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Sunday 7 August 2022

A View From The Back Of The Room: Radar Festival 2022 (Live Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Radar Festival, Casino Nightclub, Guildford, 29-31 July 2022

With the inaugural event happening in 2019, the UK's newest festival dedicated to progressive/djent music, Radar Fest was well received by fans and critics. Hailing from the Casino Nightclub in Guildford, with its impressive chandeliers the second edition was announced for 2020 but of course the pandemic reared its ugly head and we had to wait until 2022 for the second instalment to arrive. Not doing things by half, the headliners of the festival were UK Prog superstars Haken alongside the debut UK performance of Swedish jazz fusion/pop/prog combo Dirty Loops. Expanded to a third day the Friday headliner was Norwegian emotional proggers Leprous. Add to this a strong supporting line up and a beautiful indoor venue (always a bonus in the UK) it was a no brainier to attend.

So myself and my trusty photographer/wife set out on a trip to Guildford with an ETA of 3 hours. Although by the time we arrived it was more like 6! After checking into the hotel, getting our bearings, getting some food and heading to the venue it meant that I didn't arrive until after Virditas were coming to an end, which was a shame as they were one of the bands I wanted to see. Nevertheless what I heard was excellent and they will go on my must see list. The festival was split between two stages, the main stage with the aforementioned chandeliers and the second stage which was down a narrow staircase (though it was quite roomy for anyone who has been to Damnation) in the basement near a bar/chill out area and food.

What was immediately striking was how attentive all the staff at the festival were, nothing was too much trouble, they were asking you how you were, engaging in conversations and generally bringing a good vibe. A pint of the Radar Ale and it was upstairs for London post-hardcore unit Devil Sold His Soul (7) who stormed the stage with their ambient influence looming large against a fairly well trodden metalcore road clean/harsh vocals, it was an ideal way to enter into the festival being as this mix of ambient techincal playing and outright groove laden heaviness was essentially the ethos of the festival.

A small break a chance to look around and back in for Ten56 (8) a new band (formed last year) that arrived and absolutely smashed the place up calling for pits and walls of death on just the second song this ultra heavy band featuring the former singer of Betraying The Martyrs were just the build that was needed into the next band Humanity's Last Breath (8) the Swedish deathcore band upping the groove contingent with some bone shattering breakdowns. Due to the long drive unfortunately the only band I managed to see on the 'lighter' downstairs stage was atmospheric ambient guitar wizard Jakub Zytecki (8) who served as something of restbite from the heavy as all hell mainstage and a great lead in to the Friday headliners.

Leprous (9) know how to hold a crowd, even though they performed a set mainly based around their more recent material from Aphelion and Pitfalls meaning that there was little to no scream vocals as the earliest they went back was Foe and The Cloak from 2013's Coal. Einar Solberg is a captivating frontman, gliding around the stage, unleashing that heartbreaking vocal style that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Shifting between singing and keys/synths/programming, he wrings every bit of emotion out of tracks such as the mystical Below, which brought a hush over the crowd. Though it was heavier tracks such as The Price getting the biggest cheers of the night. Dedicating the performance to those in Ukraine, despite being 25 minutes late due to technical issues the crowd didn't care as they were entranced by Leprous live magic. The 11 minute epic The Sky Is Red closing the first day and firmly getting Radar 2022 off an running, probably alleviating some nerves from the organisers.

Saturday rolled around and it was full day of bands to get on with, though the 13:00 start time is well appreciated especially when most festivals choose 11 am. For me the first band of the the day was melancholic Danish alt metal group Cold Night For Alligators (7) who's extremely cute cartoon merchandise is at odds with their dark, brooding music, an easy way to edge into the day it was grunge punkers Forager (6) that blew away any Friday hangovers with shouted lyrics and angular riffs, the noise kept coming with The Five Hundred (7) who didn't really do as much for me but gave a good show, with a great vocalist.

With a small break it was downstairs again as a different kind of drug now flowing freely as the crowd enjoyed the craft ales from Distortion Brewery at all of the bars. Much like many festivals the supplies at certain bars but nothing was ever completely gone for good as other bars carried it and the venue itself a great selection of craft cans. Other venues take note! Sertaline (7) are a great live act with a new vocalist in their ranks they look to to the stage with experience, melody and emotion, followed by the power trio Black Orchid Empire (8) who drive home technical wizardry with a extreme metal ferocity. Another band on the roster that I would definitely be seeking out again as they impressed me on the smaller Radar stage.

Back on the main stage and it was first of the big name bands in the lead up to the headliners. First was the all encompassing heaviness of Conjurer (9), fresh off their second album being release this highly regarded UK band, brought their potent combination of introspective melodies and crushing heaviness to a stunned crowd, every Conjurer show is special but they now seem on that non stop upward trajectory. A hard act to follow but Scottish prog/power metal crew Tiberius (9) are up the task with music that is a bit more melodic but just as impressive, their sense of fun as catchy as their songs, leading the second stage in a few merry jigs, as technically was balanced by melody. Chris Foster was a maniac making full use of his wireless pack by walking through the crowd numerous times even playing on the bar, while vocalist Grant Barclay did much the same spending time in the crowd while belting out their tunes. 

With both Conjurer and Tiberius giving a hell of a show, the main stage ringing out with the flowing, mostly instrumental sound of the esoteric Bossk (8) a band who are something of scene legends, this why the room was packed as they played their atmospheric music, showing why they are reveared. Following on from Bossk were Soen (7) the Swedish band dealing with some technical issues so they didn't quite have the impact I was expecting. Playing mostly recent material the vocals weren't that audible, a shame as they are a key part of the bands. However as this was now their only festival appearance it was a good enough reason to want to head over to their shows in September (rescheduled from last year).

Finally it was time for the mighty retro-futurism of prog metal mavens Haken (9). Always delivering the goods I haven't seen them headline since the Affinity tour so the addition of 1985, complete with lined Kanye glasses and break into Yes' Owner Of A Lonely Heart and the brilliant The Architect made me do a squeal but the tracks from Virus and Vector were met like an old friends, the fantastic vocals of Ross Jennings soaring above the proggy, djenty, techy noise made by Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths and their headless guitars. In the bottom end for jazzy numbers such as The Cockroach King (the biggest cheer) reminding everyone just how good Connor Green (bass) and Ray Hearne (drums) as a rhythm section. This is also the first show I've seen them with original keyboard player Peter Jones tinkling the ivories who slotted back in, providing the swelling synths on the epic Falling Back To Earth. Haken were playing to a already well converted crowd (from the number of shirts), so dropping in new song Nightingale third wasn't a risk, more a glimpse into their next record. It was a gloriously upbeat and joyous headline slot for Haken sending everyone happy on the second day of the festival.

As Sunday came in we were all a bit bleary eyed, stomachs pumped full of All Day Breakfasts and Omeprazole it was once again time to squeeze into the Casino in Guildford for the last day of Radar. I use the word squeeze as the Sunday was the biggest day for single day tickets so there was a shedload more humanity ready to get nice and sweaty. 

First up were Danish pop/rockers Siamese (6) who filled the stage with the sound of alt rock infused with violin, getting the crowd going early it was downstairs then to catch Hawxx (8) who initially suffered with some sound issues but soon got the crowd rocking to their feminist anthems, creating a safe space for women at rock/metal shows. With the Kettle (Hawxx call their fans a Kettle) properly boiled after their set it was upstairs to see Palm Reader (7) who have a furious fusion of atmospheric hardcore, with metal and prog as well, a fiery live show that got the room bouncing. There was a slight difference in pace with the prog rock mastery of Temples On Mars (8), as the trio brings forth heaving, heavy riffs and classic prog sensibilities that merge well adding their name to the see again list.

Unfortunately I only managed to catch half of The Dali Thundering Concept and Port Noir due to food (and plenty of water) being required however I managed to get back in ready for the rap-djent of Hacktivist (7) who also suffered from some technical difficulties but managed to blow them away with their pit starting grooves, headbanging breakdowns and Jermaine 'J' Hurley spitting bars (or whatever it is the kids say) over everything. Keeping the pace high and the riffs nasty was Cage Fight (8) who tore up the second stage with a thrash/hardcore hybrid, James Monteith carving out riffs that his Tesseract faithful would be scared of, as the backroom of bassist Jon Reid and drummer Nick Plews keeping a frightening pace. Now there was no vocals for a song and a half however when Rachel Aspe's mic did kick in she unleashed those guttural growls on songs from their debut album as well as a Body Count cover to really drive home their hardcore credentials. One last bit of nastiness before the two final acts on the main stage.

The first of these was 30 year old Australian guitar icon Plini (9), a guy who is reveared as something of a God in these circles, his instrumental, atmospheric, ethereal music style makes him one of the djent/prog mainstays. The popularity evident from the full house that was watching him. It's impressive to see an entire room entranced but when you have someone with such skill playing it's only natural that there was such a response. He is augmented by his immensely talented band featuring Jake Howsam Lowe (guitar), Simon Grove (bass), Troy Wright (drums) and John Waugh on sax it was a well paced, brilliantly performed set that could have been a headliner in his own right.

However the actual headliners were Swedish jazz/funk/rock/pop trio Dirty Loops (10) playing their debut UK show. When I tell you dear reader that I have seen very few shows that were as perfect as this one, it is no exaggeration. Jonah Nilsson (vocals/keyboards), Henrik Linder (bass), and Aron Mellergardh (drums) along with additional keys from their 19 year old fourth live member, who they were on quest to get laid throughout the evening, make up Dirty Loops and they amaze on every song be it their own or the reinterpretations/covers the throw in. Henrik's lead bass playing, mind blowing in its technicality but also it's groove, getting you bouncing along to the percussive It Hurts and the 8bit-tastic Coffee Break Is Over.

Aron's drumming is jazzy and complex similar to Brand X and even Steely Dan where the multitude of styles are used well. Frontman Jonah captures the imagination by having a massive amount of charisma even though he spends most of his time behind the keys (where he has the same wizardry as his bandmates) but it's his voice that makes Dirty Loops for me so bloody incredible. Like prime period Michael Jackson, his soulful highs are wonderful on their own songs as well as covers such as Lady Gaga's Just Dance and Justin Bieber's Baby, where they tricked the crowd into pitting. I could honestly watch them every night. While they may have seemed an odd addition to a prog/metal festival, on the last day of a festival, their jubilant party atmosphere was enjoyed by 100% of the broken bodies in the room as many filthy shapes were thrown by white people that should know better!

A magnificent end to a wonderful festival, Radar will move to a bigger venue in Manchester next year meaning that they are looking at the long term of the festival, though they will be bringing the staff/management of the Casino in Guildford with them. So a change in venue, rather than a change in atmosphere I hope. One of my favourite festival experiences in a long time, I will 100% be going next year!

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