For the fifth edition of ArcTanGent, the organisers had kept everything that had made previous years successful – a strong and eclectic line-up, staggered stage times, decent local beer, great food vendors, etc – and added some improvements – a bigger ‘small’ tent, additional camping space, acoustic sessions and they even ordered slightly better weather. A very well organised festival with a friendly atmosphere and helpful staff, throughout the whole weekend it was evident that each band was happy to be playing this event and this was reciprocated by the fans.
Only two of the four stages were open on Thursday and no bands overlapped, meaning that if you wanted to watch all fourteen bands then you could, but following setting up camp and getting my bearings I had missed the first few. This meant that the first band I was able to see was Town Portal, a three-piece math-rock band from Copenhagen. Even with having recently got into The Occident, I was surprised by how much chunkier and heavier they are live than on record – they sounded a lot more like Dysrhythmia than I had anticipated and were a warm welcome to the weekend.
Electro-rock trio Gallops got the early crowd dancing to their proggy sound of synth interwoven with guitars, especially during the huge crescendo of “Shakma”. A few technical problems in the build up to one of their songs didn’t affect the band too much, or the happy crowd, and these were thankfully sorted for the pounding bass and swelling synth soundscapes of “Darkjewel”.
With a very summery and ‘nice’ take on math-rock, Totorro put on an inoffensive and upbeat performance but were just a bit too jangly for my liking. They did make liberal use of a cowbell and also managed to get a large portion of the crowd to conga dance, so there is that. New Jersey’s Vasudeva have their reasons but the conspicuous lack of a live bass player, with a pre-recorded backing track played through a bass cab instead, was slightly off putting. Nevertheless, the two guitarists, who chewed on their picks more than they used them, tapped out elaborate melodies with lashings of reverb and echo.
I saw Heck at last year’s ArcTanGent and having not been all that impressed I watched a bit of their last ever live show from the boundary of the PX3 tent and decided that for all the energy and gusto on display, I wasn’t really missing much. Thankfully, having fuelled up on pizza I was ready for Cardiff’s premier acerbic noiseniks Future Of The Left, who played a faultless mix of tracks old and new (and McLusky). In a live setting, you really notice that
Future Of The Left have a musicianship and tightness that slightly contradicts their seemingly stripped back and raucous songs, even with the guitarists only having about three strings each. Andrew Falkous’ sharp and distinctive lyrics on fan favourites such as “Arming Eritrea” and “You Need Satan…” drew plenty of laughs and many shout-a-longs from the crowd throughout their set. Midway through the band reduced down to just keys, bass and drums for the fun and uncomplicated “Manchasm” before Future Of The Left closed their set with a couple of faster and heavier McLusky songs, “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” received a rapturous response from those that hadn’t already started to making their way to get a spot for Nordic Giants.
As always, visceral instrumental post-rock duo Nordic Giants played to a backdrop of dark, peculiar and funny short films that included the anxiety-inducing The Last Breath, which suited the track “Through a Lens Darkly” perfectly, and Carl E. Rinsch’s odd sci-fi short The Gift. Wearing their usual feathered headdresses, the multi-instrumentalists utilised keyboards, a violin bow on a guitar and drums with a sample board array to create a mesmerizing and cinematic experience. As I really didn’t want to be on the periphery for Russian Circles I was pretty disappointed to leave Nordic Giants’ enthralling set but with the Yohkai tent already filling up I had to make a move.
Walking onstage with a quick nod and an understated wave to the crowd, Thursday’s headliners Russian Circles launched straight into “309” from 2011’s Empros and immediately the power trio sound huge. The focused Mike Sullivan barely moved for over an hour and when he did it was to trigger pedal effects that looped and layered guitar parts, allowing him to play heavy riffs and sweeping lead parts simultaneously.
The thunderous, driving low-end produced from Brian Cook as he thrashes his bass around, Dave Turnkrantz’s pounding drums and Sullivan’s chunky riffs would only get them so far without the balance the band strike between these and the more melodic and lighter moments. These peaks and valleys flowed well throughout their 75-minute set but the band were let down slightly by the sound in the Yohkai tent not quite being perfect for some of their set – there were points where Sullivan’s heavily distorted riffs drowned out the intricacies of the others’ work. There were times that the sound was much clearer, for example, the snare rim shots during the breakdowns in “Afrika” and “Harper Lewis” stood out well.
Sound niggles aside, this was definitely a headlining performance from the Chicago trio, with a light show to match, and a great way to end ArcTanGent 2017’s first day.