LIVE: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Wednesday

By Ash Bebbington

In the decade since its inception, ArcTanGent Festival in Bristol, England has become a mecca for fans of music that is loud, experimental and, often, downright weird. It has carved out a niche as the go-to place for fans of the metal underground in the UK and further afield, the rowdier younger cousin of the organisers’ other festival, the superb 2000 Trees.

Indeed, people travel from all over the world for the festival; as you walk around you’ll hear loads of different languages spoken and see many different flags flown. At this year’s festival, various different campsites had flags flying from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Italy, and even Mexico – at least 12 hours from Bristol by plane even on a good day. Wherever you’re from, as long as you like your music dark, heavy, or both, you’ll find your people at ArcTanGent.

The festival is also small compared to many of the UK’s more famous metal festivals, with 10,000 tickets sold in 2022. This creates a much more relaxed experience; shorter bar and food queues, cleaner toilets, quieter campsites, and – generally speaking – a much nicer crowd. If you’re into the lineup, chances are you’d find it more difficult NOT to make any new friends than you would to make some.

The festival opened on Wednesday for early bird ticket holders, and the organisers did not skimp on the lineup for that day. Some early bird packages at other festivals don’t offer much value in terms of who you get to see on your extra day, and are mainly an opportunity to snag a prime camping spot before everyone else arrives. Not so here. Skin Failure, Pupil Slicer, and Conjurer were some of the most exciting bands on the entire bill, and they were exclusive to early bird ticket holders. For one day only, every band on the lineup was on one stage so you could catch literally everything if you’re so inclined.

Words: Ash Bebbington 

Skin Failure

Up first, party thrash outfit Skin Failure bring the fun with tongue-in-cheek metal jams. Frontman Will Gardner – formerly of Black Peaks – is on fine form with his vocals and performance alike. Ever the showman, he coordinates a number of fun moments of crowd participation, drawing everyone into the festivities whether they are familiar with Skin Failure’s music or not.

Pupil Slicer

Pupil Slicer have some of the best merch in the game, and seemingly their fans agree; there are plenty of their shirts dotted around the site in the run-up to their set. The Londoners tear through a ferocious set, the crowd lapping up every note of their chaotic scattergun sound punctuated by the shrieked vocals of singer Kate Davies.


Scottish prog-metallers Dvne had a few faithful fans on their side when their set got up and running. By the time it was over, they have won over the entire tent, with almost every head bopping to their proggy, expansive sound. The entire band areclearly having the time of their life as they deliver a triumphant half-hour of metal music of the highest quality.


In 2023, it’s not exactly a secret that Conjurer are an incredible live band, and the buzz in the run-up to their stage time gives it the feeling of a headline set. A good chunk of the crowd arewearing the band’s merch, some of it clearly freshly purchased from the merch stand. And who could blame them? Conjurer are one of the UK’s finest heavy bands, a point they proved in devastating fashion once they take the stage with the blisteringly heavy ‘Suffer Alone’. The setlist is heavy on the Rugby-based quartet’s superb second album, ‘Pathos’, with a few tracks from their breakthrough record ‘Mire’. Only once the tent empties after they step offstage does it become clear just how many people have come along to see them. If you’re a metal fan and you’re not on board with Conjurer, you’re seriously missing out.


ArcTanGent caters to a lot of different musical tastes, and one they’ve increasingly catered to in recent years is the darker end of electronic music. Bands like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut have played the mainstage in recent years, but Bristolian newcomers SCALPING outdid them both with their phenomenally bizarre Wednesday night headline slot.

The entire experience of watching SCALPING is like being in the midst of a mildly unpleasant trip; a full-blown assault on the senses that always thrills, while occasionally threatening to tip over into unadulterated terror. The music, while largely electronic, is backed up by a full band including guitars, bass, and drums. The members are unlit onstage, dark silhouettes in front of a large screen pumping sci-fi hellscape visuals into the retinas of anyone who happens to have wandered into the tent. They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but SCALPING surely have a bright future ahead of them.