Festival Review: ArcTanGent | Friday 18th August 2017

Opening the Arc stage for the weekend is Cardiff’s Right Hand, Left Hand (6.5). The duo entice the early birds with their unchallenging, simplistic and mostly chilled music, with certain tracks and segments even fringing on the borders of minimalism at times. In turn, it creates a pleasant and soft atmosphere that’s perfect for an early morning start to the day’s festivities. In comparison, Madilan (5) attempt to be a more captivating and curious experience, which becomes immediately evident with the group rocking some questionable fashion choices. With duct tape being substituted as clothing, the 4 piece’s synth laden alt rock fails to make a connection and sounds somewhat run of the mill and conventional, which ultimately feels disappointing considering the group’s experimental ethos. Despite this, there are moments of high energy and interesting sonic structures, and with more refinement and establishment, there’s real potential for this young band.

For the Texan technical powerhouse Hikes (8), today marks a monumental achievement, with their set being their first performance within the UK. Playing like their lives depend on it, the group’s clean and effective sweep picking goes down a storm with the respectable crowd gathered, and combined with some brilliant, soulful and tender vocals, the end result is a brilliantly delicate, yet technical mix. With the group having the time of their lives, the gathered masses before them revel in ensuring that their first UK performance is something unforgettable. Having more in common with the underground emo scene rather than the post and math scene, the rather eccentric Itoldyouiwouldeatyou (7) feel like a bit of the contrast in comparison to the majority of the line-up. Despite this, with nostalgic and emotive tones comparable to the likes of American Football and The Word Is A Beautiful Place…, the post-hardcore and emo group fully hold their own with their brilliant signwriting and prove to be a treat not only with the emo scene devoted here, but also with the curious newcomers too. Despite it being still early in the day, the underground math-rock scene heroes Alpha Male Tea Party (7) fully engage with the huge Arc stage crowd with their bouncy and riotous approach to the genre. With constantly shifting time signatures being a key aspect of their sound, the element gives their performance a certain level of positive and cheerful apprehensiveness. Rounding their set with a touching tribute to Cleft guitarist Dan Beesley, who is sadly suffering from a rare form of cancer, the group prove why their one of the most prominent acts within the underground math scene.

Alpha Male Tea Party: Photo Credit - Jonathan Dadds

The first Italian band to grace a stage this weekend, Stearica (5.5) have gained a following on these shores for their grungy and reverb heavy post-rock. With tones and vibes tantamount to acts not only strictly within the genre, but also with acts within the grudge and sludge circles, it’s pretty easy to understand their following. However, their established sound seems washed out in the mix today and feels more like an undisguisable drone. Whilst their dedicated fans may seem hooked, they sadly fail to fully engross the majority in attendance. Similarly, OHMMS (6) have built a massive following within the scene due to their refined take sludge laced metal. However, whilst their instrumental may succeed in conjuring the senses of foreboding and dread in which their material has become renown for, the vocals for the majority seem way out of the pitch and tone of their recorded material. It’s a shame, the groups aloof stage presence really complements the summoned atmosphere of the instruments, but ultimately, the vocals forbid any chance of immersion.

Originally a hip hop orientated project, the Arkansas 3 piece Listener (7) are another group that have more ties with the emo scene than the tech or math scene. Despite this, they have constructed a solid foundation of fans on a worldwide scale due their sensitive, quiet and tender approach to the emo and indie genres. Whilst the group are celebrated for incorporating wind and string segments into their work to create supple and frail atmospheres, their set lacks these elements. Primarily, a heavy, distorted buzzing off a bass line substitutes for these tender layers of song structure. However, Dan Smith’s emotive spoken word approach to vocals is perfect for the group’s storytelling song structure, and overall, whilst their set may not be as peaceful and sombre as their recorded material, Listener still prove to be an emotional experience.

Backing Listener on the Arc stage and only performing their 3rd UK show since the release of their 2016 album, Dissapointment Island, is TTNG (8.5). With free style jazz often regarded to be a key inspiration and close relative to the math-rock movement, this clearly becomes evident within the work of this band. Performing tracks from all of their releases (including a cheeky, unprecedented performance of one of their very first tracks with their original singer, Stuart Smith) TTNG’s masterfully crafted concoction of math-rock, indie and prog with brilliant vocal work proves to be delight with everyone, from the die-hards decked with merch all the way to the curious stragglers hanging by the fringes of the area. Whilst it may be a rare performance during the band’s highly publicised legal battles with the Hong Kong authorities, this set truly shows why they’re a key player within the expanded scene.

TTNG: Photo Credit - Helen Messenger

On the other side of the festival, performing to a packed out Yohkai stage is Kent post-metal outfit Bossk (8). Performing material from their debut release, Audio Noir, Bossk specialize in exorcising an all engulfing aura with their perfectly refined, perfectly mixed sludge tinged post-metal. Dreamy, spacious and lofty segments dive into crushing, distorted walls of noise at a moment’s notice with this stark contrast in their craft being engaging to the point of full engrossment. Rob Vaughan’s minimal hoarse and gravelly vocals add additional animation and layers to the performance, with the group’s detached and reserved stage presence adding to the atmosphere. Truly, it’s fantastic to see a band who has worked so hard for so many years getting to play to this gathering of thousands of fans, and defiantly something not to be missed live.

Sub-headlining the Arc tonight is none other than the Irish post-rock legends God Is an Astronaut (8). With the festival slap bang in the centre of their 15th year anniversary tour, it feels like a masterclass of the post-rock genre. Backed by a brilliant and alluring light show mimicking the night sky, the trio dazzle the audience with their finely tuned and established sounds incorporating elements from a multitude of genres, from subtle electronic themes all the way to space rock and krautrock. It’s brilliant, spacey and dreamy, with constant shifting vibes and auroras that feel welcoming and comforting, and with material spanning the majority of their impressive carrier, ultimately boils down to fan service for their dedicated fan base. Topped with a minimalistic usage of soft and tender vocals that add to the ambience and ending in a gradual climax of pure noise, it becomes evident why their one of the main players in the post-rock scene. In a stark contrast to this performance, the Bixler stage becomes packed early for tonight’s stage headliner H09909 (7.5). Following a support slot on the final Dillinger Escape Plan euro tour, the group have become a topic of discussion within the extended scene due to their hip-hop meets industrial meets hardcore punk sound. Yet, with a sound, ethos and atmosphere comparable to the likes of Death Grips and the aforementioned Dillinger, it quickly becomes apparent why they’ve built a swift following in recent years. Heavily distorted rapping mixed with screeching chaotically mixes with pounding industrial synths and crashing drums, with the end result being pure audible and physical carnage. Whilst some of the crowd may be squeezing themselves into the tent just to escape the turning weather, the majority here eat up this intriguing and engaging performance, with many losing their collective shit to it in the process. It’s a truly unique act on this line up and evidently, with berserk crowds like this tonight, the band are set to enjoy what appears to be successful carrier in the future.

H09909 - Photo Credit: Helen Messenger

With night now fallen and weather and temperatures making a nose dive, many cram themselves under the shelter of the arc stage for tonight’s festival headliner; metalcore pioneers Converge (9.5). Performing on the back of the announcement of their upcoming album The Dusk In Us, the Massachusetts 4 piece getting into the swing of things, opening the set with a chaotic performance of their 2009 classic, ‘Dark Horse’. From this point onwards, the setlist proves to be a celebration of their greatest hits, punctured with performances of new material from their upcoming full length.

The new material blends and mixes seamlessly with their classic tracks, and in turn, becomes a testament to the longevity and skill of this band. Understandably, it’s pure non stop energy and carnage, with the congregation gathered here going wild despite the quagmire created by the poor weather. However, one of the most prominent elements of their set is the sense of juxtaposition between certain tracks. Whilst songs like ‘Eve’ and ‘All We Love We Leave Behind’ take more philosophical approach, tracks such as ‘Trespasses’ and ‘Concubine’ agitate the crowd to the point of insanity. However, it’s vocalist Jacob Bannon’s established and seething vocal delivery that takes centre stage, and despite the vocalist’s stereotypically stoic and reserved demeanour, he proves to hold a charismatic and wild stage presence. Rounding off the evening with a performance of their incredible 12 minute ‘Jane Doe’, after tonight its evident that Converge’s impressive legacy is clearly not be questioned.