LIVE: ArcTanGent Festival 2015

By Ollie Connors

This festival may stand in stark contrast to the rest of Punktastic’s summer coverage, but in our mind, it’s just as deserving of its place as the behemoths found elsewhere in this section. Legions of fans of math-rock and post-rock have descended on Bristol from far-flung places like continental Europe, the U.S. and even Sri Lanka to enjoy 3 days of experimental, progressive and thought-provoking¬†music. Ollie Connors was on hand to survey the results.


THURSDAY

Having successfully pitched tents in the pouring rain (festivals in late August – never pretty on the weather front), we ambled over to the Yokhai stage to see the first of the early-entry offerings, cherry-picked from the lineups of both preceding ArcTanGents. First up are Cleft and Alpha Male Tea Party; mentioned jointly because this is very much a collaborative set. As the UK’s math-rock pool is rather a small one, bands often form tight bonds through touring together, but few are closer than this six-headed math monster. Liverpudlians AMTP kick things off with their bouncy tech-rock, and are joined by the duo that make up¬†Cleft, who were formed in Brighton but now reside in Manchester.

One set transitions seamlessly into the other, but the real treat is saved for the end of Cleft. Looking to beat their Rage Against The Machine medley of last year as a festival highlight, the two bands join together in a tour-de-force of riff, encompassing the likes of Deftones, Slayer, Oceansize, Daft Punk, Franz Ferdinand and many more. Quite the gauntlet has been laid down this early on by this unit and it seems an almost insurmountable challenge to be able to top that.

Unfortunately, most of the acts the rest of the day puts forth fail to mount¬†even a paltry attempt to match the openers. Mylets go from a disastrous first song to a powerfully mediocre set and even Japanese math-legends LITE fail to excite, their set sounding a little tired in comparison to last year’s theatrics. Most disappointingly of all, headliners 65daysofstatic play a slow, ponderous set unbefitting of their status as closers, their usually pulsating numbers left behind in favour of experimental material. It’s left to old favourites like ‘Retreat! Retreat!’ and ‘Radio Protector’ to resurrect their reputation, but even trundling out those bangers can’t dissuade us from getting an early night. Let’s hope tomorrow will be better.


FRIDAY

Trojan Horse don’t provide the best of starts to the day, their Patton-worship grating fairly quickly, although their predictable thoroughfare is punctuated by a capable cover of Waiting Room by Fugazi. Fortunately, over on the Bixler stage, We Never Learned To Live kickstart the afternoon with a scorching set of cuts from one of this year’s best records ‘Silently We Threw Them Skyward’. Their progressive post-hardcore is both crisp and packed with requisite crunch, and their vocal performance encapsulates their swings between gloom and serenity perfectly.

Body Hound featured next on the festival’s main stage, simply¬†called “Arc”. Featuring two former members of Rolo Tomassi (more on them later), this trio are staggering to behold, with a dazzling array of elements to their technical arsenal. Think of a blend of Meshuggah and Brontide (who sadly had to step down from this lineup), and Body Hound are the wonderful result of said tumultuous affair.

Continuing in the vein of excellent Holy Roar Records bands, OHHMS treated the main stage to their doom-laden stoner metal. More suited to the lineup of fellow Bristolian festival Temples, their Sleep/Harvey Milk-influenced roar fails to attract attendees in their masses, which is a shame as they are bloody excellent this afternoon.

More attuned to the tastes of ATG goers, noise-rockers That Fucking Tank blitz the Arc stage – just a shame they didn’t bring out their rather fantastic cover of ‘Dancing In The Dark’ by Bruce Springsteen. However, we were rather distracted by thoughts of the prospects that are entailed with a set by the aforementioned Rolo Tomassi, who bring¬†their ongoing¬†tour of 2015 album ‘Grievances’¬†to ATG. Songs from said album are set highlights as they thrash through moments from their four-album¬†canon, their darker atmospherics and some of the freshest ideas they’ve showcased yet proving them the cream of the crop.

Over on the Bixler stage, Helms Alee offer¬†a rare opportunity to see not one but two females feature in a band; sadly math-rock is a very male-oriented atmosphere and I fear the ArcTanGent lineup may fare even worse than Reading’s infamous butchering. Nevertheless, their Torche/Kylesa-esque¬†vibes¬†provide something different in a weekend where variety is much needed, not least in the voices singing the songs.

While we could justifiably say that the reunion extravanganza of the past few years is tired to the point of parody, it’s still a little bit nice to hear those songs you used to love. Therefore when The Fall Of Troy tear into their opening number, it’s no surprise to see the Arc stage go absolutely¬†apeshit. Thomas Erak’s voice is a little hoarser¬†and some of the guitar playing a little sloppier than one might have hoped, the heroes welcome TFOT receive proves there’s room for a little nostalgia even in a genre as forward-thinking as math-rock.

Vennart are another indulgence into yesteryear; the eponymously named new project of former Oceansize frontman Mike Vennart, alongside compatriots from said band, treat the Yokhai stage to a performance encompassing cuts from promising d√©but ‘The Demon Joke’ alongside older material. While the newer material shows glimpses of intelligent, intricate songcraft, it’s tracks like ‘Music For A Nurse’ that garner a huge response for those with fond memories of the Mancunian proggers.

However, it was then time to get the White Russians in for the big finale to the first “proper” day – New Jerseyian metal giants The Dillinger Escape Plan were primed to lay waste to the main stage. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s witnessed this phenomenon in any context, but their domination of indoor venues has no difficulty transitioning to an open-air setting, stridently using their 15+¬†years of experience whilst simultaneously playing with the energy and passion of a new band. Tonight’s set is surprisingly centric on material from 2004’s¬†‘Miss Machine’, with tracks like¬†the thunderous ‘Sunshine The Werewolf’ (including the intro to ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’) making an appearance alongside newer tracks. The only real lowlight of the performance is its abrupt end with no encore; but like the very best showmen, we figure TDEP wish to leave us wanting more.

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Dillinger’s Greg Puciato sizing up the middle column of the tent. Yes, he did climb it.


SATURDAY

The early thoroughfare of the day passes by without much to comment on; 100 Onces’ highly technical math rock engages little and Black Peaks’ shapeless, formless noise attempts to scale the heights of latter-day Mastodon but falls to earth with a dull thud. However, Axes bring the cheer to match a¬†rare spot of blazing sunshine with a triumphant set, proving why they’re one of the most exciting newer acts on the UK circuit around.

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Axes greeting the day.

Axes’ labelmates on the wonderful Big Scary Monsters, Talons, were next to take on the Arc stage, another British band being given the opportunity to match their big sound with a big stage environment. Fortunately, Talons don’t waste such a moment and wow the crowd with their expansive, melancholic and jaw-dropping¬†post-rock, primarily taken from last year’s phenomenal ‘New Topographics’; the astonishing ‘The Dreams Have No Dream’ a particular highlight.

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Confetti cannons for Talons!

As the weather turns sour, the Bixler¬†tent is packed for Tangled Hair to the point where PT can’t get in, and even the lovely vocals of Alan Welsh can’t keep us in the deluge. pg.lost’s generic post-rock is a pleasant soundtrack in moments, but the evening really comes back to life when American¬†oddballs Deerhoof grace the main stage. Vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki is a delight, her yips and yelps a constant source of amusement, and though the wantonly odd sound does wear a little thin over the course of their hour-long set, it’s an important spot of light ahead of what’s to come.

Due to unfortunate circumstances with CoL’s¬†flight, what was originally meant to be a co-headliner situation with Deafheaven and Cult Of Luna has become a direct clash, and after facing a¬†level of decisional anguish even Sophie isn’t familiar with, we went with Deafheaven. Turns out our choice was rewarded with one of the best sets of the weekend; although playing to a greatly diminished audience given the aforementioned clash, the Californians ensured each and every watcher felt confident with their decision. Tracks from 2013’s astonishing ‘Sunbather’ dominate the setlist, but the quintet preview ‘New Bermuda’ cut ‘Brought To The Water’, its darker sound setting the tone for this eagerly anticipated record.

As the exhilarating¬†‘Dream House’ brings the weekend’s music to a close, we reflect on another great year for ArcTanGent, our beards well-furrowed from constant stroking. Despite more diversity on this year’s lineup, the fatigue of seeing similar bands all weekend unfortunately plays a part in influencing overall opinion, but the ecstatic highs pull it well clear of the doldrums. Overall, it’s another successful chapter in the short life of this celebration of the odd, and in a year where its sister festival 2000Trees has gone from strength to strength, proves small festivals can survive in the current musical economy if tailored well to their audience. Here’s to 2016 being another time-signature change-fuelled extravaganza.

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This crowdsurfer’s satisfied grin sums up our weekend well.