LIVE: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Friday

By Ash Bebbington

ArcTanGent is the sort of festival where more you put in, the more you get out. Almost all of the bands on the bill are underground, so there’ll be a good chunk of bands you’ll have never heard of. However, the curators are incredible at what they do, so no matter what parts of ArcTanGent’s eclectic range of genres do it for you, there will always be loads for you to discover. The Friday was a perfect example of this, with plenty of lesser known bands who absolutely raised the roof.

ArcTanGent has an unfortunate reputation for something that’s totally out of the organisers’ control; awful weather. Anyone who lived through the downpour in 2019, watching bands while ankle-deep in rainwater will know exactly what we mean. Up until Friday, ArcTangent 2023 had been largely dry, but this is the day that the dreaded rain finally arrives. Luckily, however, it’s not a repeat of the washout of 2019, and with the right clothing and attitude, it doesn’t seem to noticeably dampen people’s spirits across the site.

Words: Ash Bebbington  Images: Paul Lyme

Hidden Mothers

Friday opens with an extremely early set from Sheffield post-black metal band Hidden Mothers. Despite the 11am start time, they’ve pulled a big crowd of intrigued headbangers. If there are any cobwebs to be dusted off among the crowd, they’re quickly swept away in a maelstrom of explosively quick guitars and banshee-like vocals. There’s also some more expansive cleaner sections, with one of the guitarists stepping in on backup vocals, making the heavy sections hit harder. Hidden Mothers may not have much music available yet, but their set marked them out as ones to watch.

Curse These Metal Hands

Curse These Metal Hands are essentially an in-joke that the entire crowd is in on, members of Conjurer and Pijn getting together to have some fun and rip off Baroness’ sound. Throughout the band’s entire set, they repeatedly seek to underscore the point that it was not totally serious, and is just a bit of fun. There’s the walk-on audio, a series of clips from the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show, from which the band took their name. There’s the T-Shirts each of the band members wear, emblazoned with ‘I can’t believe it’s not Baroness’ in the style of a British margarine brand. And if anyone was still in any doubt, Brady Deeprose has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as he announces ‘we are Baroness’. Despite this, the music is genuinely great, metal music at its riffy, fist pumping, campy best. Closer ‘High Spirits’ is a brilliant song and gets a huge reaction from the crowd, which fills the tent all the way to the back. They may not be a totally serious band, but the ArcTanGent crowd will surely welcome them back with open arms if they want to play next year.


“If you ever get the opportunity to play ArcTanGent Festival you should do it… if you’re not in a band yet, quit school” quips singer Josh Scogin to an adoring crowd. Hardcore heroes The Chariot would surely be a shoe-in to play ArcTanGent at some point had they not split up a few months after the festival’s inaugural year. It’s just as well, then, that Scogin’s other project ‘68 exists. The grungy two piece – clad in tuxedos – storms through a joyous set of scrappy, southern fried rock and roll. Their (unfortunately rather short) set culminates with Scogin disassembling the drummer’s kit while he’s still playing, recklessly tossing each drum to a roadie.

Holy Fawn

From the merch on display on Friday morning, it’s clear that ArcTanGent’s patrons are incredibly excited for Arizonans Holy Fawn to take the stage. Indeed, by the time they take to the mainstage, it’s full of bopping heads. Their music has a shoegazey vibe but with heavier elements, the vocals flitting between beautiful cleans and guttural screams. The lighting is genuinely superb, and helps to build the atmosphere for what is an incredible set.

Mother Vulture

There aren’t many bands that walk out at ArcTanGent to Dr Dre’s ‘Still D.R.E.’, but that’s exactly what Mother Vulture do. If that isn’t enough of a clue the Bristolian rockers are here to party, they’re dressed head to toe in white, throwing themselves around the stage with gleeful abandon. “Have we got any AC/DC fans in? Nah, me neither,” jokes vocalist Georgi Valentine, who sounds like a more gruff Brian Molko. Sadly, they don’t draw a particularly big crowd but those that are there have just witnessed one of the weekend’s true hidden gems.


Glaswegian avant-garde metallers Ashenspire shot to prominence in the UK metal underground in 2022 upon the release of their stupendous record ‘Hostile Architecture’. As they take to the stage, there is a mixture of intrigue and excitement, particularly when the uninitiated spot the group’s saxophonist. They open with perhaps their finest song to date, ‘The Law of Asbestos’ a polemic track about working class suffering in a late capitalist society. The lyrics – already bleak – are absolutely devastating in a live environment as the vocalist yelps “Always three months to the gutter / never three months to the top / another set of fucking homeless spikes / outside another empty shop.” Musically, the whole thing sounds like it could fall apart any minute; a chaotic, cathartic cacophony of misery. Ashenspire’s set certainly leaves an impression, and further cements their place as one of the UK’s most exciting young metal bands.

Jagga Jazzist

ArcTanGent’s curators aren’t afraid of throwing their audience a curveball, safe in the knowledge that the punters are open-minded enough to try something a bit different. This is certainly the case with Norwegian jazz collective Jagga Jazzist, who announce “we’re not gonna play many songs but they’re extremely long,” to rapturous applause. They also got a laugh by declaring their lack of rock music credentials due to the fact that only one of their many members has a tattoo. They are clearly masters of their craft, and their atmospheric and experimental jazz goes down an absolute treat among the crowd.

And So I Watch You From Afar

And So I Watch You From Afar are basically ArcTanGent royalty at this point, and walk onstage to a rabid reception. In what will be no surprise to fans of the band, they play an extremely tight set with a handful of fan favourites. Anyone trying to get into the tent after they’ve started was bang out of luck, there’s barely even room to crowd around the edge while they’re playing. Those lucky enough to get into the tent are going crazy for it, with a particularly big reaction saved for ‘Big Thinks Do Remarkable’. As is all too common at ArcTanGent, the Northern Irish post-rockers appear absolutely bowled over by the reaction to their set by the end. For fans of instrumental music, this is surely one of the sets of the weekend, dampened only by the rain that begins to fall as they trudge out of the tent.


Noise rock legends Swans are the sort of band that manage to be heavy without the need for shrieked vocals or drop-tuned riffs. It’s no surprise then that their mainstage set is a dark affair, with an hour of eerie, atmospheric music that feels like it goes out of it’s way to make you feel uncomfortable. It is an ethereal hellscape that is at once mesmeric and suffocating, a feeling that is enhanced by the confines of the mainstage tent. They might not be as traditionally heavy as some of the other bands on the bill, but for just an hour, Swans play one of the heaviest sets of the weekend, taking the adoring crowd with them on an unsettling journey to hell.


By the time cult heroes Sikth take the stage, the weather outside has taken a turn for the worse and the festival’s open spaces are empty, people seeking refuge by watching bands or heading back to camp. There’s little sense that the crowd for Sikth are merely sheltering from the rain, however, as the crowd laps up every note of their groove-laden progressive metal. There are clearly plenty in attendance who are longtime fans of the band as they sing along to every word the dual vocalists croon and scream at them.


Whether they are there just for the day or the whole weekend, a lot of people around the site have clearly come for Heilung, dressed in medieval cosplay or wearing their merch. With good reason too – they are one of the most unique bands in the world, and their set is little short of unbelievable. From the get go, it’s clear that this would be a very different type of performance to everything else on the bill. A front curtain moved aside to reveal the stage done up to look like a forest. With no music behind them, a band member in an antler headdress walks onstage and began waving a tree branch around. They are followed by the rest of the band, dressed like medieval druids and marching on in silent coordination.

It feels like an eternity before the first notes ring out; repetitive chanting backed by various types of percussion. The set largely continues in this vein for 90 minutes, a hypnotic, primal, visceral experience. It’s also incredibly theatrical, those onstage dancing in time to the music with a variety of props including medieval armor and weaponry. They don’t speak to the crowd once, so the illusion is never broken. It doesn’t take much to suspend your disbelief and feel like you’ve hopped in a time machine and gone 500 years into the past. No matter what your musical preferences are, you need to see a Heilung show. It is easily one of the most interesting live shows on planet Earth.