As ArcTanGent enters its 6th year, the festival continues to grow in its musical offerings, if not capacity. Running for three days on the slightly unconventional Thursday to Saturday pattern, the main Arc Stage held performances on the Thursday for the first time, with acts across the festival having styles diverging from ATG’s staple genres of post-rock and math-metal.
An unhelpful SatNav and lack of signposts led to our arrival being slightly delayed, but our tent-pitching was serenaded by the thoroughly entertaining math-rock of Alpha Male Tea Party, with time to grab a drink before heading to the Yohkai Stage. I fully expected OHHMS, as a sludgy, hardcore metal band, to be loud and noisy, but unfortunately this was just too much. While the few songs I’d heard before had displayed some technical skill and imagination, live they just offered a sheer wall of volume, lacking in any purpose or entertainment value. We exited the tent after only a couple of songs, but any hope that a bit of distance would increase our enjoyment was swiftly dispelled, no sense of melody or even pattern was discernible at any point during their performance, to provide a thoroughly disappointing start to our festival.
ATG’s arena is fairly small, with two distinct sections each with paired alternating stages, a dozen outdoor benches, and a variety of different food tents and stalls. It feels the right size for the festival’s capacity, with people ambling around happily, and feeling comfortable chatting to strangers.
The next act we saw opened the Arc Stage, People Like Milk Products, was in fact two local bands, a collaborative effort from Bristol’s Memory of Elephants and Chiyoda Ku. The two instrumental math-rock bands performed brilliantly together, creating a layered and powerful sound.
There’s a 5-minute break after each act finishes before the next stage’s performance begins, which with the compact arena, gives plenty of time for punters to move between acts. We ambled over towards Rolo Tomassi, a staple of the mathcore scene. I was surprised at their late afternoon slot, expecting a band who had performed at the likes of Download to command a stage-closing set, and with the presence they showed they certainly could have justified such status.
Of course, the quality of a festival is determined by more than just the music on offer, and we sampled the various beers on offer. All the bars had ale on sale, but we mostly went to the Signature Brew bar (who supplied the ale to the stage bars as well), with a pleasant selection of 3 pale ales and a rich coffee porter. After a sample of all of them, and the Old Blue Last Lager, we concluded that while they were all nice beers, the most enjoyable was the Roadie, which also went down excellently alongside a buttermilk chicken and halloumi burger.
Aside from chowing down and quenching thirst, the remainder of our day was spent back on the Arc Stage, for a series of excellent post-rock bands, each with their own different style. Foxing were lively, and upbeat, one of the rare post-rock bands with a singer, who was bouncing around stage and passionately crooning into the mic. Contrastingly, Pianos Become The Teeth were mellow, with a downbeat, melancholic intensity that was thoroughly absorbing. Finally, And So I Watch You From Afar produced a storming headline set, filled with power and shifting tempos set against the backdrop of a dramatic light show.
Friday brought with it the opening of the Bixler Stage, although sadly, from the early performances on that stage, it felt like a waste of time and energy. Modern Rituals, God Mother, and Bearfoot Beware all sounding atrocious, a problem amplified by the poor acoustics of the stage, in contrast to the excellent sound quality on the other three stages, Arc in particular. Thankfully, the bands playing over on Yohkai at the same time were substantially better, the light-toned, ambient post-rock of Blanket, the poppy, almost Paramore-infused Orchards, and the slightly darker but still pleasantly mellow instrumental Astralia.
Amidst this stage hopping between Yohkai and Bixler, we also went to the Arc for the truly excellent Poly-Math, appearing at ArcTanGent for the 4th time, and offering a truly energetic and powerful display of their proggy math-rock. The band were enthusiastic, lively, and oozed charisma despite their instrumental sound, with the dispersing of inflatable bananas into the crowd, and request for the crowd to sit down for one song before jumping up together feeling genuinely engaging instead of the cheap gimmicks they could have appeared to be.
Throughout the day, we bounced between stage, Talons showed some bright, uplifting post-rock, Chiyoda Ku impressed in their own set, albeit a bit less than in the collaboration on the previous day, while Pelican blew the crowd away with close to an hour of intense post-metal, shifting flawlessly between eerie, driven and soaring styles. Anathema offered a much more mellow set than when I last saw them 10 years ago, with a relaxing prog sound having taken over their earlier metal nature. Leprous, contrastingly, seemed to have grown heavier, despite their softer vocals, and definitely for the better. Our night finished outside the PX3 stage, listening to Behind the Shadow Drops wafting out some soothing, almost trip-hop infused post-rock.
We stayed up a bit past the bands on Friday, drunkenly chatting while listening to the chorus of the silent disco, which amusingly kicked off to “One Armed Scissor”, before a more conventional series of sing-along songs were played.
Despite our late night, we made some effort to get up somewhat early on Saturday, something eased by some very loud 10am soundchecks on the major stages. After some morning water, snacks, and hygiene, we headed to see Death And The Penguin, mostly because they had somehow managed to have the most ridiculous name yet at a festival comprised mostly of prog, math, and post-rock bands. They had a slightly poppier sound than much of the festival’s offerings, but still had the technical skills and rewarding layers. Unfortunately, the sound quality of the Bixler Stage detracted somewhat from their excellent set. I hope they assess this in future years, as it felt more important with the many noise-laden acts that perform here. This contrasted remarkably with Soeur, another local band, who provided a hugely entertaining display of dirty noise-pop, accentuated by the high quality of the sound and acoustics on the PX3 Stage.
We took a break for lunch, and to pack up the tent ahead of a post-band departure, with the short distance back to Bristol, sore necks, and forecast of rain all combining for a desire to get back ahead of the Sunday morning queues leaving the festival. We returned to the arena in time for Plini, who astounded us with a remarkable display of instrumental prog-metal. Soaring, intense, complex songs that they played with casual ease and a clear sense of friendly joy towards each other.
Arcane Roots were performing an electronic set on the Bixler Stage before their show headlining Yohkai later, and I was intrigued to check it out. Their frontman did say it was an experimental live attempt to do something different, and, unfortunately, it showed. After a fairly mellow start, they increased slightly in intensity, but ultimately they sounded like a rock band trying and failing to do their own Kid A, something that will almost inevitably disappoint. So after 10 minutes of watching an act wishing they were Radiohead, we went to see Telepathy, who were much more impressive, showcasing their own, sludge-driven hybrid of post-metal and desert rock.
Following on, Giraffes?Giraffes! Were a huge coup for ATG to book, the American duo performing their first ever European show here, on a UK exclusive. Playing through their set, with near constant grins, they clearly enjoyed being here as much as their audience. Both of them, as well as plenty of the weekend’s other performers, wandering round the festival fullying immersing themselves in the experience. Prog band Black Peaks impressed over on the Yohkai Stage, before an absolutely stunning performance from Myrkur. She arrived dressed in a cloak with her tree branches around her mic stand, starting with some quiet, gentle singing before unleashing into a remarkable and powerful vocal range. Intense, folk-infused black metal with a full range of light and shade throughout her set, both musically and visually.
It would take something special to follow Myrkur and not seem comparatively flat, but Mouse On The Keys provided that, their unique brand of jazz crafting a similar mixture of intensity and relaxation as the sonic landscaping of the post-rock the line-up is built around. Alcest followed with some dream-tinged metal, the French band bringing a set that was evolving and powerful. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (I had to check I counted 7 there), then packed the Bixler Stage, their 55 minute performance comprised of only three songs as their epic sludgy psych-noise brought people in from the rain, with several hiding across at the edges of the Arc from the downpour. Shellac closed the festival, but despite Albini’s impressive list of alternative records as a producer, and the psychotic, almost arhythmic drum pattern, the overall content of their sound came out to slightly less clean dad rock. They seemed an odd choice to end the festival, with high profile bands such as Alcest, Pelican, Giraffes?Giraffes! and Rolo Tomassi all fitting ATG’s style better, and having a status that could warrant a headline slot.
Despite the poor start and anti-climactic finish, ArcTanGent once again proved an excellent festival, it’s found its own niche, is promoting local bands steadily up the line-up, and consistently providing a number of notable bookings. The layout and organisation is incredibly efficient, and, Bixler aside, the sound quality and lack of sound bleed across the tightly packed stages is seriously impressive. Long may it continue.
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