Arctangent Festival 2013
Fernhill Farm, Bristol, UK
Festival season is all but over at this point (with a few exceptions), but thanks to Arctangent festival the best has been saved for last - at least as far as I’m concerned. This festival covers everything experimental from math-rock to post-rock to black metal, making for a friendly inclusive atmosphere full of people that are interested in the music rather than just getting pissed, as at some festivals. That said, there is no shortage of fun, whether it be from the silent disco, DJ’d by acts playing over the weekend, or the acts themselves.
Unfortunately due to the logistics of travelling to Bristol and setting up camp in a Somerset field, we only manage to catch two bands on the Thursday early entry lineup. The first of the two is Talons, and instrumental post-rock band whose most notable feature is the use of lead violin. This works very well on record but unfortunately mixing issues leave the set feeling horribly unbalanced, with the violin taking over the mix entirely and leaving other instruments to whitewash in the background. Luckily the climactic staccato rhythms of ‘St. Mary Will Be The Death Of Us All’ shine through and leave a notable impression on an otherwise difficult set to enjoy.
Headlining the first night is Maybeshewill in the first of three sets over the weekend, with the others being another live show on Friday and a silent disco dj set on Sunday. It’s easy to see why this band were asked to play a fan-chosen set, as the packed out Yokhai stage is full to the brim with fans moving to the masterfully written structures and singing along to the instruments in lieu of vocals (not that they’re ever missed at all). As expected, the band sweeps through fan favourites from ‘Not For Want of Trying’ to ‘Co-conspirators’ and ‘To The Skies, From A Hillside’, making for a crowd that not only gets what it wants but loves what it gets. A well played set would be a vast understatement, this may be the best of the weekend before the actual weekend has even started.
With day two beginning, Polymath are a perfect start to the actual weekend. The band play through a solid set of math-rock tracks led by some very impressive and energetic bass work and some very rock-influenced guitar lines that almost feel jammed in their fluidity. This set is most definitely an unexpected treat and proof that its always a good idea to check out what’s on at the smaller tents.
Still on the third stage, named the Bixler stage, You Slut! take to the stage with a hero’s welcome. The band have a strong cult-following in math-rock circles and it seems to be out in full force at Arctangent, with a packed tent and everyone bobbing their heads to the complex and playful displays. As well as being entertaining and technically proficient, this set is also one of the most gratifying to watch of the weekend as the band seem genuinely humbled by the support shown for them, proclaiming that this would be the biggest gig they ever play. It would be a shame if that was the case, but you couldn’t ask for a better show to peak with.
One of the most popularly successful acts of the weekend is Rolo Tomassi, as such there is a large and expectant crowd for the band’s set. The 5-piece, fronted by siblings James and Eva Spence, bring one of the heaviest sounds of the weekend (excluding the Damnation Festival-sponsored Yokhai stage) and use it to their favour to instigate some of the few actual pits of the weekend, though they don’t have the most friendly and inclusive atmosphere. Considering the number of times I have seen Rolo Tomassi (though not recently until now) it feels like somewhat of a betrayal to say it but this is probably the most disappointing performance of the weekend. The setlist is weak at best, only showcasing tracks from new album ‘Astraea’ and two tracks from ‘Cosmology’ - sadly none from ‘Hysterics’ or earlier releases. Some may call this growing up but at a festival priding itself on eccentric music, it wouldn’t hurt the set to at least play ‘I Love Turbulence’. That being said, the crowd eat up the performance, dancing and crowd surfing included, so maybe I’m just upset at not hearing my favourite songs. This isn’t a bad performance by any means, but it feels lacklustre in the context of the band’s past successes.
On the other hand, Ashford’s Bossk are a pleasant surprise. It is difficult to judge in advance how 15 minute post-metal opuses will come across to a largely math-rock leaning crowd but the cult band draw the attention of everyone in the tent and command such presence that songs of such gargantuan length pass as if they were no longer than any others.
For the second time, it is Maybeshewill’s turn to play to the Arctangent crowd, this time on the Arc (main) stage. While not as inclusive in atmosphere, the band still manage to capture the attention of all in attendance, playing a largely similar set but focussing more on their most recent album. Few bands could play two sets at a festival without sounding stale but Maybeshewill manage it without any trouble.
From then, it’s a little disheartening to see such a small crowd amass for cult black metal outfit Dragged Into Sunlight. The band undoubtedly put the most effort into their stage image (except the headlining bands who benefit for elaborate light shows) with an entirely smoked-over stage leaving nothing but a ram-skull-adorned candelabra visible and a purposeful effort to avoid any contact with the crowd. It is a shame that the spectacle is missed by so many but the band make up for it with the most assaulting aural presence of the weekend, bolstered by intensely distorted guitars and unforgiving drums that do not relent for a second. This is one of the few sets of the weekend that require earplugs but it is an intensely enjoyable one nonetheless.
Ending the night is 65Daysofstatic, a band combining electronic and industrial soulds with post-rock and math-rock (and lights, lots of lights) to create a spectacularly visual performance that easily justifies their place as headliners. The band work through their lengthy set with a solid combination of both older and newer songs, even sneakily working in a track from new album ‘WIld Light’. With an unmistakable ‘headliner’ atmosphere (whatever that means) and the combination of many a drink in the crowd and the soon approaching silent disco, 65Daysofstatic’s set feels among the most widely enjoyed of the weekend and rightly so.
As strange as it seems to have the last day of a festival on a Saturday, Delta Sleep start the day off nicely and do an excellent job of making you forget that Arctangent is nearly over. Riding the fine line between chilled out indie and full-on math rock, the band pull out nothing but great vibes from their time on stage and don’t take the pressures of being a mainstage too seriously. Another great surprise and a band worthy of the most thorough recommendation, both live and recorded.
Still on the mainstage a little later in the day are TTNG, also known as This Town Needs Guns but that is no longer the official name. As often associated with emo as with math rock, TTNG’s expressive yet subtle take on the genre is a nice temporary change from the often hard-hitting sound that comes from many of the tents. The band play mostly songs from their most recent album and 2008’s ‘Animals’, playing to the strengths of Henry Tremain’s impressive vocal talents. Unfortunately the set is hampered by slight mixing issues and uncomfortably long gaps between songs to retune guitars - luckily the band are friendly enough on stage to keep an entertaining atmosphere but it does at times feel a little too quiet.
Up next on the Yokhai stage, UpCDownC (a local favourite of mine) play a fervent set of groove laden, prog-influenced post-rock. Downtuned guitars and a refreshing variety of instruments make for a set that is never tedious and the closing spectacle of having the entire band hitting tom drums as if it was Stomp seals the deal - go see this band.
Three Trapped Tigers are the next to make an appearance on the mainstage and do so with a considerable sense of magnitude and crowd expectation - it is quite obvious that there are a lot of people at Arctangent to see this band. The glitchy, mathy, experimental three piece dig straight into their set and receive wild applause at every given opportunity, playing tracks mainly from their debut album “Route One Or Die” and the occasional divergence into their three numbered EPs. As with almost every band here, the controlled chaos is executed to a tee and festival goers are treated with another dose of the UK experimental scene’s exuberant creativity.
Where Three Trapped Tigers were impressive in their performance, Tall Ships take proceedings to the next level with what feels like the most involved and spirited display of the weekend - from both the crowd and on the stage. Currently on the upward ascent towards both widespread acclaim and popularity, every note of the band’s math-rock influenced indie is met in kind with either a collective shout back or someone crowdsurfing, probably in equal measure. Probably the most satisfying part of this set is seeing how utterly humbled the band are by the response they receive - vocalist Rich Phethean can barely keep his composure at the passion displayed by his fans and at points breaks into heartfelt laughter. Seeing every song played from both EPs and last year’s ‘Everything Touching’ is indicative of just how absorbed fans are in this band, it would be an easy mistake to think this was a headline show at a mid-sized venue.
After Tall Ships’ set it seems that a powder keg has been lit in the crowd as And So I Watch You From Afar receive a main-stage sized portion of the energy that was displayed to the previous band. The irish math-rockers put in every ounce as much enthusiasm as the crowd as the infectious riffs of ‘Big Thinks Do Remarkable’ start the set to rapturous applause. From then on, every song gets the same treatment but none as much as ‘S Is For Salamander’, a fan favourite performed with guest drummer Karina Lawrence. Once again, you could easily mistake this for a headline set.
Unfortunately Fuck Buttons had to be missed but ASIWYFA make for an excellent end (for me) to Arctangent Festival. A better organised and executed festival could not be expected in it’s first year - long may it continue.