LIVE: ArcTanGent 2018 – Thursday

By Mark Johnson

ArcTanGent has provided a home for those of a math and post-rock persuasion for six years now and with each passing event, the subtle changes and continuous improvements make this one of the best events on the British calendar. This year, the Main Stage has been given a makeover, the opening day gets three stages instead of two, and the line-up features some outstanding talent, promising to make ArcTanGent number six one of the biggest and best to date.

Images: William Pavli, Words: Mark Johnson 

Having witnessed Body Hound a few times in the last couple of years in small venues around Leeds and their native Sheffield, it’s heartwarming to see them perform on this scale again. Thanks to their trademark flawless execution and riveting instrumentals, they’re greeted to a packed out crowd at the PX3 stage, despite the early time slot at the start of day one. This quartet proves that you can play in whatever brain-warping timing you like as long as there’s a groove holding it all together, and as they work their way through a maze of musicality, it’s this central theme that ties it all together and keeps us captivated from start to finish. Body Hound just love to play music; energy and enthusiasm is written all over their faces from start to finish and this feel-good factor spreads into the crowd. The band tease out some new tracks in the set, which bass player Joseph Thorpe says will be on their new album which, he jokes, will be coming out some time this century. If they want to capitalise on the positive vibes of this performance then they’ll need to make sure it’s sooner rather than later.

Svalbard turn up the intensity at PX3 as they blast through their well-refined brand of noise. Off the back of an instrumental act, Serena Cherry’s vocals are like a swift slap in the face as her crisp, powerful screams pierce through the speakers, while pounding drums and relentless guitar riffs join the cacophony of sound. The band’s recent album ‘It’s Hard To Have Hope’ introduced a more atmospheric angle to give balance to their bruising heaviness and the soaring lead guitar lines add a wonderful ambience to their live performance, countering the anguish of the vocals perfectly. Sadly there’s a lack of bottom end to really punctuate the heavier elements of the set, but it’s still a strong performance.

The beauty of ArcTanGent’s schedule means that no sooner has one band finished, another begins five minutes later, and thanks to the site’s modest size, no two stages are more than five minutes’ walk away. Delta Sleep take to the Yokhai stage as the last notes of Svalbard’s set at the adjacent PX3 start to settle. The quartet released their new album ‘Ghost City’ just a couple of weeks ago and waste no time airing snippets of it on stage, including the wonderful single ‘El Pastor’, whose sunny disposition and gentle groove is ideally matched to the rare festival sunshine outside the tent. Throughout the set, the sublime talents of drummer Blake Mostyn play a central role in holding everything together with his clever hi-hat work and perfectly selected tempo changes, keeping a core groove while the math rock noodlings of the guitar and bass dance around it. It’s a delightful set that’s met with deserved enthusiasm from the crowd.

Traditionally the main stage – known as Arc – doesn’t open on day one but this year, with so many quality bands signed up, it opens early. It could be that the organisers are keen to try out its new full tent look this year for the first time. It’s a shame to see the iconic Arc stage disappear, it’s angular style being a fitting talisman for the jagged riffs of the math bands that have played beneath it over the past five years, but it’s an understandable move given the common rainfall at the festival, and as the weekend goes on, we have to conceded that it’s a great improvement. People Like Milk Products are the first act to try out the new look tent, a band made up of members from Chiyoda Ku and Memory of Elephants. It’s an intriguing set up with two drummers, two bass players and a guitarist, but despite the potential on offer from so much talent and equipment, the set falls flat. The two drummers play in unison for much of the set which, while technically impressive to land the exact timings, seems a wasted opportunity to concoct something more memorable. There’s definite potential with this collaboration but there needs to be more thought into the execution to prevent it coming off as a gimmick.

At the end of Svalbard’s set, Serena Cherry praised the ArcTanGent organisers, who also run sister festival 2000 Trees, for their support of women in alternative music and her point is emphasised as another female powerhouse takes to the stage. Through opener ‘Aftermath’, the petite stature and gentle voice of Rolo Tomassi’s Eva Spense offers a false sense of calm, before she erupts into ‘Rituals’, tearing ear drums to shreds with her guttural screams and raw power. It’s been quite the year so far for Rolo Tomassi, their new album ‘Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It’ still remains one of the best records of the year since its release in February, they blew the roof off the Download stage in June and with a UK and Europe tour still to come in October, they’ll be able to look back on 2018 with a vast amount of pride. They make their way through a set filled with ambience, heaviness and soaring melody, capping off yet another blistering performance. It’s always a pleasure to witness a band at the top of their game and though it’s a painfully short set, Rolo Tomassi keep the upward trajectory strong ahead of their tour in October.

Bossk get the first 45 minute set of the day underway beneath the increasingly cramped PX3 tent and their mainly instrumental set offers a well refined balance of ambient, soothing instrumentation against heavy, bass-laden riffs. The extra bite of heaviness gives each track a rich story and a promise of pay-off as each gentle passage builds to an effective crescendo. There’s an occasional burst of screamed vocals which amp up the intensity even further to cement a solid set.

After what seemed a lifetime of waiting, Tangled Hair finally released their full-length ‘We Do What We Can’ at the start of the year and they waste no time presenting the new material to the eager crowd, hitting their stride immediately from the first song and maintaining a pristinely tight performance through to the end. Tangled Hair have a knack of making the head scratchingly difficult seem effortless, as they calmly and assuredly glide through a series of complex math rock patterns, bending time signatures and tempos to their will. Despite the technicality of their music there’s a serene edge to what they play, bringing a calming atmosphere over the crowd, warming everyone through nicely to combat the chill that’s starting to blow through the tent as the night draws in.

Day one headliners And So I Watch You From Afar conclude another fantastic Thursday at ArcTanGent, despite the band initially admitting to some nerves beforehand, after being asked to play their most recent album ‘The Endless Shimmering’ in full for this show. “Playing something that means so much to us in front of people whose opinions mean so much to us is very nerve wracking” states guitarist Rory Friers, but at no point does their flawless execution show any signs of trepidation. This record is a triumph, marrying together ambient instrumentals with bursts of urgency and aggression to keep each song moving along at a great pace. The light show that the band bring to the main stage adds even more atmosphere, and gives the performance the added sense of drama that a headlining performance deserves. And So I Watch You From Afar are worthy of this final slot and ensures that the audience leaves the first day with fond memories.

And So I Watch You From Afar