Photos by Helen Messenger of Boris, Living Body.
ArcTanGent is unique among full throttle festivals in the UK – whilst the genres it caters for are usually constrained to smaller gigs and all-dayers across the country, Arc really pushes the boat out in covering math, post rock and the more technical side of metal and hardcore. Boasting fantastic headliners this year in respective legends Explosions in the Sky, Tesseract and Converge almost seems like enough – but alongside this, the fest offers three days of camping, excellent food stands, and a nightly silent disco that runs until the small hours, made particularly sweet by the inclusion of a channel that incessantly plays The Mars Volta’s discography. I revelled in the Bristol countryside through all of this, starting from late on the Thursday.
A camping mishap leads to my tent not being set up until late – just giving me time to watch Russian Circles’s set, a flurry of drawn out post-rock exhalation, before heading to see Steve Strong perform in the late night acoustic tent. Where Russian Circles could be seen as a little tedious within the genre, Strong gave an amazing solo display of looped drum and guitar parts, building each track into an intricate culmination before breaking them back down.
Things kick in the next day; between wolfing down noodles and falafel wraps, I watch Hikes, marking my favourite performance of the weekend and one of the most engaging new bands I’ve found this year. The band’s lilting and upbeat brand of math-folk jumps up and down behind frontman Nathan Wilkins’ powerful (yet somehow light) vocal performance, particularly highlighted by subtle pitch-shifted guitar and brilliant drum chops in the song ‘Onset’. I stumble through to Living Body’s set, my third time seeing them that week due to a strange set of gig circumstances. Jeff T. Smith’s altpop project is in full flow here, made increasingly vibrant by the Leeds’ supergroup’s unique drum setup and use of neat bells and whistles like an e-bow. ‘I Recollect’ is a particularly fantastic performance, especially surrounded by so much positive energy on the ArcTanGent grounds. I run into some friends and dot around stages from here on out, stopping by some brilliant emo-pop from itoldyouiwouldeatyou and classic twinklecore from TTNG, who at one point bring out past vocalist Stuart Smith to perform a couple older numbers. One act that stand out in particular, though, are Ho99o9 – the industrial hip-hop group are vicious and vigorous in their performance, laying down an intense backdrop for their equally exuberant lyrics. It’s a fantastic windup towards Converge, the night’s headliners. The set is furious and full of power, closed out by a fantastic performance of the 11 minute title track to 2001’s classic Jane Doe – a seemingly fitting end to a jampacked day before the silent disco comes into action at the main stage, filling the small hours with excessive amounts of Slipknot, Battles, and 2000s pop punk.
Sunday’s highlight comes in the form of Tricot, a brilliant Japanese math-rock group with a knack for beautiful chorus hooks surrounded by polyrhythmic guitars. Their energy is boundless, and their performance even manages to outshine drone metal legends Boris, who roar through a selection of tracks from this year’s Dear. The night is closed out by an almost country-esque stripped down performance from Leeds slowcore wizards Her Name Is Calla – but not before headliners Explosions in the Sky delivered a beautiful set of instrumental post-rock alongside the best light display of the festival, particularly topped by cuts ‘Your Hand In Mine’ and ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’ from their timeless record The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place.
The fest as a whole was a massive success – it’s three days chock-full of wonderful alternative music, but not just generic picks from the hodgepodge of math-rock bands that litter the music world right now. ArcTanGent makes a genuine effort to provide a diverse and entertaining lineup, and punctuate it with awesome food, great beer, and a well thought out festival site. I’m more than excited to return someday.By Jowan Mead