August 17th – 21st | Fernhill Farm
In the first few hours of every small festival, many returning patrons will be thinking the same thing – has this thing tipped? Since its first run in 2013 the scope and popularity of Bristol’s ArcTanGent Festival has increased considerably. 2017 sees the fest selling out for the first time ever, no doubt attributed in part to its killer headline slots of Converge (playing their only UK date of the year) and Explosions in the Sky (a cornerstone of the genre ArcTanGent was founded to support). The difference is felt immediately; even over the Thursday, traditionally the quieter day as acts from previous years return to occupy Arctangent’s smaller stages for a bonus go, the site feels packed.
Has this increase in exposure affected the niche quality that makes Arctangent such a mecca for post rock fans? The answer: ‘not yet’. As with previous years a sterling line-up, faultless scheduling and amazing food sees Arctangent riding a growing wave of success.
Thursday night is typically raucous. USA Nails return with new material, sounding as ruthlessly self-deprecating as ever. HECK have chosen the fest to play their last show ever, going out in an explosive ‘Powerboat Disaster’ and causing a suitable level of destruction for their send-off. Russian Circles round out the first night with their muscular post rock. Two years away has robbed them of none of their power, with ‘Memoriam’ and ‘Asa’ sounding precise and bruising through a crisper-sounding PA than their headline slot in 2014.
As is ArcTanGent tradition the rain arrives on Thursday evening and remains for the remainder of the weekend, making for probably the drizzliest ATG in its five-year tenure. Britney shriek through sheets of hail in a frenetic midday performance. Alpha Male Tea Party bring some sonic sunshine with them in time for lunch, inciting the happiest moshpit of the festival as they clatter artfully through new cuts from Health. An appeal for donations to Dan Wild-Beesley’s (of Cleft, who played their final show at Arctangent last year) cancer treatment fund is genuinely moving..
OHHMS take an hour between appearances at Bloodstock and Void Fest to inject some doom into the festival line-up. Every word of ‘The Anchor’ is returned to the band at magnitude by the heaving Bixler tent, while over on the intimate PX3, Frontierer are delivering a punishing set, with the open-string, fret-shredding intensity of Orange Mathematics transferring note-perfect to a live setting. Bossk inspire less technical awe in the Yohkai tent, but still deliver real heft with searing renditions of ‘Heliopause’ and ‘Kobe’.
Like Deftones, like Slipknot, Converge have built themselves up from obscurity to bring heavier music to the attention of a wider audience. In front of a crowd this size, on a stage which allows them to truly stretch their legs, is not only a nice surprise but also feels completely right. The band are obscenely tight; Jacob has enough room to perform his dark theatrics, while Kurt and Nate provide fierce backing vocals over the shred. New material hints at the heaviness awaiting us on album nine, with the short, sharp shock of ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ contrasting with the protracted, bludgeoning force of ‘Eve’, both sitting comfortably beside battle-hardened tracks like ‘Jane Doe’ and ‘When Eagles Become Vultures’.
Saturday is a day for Converge recovery and silent-disco hangovers. Pijn deliver an early morning treat, blending tones of the uplifting and the ominous into their dynamic instrumentals, while The Physics House Band prove a test of patience over indulgent jams on the Arc stage. Not the case for Big Lad (formerly Shitwife). The frantic two-piece deliver some of the most mind-bending beats of the weekend, with the jolly beeps and squelches of their unblinking dance core assault squeezing the last drops of energy from the weekend-weary. By comparison Landscapes feel a little blunt, and Tricot ride on the charm of their stage presence, if not their tunes. 2017 has been Employed to Serve’s year so far, having delivered in The Warmth of a Dying Sun one of the best heavy albums of the year. Reasons why the PX3 tent isn’t heaving for their set is anyone’s guess, but they make use of the extra space by inciting an impressive circlepit with ‘Void Ambition’ and ‘Watching Films to Forget I Exist’. ‘I Spend My Days (Wishing Them Away)’ is carnage. By comparison SIkTh is good-natured, silly fun, if a little heavy on the tour endorsements (they’re back in December with a new album).
There are a handful of bands which ArcTanGent was conceived to host. Godspeed You! Black Emperor were here last year, Mono have played twice and And So I Watch You From Afar have become lucky charms for the festival. As Explosions in the Sky play the opening strains of ‘Wilderness’ on an Arc stage bathed in white light, another band is scratched off the wishlist (only Mogwai remain conspicuously absent). For many, EITS embody the epitome of centre-line post rock. These days they may feel unexciting in comparison to the permutations which have spawned since The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place released 15 years ago and defined the language of the genre, but the appeal of the irrepressible ‘Your Hand In Mine’ and ‘The Birth and Death of the Day’ tonight is clear.
As Saturday closers mix their warm familiarity and unobtrusive, thoughtful arrangements is a gentle release from the crunching time signatures, glorious mud and organised chaos of another successful ArcTanGent weekend.
Watch the festival highlights below.
Just some of what went on at ATG number 5 this weekend. Hope you had a blast and got home safe? We miss you all already. Let us know your highlights in the comments below – Ours were (in no particular order) Jambinai 잠비나이 Ho99o9 Brutus and of course Russian Circles Converge and Explosions in the Sky all absolutely smashed it. See you next year!??? Video by Capturing Adventure
Posted by ArcTanGent on Sunday, 20 August 2017