ArcTanGent is perhaps the friendliest UK festival there is. No other festival I have attended equates to the love found when walking around the festival’s greenery. Covering a wide array of genres, from twinkly emo (American Football) and left-field math-rock/post-rock all the way to technical metal (Animals as Leaders/Monuments), ArcTanGent is no stranger to diversity. Making new friends is a staple of the festival, as everyone chats profusely about the bands they’re excited to see, or starts a wall of death at 2:30pm in the afternoon. It’s unequivocal good fun.
This year’s ArcTanGent came with one big downfall: rain. Thursday was better, but as Friday and Saturday commenced, the heavens opened: A flooded tent started a depressing Sunday morning, and the gale-force winds denied the ability to sit around your tents, sipping beer and chatting incoherently about life. But even with all this, people crowdsurfed, circle-pitted and amused themselves over the three days of festivities. That sort of atmosphere is what makes ATG; it is undeniably positive in the face of adversity.
The overall layout of the festival had changed from last years. The smaller stage that housed Delta Sleep last year was instead positioned next to the main The Arc stage, meaning that the four stages were paired next to each other at either end of the festival. Effect and electronic music company BOSS also had their own van-stage, which saw demonstrations of their latest effects and amps demonstrated by bands and musicians at the festival (such as a collaboration with Space Blood and Cleft’s Dan Beesley, as well as Alpha Male Tea Party).
So, let us commence this gigantic review of the festival’s three packed days.
For most, Thursday was the best day. A clash-free day of solid bands, from the mathcore of Body Hound, all the way to Japanese post-rockers Mono, Thursday shoved its proverbial skinny wrists upwards like antennas to heaven.
Arriving at the festival via shuttle, it took five minutes of tent and suitcase dragging till I arrived at the camping site. Unlike last year, the wristband exchange was actually at the entrance to the stand. Quite conveniently, this meant that unlike last year’s mega queuing times, people could get set up first then worry about getting our tickets out and exchanging those all-important wristbands. And just like last year, alcohol was allowed into the stadium grounds, and all the volunteering staff were incredibly cheerful.
The first band to grace my eyes and ears were experimental mathcore act Body Hound. Emulating the true spirit of cosmic riffery, the four-piece instrumentally shot themselves like wildfire through chromatic dissonance and poly-rhythmic, tonal manipulation. Sure, at times, the neck-bobbing can become a little too quirked, but for a “math-rock” festival, no other band could have been quite as apt to kick proceedings off. A now annual tradition of a Body Hound wall of death also occurred, following on from last year’s unexpected man-on-man collision during “Void”. It was a splendid start to my festival experience, and show Body Hound to be a band demanding serious attention.
Other highlights included Brighton based indie-mathmateers Delta Sleep, whose accumulation of musical complexity, pop sensibility and nautical lyricism created an aura of excitement to the smaller PX3 stage. Delivering the goods with a couple of new tracks, as well as mammoth sing-alongs ‘Strongthony’, ‘Lake Sprinkle Sprankle’ and ‘Spy Dolphin’, Delta Sleep once again proved themselves as one of math rock’s best.
Demigods TTNG – formerly This Town Needs Guns – graced the larger Yohkai stage soon after. Despite simple stage personas, the twiddly indie act moved through various time signatures and soaring melodies effortlessly. Bassist and vocalist Henry Treiman’s vocals were solidly performed, accompanied with the best live sound I’d witnessed at any festival. Oldschool favourite ’26 is Dancier Than 4′ went down a storm, new tracks from their latest release Disappointment Island were received with gracious applause, and other tracks including ‘Chinchilla’, ‘Lemur’ and ‘Cat Fantastic’ gained profusely loud sing-alongs.
Later on, Three Trapped Tigers delivered momentous electronic-glazed math in an exuberant performance. Drummer Adam Betts was his usual engaged yet mechanically tight self, providing technical ability and groove whilst the other musicians dabbled in atypical electronic soundscapes. After this, Axes, showed themselves as real MVPs, bringing a wealth of riffs and happiness. Cheeringly dancing from one catchy riff to the next, the four piece welded together a mix of all of math rock’s best, and shoved it in true Axes fashion down our lug-holes. It was a phenomenally well-executed set, with crowdsurfing and cheering galore.
Head raised slightly sore, Friday greeted me with a look of grey as the rainy clouds slowly moved in. However, this didn’t stop excitement as I headed over to the Yokhai stage for the first performance. This came in the form of Spanish post, noise and screamo rockers Viva Belgrado. Shifting textural landscapes, the four-piece sounded bigger than their audience suggested. One particular highlight was a song that began with shoegaze, lush chordal harmonies, and then ended in a wrath of noise; a wrath of noise that’s unpredictably changing ways brought emotive responses to everyone spectating. With a consistently varied yet well-constructed sound, it’s no surprise that the crowd were extremely impressed.
I briefly caught Adam Betts (Three Trapped Tigers) solo performance. Mixing his energetic drumming style with sample blast beats and glitching electronic melodies, it was certainly an interesting watch, albeit more a masterclass in technicality than a set of songs per se.
After a break interviewing TTNG and Animals As Leaders [links forthcoming], I caught alternative rockers Arcane Roots. Despite their plentiful math-tendencies, the three-piece took an unexpected U-turn with their latest EP Heaven And Earth; an album that despite featuring the occasional rhythmically complex breakdown, was a sharp departure from the band’s earlier, mathier material. However, their live performance went down a treat, with Andrew Groves’ occasional scream of “ARCTANGENT!” working well in their favour. Even tracks like ‘If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves’ and ‘Slow Dance’ (tracks which initially alienated a large part of the band’s fanbase) still had people screaming their lungs out. Although no tracks from the band’s mathier debut EP were played, it was overall a successful set that got everyone moving.
Friday also meant two times the fun, witnessing Icelandic four-piece Agent Fresco perform two sets – one acoustic, the other an electrified full-band live performance. The acoustic performance saw the band join with Talons, and although sparsely used, added depth with the use of extra instrumentation, included strings and extra guitar. Acoustic renditions of ‘See Hell’ and love song ‘Silhouette Palette’ graced the ears of the main stage’s listeners, with introductions from vocalist Arnór Dan Arnarson who earnestly discussed the songs’ lyrical content. It was a nice change of pace from the otherwise quite intense performances from the other stages.
A couple of hours later, Fresco’s full live performance on the slightly smaller Yokhai stage was performed, equating to one of the best of the festival. Roaring through ‘Dark Water’, ‘Pyre’ and ‘Angst’, the band’s forty-minute set was nothing short of breath-taking. As vocalist Arnarson left the stage to join the crowd below, swooped with outward arms and screaming voices, the atmosphere was electric. The sophistication of the four-piece was extra special, and we were fixated on the band from start to finish.
When I spoke to Cleft’s Dan Beesley before his final performance, I asked him, “is it going to be an emotional performance tonight?” His quick response was “no, it is going to be triumphant.” What unfolded was definitely that; a setlist compiled of voted-for fan favourites was executed in typical Cleft fashion, sending everyone into a whirlwind of sweaty bodies and vocally-emulated guitar lines. The best bits included Ben Forrester from Peaks joining the two piece for ‘Elephant in The Bar Room’, as well as an encore which saw Alpha Male Tea Party’s Tom Peters join the stage to play covers that included David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and the pit-inducing Motörhead number ‘The Ace of Spades’. Although emotional, it was as Dan predicted, utterly victorious. The perfect end to Cleft’s legacy, the performance left melancholic smiles, though not a tear in sight.
Next up, it was time to party with weirdo-rockers Falls. Despite an untimely clash with math rock giants Toe, the band still drew a sizeable crowd in the tent. As all the members (minus the drummer) jumped off the stage and placed themselves in the crowd, havoc pursued. A sound that could be compared to Queens of the Stone Age and White Lung, Falls’ material was definitely “party time”. Numerous crowd surfs, beer spillage, sweat spillage, mic borrowing and insanity was contained within a short but sweet twenty-five minute set. Outrageously fun, Falls had many uttering “I’m so glad I didn’t see toe.”
On a more sombre note, the day closed out with headliners Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who aren’t particularly a “festival band”. I’m a huge fan of their post-rock landscapes and politically-driven music, but I just couldn’t gather my head around Godspeed being a band that suited Arctangent’s party environment. Throughout their slightly shorter-than-expected set, they played the entirety of 2015’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress – as well as a few others – but the experience did not feel engrossing. Maybe it was my positioning, behind a giant beam that blocked most of the view. Maybe it was exhaustion, freezing cold, slight intoxication and being on my feet for 90 minutes after a long day. As cool as the announcement was, their set didn’t suit the anarchy, party times or danceability of previous headliners’ The Dillinger Escape Plan or 65daysofstatic. A shame that such a great act just didn’t fit with me right.
After last night’s silent disco, which involved passionately screamed vocals to Taylor Swift and Brand New, came Saturday; a day of non-stop rain. Heads did seem a little-lowered, as people wrapped in several layers and grasped cups of tea like they were molten gold.
First band of the day was fresh-faced Chiyoda Ku, who blew me right away. A tasty mix of loop-driven rock, groove and technical ability, the Bristol-based trio smashed Saturday morning’s bleakness into the distance. Packing out the tent and then some – people were left spectating in the rain – Chiyoda Ku’s youthful vigour was a pleasure to watch.
After a couple of hours at the press bench (AKA the only place in the festival where you couldn’t feel the wind and the rain), I headed over to catch post-hardcore outfit Black Peaks. A band who put on an explosive live performance, they did not disappoint. With frontman Will Gardner’s impressive vocal range and exuberant stage antics, they made short work of pumping the crowd into colliding chaos. ‘Glass Built Castles’ and ‘Savour’ were instant highlights, but ‘Say You Will’ unfortunately fell a little flat, with Will’s otherwise well-hidden fatigue beginning to show. Regardless, the energy and songwriting made for a top-drawer set.
Next up were Leeds’ screamers Classically Handsome Brutes. After loving their EP Prologemena last year [review here], I’ve been craving to catch the three-piece ever since. Incorporating all the best of mathcore’s catchy – but intense – musicality, with influences pinning Blakfish and early Biffy Clyro, the trio were on top-form. From the moment they stepped on stage, to the moment they stripped bare-bellied, penning “CHB” across their collective chests, I was loving every minute. Crowdsurfing and mosh pits aplenty, Classically Handsome Brutes played their self-defined “best show of [their]lives”, bringing in a big crowd of head-bangers and new fans.
Mutoid Man were quick to impress over at the larger stage. With a rendition of Prince’s illustrious ‘Purple Rain’ starting the band’s set off in exquisite fashion, the supergroup of frontman Steven Brodsky (Cave In), Ben Koller (Converge) and Nick Cageao were quick thereafter to set their phasers to kill. ‘Bridgeburner’, ‘1000 Mile Stare’ and ‘Sweet Ivy’ went down in a “holy fuck, this is awesome” fashion. Brodsky was an absolute delight, bringing in some serious laughs that included Freudian slips with ‘Micro Aggression’ being called ‘Micro Penis’, and the act comparing themselves to Fugazi in the way they don’t write their setlists out (“What the fuck are we playing?!” screamed Brodsky). It was pure, undignified, unparalleled good fun.
On the main-stage soon after, Caspian were the third band of the festival to experience a power outage, but it in no way hindered their performance. Upon regaining power, they soared through a set of dense post-rock landscapes, covered mostly in thick smoke. A clear highlight was final track ‘Sycamore’, in which the band slowly broke from their instruments into a percussion frenzy, one-by-one. It was staggering to witness, as frenetic guitar work shifted to tribal and primitive rhythms in the closing minutes.
Enemies brought sunshine and polyrhythms, as well as the longest crowdsurf known to man. Literally, a man in blue made it all the way from the front, all the way to the back, and all the way back to the front again, before standing on the stage, fist-raised and cheering, before diving back into the crowd. It was beautiful. Musically, the highlight came with “Executive Cut”, a ripping, soaring math-rock track that featured inventive percussion and creative guitar lines, warping around catchy chants and grooving, melodic bass lines.
Soon after, Belfast’s loop-friendly math-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar brought a chaotic performance of instrumental rock that saw classics ‘Set Guitars To Kill’ and ‘Search:Party:Animal’ bring in explosive rays of energy onto the Bristol crowd. A couple of new tracks were also performed, as well as a gentle sign-off with their pretty track ‘The Voiceless’. Although maybe not the loudest bang to go out on, it was indeed refreshing after the havoc that unfolded beforehand.
The very final band for me was freshly reformed electro-math act Gallops. With a new drummer and plenty of energy, the band strung together a set of sophisticated and tightly performed electronic math-rock. With similarities to Three Trapped Tigers and 65daysofstatic, it was nice to see more electronic sounds within the festival. However, tiredness prevented me from fully enjoying the band’s set, as the quintessentially British weather did not stop being British; wet, cold and windy. Twelve hours later, I awoke in my tent, covered in a puddle of cold water, asking the good Lord…“why?”
All-in-all, ArcTanGent was a great, despite weather that tried to dampen the mood. For all the nicheness and exclusivity of the festival, the lineup was second-to-none; it featured some of left-field’s rock’s best with regulars Cleft, Body Hound, Rolo Tomassi and Axes, as well as genre giants American Football and Godspeed You! Black Emperor showing their faces.
Even though Godspeed You! Black Emperor may have left their emotive performance to those at the front few rows, and the lack of bands without guitars may have alienated some, ATG yet again gifted those with some of the finest underground rock bands. Sure, the weather was horrible, but the enthusiasm of all the festival-goers, staff and bands was the complete antithesis; warm, vibrant and passionate. Let’s just hope that next year, the organisers will put a bit more fire into those that are chosen to headline, replacing the sullen post-rock acts for the more festival-suited party-time bands.