The hardest part about the ArcTanGent Festival is trying to give anyone who asks you what kind of music was played a straight answer that doesn’t quickly descend into a parody of fanzine mission statements. Any description is probably going to involve: post-rock and instrumental rock; but also electronic, indie, rock and punk. Strangely, given how hard it is to summarise the type of music played, it always felt consistent with itself and well curated.
Apart from the music, head nodding and elderflower cordial there were also a lot of bands with rude names; if you don’t like that kind of thing then don’t read on. There’s also Spotify playlist of my favourties from the weekend.
First stop was You Slut! giving a good tight, coherent performance. They packed out the Bixler tent quickly and acted as a great example of everything that makes instrumental rock music good by not getting lost in excessive mushy pointless noise and self indulgent feedback.
A good festival needs to contain a few bands you know are good and many others you can take a chance on. That Fucking Tank were my guaranteed good time band; once I saw they were playing I was sold. A no-tom drum and baritone guitar duo that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time That Fucking Tank play upbeat and often dance-able instrumental music, and they didn’t disappoint. Their energy was quickly taken up by the crowd, people dancing and bopping around, giving it a lot more than the usual slow knowing nods.
Next Future of the Left occupied the main stage with inter-song banter as sarcastic and acerbic as their riffs, while taking the time to call out a feisty drunk in the crowd and encouraging a mass boo-ing to shame him into leaving.
As the evening set in we briefly stopped in to see Earthtone9 , but then carried on and instead watched Public Service Broadcasting ’s video special. Flanked by towers of flickering TVs and a screen showing mashed up black and white clips they played their stylish blend of original hooks and samples. Between song banter was provided by pre-recorded repurposed news clips. I’d been vaguely aware of PBS before ArcTangGent, but their show really stuck in my mind as they managed to create a nice atmosphere; Everest is an especially gripping song and by the end there wasn’t anyone who didn’t feel a shiver at the lines “two very small men cutting steps in the roof of the World”.
65daysofstatic closed off Friday night on the main stage, but I had difficulty getting into it. All the songs sounded too big, reached their peak too soon and sustained it for too long to make an impression; the lack of dynamic made it all blur into one long flat crescendo.
The first band on Saturday to make an impact on me were the ever gurning Fat Goth , whose combination of punk/metal/surf filled with great bass lines added something more primal to the event. Their highlight was the awesome ‘Creepy Lounge’, which chugs along beautifully with brooding rock and roll darkness.
I enjoy festivals and weekends away more if I force myself not to give into temptation the temptation of rushing between bands to try and see everything. Instead of worrying about your timetable and that you might miss an awesome band you can actually enjoy and take in what’s happening in front of you now. If your mind is already on the next act or stage, then you’re going to miss all the bands, not just the ones you weren’t standing in front of.
St Pierre Snake Invasion were playing for the third day in a row at the festival when we saw them Saturday, and in some cases they looked like it. Regardless, they were many times more lively and aggressive than anyone else I saw all weekend. Probably the oddest addition to the line-up, being much more punk and hardcore than anyone else there, they made a nice change to any moody and overly serious acts that graced the stages.
After stepping in briefly to see Johnny Foreigner , a good bunch, but one I’d seen before supporting I can’t remember who, it was off to the main stage to watch Three Trapped Tigers . Undoubtably impressive musically, especially the drums, it felt occasionally cold. Their keys player, when not frantically and intensely dancing across the electronic ivories before him would stare off into the middle distance looking distinctly bored. Like many bands this was probably the end of the festival season and they were all looking forward to the idea of spending a weekend at home.
We stayed to watch Tall Ships , who drew a huge and excitable crowd, the band looking overawed with the response and were smiling ear to ear.
Saturday’s highlight followed with And So I Watched You From Afar on the main stage. An instrumental sing along always seems a bit odd, but it didn’t matter - people roared “ba ba baaa ba baa” to the riffs as if they wanted to be heard back in ASIWYFA’s native Belfast. I’d seen ASIWYFA earlier this year at the Thekla where they seemed genuinely amazed at the turn out and that they were being treated like rock stars or returning heroes. At ArcTanGent they appeared less amazed by the turnout and the audience reaction, happily getting on with their own rock/dance post-rock. For one song they brought on a fan to play drums; they’re not at a Green Day level of fame where they can pick out a whole band from the audience, but their following is clearly very dedicated.
Before the headline act Turbowolf were confidently strutting their 70s inspired heavy rock to a merrily drunk crowd; onesies mixed with brightly coloured and big cuffed shirts in a head banging dancing mass of people. In terms of feel-good, Turbowolf hit the spot, like Fat Goth and St Pierre, acting as a more straight forward counter point to acts like Three Trapped Tigers who sometimes leave you feeling the music is more for the players than the audience.
The final act was Bristol’s own Fuck Buttons , high on the success of their recent album Slow Focus, which I’ve been enjoying for its shifting waves of dirty distortion and blurring rhythms. The live experience sadly didn’t match the expectations; perhaps two people mostly engrossed in dials and buttons just isn’t as gripping as a wild singer leaping from the kick drum, or perhaps it was because Fuck Buttons seemed to be playing all their songs at about half the normal speed. A few people zoned out and were merrily swaying forward and back, but many started to drift off after a while as it became clear that the current droning noise wasn’t going to evolve any further.
With the chill setting in and the more muted crowd not adding much heat I wandered off to warm myself with some hot Elderflower Cordial (blatant plug; I know the people running it). With the clouds and sun gone an autumn chill had settled in the air. ArcTanGent seems like a good way to celebrate the end of the summer, punctuating reflective moments with all out rock; like hot days in a cooling season.