FESTIVAL REVIEW: ArcTanGent 2016
Striding confidently through its fourth year, ArcTanGent festival continues to strengthen its case as one of the most consistent festivals on the UK circuit. Right from its starting year, the festival has boasted stellar international line-ups, drawing fans from around the world to see the biggest, brightest, and best band’s from the worlds of post-rock, instrumental metal, mathrock, post-hardcore, noise punk, hardcore, mathcore, experimental electronica, shoegaze, folk, drone, and plenty more.
As if to prove that fact, the organisers lined this year’s early Thursday for those three-dayers going as almost a best of ArcTanGent so far bringing back basically house band Rolo Tomassi, semi-regulars like Three Trapped Tigers, previous performers Axes, and much remembered mammoths of sound MONO, among others. Then don’t even get me started on that Friday line-up with the likes of personal favourites La Dispute, Toe, Falls, Agent Fresco, Heck, Cleft, and A Werewolf.
I mention most of these in passing because, unfortunately, I was unable to attend the festival until late in the day Friday evening. However, not all was lost, because arriving to Nordic Giants was pretty fucking special. Their multimedia set combining film clips and old footage alongside spoken word clips from news broadcasts and speeches, atop their powerful, emotional, and uplifting post-rock as the sun began to set was quite the experience to take in. As with almost any band in ArcTanGent it’s easy to rock up and get lost and awash with impactful compositions.
Of course, missed bands Friday or no missed bands Friday, short evening or full day, it didn’t really matter when closing out the main stage, or Arc stage, was the legendary Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Having been in the business of atmospheric and cinematic instrumental music for over 20 years now, Godspeed are less gods of post-rock than emblematic of post-rock itself. The band’s sprawling tracks may stretch the patience of many, but not the crowd of ArcTanGent who sway with drawn out strings, and fidget their way in rhythm to the hypnotic and percussive builds of tension that the band employ. Bonafide legends that showed just why they are considered such with a truly enthralling performance. Simultaneously further proving the respect this festival has earned not just in its fans but in the bands that perform there, for them to be able summon an act of Godspeed’s calibre and stature.
With a full day Saturday, there was far more to be ingested musically to get my money’s worth (I’m always too impatient to wait on press confirmation after applying, and worry I’ll miss out on ticket sales so buy one anyway). Exxasens were the first port of call (slept late and disappointingly missed the brilliant Let’s Talk Daggers), who initially seemed a little lethargic and more mellow than had been expected from their records, but steadily got into their groove and filled out their sound with a heavier energy. My attention was next taken to Alma who I absolutely love on record, calling to mind the likes of The Antlers, which were a little mellow for some in my company but who had the gathered horde under the tent entranced. Some may have come to get out of the rain, but they certainly stayed for the music; sublime, and at times beautiful. Especially pleased to hear personal favourite, the stunning ‘The Gardener’ live.
Raketkanon may well have stole the festival for many there, if even on performance alone because they easily delivered one of the most energetic and charismatic sets of the weekend. Every member of the band giving it all kinds of hell for leather; the most aggressively rooted to one spot kick dancing and moshing of heir keyboardist, their wandering drummer, the chaotic guitarist with a beard so thick it appeared to be a solid, but most of all their possibly ADHD suffering frontman who was equally timesharing between stage and crowd. A genuinely electric and game-changing performance from a still relatively young and up and coming band-ish.
Unfortunately Errors cancelled their set, which left a sizeable amount of people disappointed, but with a nice tent to hang out in out of the rain. But hearts weren’t disheartened for long with Black Peaks just around the corner to bring some melodic chaos to proceedings and a driven performance, showing why they are band on the rise. Classically Handsome Brutes were somewhat of a gamble to check, being far too hazy to properly remember how they sounded checking them out beforehand, but one that paid off pretty spectacularly with their mix of indie infectiousness, noisepunk kineticism, spazzcore chaos, and a little bit of everything plus the kitchen sink wrapped up into a tight topless moustachioed and shorts wearing performance. Melody and madness.
Caspian were reliably amazing, but then they always are – that’s why I said they were reliably so, see. Bringing to proceedings their expansive and progressive instrumental sound that veers with ease between the realms of metal and rock as well as occupying the spaces in between; as heavy and as creative as both, but just as often as light and airy as shoegaze or a classical meets electronica score of a dream. And So I Watch You From Afar are another reliable live prospect, and their stint on the Arc stage was different, bringing their unusual sense of catchy melodies and chaotic compositions out in force with a tight as you like performance that had the crowd in rapturous mood. Singalongs and air guitar galore.
The rest of the festival kind of escapes me, I’m going to be honest. I lost all my friends during And So I Watch You From Afar, and didn’t see them until the next morning. A phone battery that died, and high levels of intoxication did not help. In fact they may have been to blame. I did find some festival friends briefly, with whom I watched Meet Me In St Louis, but then for no specified reason I disappeared – they don’t know, I don’t know. I do know that I did go to see American Football for a bit, but all that I can tell you about it is just how god damn melodic it was. Everything else has escaped me. Which is a shame given the importance of the band, their album, and the sheer significance of this performance. Whose fault is it though? No one’s but my own. I can’t have nice things.
Inconsistent review aside, the point of the matter is that ArcTanGent is a genuinely brilliant festival that I have enjoyed (too much) every year I’ve been (three out of four – don’t know why I missed the 2nd year, or maybe I do but won’t tell you). The line-ups are consistently great, and may even be getting better with seminal acts regularly making appearances, some genuinely legendary headliners, and there is always, ALWAYS, new bands for you to check out and fall in love with, because ArcTanGent know how to curate. Not only that, they know how to festival. It’s small, yes, but that is a lot of its charm. There is an intimacy, friendly, and relaxed vibe that you don’t get in many festivals, and this – alongside the amazing music -is the reason many people can’t just do ArcTanGent once. You just keep needing to return. Which is why I can safely say, see you next year ArcTanGent.