ArcTanGent Festival – Thursday
Words: Chynna Blue
Photos: Jonathan Dadds
Arriving at ArcTanGent always provides loads of anticipation by going through the playlists and clashfinders beforehand. The sounds of the first bands playing whilst tents are erected only pushes that anticipation further and this is a class festival having recently won Best Small Festival award.
I randomly stumble into a tent where Cocaine Piss are playing, they are huge amounts of fun as they go on to cram more songs in their short set than anyone else will play this weekend. It was exciting to watch as their punk attitude flowed throughout their set.
We have seen sludgey doomsters Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard before and as always they delivered the goods, the contrast between the heavier music and singer Jessicas vocals and keyboards provides an added interest and elevates them from many who play this genre.
Yvette Young is on my must see list for the festival and as lovely as her music is it is a massive disappointment that there are so many people who are talking all the way through her performance, even after she asked them not to. Seated on stage it was impossible to see her but her songs and playing certainly came through strongly and sounded great.
The drive and intensity that is delivered by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs makes them a hugely exciting band to watch live. They batter and grind you with their metal until you bleed yet it is still high accessible even with singer Matt Baty’s guttural vocals. With the band mastering some long songs this set is way too short and we look forward to seeing them on tour soon.
The Nordic Giants are on my bucket list to see today and I am not disappointed. The duo, playing drums and keyboards play cinematic instrumental music whilst wearing headdresses to clips from films which are played on the screen behind them and added significant weight to the music, Through A Lens Darkly and Together are highlights of a magnificent set.
The evening is only going to get heavier so a lighter interlude comes with the lovely jazzy leanings of Covert and they provide an exceptional chilled few minutes for us.
And talking of heavier… Zeal And Ardor hit the stage to a rammed big tent with their avant-garde mix of prison blues chants and black metal. They made a big impression last year so a return was essential and from the openers In Ashes and Servants they go down a storm although Baphomet is the highlight
Sing along if you know the words shouts Polyphia bassist Clay Aeschliman somewhat ironically at the start of their instrumental set. The band deliver a class performance with guitarist Tim Henson, replete with neck tattoos and red hair, a standout with a dexterity on his axe that is rarely seen, and as they trawl through expansive sounds from djent to prog-metal to hip-hop, 40oz shows how impressive they can be. At one point Aeschliman decided to put aside his bass and join in the stage diving, they wer clearly having as much fun as us!
Carpenter Brut, one of Kerrang!’s hottest bands of the moment put on a spectacular show making great use of the screen behind them. There was little guitar sound at the front but moving further back the sound was much improved. The over reliance on technology and over processed sound was disappointing and although there was singing it wasn’t coming from anyone on-stage – too many backing tracks for me. After half an hour I decided to move to another stage to catch Pijn who were middle of some deep and heavy ambience!
Daughters are another of Kerrang!’s hottest bands on the planet and they were not wrong… dynamic, edgy, intense, they had it all. I am struggling to put into words the experience of witnessing this performance, it was that good! The Reason They Hate Me grabbed the audience from the start although Long Road, No Turns was a personal favourite. Security were kept busy with over 100 people crowd surfing over the barrier; it wasn’t all one way traffic as singer Alexis S.F. Marshall went into the crowd several times and at the end of the set one of the guitarists did too. Exciting.
The first day ends with the poppy proggy goodness that is Coheed and Cambria. They are hugely popular with many singing along, it is a huge party here after all. The encore of Welcome Home is monsterous and watching singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez adorning his twin neck guitar is an iconic image.
ArcTanGent – Friday
ArcTanGent is quickly and quirkily renamed ArcWetTent as a massive downpour preceded the opening act on the main stage. With a name more akin to a 60’s crooner, A.A. Williams set provides a slow yet thoughtful start to the days proceedings. With Williams mournful vocals, along with slow buildups in songs like Love And Pain, the music makes significant drops into post-rock and as it does there are a thousand or so heads nodding in unison!
Three piece CLT DRP straddle an interesting line that crosses from punk to rock to experimental to electronica with some jazz grooves creeping into the drums too – and it works! It’s an inspired choice for this time in the morning with Annie’s impressive clear singing cutting through although to be fair the whole band were great!
And it is raining big time, and talking of big times Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game springs to mind with the name of the next band, Good Game from the USA with this being their first ever gig in the U.K.. They have a sense of humour too, in addition to the guitarist’s red hair and pink sparky wellies (the bass player decides to adopt standard green willies) their songs are self mocking, Math Rock Sucks is hilarious and I Could Be A Princess has a tongue in cheek edge to it.
Three piece Londoners Dags! play a cracking set but seems a little sterile at times, don’t get me wrong it is enjoyable, it is just the excitement didn’t turn up which was definitely needed after the last two bands.
It is standard for it to rain at a U.K. festival and it is currently monumental as Standards take the stage in the larger Arc tent. A large puddle has formed as it leaks in through the roof with more water running downhill adding to it! With a colourful and fruity back screen the guitarist and drummer duo provide an interesting and varied math rock wiggly experience with songs about fruit and sharks, and a performance that is entertaining. They even reverse the wall of death to become the wall of life… the crowd to rush at each other and hug instead of push. Can’t wait to see them again!!
The rain is now torrential so just a short hop to the tent next door for All The Best Tapes for their last ever show. King Of Swine is a high energy piece of thrash-jazz (math-rock for the rest of us) which tickles many parts, they will be missed.
“We are Thank You Scientist from New Jersey, don’t go there – it smells” announces singer Salvatore Marrano at the start of the bands set. I’ve waited a long time to see and I am not disappointed, they are the definition of what modern prog is all about. With seven of them onstage they create a very slick sound with a sophisticated edge to it as they cram four songs into a ridiculously short set, Mr Invisible from Stranger Heads Prevail getting my dancing feet well and truly moving.
The Algorithm played at Manchester’s Satan’s Hollow not too long ago but this set is on another level entirely with a sound system that is much better suited to the technical and synthesised aspects they project. It is another very danceable and masterful set even with my feet sinking into the mud.
Scotland’s Sithu Aye claims that the weather never gets this bad up in Scotland, I beg to differ, even so within 30 seconds of starting he breaks a guitar string swaps guitar and then breaks a string on the second guitar and he isn’t even halfway through the first number.
His seven string then became a six string and he carried on, admitting is was tough and he was struggling. It didn’t sound like it though as Sithu, a dedicated weeab, pumped out some bangers including a couple of anime related songs, Anime As Leaders and Senpai, Please Notice Me! His playing is just ridiculous and it is unsurprising that he is a mate of Plini too; these two things are, apparently, connected.
The rain continues unabated, the conditions outside are almost apocalyptic, the mud is treacherous. Inside the tents it is at least dry and fortunately all the stages are under cover, but it is cold and not at all summer like. Next onstage are Toska, who, after only a couple of minutes of playing A Tall Order suffer from a massive side wide power cut. To be honest it was bound to happen, even though we are undercover you can see the spray through the lights. They restarted five minutes later with Congress and then the power cut out again. The next restart of Congress once more had them perform without lights presumably to cut down on power usage and it seemed to work, after all it is the music that matters and a doff of the cap to the band for persevering and performing a top class set, Abomasum was brilliant.
The rain is still falling and ill positioned sleeping tents are now starting to become flooded out… it’s wet and it is grim.
A food and beer break meant listening to 65daysofstatic from afar and even at a distance they are stunning to hear, Retreat! Retreat! sounding as epic as always but Black Peaks featuring Jamie Lenman awaits.
lWith regular singer Will out of action until the Autumn it was down to Lenman to fulfil this performance, and deliver they did by the ton… opener Can’t Sleep showed this was going to be special. Saviour continues the trend, Lenman’s putting his own stamp on the songs, no one here is disappointed even when we get a mashup of some of his songs thrown into the ‘Peaks melting pot. The Rueben classic Every Time A Teenager Listens To Drum & Bass A Rockstar Dies is both a surprise and a killer, he needs the 50p of PRS money, apparently.
And the rain still falls as the guy next to me says “I’ve never ever seen it rain this much in Somerset in one day.”
Russian Circles deep bassy post rock reverberates around the large tent but after a couple of songs they stop for a break, no explanations but there is a big cheer when they return. Their music is uplifting too with everyone enjoying it and getting into the bands groove as, quite randomly, a Bob Marley flag starts to get waved around. With nearly half the set coming from Blood Year many are very happy with this performance.
Amazingly the rain has finally stopped and a ‘quick’ walk to the tent next door sees it taking three times as long as the mud is monumental. It is no surprise that Frontierier need another 10 minutes before they are ready as they fiddle with their lights. When they finally start the energy levels are off the Richter scale with their industrial metal infused drum and bass. And it is as intense as you would expect…
By the time Battles hit the stage we are weary, it has been a long hard day. Their loop driven set is hard work, Titanium 2 Step is just too loopy and repetitive at this time. The mud and rain has gotten the better of us and we bail partway through their set and call it quits on the day, you can only take so much. We hear Atlas from a distance and as insanely good as it is we are just too tired to appreciate it. However, tomorrow is another day and the final day!
ArcTanGent – Saturday
The sun is out, it is warm and there is a really good feeling in the air following yesterdays biblical downpouring. But there is mud… lots and lots of mud!
It’s day three and we are starting to wear down after so much excellent music so far. Listening to Mexican DJ Perro from the tent is the perfect start to the day (all the camping is close to the arena). The name can be off-putting but their lighter shredding math rock is going down well, another inspired choice from the organisers.
Midas Fall are our next choice and they are exceptional, their sound is both melancholic and powerful, the singing cuts through beautifully as the band pass from light to dark, reminding me of Exploring Birdsong along the way.
This change in the weather from yesterday is ridiculous, suntan cream is now required! More Mexican proggy math-rock from three piece Kaguu whose lovely sounds are emanating from the tent as some of us soaked up the rays outside. They have only been going a couple of years but have already got three releases out.
You have to ask the question does this man not get on with other band members? Last minute replacement for AMNT, Howard James Kenny plays with himself, I mean by himself as he tackles drums, synths, loops and guitar alone. It is impressive to watch as his drumming is insane and the bass synth is like a dagger hitting your chest whilst elements of dance, electronica, metal, noise and post-rock collide in the centre of the stage like a whirlwind of sounds that grab you and force your body to move. Interestingly an hour later he is doing another set on the bar stage where that whirlwind fizzes up the beer even more.
We heard Matt Calvert played an amazing set but we can’t be everywhere and another ATG favourite, Three Trapped Tigers, play a brilliant set as we watch once more from the side whilst soaking up the fabulous sunshine. This is how festivals should be. Of their set Cramm is as absolutely mental as we expected it to be, Noise Trade was abandoned part way through, not sure why as we were just far too relaxed, but they picked things up again with Kraken.
With the great weather comes a party atmosphere with one person wearing a banana suit and another with a unicorn head on a stick. But with the party comes a massive dichotomy, the worst clash ever as Elephant Gym clashes with The Contortionist and we chose the later for a full on dose of tech metal. It’s a blistering set, Clairvoyant and Flourish are absolute bangers with singer Mike Lessard totally absorbed in his performance with new song Early Grave sounding, to our ears, Tool-esque.
The happiness continues to flow with post rock monsters And So I Watch You From Afar who are the much taunted surprise act who headlined last year and are playing their self titled album in full. The performance is as epic as you would expect from the band and this year they seem much more relaxed, less pressure I guess as they Set Guitars To Kill.
Cult of Luna are sounding stunning in the big tent, with two drummers and the large PA suiting their equally epic post-metal. With lighting that is sympathetic to them I become completely engrossed in the performance. They open with The Silent Man from their new album A Dawn To Fear which is out on 20th September, setting the tone for the rest of this performance. Finland is on another level as the band manage to squeeze six songs into their 70 minute set. I was gutted this set clashes with Voronoi another favourite band but I feel being here is the right decision. This performance is the absolute highlight of the weekend, the lasers at the end were a nice touch too.
The tent for Caspian’s set is absolutely rammed and for good reason, they are stunning, their instrumental post-rock is riveting. With a new album completed and to be released in January we are treated to a taster at the end of their set in the form of Castles High, Marble Bright. Their love of ArcTanGent is reciprocated by those watching.
It is unsurprising that the anticipation for the main headliner is high, Meshuggah were the first band announced shortly after ArcTanGent ended last year. And with a light show to match and sync’d perfectly with the music, this is an impressive performance and as heavy as Hell.
A stage invader causes a brief interruption to proceedings before their brand of brain curdling progressive extreme metal continues to a rammed main tent. Bleed and Demiurge finished off the set in style but that light show – WOW!
“Your so much better than Meshuggah” someone shouts in the crowd and for those not wanting that head crushing metal there is an alternative. Two piece Doblecapa from Spain provide a modern blues, almost a dichotomy to Meshuggah. The use of a slide on a cigar-box four string guitar is overdriven resulting in a deep growling tone that gets right into your soul and even a broken guitar string is quickly replaced – I hope you are paying attention Sithu Aye.
And so it ends, another silent disco permeates the night air as another ArcTanGent ends. This is quite possibly the best festival experience I have had, so much great music, great people, great food creating an altogether great vibe. The anticipation for next year is already gaining ground and we are already awaiting the first announcement.