Superjams, Early Starts & Hearing Loss – A UK Tech-Fest Story

By Sam Lawson

Well, suffice it to say – I’ve had quite the week. As some of you reading may know, outside of my time writing reviews of local bands, I perform in one myself. A 7 piece progressive rock/metal group called For The Oracle. Guitar and Anime Culture legend Sithu Aye described us as “Like Karnivool mixed with Snarky Puppy”. That complement alone from one of our collective heroes could have been enough to make me put the proverbial pen to paper and write an article about the last 7 days (or so) of my life.

Getting asked to play Tech Fest
I received a phone call from Simon Garrod, the founder and head organiser of the festival the night before we got announced to play and he rang to say; “I’ve got good news and bad news.” Truth be told, I was buying ice cream at the time so bad news wasn’t really a concept that bothered me. Turns out the bad news was still very good news, more on that later in the year. The good news was the offer to play UK Tech Fest, a festival myself and the others in FTO were considering getting tickets for anyway due to bands such as: Animals As Leaders, Protest The Hero, Between The Buried And Me, Plini, Sithu Aye and many more being on the line up.

I was jumping out of my skin and bouncing of the walls whilst trying to remain calm and collected over the phone, not sure it really worked to be honest with you. I told Simon I’d call him back and then began the panic of ringing the other 6 members of the band and at the last minute, telling them to be free for the entire weekend between the 7th-11th of July. Organising 6 people not including yourself is a royal pain in the ass at the best of times. I basically rang them all and said “we’re playing with or without you, so you’ve got 15 minutes to figure out if you can do it or not”. This wasn’t an opportunity I would be missing and if possible, allowing my band mates and best friends to miss either.

Overall, it was a grand success. We had booked recording for the 6th and 7th of July at Momentum Studios with producer Josiah Manning in Plympton, Devon months before, so we could just finish tracking and shoot off first thing in the morning.

DispersE, Destiny Potato and For The Oracle at The Underground, Plymouth.
This show had been booked a long time before we got the call to play, DispersE and Destiny Potato are two bands we had all been listening to (some of us for years), so it was a huge honour to get booked for this show alone. Plus it happened to land on my 20th birthday and I had a lot of close friends and family coming, so I was pretty excited to say the least. This was the second day of a tour the other two bands were embarking on called “The Road To Tech-Fest Tour”. These are internationally acclaimed artists who are role models and musical icons to a lot of people all over the planet, for them to dedicate their tour to their respective appearances at the festival puts into perspective how big of a deal this event was going to be.

Honestly, progressive and technical styles of rock and heavy metal haven’t really been very popular throughout Devon and Cornwall. Sure, The White Rabbit had it’s heyday and bigger bands played there but that dream is long gone and dead now. I hadn’t played the Underground in at least 5 long years. Hadn’t played Plymouth itself in almost 2 years infact. I knew we had done alright on ticket sales and that people would come out just as it was my 20th (I hoped anyway) so it couldn’t go that badly.

Our set was okay, we played on a confined stage (there are 7 of us, if I hadn’t said it enough times already) and we have some awkward instrumentation so not only is space always an issue, so is sound. We didn’t sound our best and that’s for certain, we thought it was okay but upon later inspection it was clear that crucial elements of what we do got lost in the mix, no fault of the sound engineer though as we’re a complicated band to mix in the first place and the guy had bigger fish to fry, simple as that! I wasn’t comfortable as I was very sick by this point, unable to hear from my left ear entirely and due to mic feedback, I was boxed in at the front of the stage. All this combined with the fact that there were certain people in attendance who I knew had come just to make the night more difficult for me, like a middle finger for me trying to get on with my life y’know? Whatever though, your money is still good money as far as i’m concerned.

The other bands were flawless as expected, absolutely baffling how they do some of the things that they do. I got to hear Destiny Potato but could see them as I was on the merch stand. All the while I was unknowingly sat beside Mike Malyan (DispersE, The Algorithm, former Monuments drummer). After DispersE’s set I went up to him and was like “HOLY SHIT I HAVE JUST REALISED WHO YOU ARE THIS IS SO EMBARRASSING I HAVE BEEN A FAN FOR YEARS” and he grabbed me and said something to the effect of; “Awh thanks man, don’t worry faces aren’t important it’s all about music”. A quote I won’t be forgetting for a very long time. We got to meet and hang out with as well as share the stage with artists we were huge fans of, this would have been enough for us, but it was only going to get more and more surreal..

Recording at Momentum Studios
First things first, we have been looking to get some new content out in the open since the release of our debut record ‘Kind Child’, pretty much seconds after that release went public. We are still very proud of that album and if we’re getting positive reviews from people like Simon Clark from The Monolith and the guys over at It Djents then we must have done something right I suppose. I guess since adding two full time saxophonists who also take the roles of percussionist and keyboardist, our sound has been evolving and our new material just feels more mature and all encompassing. We were in need of a change of studio and space also, the first record came out pretty well but there were creative differences between producer and produced that I think both parties ultimately decided were enough to end the business relationship there, it’s still love though and I know that other guys in FTO still work with Freefall Recordings for their other projects.

For us, the concept of road tripping around the UK, sleeping in the studio and jamming til the late hours has always been an exciting concept. We got to do those things and it was something that we feel very privileged to do. We spent the couple of months prior writing and trying to perfect a new track to take into the studio for a single release later in the year. Our guitarist Lewis had the skeleton of a track and we started piecing it together, writing our own individual parts. I had a hand alongside Lewis and Karum (drums) in arranging the song and it was ready for the desk!

The studio is situated in this small little village (I think) and the houses are so beautiful, the gardens are huge and full of colour and the building itself had a rustic feel to it, it was a converted barn I’m pretty sure. Something just made us feel at home. Josiah is a great producer to work with, he can hear like microtonal differences in the tuning of individual guitar strings amidst a huge mass of sound and his brutal honesty and genuine passion for our sound was evident when he stopped me from recording vocals (the flu strikes again) and said that he wanted the hear the band he heard on our debut album so he basically told me to come back and do the vocals another day, if it’s better for the music then i’m all for it, even if my ego did hurt a little bit.

Overall, the track is just in it’s unmixed instrumental stages right now and it’s easily our best work in my opinion. It sounds so much closer to how FTO should sound and it’s not even been mixed or mastered yet. We have all said that we could release it now, with no vocals and it would still be a great product to be proud of that represents us fully.

We wrote some other new material as well, had some band practice in preparation for the festival appearance and general jammed and hat a lot of laughs. Early mornings and late nights took their toll though, for sure.

Tech Fest
First day of Tech Fest from the minute we arrived, all I wanted to do was have a shower. Everyone else in the band got pretty annoyed with how much I was banging on about it but when you’ve got the flu and you’ve been driving all day, a shower is pretty much the same as oxygen. On the way to the showers who should I see? Tosin fucking Abasi. Keep cool man, keep cool. Even the steward who Tosin showed his wristband to for green room access was just sat there in stunned silence at a loss for words. “Hey dude do you know where the showers are? Are they in there?” I asked, the excitement-paralysed steward replied – “Huh? What? I have no idea sorry man”. The showers were quite literally right next to where he was sat, the difference was measured in inches.

I got out of the shower and bought myself a Tech Fest line up shirt. It had our name on it, alongside the names of the headliners, duh, I was having one. I paid one of my guitarists to set my tent up because I’ve never gone camping before and frankly couldn’t be bothered to start learning wilderness survival techniques whilst at a progressive metal festival, that’s not me in my element. I wanted to be stood in front of Plini in the crowd losing myself in the sound. So I did just that! What a set, I could feel my entire body just being moved somewhere else by the music this guy and his band mates were making.

Next I got backstage and hung around the press area and around the food stalls trying to meet friends I had made on the UKTM facebook group, some lovely folks about for certain. Tech Fest isn’t like anything else you’ve ever seen. People are pretty clean and tidy and the campsite looks organised and it isn’t a huge mess. I got to meet Sithu Aye finally after talking with him for months, he was a really down to earth guy which was refreshing. He invited us to the superjam later in the evening and mentioned that himself amongst others would be playing. By others he meant Tosin Abasi, Plini and various drummers from bands I was a huge fan of. Naturally I found everyone in charge of this proposed superjam and told them we had a 16 year old kid who shreds on the alto saxophone and the keyboard, it took some convincing but I think when the people already scheduled to play caught wind they were keen to hear what Emile would do in the mix.

The boy went up there, not being a fan of rock or metal music to begin with, his heart firmly held by jazz and soul greats rather than 7 string shredders and he stood amongst them and played like it was any other gig for him. We chose Emile to represent us because he wouldn’t crack under the pressure of playing with these guys and improvisation was his bread and butter and ran in his blood. He received a round of applause every time he would finish a solo, he didn’t solo often as the other guys were of course in higher demand so he didn’t want to step all over their toes and get in their way at all.

Myself and Karum ended up getting on stage too at some point to do some drums and vocals respectively. I grabbed Rafal from DispersE and asked if he wanted to go up and do some harmonies, he was absolutely-beyond-recognition in terms of how drunk he was, so we had a lot of fun as you would imagine. Here’s a much longer clip, we stumble on at about 12:45.

So, we had a lot of fun and those moment changed our lives they honestly did. Playing on the same line up as these bands was something we never thought would happen and to actually play on stage with them was another thing altogether.

Next morning it was another early start, set up the gear, get backstage, try and get a soundcheck in time before we hit the stage. We set our merch stand up, and then waited to get all of the gear on the stage but of course – there were technical difficulties. The valve of the amp head Lewis was using broke. We scrambled and ended up borrowing one from the Carillion guitar stand (thank you so much guys, seriously) that worked! One minute there was like 10 dudes stood in the front row waiting for us and then next the room was absolutely full. I saw Sithu and Kaung Myat Aye out on the crowd, as well as Gareth Mason (former Slice The Cake) and Dave Maclachlan (The Sun Explodes) in the front row singing along. Simon Clark from The Monolith was miming the words also amongst a lot of other people who’s names I sadly hadn’t learnt yet. It was a very amazing experience to say the least.

Straight off stage, find Rody from Protest The Hero, give him a T-shirt and talk to him without fainting.

Destiny Potato, Fallujah and Protest The Hero were fucking ridiculously tight live. I knew Destiny Potato would be from gigging with them the week prior. I was side stage for Fallujah and it sounded so enormous, like the carcass of a cruise liner being dragged through a rain forest by a tyrannosaurus rex. I was front row for PTH, screaming every single friggin word. The band conducted themselves how I hope to be able to conduct our band one day, a sincere sense of unspoken gratitude amidst a dazzling array of quick wit and enjoyable anecdotes between songs. It was absolutely perfect, Rody Walker’s vocal range (I asked) has never been checked or analysed professional of his own volition (I’m funny, I know) but let me tell you that it is not even remotely human what that man is capable of with his voice and after 15+ years of being on tour and in the studio constantly, he still pulls it off like you’re listening to the records in your bedroom, but with a personality which convinces you you’re hearing something totally unique to that night. Long story short, he recognised me an hour after the set ended and introduced me to his band mates who I already knew of and just like him, were totally rad guys. We spoke about the new Gojira album and vape culture, amongst other things. Turns out he wore his For The Oracle shirt the next night on stage in France, my heart skipped a beat.

The next morning I was hoping to lie in til like, midday at the earliest. Nope, 7am and there were a number of very loud French people camping next to us who were packing their stuff to head home, I have nothing against people packing their stuff up to go home at 7am, as long as they aren’t quite literally screaming at the top of their lungs as if their life depended on it. So up at 7am it was! Time for a shower, nope, too hot. I braved the scalding water for the sake of my hygienic sanity but this wasn’t how I wanted my day to start. Had breakfast with Dave from The Sun Explodes and one of his friends, Sithu Aye showed up and took a seat, telling stories of the night before at the PTH after party where apparently there was some form of a muscle-off between band members from a few groups, I was far too tired to know what was going on. I went back to camp FTO where the Kind Child shirt, thanks to the rain, was no longer flying high and my band mates bar one were fast asleep despite the barrage of French yells. Our own resident French man (much quieter and polite at 7am) was off on the phone so I took his lawn chair, and fell asleep directly under the heat of the sun. A quick flinch woke me up and made me realise perhaps a car would be a better resting place.

Up again at 11:30am to ensure I didn’t miss Deities and Invocation. Think I picked up some more vinyl (Gojira and Mastodon, to add to my previously purchased Skyharbor LP) then went for another nap in my tent. “It’s far too hot for a nap!” said the sweat beading in the back of my freshly washed hair. Kill me now.

Myself and the other guys in For The Oracle don’t really get to hang out as a group, we’re always busy and live in different parts of Cornwall, band practice and gigging is the most we see each other. This sunday would be about seeing bands and chilling out.. And giving Kind Child t shirts to members of famous bands and hanging out with progressive metal celebrities some more, of course. James from TesseracT? Check. Dan from Between The Buried And Me? Check. Simon Garrod, to say thank you for having us? Check. Met with the vocalist of Textures and admitted to him that I never really listened to the band before seeing them life, since I’ve been home I have had them on CONSTANTLY. Met the keyboard player in Haken also, bought a shirt too. Those guys were incredible, made sure both of these dudes got free download codes for our debut album as well.

The drive home was torture and I got to bed at 7:45am on Monday the 11th and slept til 8pm the same day. I haven’t fully recovered from being sick, no doubt thanks to exhaustion. UK Tech Fest 2016 was the best weekend of my musical career, hands down. Meeting my idols, performing ON STAGE with my idols, playing for a capacity crowd, recording some great music the days leading up to the festival, hanging out with my friends and bandmates, meeting new friends and networking til my feet were sore from walking around the campsite trying to make sure people kept our name on the tip of their tongues’.

Now begins the fight to ensure we play again next year and to see what I can’t organise in the meanwhile for our future as a band, there’s already some VERY exciting stuff in the works.

“Maybe music isn’t dead.” – George Petit.