ArcTanGent 7: Thursday
Britain’s treasure trove festival for musical discoveries kicks off its seventh edition in style
Words: Phil Weller
Photos: Anthony Firmin, Carl Battams, Joe Singh, Jonathan Dadds, Sam Lees
A treasure trove of discovery, situated 20 miles south on Bristol on Fernhill Farm, with a cosy capacity of 5,000 people, ArcTanGent is a boutique festival for true music lovers, without the stress and hard work of a major festival. Instead, what you get is 90+ bands dishing out an enormous variety of styles of music in a set up which celebrates creativity – with a big focus on home-grown talent – with a nice cold beer or two.
The sun spreads its warmth across the campsite and the small, excellently laid out arena, with two stages snuggled next to each other on both ends of the near-rectangular site, appetising food stalls, bars, cafes and chill out areas in the middle as a rich array of acts entertain the early explorers. From the feisty female fronted punk of Cocaine Piss to the doom-laden gloom of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, these early performers set the trend for a festival charactised by the inventive, hungry bands that populate the festival’s line-up.
But that all followed one of the most important and poignant sets of the weekend. Liverpool’s heavy math rockers Alpha Male Tea Party had opened the main stage, performing as The Beft in tribute to the late Cleft guitarist and big ArcTanGent fan Dan Beesley performing a set of Cleft tunes; with Cleft drummer Dan Simm an extra driving force to Alpha Male's already scintillating sound, the warmth and enjoyment in the tent is palpable. Bringing an army of guitarists and bassists to the stage for the final song, a new, original composition in honour of Cleft's mad scientist musician, together they roll out one solitary, beautiful chord. It creates a whirlpool of sound, bubbling with a feeling of love and commradery and already ArcTanGent 7 is rolling out the special moments.
The immensely talented Yvette Young, making her first of two appearances at the festival with her main band Covet hitting the Yokhai Stage later on, her mellow, tapped guitar playing, tinkling piano and lullaby voice make for a gorgeous half hour or so of music. However, the stage is rammed to the point the seated musician isn't visible from the back and, despite her asking for quiet, there is still too much talking over her performance to make it the truly engrossing set it deserved to be.
Elsewhere, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ brand of quirky and boisterous doom rock, punctuated by their charismatically manic front man Matt Baty, produced a gripping set on the Yokhai Stage, before the much-hyped, barraging death metal of Conjurer tore the tiny and packed out PX3 tent to shreds. Here are two British bands mastering their art, confidently striding the middle ground between the tried, tested and titillating ingredients of their genres whilst injecting the kind of invention and personality that makes their music so much more than the sum of its parts. For Pigs..., Baty’s apocalyptic bellowing unites with ground-shaking beats whilst the chaos Conjurer's Thankless is impenetrably ferocious; their heaviness laced with a classiness that shows this is a band with brute and brains.
From one Holy Roar act to another, Denmark's MØL's delicately balanced blend of ambient shoegaze and fizzing, gunfire like blast beats and black metal crescendos is a joy to behold and the perfect way to prepare for Zeal & Ardor, who produced another accomplished, awe-inspiring set. ArcTanGent is a festival that prides itself on putting on bands who weld together juxtaposing genres with precious and grace, but this band is a cut above the rest. Row Row is a bouncy yet innately menacing number and Fire Of Motion is suitably incendiary, but that's not where they impress the most in dilapidating dusk. When their backing tracks and clicks malfunction, they're left performing Gravedigger's Chant raw and they're pinpoint, impassioned romp through the track shows that they aren't a band relying on the polish and glitz the backing tracks provide and it deepens your appreciation for an already staggering band.
This all happens whilst back at the Yokhai Stage dextrous American instrumentalists Polyphia smash through a five song set marked by crystalline guitar tones and twisting rhythms that have the tent bouncing.
Daughters are an interesting proposition having been lauded as one of the most exciting bands around with their deep grinding music crossing between post-punk and art-rock. The tent is rammed and singer Alexis S.F. Marshall does his best to remain on the stage, acting like a younger Nick Cave whilst emotionally absorbed in the music. He makes frequent forays out into the audience too which makes for an electrifying and intoxicating experience.
The set up at ArcTanGent sees two alternating stages on each side of the area, with only a five minute wait between sets which keeps the focus firmly on the music itself, but it does see a few ugly clashes across the weekend and Manchester's Pijn clashing with Carpenter Brut is one such clash. Pijn's evocative drone riffs, iced with cellos and violins, together create a cinematic atmosphere to their performance, at their most engaging when vocals squawk atop their dense layering, but vocal sections come few and far between. It's a completely different vibe with Carpenter Brut, who lift 80s horror film synths, stylistically true to the work of John Carpenter as their name suggests, with a metallic undercurrent that combines characterful, storytelling music with chunky guitars and stomping drums. There's a chemistry that fizzes in the air during their set, whilst the massive screen sprawling the back of the main stage plays out clips from horror films and beyond, every second of their set is gripping and sounds gigantean. A surprise cover of Maniac sees the place erupt, crowning one of the best performances of the weekend.
All's left then, as night cloaks the sky above, is far prog rock purveyors Coheed & Cambria to close the night off and they do so before a crowd who greets the final notes of every song with rapturous applause. The much loved band, in their third decade together, produced a set that reflected their near-veteran status. From the anthemic reaching opener, The Dark Sentencer, which hinges off Josh Eppard's throbbing kick drum and punchy guitars, they work through a set which keeps its attention fixated on their recently released record, The Unheavenly Creatures. It feels the entire festival has flocked to the main stage to watch the band, with people lined up outside the tent along food stalls, stood on their tip toes for a glimpse of their main man’s ironically massive hair. The Suffering and Welcome Home are met like heroes returning from war, and although there are points where Claudio Sanchez's excitement finds him breathless, unable to properly execute his vocals, his energy is infectious and there is no shadow of a doubt left lingering that ArcTanGent is a place where Coheed & Cambria can call home.