LIVE: UK Tech Fest 2018 – Sunday

By Mark Johnson

Tech Fest began in 2011 with a mission to provide a place where “bands and fans are able to integrate, network and share the passion of music together”. Now in its eighth edition, it’s fair to say the mission has been accomplished, judging by the loyal community that comes out to support the festival each year. Its line-up caters for the fringe genres of metal, including tech-metal, metalcore, grindcore and instrumental math rock, to name but a few.

This is the fifth year that Tech Fest has been hosted in Nottinghamshire, at the Showground in Newark, and the location’s compact site puts the whole festival within easy reach, allowing you to get from your tent to the main stage in a maximum of five minutes. The festival’s two stage set up also means you can enjoy the entire line up without worrying about clashes, as stage times are staggered between the two, allowing one band to sound check while another performs.

We start the final day with the first three piece of the festival, but while there may be less of them on stage, Leeched make as much noise as any band before them. The Manchester-based hardcore trio make for a heavy opening, ripping through chunky riffs and low growled vocals, and thanks to some clever drumming there’s plenty of groove to head bang along to. Against the tide of other sticksmen on the festival, the drummer keeps his beats simple and effective; his feet are often busy with double bass patterns but for the most part his top half maintains a steady beat that’s in an ideal tempo to get the crowd bobbing along. A strong start to the day.


Cognizance are one of the loudest bands we’ve had so far, evidenced by the visible discomfort of those in the room without ear protection. The band’s melodic death metal is characterised by blast beats, fast tempo rhythms, complex guitar patterns and the odd guitar solo, fronted by some unnaturally low sounding screams. The vocals are effective against the instrumental backdrop, but do become monotone as the set draws on. In contrast, the instrumentals fluctuate regularly through transitions from high speed bursts to chugging sections and while this helps to add variation, some of the transitions are clumsy and unnatural, feeling jarring at times, particularly on the lead up to solos.


Instrumental quartet Stömb show flashes of quality on the Waghorn Guitars Stage, but the pedestrian pace of each tracks means they never seem to get out of second gear, making their set drag on rather than leaving a lasting impact. The stringed musicians lay out some nicely woven sections, however the drums labour in a constant mid-tempo and in the moments where the whole band lock into a solid groove, a questionably placed snare hit spoils the effect. Instrumental progressive metal relies on ebbs and flows, build ups and crescendos, but sadly Stömb stick to the middle lane and coast through their set without hitting their full potential.

Massachusetts-based guitar and drum two piece The Surrealist make their first performance in the UK a memorable one, with a unique and interesting set on the Winspear Stage. Guitarist Roopam Garg’s percussive tapping technique is beautiful to watch and even better to hear, at times the notes sounding like trickling droplets from a gentle waterfall. With the heat of the venue, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to a spa, until boisterous, hard hitting drums bring you back into the moment. At times the drumming overwhelms the beauty of the guitar playing; it would be nice to hear some gentle, progressive rhythms at times to provide variation and to allow an opportunity for the gorgeous guitar playing to breathe, but regardless it’s a visual and audio feast that shines a spotlight on this immensely talented duo.

Metal quartet The Cartographer have travelled significantly less distance, coming from just down the road in Derby. Being local to the festival it’s no surprise that people have heard of them, with several of the band’s t-shirts being spotted amongst those at the front of the stage. They have raw power at their disposal, serving up huge riffs and chugging guitar patterns that demand head banging in unison, but the vocals are largely monotone throughout, which makes each track sound the same and become tiresome as the set wears on.

Sticking with the metal theme, but turning the intensity up even more, Conjurer take the Winspear Stage by storm, captivating attention with a relentless supply of aggression. While vocally they take the same unvaried approach as The Cartographer, there are plenty of instrumental dynamics to keep you interested, consistently switching pace from ferocious outbursts to half time breakdowns and the clever use of occasional empty space makes the ensuing barrage even heavier. It’s a lesson in how to navigate this genre effectively and ranks among the best sets of the day.

Glasgow’s Lotus Eater are greeted with one of the most energetic displays of the weekend so far at the Waghorn Guitars Stage, with slam dancing galore and plenty of head banging action to accompany their super low tuned metalcore. The band have some huge riffs in their locker, which pack a punch thanks to the subterranean tuning, but the performance is let down by some sloppy execution in places. During some of the more technical transitions the guitars and rhythm section aren’t quite in sync and it’s not till they fall back in line in the next sequence that things come back together, whilst the drummer’s clean vocals are pitchy at times and barely audible at others. The band have an abundance of talent, ideas and fans on their side, so with a bit of polish on the execution, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in this genre.


Grindcore merchants Crepitation bring the sublime and the ridiculous to Tech Fest. The speed and complexity of the instrumentation is worthy of high praise, but the vocals can only fairly be described as divisive. At times they become so farcical it’s difficult to know whether they set out to be a parody or whether it’s just grown that way over time. Ribbiting like brain addled frogs at one moment, contorting their voice boxes with gurgling warbles the next, they certainly bring something different to the stage with a set that has to be seen to be believed. This festival celebrates the fringes of alternative music and this is definitely up there; love Crepitation or hate them, they’re certainly an entertaining spectacle and not one we’ll forget in a hurry.

Cyclamen also bring something unique to the festival: standard song structures. After a few days without hearing the traditional patterns of verse structure, followed by chorus, then repeat, it’s surprisingly refreshing to hear. That’s not to downplay the technicality of what’s on offer; both guitarists lay down interesting chord structures and lead lines, spread across interesting timing changes and signatures and vocalist Hayato Imanishi varies his delivery via clean melodies, screams and the occasional rap. It’s an interesting concoction of styles that sometimes clash and don’t pay off, but on the whole their songs are well thought out and they execute them well.

German trio The Hirsch Effekt also draw on a seemingly unlimited number of styles to craft their unique sound, but somehow their smorgasbord of ideas comes together into one incredibly cohesive and awe inspiring package. Sounding like someone put Duracell batteries in The Fall of Troy, the three piece have a bottomless pit of energy that just keeps on going from start to finish. Guitarist Nils Wittrock leaps around the stage, hopping onto the bass drum, into the faces of the crowd and everywhere in between, while seamlessly jamming out intricate, complex guitar parts with ease. Each track transitions and weaves through multiple styles, genres and time changes, but despite how complex their compositions are, they’re the tightest band of the festival so far, each member completely in sync. Vocally Wittrock and Lappin are without falter too, whether it’s harmonious cleans or ear piercing squeals. The Hirsch Effekt are in a league of their own and stand out as one of the best moments of the whole festival.

The Hirsch Effekt

We’ve made no secret of our love for Loathe at Punktastic. Their debut record ‘The Cold Sun’ was one of our top picks from last year, they’ve regularly appeared in our POV section and we don’t often miss a chance to see them live. This show for the Tech Fest crowd, however, may just be their best performance to date. Loathe have a complicated set up involving visual elements through screens, eerie samples and that signature ultra low – yet somehow perfectly audible – tone to convey. This set up has led to some teething problems in the past, so depending on where and when you see them, you can get very different results, but here on the Winspear Stage everything comes together perfectly to give a jaw dropping experience. The band pack in one of the largest crowds of the festival and hardly any heads remain still as the band berate us all with their brutal riffs. It’s not just the heavy parts that come over with perfection either; whenever the band take a melodic break, the transitions are nailed down tight. Loathe are in a perfect run of form where each performance just gets better and better and on this sort of trajectory, it won’t be long before they’re headlining these kind of events.


It’s getting towards the end of day four of Tech Fest, one that’s been drenched in the irregularly stifling and consistent heat of the British summer, but Employed to Serve aren’t letting the crowd slow down. “Tech Fest, everyone come down the front. If you want to stand at the back, fuck off outside in the sun” shouts guitarist Sammy Urwin, before sticking a middle finger up to anyone who doesn’t oblige. The band’s blisteringly heavy riffs sounded hollow at Download last month but there’s no such affliction here, smashing through the speakers with all the power they deserve. It’s a ferociously heavy set, punctuated by Justine Jones’ excellent vocal display and judging by the audience’s reaction, there’s still some energy left out there.

Employed to Serve

The penultimate act of the day is listed on the line up as ‘secret act’, leading to much speculation and debate over the weekend as to who it might be. As a series of black clad figures drift onto the stage, wearing white face masks with a red motif overlaid, it becomes clear that we’re about to witness the latest ritual from Sleep Token. The anonymous collective stunned the unsuspecting Download festival audience last month with their creatively arranged concoction of electronics, pop melodies, soothing atmospherics and balls-out djent heaviness. While the Download crowd might not have known what to expect, the band couldn’t find a more willing group of acolytes than the Tech Fest crowd, who are more than willing to join in the worship. The vocal talent of the band’s figurehead – Vessel – is a joy to behold, as he switches effortlessly from soaring falsetto to a soulful full voice, the ambience in his voice combining well with the on stage attire to create an ethereal atmosphere. The band’s drummer puts in a superb performance, perfectly tying together each transition between gentle soothing passages to heavy outbursts seamlessly, with a few added flourishes thrown in for good measure. With a growing number of performances now under their belt, Sleep Token are starting to own their unique presentation, making it work to their advantage rather than be restricted or confined by it. As they grow in confidence on stage, the appreciation for what they can do is deservedly swelling alongside it and we can only see this act getting bigger and better from here on out.

Sleep Token

French deathcore act Betraying The Martyrs have the honour of closing out Tech Fest 2018 and they do it in style, gifting us all the chance to be pummelled into submission by walls of noise one last time. After four days of sweltering heat and many hours of live music, the crowd look understandably tired, but the band have more than enough energy for everyone, bounding around the stage, and off it, with reckless abandon. With a healthy dose of heaviness, melody and complexity, it’s a performance worthy of closing out a this fantastic festival of technical music.

Betraying the Martyrs

Tech Fest may be one of the smaller festivals on the UK calendar, but its community spirit means it still carries a large impact. As well as the varied line up that celebrates the fringe genres of the alternative world, there are opportunities to try out a range of interesting guitars thanks to the partners that are on site, and you have the opportunity to hear some of the festival’s musicians talk about their techniques and gear in separate showcase events. These peripheral activities underline the intense focus this festival has on musicianship and creativity, a passion that’s shared by its audience.