For those who don’t know, ArcTanGent is held at Fernhill Farm in the Cheddar Valley near Bristol, and was started in 2013 by those behind 2000 Trees. What differentiates it from its punkier sister festival, is that it has a distinct musical focus on math-rock, post-rock and their variants. As a post-rock lover in Bristol who thoroughly enjoyed their visits to 2000 Trees in 2012/13, it felt ridiculous that I hadn’t been before, but the dates had always conspired to be on a weekend I couldn’t go. So I was delighted to finally attend this year, and headed down enthusiastically after a quick early lunch, planning to indulge completely for three days in elaborately layered experimental rock.
After a slight diversion of getting lost and having to double back on myself - there were no signposts on surrounding roads to indicate the festival entrances - I rocked up to ArcTanGent at about 1.30 on Thursday. I claimed my wristband and decided, rather lazily, to go and check bands out and explore the site before pitching my tent. A decision that was quickly vindicated, as Bearded Youth Quest, provided a joyous and upbeat variety of math-rock to kick off my festival.
The festival was set up and timetabled, so that bands on adjacent stages alternated, with only the Yohkai and PX3 stages running on Thursday. While a seemingly sensible way to help avoid soundbleed between stages, unfortunately this didn’t account for soundchecks, and throughout the afternoon anyone on the periphery of one stage could hear the next band setting up. A problem exacerbated by the lack of alternatives ensuring that each tent was packed and overflowing for the entire day.
Thankfully, the bars were well-staffed and efficiently run, as well as offering a decent selection of ciders and local ales, available at the tolerable price of £4.50 a pint. I sampled some Funky Monkey (which proved over the day to be the nicest) while hovering just outside the stages to enjoy the impressive Chiyoda Ku and Town Portal.
Following their shows, I had a meander around the site. It was well laid-out, with recycling points and toilets both spread across the arena in appropriate places. I returned to the Yohkai stage to find Gallops, starting their set at the sort of pace their name suggests, maintaining a powerful energy even during the mellower phases of their songs.
I managed to set up my tent before the rain arrived, and promptly spent 40 minutes inside while the shower passed, collecting my waterproofs from the car afterwards in time to get to Tall Ships. Their sound was slightly more accessible than most of the fayre on offer at the festival, but no less complex or rewarding because of it.
The single performer at each time that day meant I gave second chances to a couple of acts I’ve been disappointed by before, Heck were incredibly lively, and got the crowd shouting along happily, but their attempts at hardcore impress me less each time. By contrast, Future Of The Left, were excellent. Considering that the previous time I’d seen them I walked out of the gig in disgust at their lifeless performance, I was pleasantly surprised by their punchy vibrancy.
Nordic Giants were my discovery of the weekend. Their set started gently, with some gorgeous, dreamy post-rock, before gradually developing in intensity throughout the hour, building to a truly dominating, almost apocalyptic crescendo. Not since GY!BE have I seen an act whose atmosphere evolved so seamlessly and impressively.
The headline act on Thursday was Russian Circles. They offered an entertaining show, but their powerful sound felt ever so slightly flat in the wake of Nordic Giants’ incredible finale. On the scale of post-metal, they had too much metal and not quite enough post for my tastes.
Unfortunately for me, I spent the entirety of Friday sleeping off a fever, only getting up to get water in and out of my body, missing a number of excellent bands I’d been looking forward to. I’ve seen TTNG several times before and always enjoyed them, and had been heavily anticipating itoldyouiwouldeatyou, Bossk, The Number Twelve Looks, and God Is An Astronaut, sadly all in vain. I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or disappointed when I heard invariably positive remarks about all of them afterwards.
I continued to sleep through a lot of Saturday, finally waking around 2 to watch The Physics House Band, and their awesome groove-laden math-rock, before exploring the eateries. The selection of food at ATG was absolutely fantastic, with a unique range, reasonable pricing, and delicious smell and taste for everything I sampled. One of the best options was a store offering meals cooked out of produce from Fernhill Farm, who had a different menu for lunch and dinner each day, with my choice of beef in red wine with vegetables
Returning to my tent, I found it had collapsed, and so started to pack it away, figuring that driving the 15 miles home that night would be the smart decision with me still recovering. Upsettingly though, while I did so, I discovered the reason for its collapse was that some scoundrel had stolen almost all of my tent pegs! I loaded everything into my car, and promptly collapsed for some more hours of sleep.
I managed to gather enough energy to find a proper conclusion to the festival, hopping between the Arc and Yohkai stages to see TesseracT, SikTh, Explosions In The Sky showcase progressive metal, mathcore and post-rock respectively. A fitting end, with the different styles available at the festival all being represented by a notable and talented outfit on its last day.
Despite my personally unpleasant time, I was still impressed with the festival. The layout was good, mud never became a problem despite a number of showers, and the line-up was more impressive in person than on paper. ArcTanGent has targeted a niche, and fills it excellently, although I’m slightly worried that the same names do seem to crop up in the middle of the bill each year and it might start to stagnate.
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