ArcTanGent 2017: Thunder Strikes
Another year, another muddy music festival. Well, I say that, but this was actually my first time at ArcTangent. With the festival currently in its fifth year, ArcTangent – run by the same people who put on acclaimed fete 2000 Trees – has seen its fair share of music giants play its stages, including The Dillinger Escape Plan, Deafheaven and 65daysofstatic. With this year featuring Explosions in the Sky, Converge and an assortment of bands ranging from Bristolian locals to acts coming from halfway across the world, I was sure to be in for an incredible weekend from the moment we came and laid down our tents and obligatory ‘NO CORBYN, NO PARTY’ gazebo.
Over the course of the weekend, I ended up seeing over 30 amazing bands within a wide range of genres. Since it would be impossible to write about every single one of them, I’d like to go over some of the highlights of my weekend.
The first band we saw on Thursday upon setting up were Wrexham-based electronic rockers Gallops. The eclectic trio bounced – along with the audience – through a variety of heavy, intense tracks that wouldn’t have been out of place on a dance anthem compilation if not for the searing guitars and powerful drums. Despite how early it was in the afternoon, they managed to get the excite the crowd with their energetic stage presence – with even a technical mishap in their final song only serving to get the crowd going even more.
Following on from them were Nottingham-based hardcore swindlers Heck. Formerly known as Baby Godzilla, the four-piece continued energizing the audience with their extreme take on hardcore punk, which also became emotional as I discovered that this performance would be their ArcTangent appearance would be their last, making the singer’s crowdsurf at the end even more poignant.
However, my favourite act of Thursday – and one of the most unique to play the festival – had to be Nordic Giants. The audiovisual post-rock duo accompanied their blend of synths and pounding drums with epic cinematic pieces taken from various short films, captivating the audience with an immersive performance that left me with a strange pit in my stomach, with my personal favourite being their disturbing piece ‘Rapture’.
My experience on Friday kicked off with Welsh duo Right Hand Left Hand. Much like the name suggests, the interplay between the guitarist/loopist and drummer seemed to exude character, with both members playing off each other’s strengths. The instrumental rock outfit’s sound felt way more textured than what one would expect from a duo, with their musicianship definitely setting the stage for the bands to come.
London-based band itoldyouiwouldeatyou took to the side stage afterwards. One of my favourite bands of the festival, with a sound reminiscent of Tiny Moving Parts with a bit more theatrics and a lot more intensity, their set was one of the tightest I heard that day. Although born out of the emo revival movement, the instrumentalists’ talent – giving special mention to drummer Sean Westall – combined with singer Joey Ashworth’s persona created a performance more memorable and mature than the majority of their counterparts; and although their fanbase is seemingly smaller than many of the other bands playing the festival, the band exuded a sense of camaraderie with their fans – an attribute I found unique to them and their community in the atmosphere of the festival.
I was completely unprepared for the sheer ferocity that Liverpudlian math-rockers Alpha Male Tea Party displayed during their performance. With a stage presence that reminded me of Dave Grohl-esque American rockstars rather than an instrumental trio – as well as the welcome unpretentiousness to go with it – they bombarded their audience with energetic guitar lines, fast-paced drums and an overall dynamic demeanour. Although it was starting to rain heavily during their set, they looked like they were loving every minute on stage.
One of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing was Arkansas poet Dan Smith and his band Listener. Initially an underground hip-hop project, then expanding to spoken word and finally combining emo and indie rock into their sound, their live setup was surprisingly more raw than what I expected, with most of their atmospheric textures within their sound dropped in favour of – save for a trumpet solo during their song ‘Falling In Love With Glaciers’ – simple instrumentation with almost a punk rock feel to it. Although it was not what I was expecting, Listener’s renditions of older songs within their raw live style complemented Dan Smith’s poetry in a surprisingly intimate way, whether fit for the ArcTangent main stage or not.
Following on from them were Oxford math-rock outfit TTNG. Formerly known as This Town Needs Guns, their style was a stark contrast to Alpha Male’s dynamism, with their clean, virtuosic guitar work leading the majority of their songs. Whilst their relaxed take on the math-rock style was a needed break from the intensity of the festival, their set still contained surprises, with the return of original singer Stuart Smith being one of them.
A surprising last-minute addition to the festival lineup were LA rap group ho99o9. Previously known for supporting The Dillinger Escape Plan on their farewell tour, their set was one of the rawest and most intense of the festival, combining Death Grips-esque flows, trap influenced beats, old-school punk rock riffs and a performance with elements of danger music thrown in. Their performance was one of the most memorable of the night, warming the audience up for the headliners.
Friday’s headlining band, Converge, are known as one of the most influential bands in heavy music for a reason. Their blend of extreme metal and hardcore punk has been cited as a major source of inspiration for a huge amount of bands within the scene, and they lived up to their hype. Crowds braved the extremely heavy rain to witness one of the heaviest sets of the festival’s history, with the rain seeming to only enhance the band and audience’s energy, synergizing into one – if not several – mosh pits surrounding the tent.
After screaming along to the silent disco on Friday and thoroughly losing my voice, the weather seemed to have cleared up, with Saturday’s mostly dry forecast being a welcome addition to the festival. Braving the mud of the campsite to reach the stages, the first band of the day were post-rockers Poisonous Birds. Despite not having a Facebook page – we heard them mention at least twice! – the Bristolian duo’s blend of cinematic post-rock and droning electronics provided an ambience fit for the last day of the festival.
Leeds locals Irk were on next. Their lack of guitar in their sound was more than made up for by the singer’s piercing vocals and stylish dress sense, with the noise rock trio giving the unsuspecting crowd of ArcTangent a clamorous dose of Leeds goodness. Following on from them were Brighton-based group The Physics House Band. The experimental progressive band offered up a wide variety of sounds during their set, with each instrument seemingly trying to scream the loudest over all the others. One of the highlights of their set was the saxophonist present for the initial few songs, adding an extra texture to their bombastic performance.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to think of Worcester-based A Werewolf! when they initially took to the stage. The crowd they brought was not the largest; at the same time, the duo were not the tightest band of the festival, nor was their brand of noise rock unique on first listen. However, what they lacked in technical ability they more than made up for in stage presence, banter and antics throughout the set. From the Simpsons quotes before every song, creating an International Blast Beat Symbol(tm), the drummer crowdsurfing away from the singer in the middle of a song and then being called a ‘tosser’ by the singer to, at the end of the set, the singer being crowd surfed from the stage across the festival site to the bar, being plonked onto the bar itself, and then bought a round of drinks — the noise rockers ended up providing one of the most memorable experiences for me at the festival.
Among one of the stranger acts to play at ArcTangent were Japanese doom metal band Boris. With the combination of drab, visual-kei-meets-black-metal-influenced outfits, double-necked guitars and looming gong placed behind the drum kit, their performance was equal parts awe-inspiring as it was terrifying, with their ambient interludes making their heavier moments seem even darker.
As the day drew to a close, the bands I was most looking forward to seeing throughout the festival took to the stage. The first of these were progressive metal giants Tesseract, whom I had seen a few times prior. However, their performance at ArcTangent ended up blowing me away; the powerful high notes of singer Daniel Tompkins combined with the technical guitar work and instrumentation created a truly epic soundscape, contrasted with more mellow sections. Their performance of ‘Nocturne’ truly struck a chord, captivating the entire audience with a blend of hard and soft.
The night fell on one of the oddest, yet most powerful acts of the festival – Korean post-rock band Jambinai. Their unique mix of traditional Korean instruments with a background of classical post-rock orchestration created an ambience not captured by any other band at the festival. Whilst the band only spoke intermittently – I learned later that the group used interpreters to communicate with festival organisers – this only added to the mystique of the group, with audiences enchanted by their haunting melodies and textures – a fitting act to play before the most anticipated act of the festival…
…And then, finally, were Explosions in the Sky. Hailing from Texas, the post-rock legends captured the imagination of the entire festival. Known for their intensive live performances – with this appearance being their only UK show of 2017 – they upheld their reputation gloriously; their searing, reverb-soaked guitars combined with their intensive light shows seemingly overpowered the crowd. Whilst many of their songs were iterations of tracks from their newest album, The Wilderness, their earlier tracks were the most populous with the audience, ending with the moving and ecstatic ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’.
Overall, ArcTangent was one of those festivals that felt like it was built purely out of passion for the music they put on. I was particularly impressed by the way in which they kept clashes to a minimum, with attentive festival-goers being able to catch at least portions of every band who played the festival if they wanted to.
As a final note, I also wanted to mention how much of a community felt built around every band that played. From the intense fan interaction with Defeater, the haunting ambience of Russian Circles, the contemplative harmonies of sleepmakeswaves, the musicianship and camaraderie of larger bands like TTNG using their platform to support smaller bands such as Real Terms – I was, and still am, unable to pick a moment that stood out to me the most. As we rounded the weekend off with drinks on the festival site, we were able to talk to Bristolian locals St. Pierre Snake Invasion who, although having the would-be unfortunate slot of clashing with Explosions in the Sky, still managed to draw a passionate audience to their performance, which they mentioned was one of their favourite shows of the year.
Zyggy Ollie Padua-de Somogyi
Photo Credit: 1 – soundcheck-live.co.uk, 2 – efestivals.com, 3 – RingRockers.com, 4 – theskinny.co.uk / Helen Messenger