LIVE: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Thursday

By Ash Bebbington

Thursday was perhaps the most stacked day on the entire bill, with hardcore legends Converge headlining the mainstage. The undercard is also stellar, with Svalbard, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, and Chat Pile particularly standing out. None of them are household names, but all of them have released incredible records in recent years that show off the best of what heavy music has to offer.

Thursday was also the first day that standard ticket holders could gain entry to the site, and all five stages were open, instead of the one that was operating the previous day. As a result, the whole site immediately felt much busier and that ‘first day of the festival’ buzz was palpable.

Words: Ash Bebbington  Images: Paul Lyme


Electro-indie project Apidae kick off Thursday bright and early on the Elephant in the Bar Room stage. Unsurprisingly given the time, the tent is sparsely populated but those in attendance take to the Londoners well, bopping their heads while drinking their coffee or eating breakfast. Their dreamlike electronic indie soundscapes are lush and engrossing, and a lovely way to kick off the day before the onslaught of much heavier bands.

Mountain Caller

Recent Church Road Records signing Mountain Caller make their ArcTanGent debut on the mainstage at midday, as many festivalgoers are still arriving and setting up camp. From the scenes inside the tent, you wouldn’t have guessed it. The mainstage is absolutely packed with people losing their minds to the London instrumental trio’s dynamic prog metal soundscapes. They sound absolutely colossal, melding crushingly heavy sections with beautiful melodic ones. With a performance and reception like this, it surely won’t be long before we see Mountain Caller back at ArcTanGent, and this time higher up the bill.

Chinese Football

Next up on the mainstage, Wuhan’s Chinese Football play their first ever gig in the UK, and their first festival gig outside China to a deservedly positive reception. While their name is a reference to emo royalty – American Football – the Chinese quartet’s music is much sunnier sounding than that of its namesake. The music is chock full of jangly happy melodies and joyous anthemic vocals, and even though very few people in the crowd appeared to be familiar with the songs, the vast majority of them seem to be having a great time. If Chinese Football return to the UK to tour, they’ll surely find an audience awaiting them with open arms.


After lingering too long listening to the joyous melodies of Chinese Football, the Yohkai tent where titans of the UK metal underground Svalbard are playing is so busy it’s basically impossible to get in. Those lucky or early enough to have bagged a spot inside the tent are having a whale of a time; bouncing, screaming, and moshing along to the raw, viscerally heavy music. Singers Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan have an incredible stage presence, delivering blasts of harsh vocals with seemingly endless reserves of energy. They play a few songs from their upcoming record ‘The Weight of the Mask’, due out in October, to a positive reception. Tracks from the four-piece’s last record, 2020’s ‘When I Die Will I Get Better’ get the best response, however, particularly ‘Open Wound’ and ‘Click Bait’. After the latter, Cherry asks the crowd to repeat the chorus refrain one more time, this time without music; ‘fuck off!’. Everyone present gleefully obliges. Silly? Yeah. Bags of fun regardless? Absolutely.

Chat Pile

Despite only forming four years ago, noise rock hurricanes Chat Pile have already made a hell of a name for themselves, particularly with their stellar record ‘God’s Country’ released in 2022. They were comfortably one of the most talked about bands on the ArcTanGent site in the run-up to their show, so it’s hardly a surprise that their tent is completely full 10 minutes before they started. They open up with ‘Why’, a brutally simple critique of the homelessness crisis, to a rapturous reception. Their sludgy noise rock is crushingly heavy, a cacophony of guitars, drums, and bass crashing in waves as singer Raygun Busch lets out tortured and anguished howls, stomping around the stage like a mildly annoyed toddler.

In contrast to the relentless nastiness of the music, their stage patter is incredibly light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek. They’re known particularly for talking about movies that were shot locally to where they’re playing in between songs, but said that they could only find “a bunch of Doctor Who episodes,” online. They’ll be kicking themselves to discover that they missed Hot Fuzz, filmed 8 miles down the road from Fernhill Farm in Wells.

Empire State Bastard

Empire State Bastard is the widely hyped new side project of Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil, former Oceansize singer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Vennart and Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo (though the latter was not present at ArcTanGent). Perhaps a large part of the hype is in the mystery surrounding the project – at the time of their show at ArcTanGent only a handful of tracks were available to listen to on Spotify. The only way to find out what they sound like is to go and see for yourself.

It’s immediately clear that Empire State Bastard is a very different proposition to Biffy Clyro. Unshackled from the guitar he is perpetually strapped to in that band, Neil ranges around the stage screaming over a musical canvas that switches between chaotic metallic hardcore, off-kilter cleaner sections, and synth-laden parts. It’s certainly an intriguing show, and many will have left keenly anticipating their debut record.


Following Chat Pile on the second stage, Belgian post-hardcore 3-piece Brutus played what was certainly one of the most anticipated sets of the festival. The sheer amount of Brutus merch on display across the weekend – much of it from their last UK tour – is notable. Once they hit the stage, they pay back that anticipation in spades. Both the crowd and the band feed off each other’s energy throughout the 50-minute set, each egging the other on to go just that little bit crazier for each new song. Much of the setlist is dominated by songs from their recent album, ‘Unison Life’, though some older favourites get a run-through, most notably fan favourite ‘War’. During this track, the crowd go so feral that the band clearly couldn’t keep the smiles off their faces. Neither can most of the crowd. Moments like this are what ArcTanGent is all about.

Russian Circles 

Chicagoan instrumental prog-metallers Russian Circles are no strangers to Fernhill Farm, with this year being their fourth appearance. However, there is a slight air of unfinished business about this set, with their 2019 show being disrupted by torrential downpours that played havoc with their tech. Their return is a cathartic display of expansive heaviness, filling out the festival’s biggest tent and leaving barely any room to squeeze in. The atmospheric lighting adds to the mood, leaving band members looking like black silhouettes against the backdrop. ArcTanGent has plenty of people who love their music heavy and without vocals. During Russian Circles’ set, not a single one of them appeared to want to be anywhere else.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs

“We can only assume someone at ArcTanGent made an administrative error, but we’ll take the slot!” quipped Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs vocalist Matthew Baty as the Tynesiders open a barnstorming second stage headline set. The crowd laughed, but this band are no laughing matter. Their particular brand of Black Sabbath riffing with a punk edge has won them many admirers, and the reception they get from the ArcTanGent faithful shows that this booking is no fluke. They don’t do anything particularly original – after all, many bands have tried to mix punk, metal, and classic rock before – but they execute it with so much groove and soul that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it, banging your head with a big grin on your face. ‘World Crust’ from 2020’s ‘Viscerals’ is a particular highlight, as is ‘Ultimate Hammer’ from their latest release ‘Land of Sleeper’.  At a festival with a lot of dark, heavy, and serious bands, PigsX7 are a much-needed injection of fun and levity.


Converge are a legendary hardcore band who require no introduction to the ArcTanGent faithful. While your average person on the street may not know who they are, ask anyone on Fernhill Farm and they’ll start talking in reverent tones. Indeed, roughly every fifth t-shirt or hoodie on the Thursday had Converge’s name written on it, and there are more than a few tattoos of their seminal 2001 record ‘Jane Doe’ proudly on display. After Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs finish their set, the Converge wrecking ball is already in full motion, so any chance of getting to the front is now close to zero.

It’s just as well that their performance is absolutely electric, then, even from the very back of the mainstage tent. Converge sound unbelievably tight as they storm through a career-spanning set with minimal stage patter.  Vocalist Jacob Bannon is a bundle of energy, his shoes seemingly touching every square inch of the stage across an hour-long set. Drummer Ben Koller puts on a particularly mesmeric performance, on occasion thrusting one arm into the air, or putting one arm behind his back and still playing things that are more complex than any other drummer on the lineup.

There’s a lot of heavy bands and a lot of fast bands that are playing ArcTanGent Festival this year, but there were none who can pull off both to the level of quality that Converge do on Thursday night. Everyone in attendance are watching true masters at work.