Festival Review | ArcTanGent - Day 1 |17/8/17

Now in it’s fifth chapter, Bristol’s ArcTanGent has rightfully proven itself to be the Mecca of post-rock, math rock, noise rock and general weird contemporary rock music, with 5000 dedicated fans from across the globe making the annual pilgrimage. The sister festival of 2000 Trees, ArcTanGent has quickly amassed a global following due to it’s phenomenal and diverse line-ups, fantastic organisation, local food, absorbing atmosphere, intimate setting and scene orientated ethos, shunning corporate ties in order to be its own independent entity. With the fifth instalment being a sold out event, and with people traveling from all over for a weekend in the exotic hills of Somerset, we decided to pop on down and check what all the fuss was about. With only 2 stages in rotation today, Southampton’s Waking Aida [6.5] kick off the weekend’s proceedings. Despite being the festival openers and with the majority still pitching tents, they’ve amassed an impressive crowd not normally observed for festival openers. Their chilled, dreamy, spacey and chilled take on post-rock may be conventional of the genre’s structure and not breaking boundaries, but still, there’s evidently bags of potential for this young band. Bar from a few brash, harsh vocals not hitting the mark, it’s a short but mostly sweet set that goes down well with the early arrivals. Next up are self-proclaimed ‘Party-Prog’ outfit Bearded Youth Quest [7.5]. Whilst the words ‘party’ and ‘prog’ may contradict each other 99% of the time, this south coast 5 piece proves that the 2 terms can co-exist with a set that’s frantic, eccentric and just plain fun. This is instrumental math tinged prog rock at it’s nuttiest and wildest and the group manage to add a childish sense of wonder and enjoyment to a genre that’s often overseen as elitist and slightly pompous. Whilst some polish may be required to reach the quality of their recorded material, it’s still a highly enjoyable set and certainly a contrast to some of the more stoic faced bands on the line-up. In contrast Town Portal [5] bring their generic post rock to the stage. Whilst their recorded material may be impressive and engaging, their set feels slightly flat in comparison. For a festival dominated by instrumental post-rock, their set brings nothing new to the table, and whilst it may be a solid addition on paper, nothing here stands out here or shines too brightly, and ultimately feels run of the mill. In turn, Fall of Messiah [7.5] show how this genre can be expanded and played, bringing their post-hardcore tinged post-rock to the masses. Creating a looming vibe with their take on the genre, the French group whip up an atmospheric storm with an impressive blend of comforting calms punctured with sheer sonic force and howling screams that leaves the gathered crowd hooked. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but it does show how well this genre can be performed.

Fall Of Messiah - Photo Credit: Unkown

By this point in the day the warm sun is shining down, the Yohkai stage is packed and lukewarm ones are being cracked left, right and centre. After headlining the ArcTanGent warm up show a few months prior, Gallops [9] arouse a massive, infectious wall of sound with their experimental electronica tinged post-rock. Pounding, crashing synths and drums take centre stage here, with the trio incorporating a wide range of genres into their masterfully created melting pot of chaotic noise that proves to be welcoming and inviting, but still technically amazing. An absolutely brilliant blended mix of rock and synth so refined, impressive and catchy that it would even make Trent Reznor blush. In stark contrast to the delicately crafted sounds performed so far, USA Nails [6] play their brand of noise-punk, loud, fast and chaotic. There’s minimal structure, no polish or refinement, but ultimately, if any of this where to be added it would defeat the point of their established sound. Despite the sonic bombardment, it falls upon deaf ears and fails to connect for the majority of the set. In retrospective, it feels odd for the band to be sandwiched between the aforementioned Gallops and the French 4 piece Totorro [7.5], who delight the now massive gathering with their wholesome, upbeat blend of math tinged post-rock. It’s a charming mix, and the band manage to bridge the gap between the math-rock and post-rock in way that’s appealing to fans of both genres. Despite the now falling rain, there’s a lovely, buoyant atmosphere in the air and the French outfit successfully proves to be extremely approachable and welcoming, dismissing any highbrow vibes that this scene may sometimes cast to newcomers. Vasudeva [7] continue the trend of upbeat, soothing and virtuous post-rock with their performance, showcasing material from their recently released debut full length. It may lack the clear refinement of the previous act, but the New Jersey gang establish themselves as a welcome player to the scene, and definitely something to look out for in the future. As if on command, the sun peaks out just as Tall Ships [8] strike their initial note. Fully admitting to the audience that they’re on the more pop end of the spectrum in comparison to other acts on the line-up, the Cornwall quintet fully hold their own with their universally agreeable and pleasing blend of post-rock and indie, with their established soulful yet soaring vocals prominent. Classic fan favourites from their early releases land brilliantly and gel seamlessly with material from their latest release, ‘Impressions’ and the band close with their massive single, 'T=0', to a thunderous response. Despite a somewhat flat audience at this year’s 2000 Trees, Tall Ships finally receive the crowd their music deserves. Yet, despite this fantastic set, all eyes are on the other stage in rotation today, the PX3.

Whilst always a favourite at festivals, Heck [9] caught the alterative scene by surprise by announcing that ArcTanGent would play host to their final ever performance, just mere days before it would take place. In true Heck fashion, it’s true unrivalled chaos and bedlam, with the band opting to spend more time within, and on top of the crowd rather than on the stage. There’s no emotional farewell or lengthy speeches detailing their breakup, just pure energy, with the band ploughing through an energized set that consists of later material as well as more older, Baby Godzilla era tracks. Closing the set by crowd surfing on the drum matt like a magic carpet, it’s a fitting end for their sadly short career, and for a band who will never be replaced. Whilst being a following up to that explosive goodbye may seem daunting, the weird and wonderful Future Of The Left [8] manage it with finesse. Andrew Falkous’s unique, spite filled vocals are the most prominent aspect of this set, with the vocalist’s odd, yet brilliant wordplay going down a treat with both the dedicated fanbase and festival goers viewing them for the first time. It’s a full tour of the group’s greatest hits, even with a cheeky couple of Mclusky covers flung into the mix for good measure. A fantastic set that showcases the group’s knack for writing and performing wonderful and odd alt-rock.

With the indie, hardcore and alt-rock out of the way, we’re thrown right back into deep post-rock territory with Nordic Giants [9], who deliver an extraordinary performance that truly blurs the lines between live music and cinema. Accompanied by projector screen taking up the entirety of the canvas wall behind them, each performed song plays the role of a soundtrack for a beautifully created short film. It’s not the first time an artist has fused cinematography and live music as one, and in thought, it may seem like a gimmick, but the duo master the art in a fashion that’s beautiful, touching, mesmerizing and in parts, haunting. It proves to be an experience like no other, with the masses spilling out of the tent just to catch a glimpse of the magic being conducted. Of course though, it wouldn’t be true celebration of the finest of what the post-rock scene has to other without tonight’s headliner, Russian Circles [9]. With a number of releases now under their belts, the Chicago three piece take us on a tour of their history, performing material from each one of their full length releases, the group create a heavy, engulfing atmosphere with their masterfully crafted blend of dark, imposing and looming post-rock. The sound mix and subtle light show is flawless and adds to the incredible level of immersion. After a lengthy, but hypnotizing set, the band close the night of their phenomenal a performance of ‘Death Rides A Horse’, and in turn, prove themselves to be masters of their craft. Words: Dan Hillier