Hands held up high, I had no idea what to expect from this year’s ArcTanGent; partly due to the fact that I knew about 40% of the bands playing, and partially due to the fact that I had never actually experienced a festival before. Yup, total festival virgin, but fortunately ArcTanGent was, for the most part, gentle with me. What wasn’t gentle, however, was the weather; there were times when I genuinely thought I might have died from hypothermia. But I digress, you all came here to hear about the UK’s leading math/post/twinkle festival that likes to get a little weird on you, and I am here to tell. For ease, I’m going to split it up into the three days so I’m not hammering you all with a wall of text because I’m nice like that.
After an impossibly delayed drive down from Sunderland to Bristol (5 and a half hours miraculously turned into 8) and near missing of the entrance, ArcTanGent was finally within myself and my friends’ grasp. The sun was shining, the birds chirping, there was more plaid and flannel than you could shake several sticks at; in short, it was amazing. There was this wonderful vibe running throughout the camp, and I experienced how nice everyone was on several occasions from being given a mini tour of the site by Caitlin, codename: Bush baby, to being offered a healthy supply of tobacco by the guy in the next tent over. After all the tents were set up and everyone had taken a breather, we headed over to the Yohkai stage just in time to catch the ever infamous TTNG, who like all Thursday bands did such a good job in previous ATGs that they were asked back to dole out more twangy, twinkly goodness, and that they did. Henry Tremain does a fantastic job of adapting Animals-backwards songs to his vocal range and brings his own unique flavour that makes for an enjoyable live show that really sets itself apart from its recorded counterparts. What’s more, and it’s one of those things that I now love about ATG, is that the majority of TTNG stay for the weekend, and do so every year, which I personally think really speaks volumes about the kind of community that ArcTanGent is built around; this tight-knit group of people that really love the scene that they’re in and in many cases actively contribute to. It wasn’t just TTNG either, during my walkabouts I saw parts of Cleft and Agent Fresco meandering about too, just hanging out and enjoying the festival. As night time rolled around, it may have gotten a little wetter, but it sure as hell didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The night seemed like one of those romanticised nights you see on TV, you know the ones: sitting in a circle with your friends, drinking, laughing and listening to music. But romanticised it was not, it all happened as we slowly got hammered on cider and listened to MONO, who were absolutely superb, their intensity and intricacy in equal measures provided the perfect backdrop for a great first night.
The heavens opened.
That’s not even a figure of speech either, because I swear that someone was up there being very liberal with a fire hose. Let me tell you, waking up in to sound of rain is one thing, but waking up effectively in rain is a hell of a lot worse. So I swam out of my tent, and spent the rest of my nights at ATG in my car but hey, the life of a festival goer right? But anyway, after drying off as best I could and wading back onto the site through the mud I went to see some more bands, because you might as well as long as you there. The first act I caught up with was Dutch noise-rock band MNHM on the Arc stage, which you might surmise was a little heavy for a Friday morning but it woke me up like aural coffee… or cocaine, jury is still out. MNHM immediately began playing as hard and loud as they possibly could, even Otto Kokke, who takes the cake for ‘most brutal operation of a saxophone’ so kudos to you, Otto. As far as noise/doom goes, and I’ve never really delved into doom, it sounded pretty righteous, not just in composition but in tone as well. I’ve never listened to a live act that’s trying its best to deafen me and wanted to thank them at the end. After MNHM, I replenished my reserves at Off the Hoof, and even though they didn’t have the intriguing ‘goose in a bap’ on hand, the beef burger I had in its place was most enjoyable; none of the flavours in the bun overpowered the others, instead coming together like some kind of culinary Megazord to produce a deliciously righteous burger. Staying at the Arc stage, I caught Agent Fresco’s first set of the day, an acoustic rearrangement of some of their songs with the help from the good people of Talons. Having seen some unplugged versions of their songs on YouTube, it was a real treat to see their performed live, as well as seeing Arnór Dan Arnarson do that weird dance he does about the stage in person. Out of all of the bands playing at ATG, I think that Agent Fresco are one of the most noticeably emotive, the passion in their words and performance is tangible, it’s both humbling and mesmerising to see such an act before you.
In keeping with outstanding live shows, Nordic Giants brought the same thunder that they always bring to their shows, which is why they were the highlight of my entire weekend. I have never seen anyone even come close to Nordic Giants gorgeous marriage of short film and magisterial accompaniment. Mechanical Minds, a song from their Dismantle Suns EP couples with the story of a Russian dystopia where robots live as a servile class under humans, and the quest to save a human soul. Soul or no soul, Mechanical Minds and its cinematic counterpart always makes me cry, without fail. If you ever get the chance to see Nordic Giants, especially in a small audience, do so without hesitation and I guarantee that you will not regret it. Now, some of you may crucify me for this, but I only watched half of post-rock old guard Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s set, purely because I wanted to see Plini. Nevertheless, it was a great first hour, and a somewhat disembodying experience coming from the droning wail of Godspeed’s trademark sound and the sepia recording of a road from a car window; it seemed like the audience was privy to a memory that none of them quite understood but all of them knew. Plini’s set, on the other hand, was a complete polar opposite; he was immensely grateful and humbled by the fact that so many people had shown up to see him when Godspeed was playing literally one field over. I must say, I’m glad I caught Plini’s set, it was a great deal of fun, nothing but Plini’s trademark good vibes were rumbling out of that small PX3 tent, and everyone left the set with smiles on their faces, I think it’s safe to say that they all felt the same way about catching Plini’s set as I did.
Saturday was a little slower band-wise due to interviews and touch of the old common cold, but what you do but soldier on? We’ll be putting up the interviews with Agent Fresco and ATG’s event organisers soon if they aren’t up already, but for now let’s talk about Raketkanon. I actually went see Raketkanon because of a recommendation from the event organisers, and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them. It would have been a great set on performance alone, at one point I took my eyes off the vocalist for a second and before I knew it he’d disappeared off into the crowd, microphone in tow like the velociraptors in the long grass from Jurassic Park. I feared for his safety a little, because I was in no way expecting the noises that came out of that man and thought he may actually destroy his voice, but that only affirms that he and the rest of Raketkanon were putting their hearts, souls and collective mortal coils into their music, and man oh man did it show. After some brief respite and a trip into Wells to get donuts, it was time for Mike Kinsella’s solo project Owen, which was a lovely little set because it reaffirmed how authentic he sounded, his albums were indistinguishable from his live performance and I really respect that in an artist. He also bounced off the audience in the best of ways, politely turning down a kindly festival goer’s offer of ketamine and then attempting to pound a beer on stage, and he did try his best bless him. There were some laughs, some tears, and some quality dad jokes, everything you’d want from an Owen set and more.
Because it was the last day I took it upon myself, brave soul that I am, to try a few more of the culinary goodies that were on offer, my problem was I only had about 10 pounds left so in the end I tried 2. The first was what the kids call an ‘Alpine Hot Dog’ which I have to say was a nice treat considering that I’m pretty sure it was the cheapest food available. They have this strange contraption that holds a block of cheese up to a hot wire, and then when the cheese melts they just scrape it off the top and on to your hot dog. Pure. Food. Porn. The other one was a ‘Chilly Billy Hot Dog’ from Sausage Fest (ha), which was a hot dog stuffed with goat’s cheese and peppers. It wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing in terms of preparation, but the end result was either on par or better than the Alpine Hot Dog, the time they’d spent sourcing the ingredients for the hot dog really paid off.
But anyway, back to the bands, specifically to Yndi Halda on the Yohkai stage which, by the way, there was no escaping from since the floor had effectively become a pop-up quagmire. Mud aside, I think Yndi Halda played around about 2 or 3 songs, you can never really tell when one ends and the other begins since they’re all about 3 weeks long. Still, it was nice to just zone out to them for a while, the gentle sway of the violin helping you forget the fact that it’s pissing down with rain and you have to take all of your camping equipment down in it. And then before you knew it, they were leaving off the stage one by one, and playing a chorus of bells down at the front of the stage, a gentle lullaby for their own performance which brought the pacing down to a gentle stop. It was blissful, that’s the word I’m looking for, though it didn’t stay blissful for long since everyone realised American Football was playing next. So there was a great migration, a stampede even, of people trying to get to the Arc stage in time to get a good spot for Kinsella’s rag tag bunch of sadboys. I stayed at the back, the wind and the rain had beaten the fight out of me and I was just sad enough to properly enjoy American Football’s set. If you stood there and listened really hard, you could almost hear the sounds of every person in the audience taking out their bucket lists and putting a great big tick next to ‘cry to Never Meant’. After that, I couldn’t take the weather anymore, and so we packed up, a nice group from Northallerton helped us to our car, and I drove through the night to go home, a decision I will stand by forever.
All-in-all, would I go to ArcTanGent again? Yeah, probably, provided it’s not torrential and I have a campervan. If you’re looking for a niche festival where people healthily engage in shenanigans and tomfoolery within a welcoming, altruistic community then by all means go to ArcTanGent. Just for the love of God, don’t forget to take an umbrella.