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ArcTanGent - Fernhill Farm, Somerset - August 29-31 2013 (Live Review)

Thursday, 05 September 2013 Written by Ben Bland

When ArcTanGent was originally announced last year there was widespread excitement in the UK’s vibrant underground music scene, especially from those familiar with its sister festival, 2000trees.

A festival near Bristol specialising in experimental music always sounded like it was going to be good, but then the line-up slowly oozed out and the anticipation grew further. 65daysofstatic, Fuck Buttons, Future of the Left, And So I Watch You from Afar, Dragged into Sunlight... it became more and more taxing to not become overwhelmed with enthusiasm.

Of course, a good line-up does not necessarily a good festival make. Things can go wrong. Bar some poor service from the company providing the shuttle bus to the site from the train station, though, ArcTanGent went off without a hitch. Festivals just aren’t meant to be perfect, but this one basically was. The weather was great, the music was unbelievably good, the size was perfect, the food and drink was fantastic (and reasonably priced), the people were amazing.

It all started (for 900-odd of the attendees anyway) on Thursday, where the early entry night took place on the Yohkai Stage. Having Talons (right) as the opening act of the festival wasn’t a bad start point following the aforementioned shuttle bus issues, the youthful post-rockers providing a storming set with particular emphasis on increasingly dynamic and varied new material. Their next album is one to look out for.

You can tell that Amplifier are an excellent live band because even when they claim they can’t hear anything they’re great, although it’s a shame that they took so long to come on stage.

Maybeshewill closed the night with a special fan-voted set, although it was hard to tell that this was the case given that they basically played their core setlist. They may be a fairly generic post-rock act, but once again they proved that they are far, far better than almost every other band out there currently subsisting on the genre’s staple diet.

Friday kicked off on the visually impressive main Arc Stage with Krautrockian locals the Naturals, who provided the perfect start with their languid, psych-drenched compositions. Baby Godzilla were at the other end of the scale completely, spending more of their time climbing the stage or in the crowd than actually on it playing their songs. Blacklisters were more restrained, but they had better songs to back up their noisy racket.

On the Yohkai Stage, which was curated for the day by Damnation Festival, there was an unexpected appearance from the St. Pierre Snake Invasion after Astrohenge dropped out at the last minute, but they were left sounding fairly inconsequential by Manatees, who sounded almost as massive as on record. While all this was going on the Bixler Stage played host to Antroprophh and You Slut! thus delivering the goods for both drone/psych fans and lovers of ludicrously fun math rock ditties.  

Back on the Arc Stage Thought Forms had already excelled with their diverse approach to experimental rock by the time Yndi Halda appeared. That second album may not be around yet but they are still capable of presenting extreme beauty on stage, although they sounded a bit shrill and tinny on this particular outing. The same fate befell Bossk on the Yohkai Stage, but in contrast Dragged Into Sunlight sounded brilliant and they’re still scary even during the daytime. Meanwhile That Fucking Tank provided a sonic riff odyssey on the Bixler Stage following the usual display of immense musicianship from the Physics House Band.

The final run of bands on the Arc Stage for the day was beyond praise. Rolo Tomassi are in the form of their lives right now, and it’s hard to see how their brand of challenging, but melodically accessible, mathcore could get any better. Maybeshewill appeared again and were fairly flawless, but they sounded weedy in comparison to the ever reliable ferocity of Future of the Left. The Cardiff-based trio remain the best, and most charismatic, rock band in the country by an absolute mile. The final slot of the night went to headliners 65daysofstatic (above), who, despite an unusual set structuring, got bodies moving and heads nodding for an imperious seventy-five minutes.

When things got underway on the Saturday it was with the organ-embellished instrumental prog sounds of Bristol quartet Anta, who are recommended for any fans of the mighty riff, just as the Pirate Ship Quintet are recommended for any fans of epic post-rock. Cauls were more like a slow-building Mars Volta, and wowed the Yohkai Stage with their intricate songwriting. Axes were just as good, but in a totally different way. Just watching the four band members on stage is fun enough, never mind the fact that their brilliantly-titled math rock songs are riotously enjoyable too. Vessels, meanwhile, played a set of almost all-electronic new material, which was predictably fantastic. Their new record can’t arrive soon enough.

Oxygen Thief sets are always enjoyable and, even if it’s hard to establish why a man with an acoustic guitar playing punk-influenced folk was at an experimental music festival, it’s hard to begrudge the fine reaction he received on the tiny PX3 Stage. Later, Giant Swan barely drew a crowd to the same part of the site, but their electro-tinged drones were ecstasy indeed. Cleft and Arcane Roots both garnered decent crowds at the Bixler Stage, and both provided pleasingly vibrant sets, with the latter even getting huge singalongs to tracks from their recent album ‘Blood & Chemistry’.

The final run-in of bands on the main two stages was pretty unbeatable once more. The incomparable sounds of Three Trapped Tigers were followed by the rapturous reception afforded to the wonderful Tall Ships and the blissful psychedelic ramblings of Bo Ningen. Arc Stage headliners Fuck Buttons were also relatively impressive, but frankly it’s hard to get too excited about them given that the night undeniably belongs to the preceding band on the same stage.

And So I Watch You from Afar have always been special but tonight the atmosphere puts them on another level. As they closed with the twin bombast and beauty of Set Guitars to Kill and The Voiceless it became clear that this wasn’t just any festival set, it was something the band and many fans alike will cherish forever.

The same can be said for the festival as a whole. It’s difficult not to descend into hyperbole here, but ArcTanGent pulled off the impossible in putting together a festival as brilliant as this. Well played.

All images by Matt Williamson.

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