LIVE: ArcTanGent Festival 2017

By Mark Johnson

ArcTanGent’s focus on math-rock, post-rock and the creative spaces in between, makes for a unique experience in the British festival season and though it’s only in its fifth year, the festival has become a cult favourite among its legion of repeat attendees. Hosted by Fernhill Farm on the outskirts of Bristol, ArcTanGent’s rural location doesn’t provide much in the way of mobile signal, but what it lacks in external communication, it more than makes up for with a wonderful internal atmosphere, boasting a great range of food and drink as well as an unrivalled quality of bands.



ArcTanGent is organised by the same fine people who arrange 2000 Trees for us each year and day one features the same slimmed down line-up as its sibling festival. Only the two smallest of the four stages are open which means less bands, but it does bring the benefit of no clashes, with bands alternating between the PX3 and Yokhai stages sequentially, allowing every band to be seen.

Waking Aida, Chiyoda Ku and Town Portal all play solid sets, but it’s Fall of Messiah who put in the most memorable shift of the opening acts, bringing a level of intensity that raises the pulse beyond anything that came before them. The French quintet’s instrumental post-rock is as impactful as it is atmospheric, building through ambient chords to huge crescendos, spearheaded by the passion and emotion of each band member.

When you arrange a festival in the middle of August, rain is almost guaranteed and the heavens open just before Totorro take to the stage. The French quartet’s vibrant math-rock keeps everyone’s spirits alive though, their sunny disposition brightening up the Yokhai stage, dulling the effects of the rain. Totorro’s tight set gets the crowd moving, heads nodding in response to the band’s jangly riffs and infectious rhythms.

Vasudeva’s latest record ‘No Clearance’ is a huge leap forward for the trio, their instrumental style taking on a more rounded and progressive format, evolving their sound beyond being highly competent musicians, to well rounded songwriters. Live, Vasudeva excel even more, the atmosphere of a stage performance elevating their songs with a burst of energy and emotion, making this one of the stand out performances of the opening day, and the weekend.

In the run-up to ArcTanGent, Heck announced this would be their last show, putting an end to one of the UK’s most uniquely engaging and entertaining live acts. The news will delight security guards and sound engineers who no longer need to stand on high alert as guitarists/vocalists Matt Reynolds and Jonny Hall push the limits of venues up and down the country in the name of entertainment. It’s Heck’s last show on stage, which may be why all four members uncharacteristically spend most of their time on it. Reynolds and Hall take the occasional trip into the crowd, but it’s much less frequent than usual, choosing to soak up the atmosphere from the stage; a vantage point they’ll soon leave behind. Heck bring out the old classics for their send off and rifle through them with the angst and aggression we’ve all come to love. Reynolds finishes with a magic carpet ride atop the crowd, a fitting image to leave in the minds of the audience. Heck always make live shows interesting and we’ll miss their inventive ways of engaging an audience.

Penultimate act of the day Nordic Giants take their grand post-rock to literal cinematic levels, playing their vast, expansive soundscapes along to film clips projected on screens behind them. It’s a shame they’re playing in the smallest tent, making it impossible for the majority of festival goers to see them perform, but their sound is so huge and encapsulating that it can be heard right back in the campsites.

Russian Circles make a big impact as they take to the stage, slamming into powerful notes that ensure everyone is still awake at the end of day one. With the entire audience packed in and around the Yokhai stage there’s a great community feel to the final performance and Russian Circles deliver a strong performance to keep us entertained. As the band close out, we’re hit with more rain showers but with such a good opening day, spirits are unshaken.

Russian Circles


Gilmore Trail’s stirring post-rock is a fitting start to day two, their emotional, building melodies providing a wonderfully reflective mood that brings back the happy memories of day one and creates excited anticipation for what’s to come. The Sheffield-based quartet work their way up to powerful crescendos via interesting transitions and multiple time signatures, making the journeys through each song interesting and memorable.

Hikes produce the first truly outstanding set of the festival, delighting the crowd on their first ever performance in the UK. With a dedicated finger picking style that TTNG’s Tim Collis would be proud of, singer/guitarist Nathan Wilkins leads the band through superb instrumentals and high energy. The band blend a ‘90s emo style of raw authenticity with TTNG’s brand of jangly math rock to produce a stunning display that proves why we had them as one of our bands to watch this year. The band show genuine humility at the crowd’s reception on their debut UK show and with performances like this, we’ll be demanding them back as often as possible.


Wot Gorilla? made a triumphant return with EP ‘No Angels’ in July, their first substantial release since 2012’s ‘Kebnekaise’. It’s a joy to see them back on stage and it’s one of the best performances in recent memory from the trio. Tight, complex and infectious, Wot Gorilla? are back in their stride. The final two songs of the set aren’t without technical problems, with a pre-planned guest guitarist not able to join in as planned, but it doesn’t affect the performance as the core members ride it out in style.

The majestic TTNG treat us to tracks across all three records, with a welcome hit of older material. Former vocalist Stuart Smith makes a surprise appearance on penultimate track ‘Wanna Come Back to My Room and Listen to Belle and Sebastian’, giving the knowledgeable audience members a pang of nostalgia. Smith announces that since the band’s iconic full-length ‘Animals’ turns 10 next year, this cameo may evolve into a reunion tour in 2018, much to the delight of the crowd. As ever, TTNG are a joy to behold: perfectly tight, impossibly complex and all the while soothing and intoxicating. The three core members look so relaxed and content on stage that each song flows effortlessly; this is a band at the top of their form and their positive vibes on stage are echoed on mass off of it.

God is an Astronaut’s progressive, grand post-rock is perfect for a high-up-the-bill slot at a festival thanks to the added sense of urgency in their music. Never taking too long to build, the band power through their transitions with a hefty amount of bass and this low end keeps the crowd’s heads bobbing with encouragement. That’s not to say there’s no subtlety to the quartet’s sound, the samples and keyboards provide a wonderful contrast to the heavy chords for an excellent all-round style that makes the hour pass very quickly indeed.

Gilmore Trail


Poisonous Birds provide an interesting start to the final day. The two piece have an array of electronics and effects in addition to a guitar and drum kit and all of these sounds combine to produce an ethereal, intriguing style of progressive, indie post-rock. Tim Ridley’s falsetto vocals create a calming atmosphere as they float dreamily above the music, adding an additional texture. There are times when the duo aren’t completely in sync, most notably during the improvised song in the middle of the set, which shows a lack of polish. With some less obvious visual cues between them during the transitions, their set would be elevated to a highly sophisticated, unique live show.

Irk don’t have any interest in sophistication. Armed with just drums, bass and vocals, the trio churn out brash, abrasive tracks that hit hard and groove even harder. The bass provides massive hooks that get everyone’s heads bobbing and with quirky, unrestrained vocals yelling over the top, Irk provide an attitude and atmosphere that gets the crowd warmed up for the rest of the day. It’s another impressive set from the band, picking up where they left off at this year’s StrangeForms festival.

At ArcTanGent, a sound like Australia’s sleepmakeswaves isn’t out of the ordinary. Several bands across the bill are typified by progressive, building passages that break into crushing crescendos, yet sleepmakeswaves make their version last much longer in the memory. It’s not just the scintillating execution of their emotionally-driven post-rock that makes them stand out, but the level of energy they inject into their performance. The quartet are the most animated of the many instrumental bands across the bill, filling the stage with enthusiasm and character and the positive vibes flow straight into the appreciative audience.


Having SikTh appear regularly on stage is something we feared we’d never see again after the band went on hiatus almost a decade ago. With the release of new full-length ‘The Future in Whose Eyes?’ and a UK tour scheduled for the back end of the year, SikTh have some momentum behind them and we’re hoping they don’t slow down any time soon. Playing a mixture of songs from across the full catalogue, SikTh attack the stage with their signature dual-vocals, guitar wizardry and brain-melting drum patterns. New vocalist Joe Rosser fits into the line-up like he’s been there from the start, confidently stirring up the crowd and delivering a solid performance. Veteran co-vocalist Mikee Goodman is hampered by microphone issues for the first few tracks, which he’s understandably annoyed about, but his composure returns in time to narrate the debut album’s spoken word piece ‘When Will the Forest Speak…?’, to the delight of the crowd.

What better way to round off a weekend of instrumental grandeur and sweeping soundscapes than one of the most revered post-rock bands of all time: Explosions in the Sky. In and around the Arc stage, a huge congregation gathers to absorb the beauty of the band’s vast instrumental palette, bringing ArcTanGent to a close in colossal style. The band’s effortless execution belies the detailed precision behind each perfectly-timed transition and each passing song brings a positive warmth to the crowd to combat the rapidly falling temperature.

Explosions In The Sky

With most of the crowd gathered in one place to witness Explosions in the Sky, there’s a wonderful community feel to this final performance which embodies the spirit of ArcTanGent perfectly. Though the unpredictable weather has created a fudge-like carpet of mud for us to walk on, at no point has it dampened the mood among the collective crowd, thank to the fantastic level of organisation behind this festival. No matter what the weather, ArcTanGent is one of the finest festival experiences on the UK calendar.