even despite technical issues, the good times don’t subside. Godeater meanwhile up the ante, missing them at techfest would have been a mistake, make sure to redeem yourself by getting a ticket to Damnation festival and arriving early to catch the Glaswegians there! At this point the heat is starting to rise in the two stages as the sun beams down onto the roofing along with all the movement in the pit. Andy James gives us a bit of respite, time for all to stand in awe as he works his wizardry across the fret board, it’s soon easy to tell who the guitarists in the crowd are as we all lean slightly to get a clear view of exactly what his hands are doing, myself included. We managed to catch up with Andy after, expect that (lengthy!) interview soon.
Red Method are quickly making a name for themselves and getting some high profile support slots, most recently Phil Anselmo at the Underworld, with former members of The Defiled and Metastasis, it’s easy to see and hear why they are getting so far so quick since their formation in 2018. Annotations of An Autopsy absolutely destroy and they show off their recently released EP World of Sludge. With all the heat and the way the festival is set up, many are sloping off for food and drink, and most importantly, some cooler shade. Only the hardcore remain as everyone else catches a breather and catch up with friends for the much longer sets due later.
We manage to catch the tail end of Ice Fish, a much calmer, progressive style to the majority of the days line up with some real impressive talent, the vocals seemed a little soft, but belting out vocals and trying to play what they did would be borderline impossible for even the greatest of players. Stepping it up a gear and the perfect warm up (if ever you needed it in this horrible heat!) was Canadian outfit Arch Spire, turning the room into a frenzy, and constant request to not mosh, not do this, not do that all because they agreed to it… but nobody listens to rules just like the band expected anyways, just monstrous! Scooting over and now the masses begin to show, filling out the market place between stages, the excitement brews quickly as we await the doors to open for our headliners, Dying Fetus. Kicking off aptly with ‘In the Trenches’, they start a thunderous set. With the sun settling and no longer coming through the skylights, we get to see the impressive and blinding lighting of the stage illuminate the three figures gracing the stage. There is little movement between them as they share vocal duties, but it takes nothing away and their lack of movement is made up for vastly in the pit. ‘One Shot, One Kill’ going down as one of the favourites. They don’t seem to dip into anything pre-millennium, but they have been so reliable post that they can fill a set with ease, and naturally, the ‘Wrong One to Fuck With’ takes the focus of the set with its title track closing the insanity of the set.
Saturday brings a cooler atmosphere courtesy of the rain as we all wake with throbbing heads and hangovers, we soon have it all under control as we crack on with the festival favourite breakfast of beer. If that wasn’t quite doing the job to clear the head, the Techfest had us covered as opening the main stage for Armed for Apocalypse. Hanging about all weekend, they soon got things moving. They are a force of sheer energy and a barrage on all the senses, if that doesn’t clear the foggy mind, nothing will. It’s been somewhere around 10 years since I last saw them, and to hear them close with ‘We Fell From the Bottom’ took me right back, I was just a little gutted to not hear personal favourite ‘Hero Complex’ in the set, there’s bringing a gun to a knife fight, but A4A were a damn nuke! Vexed sound insanely heavy with melodic touches that work beautifully. For a young band, they are making more noise than some pro’s which is getting them deserved attention, they’ll soon be going places. The Intersphere lighten up the mood with their alternative progressive rock, a solid tight unit that know how to write a solid tune. Felix Martin was next on our really must see for the weekend, and he doesn’t disappoint. He and his fellow band mates are a ridiculous collection of talent. Just about every guitarist in the festival glaring at what his fingers are doing on his 18 stringed guitar, raw talent and humbleness really round off how great this guy is. Continuing with a bit more of a cultured theme, our next visit took us to Deitys Muse, spending their time as support to Monuments on their UK tour, these South African Prog rockers bring music of epic landscapes, and epic beard, pushing boundaries in their style. They are no strangers to our shores, and it shouldn’t be too long until their back on the big stages with their own headline shows.
Shokran and Time, The Evaluator both impress while some of the crowd take a break to prep themselves for the big guns, while we and a few others decide to take a break during Palm Reader and TTING (This Town Needs Guns to the less informed) who both go down well to packed room, but Tasmanian prog metallers Psycroptic really step it up. With their 2018 release ‘As the Kingdom Drowns’ being among their best work, they go down fantastic, sadly their set just seems to fall short time wise, much more deserving of a longer slot! A Perfect way to warm up for the headliners Monuments, somewhat in moment of fluidity, vocalist Chris Barretto stepped away from the band days before the tour began due to personal reasons, rather than pull the plug, friend and vocalist Andy Cizek of Makari stepped up last minute, and rather than make it seem like the pressure was piled on, he performed emphatically and completely nailed it. It seems the band was not over all of their troubles as their issues with travelling with Ryan Air to dissonance festival was hindered due to incompetence on the airlines side, but they can rest easy in the knowledge they they performed well above and beyond what anyone could expect at Techfest. Plenty of the crowd lost themselves in the moment and had a performance they’d never forget. For some, that is enough of the night, for others, it’s party time, and the afterparty probably provides the best nights entertainment of it all. Indian prog rockers Project Mashram began the proceedings with a very good reason as to why come hell or high water, hangover or not you should be up early and there to see them on Sunday, and they were followed by So Toto, hit or miss, either you love or hate Toto, and I fall into the latter category, so a run off to fill myself with my remaining beer stock and hope to drown out the impending sound of hearing Africa yet again (hate me all you like, I’m no fan!), but I certainly made sure I was back for the Super jam, just like it sounds, it’s a jam session, no rules and no holds barred, musicians from the weekend coming together for an impromptu jam. It started so well that it even kicked off a fire in one of the standing speakers! Despite the long day, amazing credit to all the staff involved in killing the power, clearing the stage and removing the speaker before it became an issue! You can’t really ask more than that, talent so good all together on one stage that it causes a fire!
Sunday comes around sooner than expected, and everyone is either still up from the night before and not sure what is going on, or feeling a little gutted that it’s the final day, some pack up early to get a head start on leaving after their choice of bands are done, others do one last beer run to make the most of it! Kicking off the day were Bristol lads Brink of Extinction, and with some turn of luck, guitarist Billy whom we had the pleasure of camping with along with that rowdy crowd, had managed to come across his prescription glasses in lost and found he’d lost in the pit a day or two previously, if that doesn’t seem like a good omen, nothing is! Their progressive groove is as tight as can be, their energy is high despite the party they’ve endured all weekend, and they are much more deserving of a later slot. Raising the bar as an opening act doesn’t really get much better. Project Mashram were there to open the main stage and despite their late night performance, they did a fantastic job, a rammed out room, they matched the standards set by BoE on the previous stage. Lizzie is as smiley as ever when Sertraline take to the stage, her smile is like a sirens song, something to entice you in before her guttural assault smashes your ship on the rocks, always reliably good, it was great to see them for what they are rather than through a camera like I had previously at bloodstock, the Leeds/Manchester outfit are worth going out of your way to see.
Borders bring an intensity to the stage with a cocktail of genres blended together, technically tight, poetically lyrical, and the energy of a hardcore band, borders is a fitting name, they seem to be constantly pushing them, and talking of hardcore, they are a great band to get riled up with before Sworn Amongst. Having seen Sworn Amongst countless times over the past decade, it is great to still see the fire burning strong in their bellies, while their sound may have diversified and developed over the time, the essence of what they began with carries on.
A change in pace comes when Hypophora take to the stage, very alternative/post rock with elements of outside styles pulled in, the band are something special and easily one of the favourites of ours from the entire weekend. Within an instant of hearing them we are hooked, and vocalist Katie has a voice and smile to steal even the coldest of hearts, a little smitten, we are disappointed that their set draws in, for days we could watch them play. If that wasn’t enough to strike an emotion though, the next band would. Carcer City are another like Sworn Amongst I’ve had the pleasure of seeing more than I remember, from the small stages to the big, but Techfest would be the where the stage would fall quiet and curtains draw for the final time for the band. The loyalty in the fan base is undeniable and they are out in force to enjoy their music for one, last time. It is always a shame to see bands call time at the bar, but when it’s time, it’s time, and we wish them all the best in their future endeavours, Godspeed Carcer City, thank you for the memories!
Masks of Judas have an impossible task of trying to follow that, but they hold their own in their own way. The petite figure of vocalist Jo Challen dominates the centre of the stage with the most visceral of voices, their progressive metal has a tinge of the blackened styling of Martyrium to them courtesy of her, tight, proficient, worth seeing at any given opportunity, and to continue the diversity that Techfest can through at you, next up on the main stage was drum sensation Morgan Agren, the man is a machine and showing no signs of slowing down, his unmistakable progressive style takes what usually sits in the background hidden away as a rhythm section in a band unit and thrusts it straight into the lime light, magical genius! Harbinger were never going to disappoint, ever since their early days, I remember catching them in London and being impressed, their development has been astronomical and if ever a band earned the place on the line up, it’s them. For those that failed to catch them (Fools!) You can make up for it by getting yourself down to Bloodstock on Sunday where these guys will destroy your eardrums and hangovers as they open the Sophie stage. From Sorrow to Serenity hold nothing back as they ooze attitude and aggression, there is no letting up from the Glaswegians as we look to close in the weekend, and Valis Ablaze very much match them with their performance, albeit of a much different variety, no distance between the band members locations can dampen their connection and brotherhood, expect an interview very soon from all five of those great gentlemen! They close up that second stage in great fashion and with a performance that will forever be remembered.
At this point all the attention turns to the main stage, the climax is nigh and it begins with our co-headliner and joint UK exclusive, Vildhjarta. Bringing their Swedish sound of rock to the masses brightens and builds a beautifully emotional moment, well deserving of co-headline status, it seems like they’d have it on their own if there was just another day to go. Sadly there isn’t and all good things come to an end, and with their set closing up, it’s soon a run for essentials from everyone, toilet, beer, food etc. before the final band of the day before the after party, Leprous. Norway is often thought of for its black metal, but these fine musicians prove the country is much more than that, before they can get going though there is always the raffle draw to contend with. Guitars and gear that have been available to have a play on all weekend are up for grabs, and for those luck few, their festival experiences are hardly going to top it. The band finally do get underway though and with the going down of the sun, their impressive light show greats us with massive, expansive and emotional greatness! The Silhouettes of those on stage, marginally blocked by those on shoulders in the crowd with arms alight living in the moment prove to be something truly special. They have a progressive post-rock style that anyone can instantly fall in love with. They are flawless, and utterly jaw dropping to witness to the point you cannot really ever find the right words to do them justice. UK Techfest went above and beyond with nailing them to close the events!
And with that, our time draws in, there are of course the afterparty options, but for most, it’s about huddling together in the camps to drink our remaining alcohol and farewells to our new family we will see but once a year. It’s pretty safe to say though that we all have at least one band left in us, and for most we all seem to have the same mind, Slam of God! Self explanatory really, and despite their variety in vocalists, it’s hard to hear them fighting to get heard over the crowd. Having witnessed Harbinger bassist Kriss working away in the press area on his bass and laptop to try and learn and get up to speed with all the tracks, concerned being at a techfest that everyone will pick out even the tiniest of flaws, he had nothing to worry about. They go down an absolute storm!
There ends our UK Techfest weekend, depending on your attitude and mentality, it can be one of two things and a festival isn’t one, it’s more akin to a holiday resort from metal fans, or for those that spend their time in the pit all weekend, an intense weekend long work out! Either way, it’s easy to see why people keep coming back, and I for one most definitely will be!
Thanks to @wtchfndr for provided photography, be sure to follow her instagram account for more great work!