Fernhill Farm, Compton Martin, United Kingdom
Arctangent is the UK’s only festival dedicated to Post-rock, math-rock and noise-rock. Despite its niche offering of bands, there’s enough diversity in the line-up to pull in crowds from all over the world. As I returned to Arctangent for the second time (it’s now in its third year), I realised how truly special the festival was. Given how niche some of the bands are, it’s difficult to catch them at appearances outside of the festival. This is the one time of year where fans can gather and share a mutual love for artists that most people have never heard of.
Thursday’s offerings were impressive, as the Yohkai stage showcased returning bands from last year. Mutiny on The Bounty (9) sounded more at home here in comparison to their performance on the main stage last year. New releases such as Mkl Jksn go down a treat, as do familiar favourites such as North Korea and Mapping The Universe. An unexpected Adebisi Shank cover sends the crowd wild and their set was certainly a highlight of the weekend.
LITE (8) travelled all the way from Japan to play, and despite minor sound hiccups, play a flawless set. The band seems truly humbled by the response from the tent, as the crowd sings back melodies from Echolocation and Bond. This is something I became used to throughout the weekend given the majority of bands playing were instrumental; crowds of one thousand plus people chanting back guitar melodies like a well-rehearsed football crowd.
It’s worth noting that Arctangent allows you to bring beers into the main arena. I feel like this is worth mentioning because it’s a fucking deal breaker, and it’s also the reason why I only caught half of 65daysofstatic (8). As the bands finish playing and the first night comes to an end, people gather round a disappointing bonfire (6), despite it being commanded by an enthusiastic festival volunteer with a talent for taming flame (9)
Saturday kicks off early, with bands starting at 11am. Quadrupede (7) provide a mixture of electronic math sounds not worlds apart from The Physics House Band. Psychedelic prog-rockers Trojan Horse (9) took to the Arc stage shortly afterwards, playing one of the tightest sets of the entire weekend. Paper Bells silences the crowd before the band finish their set in a climactic battle with sanity; vocalist Nicholas Duke pre-emptively bins his guitar off and won't stop screaming at the crowd, whilst the bass player adopts a crouching position; rocking backwards and forwards in a ‘please help me’ kind of way. Trojan Horse's mastery over their instruments and music seems to have cost them their sanity, but the crowd wouldn't have it any other way.
Body Hound (7) lay down a heavy groove, but OHHMS (6) fail to replicate the heaviness of their recordings into their live performance. From the Bixler tent, PSOTY (8) prove that there are still plenty of great post-rock bands on the line-up after the intensity of last year’s line-up. MaybeSheWill (10) promised something special for their third appearance in a row, and did so in spectacular fashion with the accompaniment of a live strings and brass section. As I looked behind me, it was apparent that MSW had probably pulled the biggest crowd of the entire weekend. Their set mainly comprised of material from their latest album, but they still had time to cater to the crowds’ demand for an encore, as they returned to the stage to finish with Not For Want Of Trying.
CHON (9) had already started playing by the time I had made my way over to Yohkai stage, and despite the technicality of their music, they were absolutely flawless. You would forgive a band as technical as CHON for making the odd mistake in a live set, yet I didn’t hear a single one. Phenomenal. Back on the Arc stage, The Fall Of Troy (8) prove that they are a welcome addition to the line-up, and remind everyone in attendance that F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X still has one of the catchiest guitar riffs ever.
I take an hour to walk around the festival and see what’s on offer outside of the music. Dirty hammocks (7) provide relative comfort, despite being caked in the mud of previous do-nothings. I sit down with a coffee (6) and chat to a guy named Kai (10), who tells me one of the reasons he loves Arctangent so much is because everyone’s on the same wavelength and there’s no dickheads here. He grounds this statement by putting whisky in my coffee (now a 9) before saying goodbye.
Dillinger Escape Plan (8) lay waste to the Arc stage with what promises to be the most intense set of the festival. Greg Putiaco does his usual ‘climb whatever the fuck I feel like’ thing and does to the stage what children do to well-branched conifers. I’m starting to see people in silent disco headphones, preparing for the inevitable onslaught of 90’s pop punk and nu-metal. I don’t have a spare tenner, so I retreat to the comfort of the bonfire back near the Yohkai stage.
Friday’s fire attendant (3) does a piss-poor job of maintaining the fire, as he recklessly feeds it with wood. Too much wood. The fire is full. The now hilariously sized bonfire (10) smokes out everyone around it and people start to leave. When confronted about his unsuitability for the role, piss-poor fire attendant states that ‘he’s in charge’, before presumably giving up and disappearing into the night. Things get weird soon after. A mid-forties man with a mild drinking problem (2) won’t stop telling stories about his dogs bumming each other, until he’s told by another alpha-male - presumably his elder - to fuck off. There’s silence and things get really awkward. More people leave. It's bed time.
Everyone feels and looks like shit on the Saturday, but it doesn’t deter the crowd from making it to the PX3 tent to see Steve Strong (9). A huge crowd for this time of the morning, and well deserved. Steve sets the tone with a mix of ambient guitar loops with glitch-like drumbeats, creating a hybrid mash-up of four tet meets post-rock and math. After spending some time in the shisha tent and chatting to owner Ben (10), he informs me that the festival this year had pretty much sold out. That’s awesome news for both the fans and organisers.
Axes (8) give an energetic performance over on the main stage, and as they highlight how much of an important festival this is for all of the bands playing, I can’t help but feel like this festival, along with all bands playing it, feels like some sort of giant family. All the bands know and support each other, and every stranger I met over the weekend enthusiastically spoke about new bands they had discovered, or favourites they had managed to catch for the very first time.
The weather takes a turn for the worst shortly before Tangled Hair (9) perform to a packed-out tent over at the Bixler stage.Vessels (8) have been granted a well-chosen spot on the line-up as they lure the crowd with chilled out beats and ambience before Cult of Luna and Deafheaven (9) are due to perform. Unfortunately, due to missed flights, Cult of Luna were now scheduled to clash with Deafheaven.
Alright The Captain (7) played to relatively small crowd of die-hard fans, as they humbly drew attention to the fact they were shocked to be headlining a stage. Deafheaven’s melodic take on black metal seemed to go down well with fans who wouldn’t normally listen to the genre, as most of their riffs breached boundaries of post-rock territory. Unfortunately, the crowd seemed to dwindle in size as more and more people departed to catch the end of Cult of Luna. As tempting as it was to see all three headliners, I couldn’t bring myself to leave Deafheaven early.
There’s enough diversity on this festival line-up for returning fans to find something new and for newcomers to feel at home. And that’s what Arctangent is all about - discovering new bands, and sharing those bands with friends, old and new. The organisers have done a fantastic job at putting this festival together. Not only is there a sense of mutual understanding between attendees that something like this is a really big deal, the bands seem generally humbled and taken back by the intensity of the feedback from their fans. Not only is Arctangent one of the most unique festivals I’ve ever been to, it’s also the friendliest.