Festival Review – ArcTanGent Festival 2019
Going seven years strong, ArcTanGent Festival is one of the most intimate, genre spanning and atmospheric music festivals I have ever had the pleasure of attending. ATG is an exhilarating, and friendly, independent 3-day festival that offers some of the best in math rock, post rock, progressive metal and experimental music.
I’ve had the pleasure of attending this unique festival for the past three years and it has never let me down. Every year has been goddamn amazing, with wild and wonderfully varied bands, an electrifying atmosphere and some of the most amazing and genuinely lovely people you could ever hope to meet.
A few things have changed this year. Firstly, ATG introduced the early entry option, which we took full advantage of. This meant that we could stay at Fernhill Farms on Wednesday night and wouldn’t miss a thing on opening day. This definitely beat either getting traffic buggered and missing out on half of the bands on Thursday or paying for a hostel and the obligatory ‘let’s get a bit pissed in Bristol’ night before shenanigans.
We have personally tried all three options, for scientific research purposes of course, and personally the extra night camping has been the best. Half of the festival site was open with food, bars and silent disco headphones at the ready for the early arrivers. It was a nice little aperitif to the main festival onslaught that would commence the next day. One complaint though…silent disco’s need a home. Put it in a tent and it feels like it’s okay to openly sing/scream along. Leave it in the ‘general space’ and it becomes like an awkward school disco with nobody wanting to be the first to dance. Hopefully next year there will be more Wednesday demand and we can kick ATG off with its infamous silent disco atmosphere.
A few other changes included the addition of an extra campsite to make sure everyone had their own space. This was greatly appreciated. Also, a new stage was added making ATG a five stage festival. Joining Yokhai, Bixler, PX3 and Arc is the Elephant in the Bar Room. It’s a smaller stage in the bar opposite the merchandise tent that offered a few different experiences in an already varied line up. One that we attended was a podcast recording on Saturday morning presented by Riot Act featuring Justine from Employed To Serve, Greg from Car Bomb, Pedram from Frontierer, Serena from Svalbarduk, and Rabea from Toska. Something a little out of the norm on the final morning and a really informative and entertaining conversation between some amazing musicians.
ArcTanGent festival has kept a lot of other things exactly the same, including the 5,000 capacity which is really what gives this festival a more intimate and family like feeling compared to others. Clearly the draw to ATG is a strong one with a large amount of repeat punters, food vendors and even bands who simply cannot stay away. There’s a familiarity that is welcoming and wonderful everytime we arrive there that I just haven’t felt matched at other festivals I have been to. If this comes across as a mushy love letter then it’s because it pretty much is. I adore this festival, but I’m realising that I’ve not even touched upon the main reason people go to ArcTanGent. The music. So here’s the stand outs we saw over our three day field holiday!
Disclaimer: I know jack-shit about music making and technical words confuse me, so this is not music criticism, just a bit of a festival diary.
Thursday – Kicking It Off In Style
Thursday set the tone perfectly for the festival with some heavy and emotional beats. Our first must-see of the day was Zeal & Ardor who bring the lyrics and tone of blues and gospel with the beat and energy of metal. Old school Southern meets modern Satanism in a combination of stage presence and social messaging. We were introduced to these guys last year and they became an instant addition to my playlist.
Next was Conjurer a four piece on the Holy Roar record label who are a big part of ATG themselves. Conjurer make sure that any morning cobwebs are fully blown away with heavy riffs and intense vocals.
After them was another find from last year, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. THis is a different type of heavy, a lower, dirtier type of heavy that you can’t help but move to. PigsX7 combine clean and passionate vocals with heavy riffs in almost a Motorhead style. Lead singer Matt Batty is a real showman with brilliant stage presence and one hell of a sense of humour. He also seems to have a thing for removing clothing and doing some ‘sexy’ dancing, and I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy the hell out of it.
It’s hard to know what to write about Cocaine Piss but their set was so memorable that I simply cannot leave them out. Cocaine Piss are a Belgian punk band whose sound is just as insane as their name suggests. Their songs are erratic, high-pitched and high octane but with a short attention span, lasting up to two minutes maximum. Highlight? As the set was coming to an end Aurélie the lead singer entered the crowd, encouraging them to join her in screeching lyrics and as the last song ended simply dropped the microphone and headed in what I can only assume was the direction of the bar. My kinda girl.
What’s one thing you definitely don’t expect to be doing midday at a festival? Tearing up in the Arc tent and clapping until my hands were sore, that’s what. Dan Wild-Beesley was the guitarist of ATG legende Cleft until he sadly lost his fight with cancer last year. Whether with Cleft or GUG Dan was a regular at ArcTanGentand loved by those behind the scenes and stood in front of the stage. Alpha Male Tea Party, John Simm (Cleft) and Mike Vennart (Oceansize) all combined on stage to become The Beft, a loving and deeply moving tribute to a man who meant so much to the community there. As the set was ending the stage became packed with familiar faces who played out a note in unison for Dan. This touching moment is one I will never forget and that was so beautifully personal to ArcTanGent.
Daughters were our second to last that night and were a pure powerhouse of energy. They’re loud, unorthodox and industrial, definitely not for the faint of heart. This was a really cathartic show of screaming along, thrashing bodies and a safety of being surrounded by others who were just as hypnotised as I was.
We ended the night with Coheed & Cambria. Hair, hair and more hair! Coheed really take you on a visual journey with their live shows. It’s like a game of D&D with melodic vocals. Oh, and did I mention that hair!
Friday – It’s a Washout
British weather is a bloody delight. We woke up on Friday and the rain had already been pounding down for a few hours. Unfortunately this meant that we did miss quite a few of the midday bands, it makes me sound like a grumpy sourpuss but it got to the point where even my underwear was wet…not comfortable. I’ll stop my whining though and commence the band discussion.
I may have forgotten that ATG is a Maths Rock festival until seeing The Algorithm. These guys are a mathsy math band who are fast as hell and full of formulas! They are another ArcTanGent regular and they are a well loved band that always deliver on the day. The Algorithm are a high quality production more than they are a fancy show off band. The movement is all in the hands, not on the stage.
The afternoon brought us back to a more traditional rock and metal vibe with The Ocean & Palm Reader. I’d never heard of either band prior to this and they both left a great impression on me. The stage presence was strong and the music was loud, what more could you want at a festival?
My highlights of Friday came later on, starting with Black Peaks (Featuring Jamie Lenman). Black Peaks are always on point when performing and they know how to rev the crowd up to hit the same level as them. Lenman brings a slightly different energy to the usual Black Peaks frontman Will who unfortunately couldn’t perform, but it worked amazingly. I’ve seen Lenman perform before and he is one hell of a frontman with an incredible mustache. The man looks like a hipster version of Bronson and I appreciate the aesthetic.
I’ve used the word heavy a lot but these guys really take that to new fucking depths. Frontierer are a chaotic, DIY band with ferocious pace and amazing presence. These guys make chaos sound like a planned symphony. They also put on one hell of a show including crowd surfing while still playing every note needed on their guitar and swinging from rigging above the crowd! Frontierer was a note I was happy to call it a day on.
We may have skipped the silent disco that night but a warm and dry tent was just what I needed.
Saturday – Making Up for Lost Time
Saturday began with such dignity. We attended the Riot Act podcast recording and enjoyed a nice little breakfast in the glorious sunshine that thankfully dried out the field a little bit. It was almost like we’d gone for a classy morning out…
Then we watched our first band of the day, The St. Pierre Snake Invasion, and the tone changed dramatically. This is the second time we’ve seen them and they always deliver on energy and atmosphere. As wild and funny as their set was this year it seemed a little bit more civilised compared to their late night shenanigans in 2017. They were punk as hell, made me laugh and tore the stage up. However, nobody danced around 6 pints of milk or crowd surfed in a rubber dingy. I’m happy to see them at anytime of the day though and cannot wait to watch them again.
Next up was Gender Roles who combined a grunge sentiment with pop punk beats. They brought the mood up from what was a bit of a trench feeling the day before. Another band who upped the mood of the day was Letters From the Colony. They were a surprise band of the day that we strolled along to on a whim. I wasn’t exactly expecting Swedish Extreme Metal at ATG but I was extremely impressed when I found it. These guys are definitely on the rise and will hopefully be making many more festival visits in the future. Also, they were so excited and bloody lovely about being at ArcTanGent, they were so very cute which I’m sure makes me sound like a cheek pinching nanna, but sweetness should always be acknowledged.
Car Bomb was described to me as musical Robot Wars and honestly I was sold just on that. Theses guys bring chaotic styled maths rock into a new space with the inclusion of some sci-fi sound effects. I feel I don’t have the right vocabulary, skill or even thought process to fully explain their sound. What I can say is that they bring a great stage presence with them and that’s what you need at a festival.
Next up was another band that we first saw at ATG and have since mildly stalked around Manchester, Employed to Serve. These guys have had an unreal rise since we first saw them in 2017, and they deserve every single step up they have taken. They bring it every time we see them and are always energetic and intense. They climb scaffolding, they crowd surf and they growl like nobody else. Employed to Serve continue to develop everytime we see them and I can’t wait to see where they are at next time.
For the first time we actually stayed at the Arc for the Saturday headline band. Usually we end up floating away to see the madness at PX3. This has resulted in our first time seeing The St. Pierre Snake Invasion (see prior comment about the madness of that) and Scalping (an intense topless techno band). Meshuggah however kept my attention enough to make me stay right there at the Arc. They provided the type of heavy noise that kept the energy up as the last band of the night. They balance precision and emotion perfectly and were a great way to close out an amazing weekend.
Our last night of ATG was capped off by the amazing Silent Disco. I’m so glad that we did get to enjoy this on our last night as we’d been rained off on Friday and it wasn’t on on Thursday. The silent disco is a main event of ArcTanGent with three channels including the Mars Volta channel which is definitely not my choice but works for a maths rock festival. We drank, we sang along way too loud and we paid the price when it came to packing up on Sunday morning. That’s how a festival should end!
Once again, ArcTanGent has ended for the year and I’m back to living in a city and not a field while being told that it’s no longer socially acceptable to drink a can of cider while brushing my teeth…bunch of killjoys. Roll on next year for another amazing line up and weekend of insane fun. Feel free to join us!