ArcTanGent Festival 2019 - The Review | Friday

Photo: Dean Harries

It’s 11am, artisan coffee is being consumed en-mass and in true ArcTanGent fashion, the iron skies above have opened. With that in consideration, it seems to be the perfect environmental backdrop for the desolate beauty of A.A Williams (8). Sorrowful and ponderously ghostly, Williams and her backing collective perfectly embody the gathering storm outside the Arc stage, providing the ideal soundtrack for the sobering bleakness of the impending downpour. Whilst the collective are not the most sonically heavy artist to perform this weekend, in terms of atmosphere and aesthetic they are simply, utterly ruining. Performing tracks from her self titled debut, William’s tender vocals slow dance against a sepia tapestry of grief and whilst the thought of an artist such as A.A Williams opening a main stage at a festival does certainly challenge the stereotypical notion of festival’s being reserved for vibrant hedonism, here at ArcTanGent such a set is idealistic. A wonderful exercise in artistically authentic woe.

In contrast, in the neighbouring Bixler, Brighton’s Clt Drp (8) are wild, hyperactive and borderline feral. Like stray cats, the group strut the stage whilst radiating empowering and exciting eclectic energy with their angular, adolescent and extremely electric electropunk. Ebbing and flowing between fluorescent minimalism and obnoxious full frontal assaults of punk expressionism, Clt Drp are wildly exciting to witness this ever so bleak morning. The recently released ‘Speak To My’ emphasis’s their glitching and empowering vigour, with the group tackling misogyny and body shaming with sporadic intensity. Even with Clt Drp only forming in the tail end of this decade, it’s clear to see why they have been the subject for such praise within the DIY scene as of late and it’s transparent they possess the vitality to chaotically usher in the next wave of electropunk.

Sheltered under the canopy of the Yohkai stage, Slow Crush’s (7) blend of translucent and ethereal shoegaze is pacifying to the point where it seems to ease the increasing downpour outside. With their take on a genre commonly perceived as stoic being incredibly accessible yet fulfilling, it’s most remarkable that this set marks Slow Crush’s first appearance at this event. However, given the full capacity turnout, it’s evident that their arrival has been greatly anticipated. Even at their most thunderous, Slow Crush gleam with celestial beauty, with the glinting density of ‘Glow’ and ‘Beached’ pulling the crowd into a storm of their own design and doing. With a re-release of their debut EP Ease forthcoming, the pace in which their following has grown is a testament to their skill, dexterity they prove today.

Photo: Dean Harries

Even with the new borderline torrential downpour saturating the earth past the point of no return, the math rock duo Standards (8) bring warmth and vibrancy to the quagmire that has become Fernhill Farm. With their youthfully joyous creativity and jubilance, the LA twosome weave a sonic painting compose of primary colours and intricacy. With their love for elated dynamism being both displayed and performed, their upbeat jovial buoyancy is a delightful contrast to some of the maleficent and holistic groups performing this weekend. Flying though colours from this year’s Friends, Standards inject a level of childlike wonder and energy into a genre often perceived as stoic, with the group gleaming with ecstatic radiance. Closing with a colossal and life affirming wall of life (much like a wall of death, but with hugs substituting mindless violence) Standards prove they are as jubilantly wholesome as they are skilled.

Continuing the trend of technicolor wholesome progression on the Arc stage are New Jersey’s Thank You Scientist (7). Utilising an entire palette of instrumentation to fantastically whimsical effect, throughout the course of their set the 7 piece prove to be a hedonistic musical circus of verdant creativity. Dancing through playful choice cuts from the recently released Terraformer, the New Jersey septet are a delightful treat to witness this water logged Friday afternoon, with the group marring carefree fluidity with madcap progressive textures. Animating thoughts of classic prog rock sensibilities with contemporary orchestral instrumentation, content aired from their extended discography entertains the verdant electric progression enjoyed by acts such as Coheed And Cambria and Karnivool but with added eccentric creativity. Understandably however, the crowning jewels of this set are timeless fan favourites from their previous offerings, with the brass sugar rush of ‘Mr. Invisible’ and the explosion of rapid colour that is ‘My Famed Disappearing Act’ igniting mass joy within the water logged Arc. Admittedly, whilst the reception for the most part may be dampened by the unforgiving weather baring down on Fernhill Farm, Thank You Scientist spread joy at it’s most technical and creative.

Photo: Dean Harries

Like stated repeatedly, the weather is unremittingly awful today - the area around the PX3 tent, not to mention the rest of the arena, is a total mudbath but that doesn’t stop the tent packing out for Palm Reader (8). The band arrive onstage wreathed in smoke and intense strobing giving the effect of stop-motion silhouettes set to their cathartic onslaught. Their visceral assault is both visual and sonic, a misanthropic take on mathcore that is only heightened by the misery bucketing out of the sky outside the tent. The crap weather doesn’t dampen any spirits and the band pull out all the stops - ‘Swarm’ incites one of many circle pits during their set and the intimate setting with the fog makes for an oppressive, overpowering set with an overbearing sense of catharsis and even longing during cleaner passages. A stirring, emotional masterclass from an incredible band.

With the weather now teetering between being insufferable and being a genuine humanitarian crisis, it’s no surprise that the Arc is over capacity even before 65daysofstatic (9) touch stage. However, even if the weather was completely perfect, it’s likely the result would be same. In contrast to the inhospitable conditions, the air of excitement and anticipation within the Arc is tangible, and for good reason indeed. Once 65daysofstatic drop into the beat of ‘Prisms’ before indulging into the triumphant post-rock euphoria of ‘Retreat! Retreat!’ all such tension is released spectacularly. With ethereal and pensive tracks from Wild Light and No Mans Sky marring with the fervent power contained within the content from their earlier releases, the genre defying collective are simultaneously blissful and provocative. Seizing and pulsating synth led movements dance and swirl around obtuse post rock punishments, with the likes of ‘I Swallowed Hard, Like I Understood’ and ‘Radio Protector’ displaying what density the band are capable of producing and conjuring. It’s a phenomenal set, one that truly proves themselves as being consistent leaders of the scene they dominate and one that proves again that they share the same progressive ideology this festival is renewed for. Evidently, it’s perfectly clear why they have a stage here named in their honour. A hypnotic set of luscious, rousing soundscapes courtesy of one of post-rock’s finest.

Brighton’s Black Peaks have already made a name for themselves over the years and this appearance marks a very special, one-off set featuring the enigmatic Jamie Lenman who, whilst cutting his teeth on the sadly-defunct Reuben, has more than come into his own with his solo work. ArcTanGent has been making something of a habit of these collaborations between bands making waves in their respective scenes - first Curse These Metal Hands (playing tomorrow) and now Black Peaks with Jamie Lenman (8), too. Songs have wonderfully off-kilter patterns with all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns, and Jamie Lenman is an immediately compelling frontman making this a captivating experience. A few fan favourites make their appearance and the band draw from across both theirs and Reuben’s back catalogue, driving the crowd into a frenzy whenever Jamie nonchalantly announces they’ll be “playing something [he] wrote”. It’s clear everyone on both sides of the barrier is having a whale of a time and it’s an incredible celebration of both both Black Peaks and Jamie Lenman - a pairing that seemed perhaps odd at first but an obvious match once you see them.

Photo: Dean Harries

If the upcoming Russian Circles are the authentic sonic embodiment of authentic steel dread and anxiety, tonight’s Yohkai headliners, the wholesome TTNG (9), are the polar opposite. With tonight’s performance being the last date of their tour celebrating the tenth anniversary of Animals with original vocalist Stu Smith at the helm, it’s not just a celebration not of their land mark debut album, it’s an evening of heartwarming emotion, one that’s destined to be written in scene history books. With a setlist predominately composed of material from the aforementioned Animals, TTNG flawlessly radiate blissful elegance and delicate intricacy whilst proving to be ever the positive and whimsically wholesome collective they’ve been constantly lauded as. However, what makes this set bound for the history books the is presence and inclusion of original bassist Dan Adams on additional percussion duties. Sprinkling extra dynamism onto TTNG’s already deeply formulated and textured sound, such as adding additional glockenspiel on ‘Badger’ and trumpets on ‘Elk’, these additional layers only bolster and animate the collective’s calculative and calmative math rock sound.

Even with the group’s current dynamic being adjusted with the inclusion of past members, no egos or such are the victim of threat. In fact, as the group bless each other with touching speeches, the level of stirring affection only warms the full capacity Yohkai in the face of the adverse weather and plummeting temperatures. This isn’t just a band, it’s a collective of friends who find each other’s company a blessing, a fact that only becomes heartwarmingly transparent as the group launch into the finale of ‘And I’ll Tell You Why’, ‘If I Sit Still, Maybe I’ll Get Out Of Here’ and ‘26 Is Dancier Than 4’. With Dan Adams reprising bass duties for the first time in appropriately a decade and with the crowd soulfully singling along in pure passion, this is a performance of spell binding magic and friendship, one that will be reminisced over for many a year to come.

Instrumental trio Russian Circles (7) are subheadlining the main stage today and even without any vocals, there’s an immediacy to tracks and an easy connection with the crowd who are held in rapt attention from the outset. Cuts from recently-released Blood Year are altogether a more ominous affair than from previous efforts, but all have an epic, cinematic feel. There’s an almost-overlong pause very early on, making it seem like a false start of sorts but the band soon lurch onward again, their thunderously heavy, all-encompassing tone drawing everyone in once more. The heavy use of repetitive rhythms builds a trance-like feel with expansive soundscapes and meandering leads that often swirl over a chugging rhythm section. Fortunately every instrument is given room to breathe and the instrumental nature of the music puts equal weight onto all 3 members and the often minimalist lighting serves more as emphasis to the music than its own entity, further underscoring the waves of sound emnating from the stage. It’s perhaps easy to underestimate the emotional draw of instrumental music but Russian Circles make it look effortlessly easy and their captivating soundscapes are not to be missed.

Photo: Dean Harries

After a multitude of appearances here at Fernhill Farm over the past several years, it’s no suspire that Brutus (9) have been awarded the coveted PX3 headline slot this brisk evening. Even after prolonged exposure on our shores since the release of the phenomenal piece of art that is their sophomore release Nest, Brutus pack out the PX3 well before their set, leaving many latecomers exposed to the elements outside the shelter of the tent. However, such a situation proves to be worth enduring. What transpires is an another fantastic performance of progressive sensibilities, with the Belgian trio charging through a headline set of invigorating material that spans their critically acclaimed discography thus far. As the group accelerate into the top gear, with the primary charge of ‘War’ banishing the unpleasant environmental conditions, their position as stage headliners is simply indisputable. As proven previously here at ArcTanGent, to witness Brutus live is to witness the very manifestation of integral innovation.

Removed of the animosity that is commonly found within this genre, Brutus are transcendently fluid and utterly arresting. Entertaining material from their 2017 debut Burst, the growth this band has displayed thus far is remarkable and truly stands as a testament to their technical prowess, with the spellbinding ‘Horde II’ and ‘Justice De Julia II’ adsorbing the masses into captivated awe. As the charging ‘All Along’ forbears the post rock tinged accomplishment that is the bittersweet ‘Sugar Dragon’, Brutus don’t only prove themselves as the leaders of European progression, they also silently confirm that this is only the first of many festival slots that await them. A performance that allows the inhabitants of the PX3 to ascend to post rock ecstasy, and even with the temperature outside now plummeting, the people of the PX3 leave with their hearts and souls filled with exuberant warmth.