For the first band of the day, Trigger Thumb sounded decent on the ARC stage. The diverse Bradford trio were tight and entertaining; their soaring high pitched vocals, pacey riffs and scatty rhythms sounded like a hybrid of Muse crossed with System Of A Down.
Ireland’s Ilenkus played on the same stage and in the same time-slot that their recent tourmates God Mother had decimated the previous day and the quartet equally managed to shake the crowd awake with an energetic and incredibly fun show. They also interacted with the crowd superbly as vocalist Sam Ellis scrambled over the barrier to crowdsurf and stalk the floor, yelling in faces as he went. An aggressive mix of hardcore and post-metal with elements of grind and prog (which might seem like an odd mix but it works very well) the quintet hit a balance between the chaos of early The Dillinger Escape Plan and the slower, groovier elements of Mastodon. To see out the remainder of their slot, it would be the turn of guitarist Josh Guyett to scream and get in amongst the pit as Ellis took over on guitar. Ilenkus left the Bixler crowd with grins on their faces and slightly battered. They earned themselves many a new fan at ArcTanGent and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for Ilenkus playing near me.
Jean Jean provided the perfect soundtrack of lush instrumental rock to an early lunch burrito and a pint of cider sitting soaking up ArcTanGent’s friendly atmosphere at the edge of the ARC tent. Edinburgh’s Vasquez were up next on the Bixler stage and the lively math-rock trio were bags of fun.
I was pretty excited to see MØL, Jord is a fantastic album and I’ve had it on heavy rotation for months. The Danes pulled out all the stops in the PX3 tent, providing an electrifying and attention-grabbing set. Live, MØL’s shoegaze black metal was hard-hitting and densely packed. The soaring tremolo riffs, blast beats and intense vocals of the constantly shifting “Penumbra” and the ferocious yet beautiful “Vakuum” were both mind-blowing. Vocalist Kim Song had the whole audience in the palm of his hand from the get-go as he gave the best front-person performance of the weekend. Sneering and screeching in the faces of the front row and staring down the rest of the crowd, he looked to be having a blast and this was noticeably reciprocated by the crowd. MØL were a tremendous live experience and a definite highlight of the day, if not the festival.
I also had very high hopes for Telepathy, having unfortunately missed their tour in February, and the sludgy post-metallers did not disappoint in any way. Tempest’s dramatic songs transfer brilliantly to the stage, and again the Yohkai tent’s sound was spot-on. Similar to The Ocean minus vocals, Telepathy skillfully used atmospheric, melodic builds to heighten the impact of the epic crescendos. During these heavier moments, monumental bursts of blast beats, driving bass lines and crunching riffs set heads banging and fists into the air. Yet another highlight of an already outstanding weekend, Telepathy were thrilling.
Thankfully, the sound in the ARC tent was much clearer than it had been for previous bands by the time Giraffes! Giraffes? were on stage but I still found it a bit too quiet. Making their European debut, the longstanding math rock duo did look a bit nervous at first but settled in quickly and it was obvious they were enjoying themselves. At times, their complex, jazzy rhythms were difficult to keep track of, but due to their fun and constantly changing nature this was never a problem. With drummer Kenneth Topham’s kit sitting side on to the crowd and guitarist Joseph Andreoli facing him with an array of much utilised loop and effects pedals on the floor, it was like standing in a garage watching a couple of pals having a particularly enjoyable jam session. It’s quite an achievement for two musicians to create music this technical and idiocentric as enjoyable as Giraffes! Giraffes? do, even only being vaguely familiar with their back catalogue I really enjoyed their performance. Huge smiles all round.
The feel-good atmosphere continued with Black Peaks, who are on a seemingly unstoppable upward trend. Building on the success of 2016’s Statues and gearing up for the imminent release of their sophomore album All That Divides, the Brighton prog-rockers split their set equally between the two albums. Not that you could tell from the crowd’s reaction; newer songs such as opener “Can’t Sleep” and the excellent “Electric Fires” received a just as rapturous response as established favourites “Crooks” and “Say You Will”. The Yohkai crowd still had enough energy this late in the weekend to form respectably sized pits and this just seemed to invigorate Black Peaks even more. Huge sing-a-long choruses and meaty riffs were the order of the day and Black Peaks excelled at mixing pop sensibilities with metallic elements to create catchy and heavy-hitting music full of enthusiasm. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Black Peaks headlining ArcTanGent and other festivals soon. Another of the day’s highly enjoyable performances came from Toska. Also hailing from Brighton, the heavy instrumental prog trio played with buckets of glee. Tighter than Space Blood’s lycra, they delivered a dynamic, riff-fuelled set with technical proficiency.
See, this is why I love ArcTanGent, for all the technically proficient prog metal, clinical math-rock and soaring post-rock, sometimes all you need to do is watch a psych band fronted by half-naked man drunk-uncle-sexy-dancing about the stage, trying to pole dance and howling into a mic with lashes of echo whilst the band dole out fuzzy ‘70’s riffs and big guitar solos backed by throbbing, hypnotic rhythms for three (four? God knows, it was hard to tell…) songs in their hour-long slot. Phew. Possibly more suited to Roadburn’s ‘state of mind’, Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs did not feel out of place whatsoever and were goddamn glorious. More of this next time, please, ArcTanGent.
In the buildup to the festival, Shellac seemed like an odd choice for closing night headliners. Then the veterans nonchalantly walked onto the ARC stage and played a barnstorming first half of their set. Highlights included “Prayer To God”, an urgent playthrough of “You Came In Me” and “Copper”, and the sound for the ARC stage was finally spot-on. The veteran trio went through the same rehearsed routine that they have for at least the last fifteen years or so, and then decided that fifteen minutes of “The End Of Radio”’s minimalist one-note bassline and rambling commentary was a reasonable penultimate song of the whole festival. Maybe I was just tired after three days of heavy festivalling, but this wasn’t quite the emphatic finish that an excellent ArcTanGent 2018 deserved.
What a weekend!
ArcTanGent continues to be an amazing and eclectic festival showcasing some of the best new and established bands around. The fact that I was able to witness the might of Conjurer and the glee of Alpha Male Tea Party, as well as see Gallops playing a silent set and the singer of God Mother trying to crowdsurf on top of a blow-up doll is testament to how great a weekend the ArcTanGent crew provide. There are also so many other things that make it such an enjoyable festival: it’s the tidiest festival I’ve ever been to, with recycling bins (that people actually use!) near every food stall, bar and stage; many of the bands are fans as well and spend the whole weekend wandering around, chatting to folk and checking out the other acts; the atmosphere is mostly very friendly and there isn’t a need for heavy-handed security to pace about; the audience can take their own cans/plastic bottles into the festival site; the bars don’t involve waiting for half an hour and serve decent, local beer and cider; the food and coffee stalls are generally excellent…
Meshuggah(!) have just been announced as Saturday headliner for ArcTanGent 2019 and already I can’t wait to return to Fernhill Farm in August next year.
Tickets for ArcTanGent Festival 2019 (15th-17th August 2019) are available here.