ArcTanGent 2018

author LL date 01/09/18

The ArcTanGent festival that takes place at Fernhill Farm near Bristol in the UK has existed for just 6 years and yet, it has already become a must for any fan of math-, post-rock, and related genres, and it has even been included in a book on the subject (I am talking about the very descriptive "Storm Static Sleep" that came out two years ago - can recommend)! The lineups usually cover some more or less quirky names from all corners of the niches that are post-rock, post-metal, post-hardcore, math rock, and progressive or experimental versions thereof. To have a festival focused on these genres means that everyone you meet there will be music nerds, many of whom really see this event as the highlight of their year. The festival caps out at 5000 guests so it is a super cozy and rewarding event where you can always strike up a conversation with strangers and go on to discuss details of your favorite bands for hours.

This constant vibe of camaraderie is only further enhanced by the fact that the internet connection in the rural parts of the UK is apparently the worst ever. You can be lucky to find a bit of 4G in certain corners of the grounds if you’re in desperate need of coordinating with your festival friends or for other reasons need your daily fix, but really your time is better spent just accepting it and focusing on the festival experience. Another circumstantial thing worth mentioning is, of course, the weather. Apparently, we are in luck this year as it almost doesn’t rain for the duration of the festival, except for a few showers mainly in the morning hours. I’m told that in regular UK fashion it normally pours, so if you’re attending with us next year, remember to pack for that.

In this article, we will now cover everything you need to know about the festival, including our experience this year with the grounds, camping, transportation, prices, you name it - and of course also a whole bunch of reviews of most of the artists we saw there. Don’t forget to check out our "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" summary section at the end!

LINEUP

You might be wondering how the specific genres mentioned above or the artists on the poster below really connect under the same banner but the way I see it, there’s always a certain atmospheric quality to all the names booked. While they don’t all have an experimental or progressive approach to the music they play, it does seem to be a common theme for the post- bands, no matter whether they be hard-hitting and metal or serene and ambient.

There will always be two bands playing at the same time (apart from parts of the first day where not all stages have opened yet) so for a first-time attendee, there are some really tough choices to make. I find solace in the knowledge that many of the bands return regularly, some even each second year, so I guess I will just have to keep coming back!

I have been looking at this festival for a couple of years now but with the booking this year of both the legendary Shellac and my personal hero Mike Vennart of Oceansize-fame, I finally decided to go no matter what. As you can see, this year’s poster covers a lot of solid ground apart from those two: black metal names Alcest, Zeal & Ardor, Møl, and Myrkur; progressive heroes Jamie Lenman, Anathema, Rolo Tomassi, Arcane Roots, and Black Peaks; emo/post-hardcore outliers Foxing, Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute, and Glassjaw; instrumental post-rock stalwarts Plini, Tides of Man, and of course And So I Watch You From Afar playing their newest album "The Endless Shimmering" in full; and of course a whole host of smaller, mostly British bands among which I definitely found a few new favorites.

As a mainland European person, it is unusual to have to pay for a schedule of the bands playing but nevertheless, that seems to be a common thing in the UK and here you will have to put down £5 for a schedule in a little plastic pocket that does also include a "for the fans of" overview for all bands playing. Another thing I was not familiar with is the noise rules in the UK concerning outdoor events like this but apparently, no bands can play later than 11pm. Fortunately, that does not mean that the festival party ends abruptly because every night there is the...

SILENT DISCO

As if that lineup wasn’t already enough to exhaust us, as we run frantically from stage to stage for three consecutive days, they all finish with a silent disco from 11pm to 2am, complete with dancing and even small mosh-pits. You will have to put down a £10 deposit to get a pair of headphones but of course, you get this back when you hand them in again. On Thursday this year, the British math rock band Gallops played a silent set on the next-biggest Yohkai stage, while on Friday a karaoke event was hosted on the festival’s biggest Arc stage with a number of hilarious contributions - of course backed up by singing from pretty much everyone else attending as well (special kudos to the guy singing along to all of Darude’s "Sandstorm")! Apart from those two special events, each evening presents three channels to change between: two of them are presented by each their DJ and the third one is always dedicated to The Mars Volta (whoever came up with that idea is a goddamn hero). All kinds of rock, metal, punk, and more classic popular hits appear here but most importantly, if you’re a Danish minority wishing you could sing along to Alexisonfire together with a whole tent full of other fans just once a year, this is definitely a great place to be.

ARRIVAL

The festival itself is located basically in the middle of nowhere but there are shuttle buses driving to and from nearby Bristol as well as relatively cheap coaches that go to and from the bigger cities directly to and from the festival grounds. This is all courtesy of Tuned In Travel where you can find further information as we get closer to next year’s event. There’s good space for parking as well, so carpooling with some locals also seems like a fine option if you’re for instance staying at an Airbnb or similar in the city. This year we opted to fly from Copenhagen to London instead of Bristol for cheaper tickets and then drive the rest of the way since one of us conveniently lives on that side of the country anyway. A similar tactic might save you some money if you’re flying to London and then taking one of the direct coaches to the festival. In general, if you’re looking to save money, avoid going by trains and focus on coaches instead - the difference is fairly big. You can find general coaches via National Express, and trains via National Rail.

CAMPING AREA

There is a regular as well as a VIP option for parking and camping but in both, there’s good space for setting up tents casually and you never feel cramped. VIP camping has the only shower stalls of the festival as well as a small, not super active casual hang-out space with wi-fi that sometimes works. The camping areas are located on each their side of the stage areas so it does not have to take you more than 2-5 minutes to get to and from your tent, depending on where you decide to put it down of course. Access to camping is included in your festival ticket but there are also further options for pre-pitched tents in all shapes and sizes that might be worth looking into if you want to travel light from abroad. They can also include sleeping bags and roll-outs plus various other gear. For smaller things, there’s also a camping store at the festival where you can get a variety of stuff for your camping needs.

The only slightly negative thing to remark here is how there’s no lighting set up in the camping area itself, only on the fringes of it, which safety-wise would otherwise seem like a good idea. Couple that with how everything is happening on a field that’s fairly bumpy in some places, getting around at night while trying to locate your tent can be somewhat challenging.

FESTIVAL AREA: STAGES

As mentioned, the festival caps out at 5000 guests, so the area is nice and intimate compared with bigger festivals. Still, there are four stages in total: going from biggest to smallest they are the Arc, Yohkai, Bixler, and PX3 stages. They are located together in pairs at each end of the grounds - Yohkai and PX3 in one end; Arc and Bixler in the other - with the area narrowing in the middle where the entrance is also located. On Thursday, the Bixler Stage is closed but otherwise, it is the rule that two stages (one at each end) are always active at the same time. It does not take more than a minute of focused walking or maybe two at a more casual pace to get from one area to the other. Since there are 5-10 minutes in between most sets and everyone migrates around the same times, it is rarely a problem getting to the front of a stage even if you stay for all of a preceding set somewhere else.

The Yohkai, Bixler, and PX3 tents all have a setup with two or three columns down the middle, meaning that one is always right up by the front mid of the stage itself. This seems a bit weird at first and causes the bands to have to play around it but for the more rowdy ones, it also proves a good accessory to use as support while jumping from the stage to the fence. The Arc tent seems to be able to cover every single festival guest at any point so it is only for the very biggest names that the tent is ever close to being filled up and mostly there’s space enough for people to sit around the fringes of it with camping chairs. I am told that it has been upgraded a lot in size from the earlier years and that mostly seems like a good decision simply because it’s a great joy to witness some of these fairly niche bands play on a bigger stage with great, all-encompassing sound. For some of them, though, it seems like the size takes away from an intimacy with the crowd that would otherwise have been beneficial. In general, the sound mixes on the various stages are on point for most of the sets we see this year. The Yohkai Stage, however, is generally very, very loud and somewhat sharp and piercing for many bands, but it is also the one that features the most hard-hitting mosh-pits and crowd-surfers, so somehow it makes sense.

FESTIVAL AREA: FOOD & DRINKS

There’s a great variety of food available around the festival area, spaced out evenly along the sides but with a slight overweight of options located towards the Arc Stage. You can get a fulfilling meal for £7-10 and there are loads of vegetarian and vegan as well as meaty options available. Options include wraps, burritos, burgers, paella, sausages, pizza, curries, and salads, as well as more snacky things like pancakes, ice cream, milkshakes, and coffee. British specialties like fish and chips, scotch eggs, and cheesy fries also abound as well as two stalls focused on squid dishes which I have never seen at a festival before. These food options are open early and late as well so for all your breakfast or late night snack needs, you’re covered.

A regular pint of beer will set you back £5 while craft beer options or other drinks range from that and upwards - not too shabby for festival pricing. Even though supporting the festival by spending your money there is obviously a good thing, it is worth noting that you’re allowed to bring in your own beverages to both the camping and festival area itself. There’s a standard rule of no glass containers and max. one crate of beer/cider or one bottle of harder stuff per person.

FESTIVAL AREA: FACILITIES

In general, it is almost always possible to find a spot at a bench or table-set to sit down and rest for a while, and there’s also a big shisha lounge tent with all sorts of soft-looking cushions to hang out in. The pizza place also has its own seating area featuring a wall of soft spikes that constantly has audience members climbing around and hanging out from slightly higher vantage points than the rest of us.

Toilets are located in three main sections around the grounds and even if the queue looks long at some points, you never have to wait around a lot. They are cleaned out regularly and in our experience, they rarely run out of paper, although it does happen sometimes so if you want to be certain, bring your own stack of tissues. As mentioned, the only shower stalls are located in the VIP camping area, so if that’s a priority for you, that’s your only option.

Most places only accept cash and there is also a cashpoint available at the festival but it does charge around £3 for the transaction. Especially if you plan on spending money on merch, it is a great idea to have taken out some extra cash beforehand.

SURROUNDING AREA

If you have a car available or find someone who does, the touristy village of Cheddar (yes, the home of the cheese) is only about a 15 to 20-minute drive away and has a supermarket where you can stash up on whatever you need. It also has a cashpoint right outside that won’t charge you like the one at the festival site. Also, the route there takes you through the beautiful Cheddar Gorge that is well worth a visit if you like nature walks and casual rock climbing or just appreciate a short break from hanging out in your tent.

And with that, we conclude the description of everything practical you might need to know about ArcTanGent. You can also check out our traditional "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" summary at the end but first, here are a bunch of reviews of most of the bands we saw this year. Enjoy!

REVIEWS: THURSDAY

Ohhms @ 15:10-15:40 at Yohkai Stage

Having travelled all day by plane, coach, and finally car, we arrive and pitch our tent to the sounds of Ohhms soundchecking at the nearest stage. We manage to catch about half of their spacy 30-minute set, that is somewhat not as heavy as I expected it to be from their reputation. Their frontman spazzes out while repeating seeming mysterious mantras like "Here I am!" or "I am wolf! I am child!" while the audience that crowds the Yohkai tent bang their heads increasingly mesmerized. He yells out and claps in odd rhythms to their music while the musicians jam out for an extended period of time, notably featuring some really cool bass tapping. Finally, they break it off and he addresses us saying "That was our first song! We’re gonna play a few… a final one!" to allround laughter. They exhume just the right mix of cheeky, upbeat attitude and weird, musical oddness that makes their spacy music very accessible despite its introverted qualities. Since we didn’t catch all of this set, we’ll refrain from grading it, but nevertheless, Ohhms deserve a shoutout for kicking off our day in style.

Delta Sleep

Delta Sleep @ 16:20-16:55 at Yohkai Stage

Another band that deserves a short shoutout is the math rock band Delta Sleep which is one of the few smaller British names that I was actually familiar with before their announcement at ArcTanGent. Their music is generally very optimistic to listen to and is full of open-sounding and warmly coloured notes and riffs. Especially "El Pastor", that appears shortly into their set today, is a song that I have been looking forward to hearing played live and they do not disappoint. Somewhat despite their relatively calm demeanor and happy music, moshing breaks out at various points in the set, and this is the first time I begin to realize the enthusiasm of the UK crowd for a number of their local bands that in mainland Europe have a very different niche status. While still settling in at the festival, we go out to feed our starving stomachs and hear the rest of the set sporadically - a great soundtrack to the fun and happy vibe we get from audience members all around.

Curse These Metal Hands - Pijn X Conjurer

Curse These Metal Hands (Pijn X Conjurer) @ 17:00-17:30 at PX3 Stage

The hard-hitting post-metal band Conjurer is on the rise and so are their mates in the slightly softer more post-rock oriented Pijn, who just recently announced their debut record. For ArcTanGent, they have announced a collaboration set under the name "Curse These Metal Hands", which, to the best of my Googling abilities, is a band from the British sitcom "Peep Show". They enter the stage today to the sounds of what I assume is a clip from said show, explaining the context of the new band name in regard to expressing "man feelings", which apparently crack the team of musicians up. Conveniently, they are all wearing Pijn or Conjurer shirts to signify who’s who, so I can say with some confidence that they are the drummer, bassist, and one guitarist of Conjurer, while their growling vocalist/guitarist hails from Pijn along with yet another guitarist who also provides more sharp or rabid screams from time to time. The set ranges from atmospheric, soft post-rock sections to way more heavily layered sections featuring extensive tremolo-picking and brutal growling more typical of how I know Conjurer. Overall, it is always fun to witness different bands jamming new things together, and they succeed in some moments of dark sounds that sound absolutely mean AF. Still, while it has potential, it is mainly a fun thing to do for the still young musicians in both bands and it clocks in as an enjoyable set that doesn’t quite wow us as much as it could have. [7½]

Rolo Tomassi

Rolo Tomassi @ 17:35-18:10 at Yohkai Stage

We get into the Yohkai tent a few minutes early to get a good spot which turns out to be a good move as this will be the first of a line of local bands over the course of the festival who get an especially warm welcome by a crowded audience. As they get ready to go on stage, chants of "Rolo! Rolo" appear, setting an excited vibe that will explode into several mosh-pits later in the show. They kick off with the serene "Aftermath" with lots of beautiful clean singing by vocalist Eva Spence. As soon as the chaotic "Rituals" kicks in right after with blastbeats and ferocious growling, however, the crowd explodes up front. Spence’s sharp, talky vocals later on mix seamlessly with her dancing as she seems to almost float over the stage. "Balancing in the Dark" with its off-beat, jazzy tones and the drumming and synths accentuating each other in "The Hollow Hour" all come through in the mix relatively clearly. One of my favorites, the post-hardcore-like "A Flood of Light", ends their set of only new material from their latest album "Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It". This is only my second time seeing the band but already a common theme for the weekend arises, being that it is a lot more rewarding seeing excellent live bands like this on their native scene than in Denmark where they rarely come to their right. There is so much more visible enthusiasm for the development in their songs among the audience here and along with fairly nuanced sound and a thankful band, their show provides an early highlight on a day end-packed with excellent acts. [8½]

Foxing @ 18:15-19:00 at Arc Stage

I have been a fan of Foxing from St. Louis, Missouri for a couple of years by now and with their bold new album having just come out, I can’t help gravitating towards their stage tonight even though I had really planned to be checking out Bossk whom I have never seen. This turns out to be a great decision as they go on to play the best set ever with greater sound than I ever though I should hear them with. The band seems in a great mood, setting a fun tone already from the last bits of their soundcheck that suddenly has half the awaiting tent singing along to Cher’s "Believe". Conor Murphy remarks several times during their set that they are so happy to be at ArcTanGent and how it all feels like this is really their real record release show.

Foxing

They kick off with the low key "Grand Paradise" with some falsetto harmonies that work incredibly well. I had been worried about it sounding very thin since hearing it on recording for the first time but that is not the case here at all. Rather, Murphy succeeds in putting all his weight behind it while guitarist Eric Hudson supports him in a lower range. These harmonies have taken up a greater role on the band’s new material and some of the magic of tonight is how new as well as older songs sound very much dynamic and alive with extra screams, harmonies, guitar and cornet pieces than usual. Especially as they break into "The Magdalene" and "Glass Coughs", a personal favorite, this development is very visible. The ambitious single "Nearer My God" has me completely dumbfounded as their touring keyboardist adds to their vocal harmonies that ring out in the whole tent with a conviction that sends chills down my back.

Foxing

Some audience members seem to be immune to the inwards-turned emotional lyrics, but as they reach their old hit "The Medic", a cheer breaks out and they instantly get a huge singalong from the crowd in the middle and front of the tent. The crackling chorus highlights their all-time focus on synths and the intricate coupling of instruments in their sound that comes across seamlessly tonight. The same goes for the following "Night Channels" with some added guitar skramz for edge, that slides effortlessly into the comforting rhythm of "Slapstick" that also sounds out of this world, especially when it really kicks in about midway. Their bigger, new sound on album really comes through live as well and it really suits them.

Foxing

Towards the end we get the more eerie post-hardcore tune "Gameshark" that adds some darkness to their sound before another old hit song in "Rory" ends with communal singing and Hudson throwing himself into the crowd for some surfing and letting random people help him with his instrument. All in all, I came in expecting to really like this show, as it is my experience that Foxing always deliver live, but I did not expect to be taken by surprise at just how amazing they would sound and how everything would seem to just come together for this show. Little tweaks here and there in the mix might have put out an even clearer and more precise sound, but really, when everything else is this good, it does not matter. [10]

Jamie Lenman

Jamie Lenman @ 19:05-19:50 at Yohkai Stage

Jamie Lenman is a new act to me, as I have never been truly familiar with his previous alternative rock/metal band Reuben. Turns out, I am in for an insane show of skill as he performs full-band songs with just him on guitar and vocals and a drummer to support him. He has released two solo albums so far, "Muscle Memory" in 2013 and "Devolver" in 2017, and the setlist is divided pretty much entirely between those, an entirely new single, and a couple of Reuben songs. Lenman is the most energetic showman we see this entire weekend, as he is constantly talking in between songs, exclaiming things like "Quite stylish, quite stylish!" in response to moshing or the audience singing along to his things. The very 00’s sounding Reuben song "A Kick In The Mouth" gets the first surge of reactions from everyone. His setlist is super eclectic for a person like me who is not really sure what to be expect. The chanting "All of England Is a City" makes a great impression as well while "One of My Eyes Is a Clock" marks the heaviest and rages on with screams and heavy riffs.

Jamie Lenman

He is obviously an icon to the ArcTanGent crowd, loved today even more than Rolo Tomassi were earlier, and he is great at picking up on this. He handles everything with swagger, like exclaiming "Let me hear all your emotions" calmly while tuning, getting a bunch of screams back to which he enthusiastically goes on to talk about how he offers us completely free therapy. Just for good measure, he continues to drag us all over the place with a cheeky and super groovy cover of Toto’s "Rosanna" that has him belting all the way on top of his register as it jumps an octave, just adding to his impressiveness. The final Reuben song to appear tonight is announced as "Every Time a Teenager Listens to Drum & Bass a Rockstar Dies" and Lenman and his drummer throw themselves into it rabidly. While definitely experimental in his music and his approach to it, I get hard rock and post-hardcore vibes of my old loves Oceansize and Fightstar which is not a bad thing at all and I leave the show dead set on going straight home and listening to Jamie Lenman first thing on Sunday. [9]

Pianos Become The Teeth

Pianos Become The Teeth @ 19:55-20:40 at Arc Stage

The mellow emotional style of music that American group Pianos Become The Teeth have gravitated towards on their last few releases on paper fits right in with the mix of styles at ArcTanGent due to its very atmospheric, dreamy qualities. Tonight, they waste no time and dive straight into the wonderful "Charisma" from their most recent album "Wait For Love" while a fair crowd gathers in front of the big stage. Their vocalist is mostly singing with his side to us, as he steps back and forth in an almost hypnotic manner in a kind of reluctant dance with his microphone stand. They come off as very introverted like this, distantly sending out some of their most devastating songs. His voice quivers and he shivers sporadically himself as well, giving a sense of profound personal meaning to the songs. It doesn’t really seem to connect to the wider confines of the tent that is about half-filled at this point, except for when the older songs "Ripple Water Shine" and "Say Nothing" appear at various points in the set. Their show does provide a great contrast of calmness, lodged in between the babbling showmanship of Lenman and the coming hectic set of La Dispute, but it’s like the crowd can’t really get into it, and as mentioned they’re not helped a whole lot by the whole stage demeanor of the band. "Repine" does make an almost chilling impression while the lights circle and spot the tent in blues and whites but overall, they might have done better at a smaller, much more intimate stage. [6½]

La Dispute

La Dispute @ 20:45-21:40 at Yohkai Stage

Another American band on the bill today, La Dispute are ready to start a classic, hectic post-hardcore show at the loud Yohkai stage. From the very beginning, their frontman Jordan Dreyer is out by the crowd, singing in their faces and getting lyrics shouted back while pointed fingers shoot up around the tent for more iconic lyrical lines. Everything is drenched in blue, turquoise, and pink lights, delicately fitting the vulnerable performance by the band. "Hudsonville MI 1956" attracts the first big surge of activity in the tent as the riffs circle on and Dreyer paces the stage in similar circles, underlining this restless effect of the music. A few other songs from the beautiful and ambitious "Rooms of the House" stand out, not least the melancholic "For Mayor of Splitsville" and the somehow really funky ballad "Woman (In Mirror)".

La Dispute

As is common with this exact strand of music, Dreyer is very focused on how we’re all making this show happen together, and he expresses several times how much he appreciates the crowd reactions that transforms the whole thing into a communal experience despite the band being high on the stage and the rest of us down below. For this same reason, he is often out by the fence, pacing back and forth while a struggling technician is trying to hold him on as short a leash as possible for everything to not turn too chaotic. Maybe because of it, the mic cable has to be changed at one point halfway through the set, resulting in Dreyer’s vocal disappearing in the sound almost entirely for the duration of one or two songs. This somewhat defuses the intense energy that had built up so far, and while they continue performing with full energy, it takes a bit of a haul to get it all back up to the same level again.

La Dispute

He thanks us later for simply communally making everyone feel so much at home, with the thought that many of us might not do so many other places. It has been a recurring theme of this day at ArcTanGent and receives lots of cheers and applause as the crowd obviously agrees. For a stretch of older songs towards the end, we get the loud and ferocious "Said the King to the River" that sets off singalongs that continue into the softer "Such Small Hands" and finally the older hit "King Park" that ends their set. All in all, it is amazing to witness the kind of intense energy they can siphon out of the crowd even as their music has loads of slow, moody passages. Had it not been for the slump due to the changing of cables, the set would have been among the contenders for the best show this day, but as it is it ends up as an impressive showing that reaches for magical levels but doesn’t quite stay there continually. [8½]

And So I Watch You From Afar

And So I Watch You From Afar (playing "The Endless Shimmering" in full) @ 21:45-23:00 at Arc Stage

To end our first day of ArcTanGent, the sure-fire party-starting Scotsmen of And So I Watch You From Afar have been booked and it seems that every single person around has gathered in front of the Arc Stage as we wait for them to begin. Making up the bulk of their setlist tonight is a full playthrough of their latest record "The Endless Shimmering", and it is a beautiful experience to get to hear some of the tracks that might not otherwise get to be heard live. From the very start, the whole tent is lit and ready to have a good time, and I have never heard so many people sing along to guitar riffs as throughout this show. At some points the different guitars are not always quite clear in the mix but at least the main riffs come across as they’re supposed to. The most impressive cuts are the majestic “Dying Giants” and the busy “Mullally” but the melancholic and light “I’ll Share a Life” has its own charm tonight as well, as the band dedicates it to us, the ArcTanGent crowd.

And So I Watch You From Afar

The band also greet us with a small heartfelt speech about how much our collective opinion of their music, as dedicated post-rock fans, means to them and after that, the already warm feelings in the tent only heighten as everything turns into one big communal celebration of our common niche. This coincides with the band’s insane encore run of 7 songs from around their older discography that are all on their own great, optimistic party songs. “Like A Mouse”, “Search:Party:Animal”, “Wasps”, “Run Home”, and “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” all feature here and they just keep evolving and growing into one another while we dance, clap, and sing along, high on the experience of simply being a part of ArcTanGent. As such, it is the perfect headlining act to get everything started and the only thing really detracting from the experience is how some minor guitar parts don’t quite come through with enough force. Otherwise, a magnificent end to this first day! [9]

REVIEWS: FRIDAY

Vennart

Vennart @ 16:05-16:55 at Arc Stage

The British guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Mike Vennart has been on my radar ever since I fell completely in love with his band Oceansize back in high school and thus it is a dream come true to see him performing live. Under the moniker of just Vennart, he released the amazing album "The Demon Joke" back in 2015 and in mid-September this year, the follow-up, "To Cure A Blizzard Upon A Plastic Sea", will arrive. This also means that his set here at ArcTanGent features mostly new songs, some of which have been released as singles and some of which we hear for the first time. The atmospheric "Spider Bones", nicely off-beat "Donkey Kong", and sweeping grandiose "Immortal Soldiers" are of course all featured here and get some heads banging although the more active crowd reactions are reserved for the contributions from "The Demon Joke". These extend to the absolutely catchy and dreamy "Infatuate", "Duke Fame", and not least "Operate" with its upward-reaching, huge chorus all make excellent appearances as well in a smoothly running set. Everything has just the right amount of balance between heavy rhythms, swagger guitar riffs and solos, and Vennart’s sharp vocal deliveries.

Vennart

Vennart himself comes off as subtly edgy and with a devil-may-care attitude, for instance sarcastically presenting his upcoming album as called "I love it when you shut up because you are so middle class yet so unaware of it" - obviously a mocking of the somewhat pretentious The 1975’s "I love it when you sleep because you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it". At the same time, he does seem happy to be here and addresses us finally in a warmer tone when he thanks us for hanging around towards the end. The grinding and heavy Oceansize track "Part Cardiac" ends the set that, obviously, has flown by way too fast. For anyone debating whether or not to catch him on his upcoming Autumn European tour I can only recommend going to a show, as he and his band are definitely capable of delivering live. [8½]

Zeal & Ardor

Zeal & Ardor @ 18:45-19:35 at Yohkai Stage

The mix of black metal and blues melodies first introduced on Zeal & Ardor’s "Devil Is Fine" and since expertly fine-tuned on "Stranger Fruit", is seemingly everywhere this year, not least making numerous festival appearance all over. As one of a few black metal-oriented names on the poster here, I am excited to see if they will actually have enough traction to fill up the Yohkai tent but my thoughts are quickly put to shame as people cheer them on excitedly from the very start of their set. "In Ashes" solemnly set the tone of the set as we are slowly brought into the captivating universe before "Servants" beckons our participation. As the drums hammer on, their vocalist/guitarist leads the proceedings, gritting his teeth in the center with a cloaked backup-singer flanking him on each side in semi-ritual fashion. They make sure that acapella-like sections in the music sends shivers down our spines with firm vocal harmonies meeting us in place of thundering bass and guitars.

Zeal & Ardor

"Come On Down" with its dynamic approach and intafuating guitar riffs marks an early high-point and from there they firmly have the entire tent in their grasp as they stroll confidently through a dynamic flow of catchy songs, most notably "Blood In The River", the upbeat "Row Row", the super aggressive "Fire Of Motion" followed by the more mellow "You Ain’t Coming Back", and "Waste", before culminating with an epic performance of "We Can’t Be Found" and "Devil Is Fine", both receiving loud singalongs. In the long run, their songs start to feel a bit repetitive, which is, I suppose, also a point in itself considering the blues element. No matter what, it works wonders as their live set feels intense and to the point, unifying us in a melancholic song for the Devil with lines like "A good god is a dead one / A good god is the one that brings the fire" or "Little one gotta heed my warning / Devil is kind / He come in early morning / Devil is fine". This is definitely one of the most thoroughly convincing shows I see at the festival this year and I can only advice anyone who’s still on the fence with this band to do yourself a favor and experience their might live. [9½]

Anathema

Anathema @ 19:40-20:35 at Arc Stage

The local progressive rock group Anathema with the three siblings in front seem to be one of those bands that don’t have many casual fans, only very dedicated ones. As such, the crowd assembled at the Arc Stage tonight take up half the space but stand close to the stage and sing along and raise their hands to the dreamy synths and guitars in what looks like definite reverence. We make our way there about halfway into their set, as they are playing through the beautiful "Endless Ways" with their female singer front and centre. The wobbly autotuned "Closer" makes a dreamy appearance later and extends into a jammy, loud ending. "Distant Satellites" marks another outstanding moment later on, as well as the single "Springfield" that is dedicated to the recently deceased Aretha Franklin. The super melancholic "Untouchable Part 1" brings up the tempo towards the end and I end up feeling a bit sad that I didn’t prioritize coming here faster than I did, as the late arrival makes it difficult to fully disappear into the pleasant and emotional songs.

Glassjaw

Glassjaw @ 21:45-23:00 at Arc Stage

The American mathy post-hardcore band Glassjaw is a seminal name in the genre but also a relatively rare sight in Europe lately, making their appearance here very convenient even as I have been wondering about how they would fit in at a festival commonly thought of as post-rock oriented. As the final band of this second day, however, they draw in a fairly big audience and they are off to a great start with a host of older classic songs like "Tip Your Bartender", the grinding and rabid "You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)","Pink Roses", "The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports", and "Ape Dos Mil" crowding the setlist initially. Their singer paces the stage while singing and screaming with piercing precision and sharp pronunciation but as the show goes on, his lack of addressing the crowd, and the frantic pace at which they throw themselves through their songs begins to feel like they don’t really want to be here. Maybe it’s just because so many of the other bands here go out of their way to express appreciation for the festival that we get too used to the chummy feeling but nevertheless, the impression stands.

Glassjaw

With most of the songs that I myself am most familiar with being over and done with in the first half of the set, a bunch of new tracks from 2017’s "Material Control" take the stage, with especially "Shira" and the more mysterious and slow "Strange Hours" standing out from the rest tonight. This shift in content means that the bursting energy that did exist in the crowd initially fizzles out a bit even though the most dedicated are of course still going strong, moshing in the middle. Their busy setlist that rages on with next to no breaks make for a challenging set but for sure also a rewarding one for fans that have followed them and been eager to hear their new material live. Despite their hard-hitting style, though, they make somewhat less of an impact than some of the similar smaller names at the festival - a thing I ultimately consider to do with their distance to the crowd and attitude problem on the big stage. [7½]

REVIEWS: SATURDAY

Møl @ 14:30-15:00 at PX3 Stage

One of the toughest choices this year is definitely the clash between our rising Danish blackgaze heroes Møl and the simultaneous performance by the Australian guitarist Plini. I decide to go for half of Møl before my curiosity draws me to the Arc Stage and in that time span of just 15 minutes, Møl manage to put a firm undeniable line under the fact that they’re becoming a force to reckon with. Kicking off fearlessly with their gorgeous single "Penumbra", the tent slowly fills with people that nod their heads and cheer the band on inbetween songs, even though they still have work to do to get the energy truly flowing in the tent. As they continue their set in the same dreamy and grandiose vein with "Vakuum", their singer Kim Song Sternkopf turns into a devilish entity as he bares his teeth and steps out on the fence, to beckon our full attention. Finally he upgrades and transcends, microphone stand and all, with a little help from people in the very front, to perform a longer section in the midst of the crowd. His savage approach sends off vibe of both calm calculation and unpredictable wildness as he several times singles out crowd members to point at or growl into the faces of - a thing that most definitely draws people in closer and succeeds in hooking people. I will refrain from grading this all too short experience but big ups to the boys for doing a great job representing the growing Danish scene for modern metal abroad!

Plini @ 14:30-15:20 at Arc Stage

I get to the Australian progressive guitarist Plini’s set just as he is about to present his band of international musicians that he has gathered around him. His music is of that instrumental guitar-focused kind that often feels jazzy and complex but at the same time has an air of easiness and calm to it, even as the riffs are undeniably busy. The whole group of musicians seem so calm and happy to be playing music together that the chill vibes instantly rub off on the audience as well and a whole jazz thing begins to happen where applause breaks out after solos once in a while. I have never been very familiar with Plini’s several releases so the only song I recognize for sure today is “Flâneur” from his most recent EP, “Sunhead”, which comes off with just the right amount of panache and jazzy sensibilities. There’s a constant playfulness to everything that happens and at some point a fan yells out a request for a song that instantly gets the response "No! We’re just trying to finish up and go watch Black Peaks!" to allround approving chuckling. All in all a good set that sends chill vibes out among us and works as a nice contrast to the more metal-oriented names that populate the stages today. [8½]

Arcane Roots

Arcane Roots (electronic set) @ 15:25-16:00 at Bixler Stage

I have been familiar with the British alternative rock of Arcane Roots since I saw them supporting Fightstar a few years ago, and they are an intriguing band to follow because they seem to be constantly pushing their style into new territory even as they have not existed for that many years. Their double appearance at ArcTanGent this year is a testament to this, with this earliest set being dedicated to more serenely flowing, electronically based songs and the later one being more traditional and heavy. From the very start, there is great support for them in the tent, as their vocalist begins with a nervous caveat that all of this is still very chaotic to them and he’s happy to see so many of us show up to watch him fail. After a round of applause and warm reassurances, they breathe in deep and dive into a mesmerizing performance.

Arcane Roots

This new style, they announce from the stage, will be presented on their upcoming "Landslide" EP that comes out in September and is an element that will play a big part in a line of special upcoming shows. Thus we get their reworked versions of "Matter", "Before Me", "Indigo", and "Off the Floor", as well as the recently release new single "Landslide". The electronic beats and synths are performed live by the trio and leave loads of space in the layers for their vocalist’s ridiculous falsetto range to shine in truly captivating manner. It is a moody and hypnotizing experience that should be alluring to fans and people unfamiliar with the band alike. The small Bixler tent provides a fine frame for the music and is populated throughout by a firm audience that seem entranced and extraordinarily happy to witness this special thing unfolding before their eyes. The same goes for me, although I would have appreciated if the volume had been cranked up a notch for maximum impact. [8]

Giraffes? Giraffes!

Giraffes? Giraffes! @ 16:05-16:55 at Arc Stage

Even though Giraffes? Giraffes! is a band name I have been familiar with for a long time, I had no idea before going to ArcTanGent, that their insanely fast instrumental math rock is performed live by just two people. As the warm and catchy "Hug of Death" lead in, I am just dumbstruck with wonder, watching them unfold their dynamic songs and change effortlessly between rhythms and melodies way too many times a minute. Mainly, they make use of guitars and a drum kit, but their drummer often multitasks, suddenly playing his drum kit with just his left hand while the right controls a shaker and a tambourine at once. The madness carries on as they play through very upbeat and danceable songs to rival the happy vibes of ASIWYFA on the festival’s first day. These good party vibes extend to the audience as well who rock out, dance, and headbang at various points, trying to follow the sudden shifts in the erratic songs. Especially "Scorpion Bowls At The Hong Kong" and the set-ending "When the Catholic Girls Go Camping, the Nicotine Vampires Rule Supreme" are great cases in point with their fun repetitive riffs that circle around and seem to constantly change placement in the grander scheme of sounds. The longer, ridiculously named "I Am S/H(Im)E[R] As You Am S/H(Im)E[R] As You Are Me and We Am I and I Are All Our Together: Our Collective Consciousness’ Psychogenic Fugue", on the other hand, extends to being veritably a whole little miniature cosmos of its own featuring glockenspiel and bow-played guitar as well. [8]

Black Peaks

Black Peaks @ 17:00-17:40 at Yohkai Stage

Rivaling the best mosh-pits of the preceding days, the force of nature that is the progressive group Black Peaks will not let us rest tonight for a second. From the get-go, their vocalist is attacking us with comments like "It’s Saturday night, motherfuckers, what are you here for?" that work excellently for constantly raising the heat in the tent. Throughout the set is moshing, even for what seems at first like more mellow songs and we even get a wall of death or two for good measure. With a sophomore album on the way, we get an evenly spaced-out set of three new singles and a couple of bangers from their solid debut record "Statues". Of the new singles, "Electric Fires" makes the very best impression with its almost rock’n’rolly approach. The finer details in the singing are obviously not a priority here tonight as the band continues to slay and rile up their audience for one of the most rowdy sets of the festival entirely. The dissonant "Crooks" gets some cheers but "Say You Will" especially lights the crowd on fire as its screamed chorus hits with the meanest sound yet. Later on, things culminate with the super dynamic build-up of "Glass Built Castles" that has everyone in the tent singing along to its firmly hammering chorus. [8½]

Myrkur

Myrkur @ 17:45-18:40 at Arc Stage

Another Danish name on the poster this year is the one-woman black metal phenomenon Myrkur who focuses firmly on bringing out her Scandinavian heritage in her folk-influenced songs. The sound is cold as ice and the whole slightly theatrical set-up with branches on her microphone stand and a Danish flag conveninently turned so it also presents itself as an upturned cross, almost seems too much for the not-quite-so-serious ArcTanGent crowd who watch seemingly in a daze in the half-full tent. Dressed in a simple white dress as usual, she lets her beautiful voice ring out but it has the most impact here during sections where she confidently hits some pretty high notes with next to no backing from her band. She also dons her guitar once in a while, giving a firm vibe that she is more than just a pretty voice here and that also gains the respect of the crowd who cheers her on more firmly the further we get in the set. Despite this, though, I could swear that she ends her set about 10 minutes too early, and generally, it never reaches the heights that would make it most memorable - perhaps also because of her time slot - darkness outside is always more transformative for serious, atmospheric music like this I find. [7]

Arcane Roots

Arcane Roots @ 20:40-21:35 at Yohkai Stage

I have looked forward immensely to witnessing the skill of Arcane Roots live again, and they go right ahead and wow us firmly from the start by diving straight into the mosh-inducing and simultaneously delicate "Off the Floor" from their full-length "Melancholia Hymns". Their two EP’s "Blood & Chemistry" and "Heaven & Earth" take up plenty of space on the setlist tonight, with especially the frantic and energetic "Sacred Shapes" making a great impression. By their performance tonight I am reminded just how far they actually span genre-wise in what they do, their set coming across as way more metal than I remember but they are very good at varying their songs so we change between softer cuts like “Leaving” and the phenomenal “Slow Dance” on one hand and brutal songs, most notably “Triptych”, on the other.

Arcane Roots

For fans who got an itching need to hear the heavier original versions of the songs the band presented in their electronic set earlier in the day, the time for resolution is now as we get "Matter" and "Landslide" later in the set next to the introductory "Off the Floor". A funny thing happens with “Landslide” as their vocalist dedicates it to us, the festival crowd, only to start the demanding falsetto-part slightly off key. He quickly realizes this and stops the song to start it over, to massive support from the gathered audience. It shows both immense confidence and a degree of perfectionism that makes sense considering how precisely they nail basically everything else they do here tonight. Finally, “If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves” finishes their set while the audience goes nuts in a huge mosh-pit, possibly the most insane one of this day as well. [9]

Shellac

Shellac @ 21:45-23:00 at Arc Stage

Steve Albini, Bob Weston, and Todd Trainer’s minimalist rock trio Shellac has somehow been an elusive group to follow, at least from a European perspective. It’s not that they have been on any official hiatus since their formation in 1992 but since then, they have only released five full-lengths and have to my knowledge not been easy to come by in these parts of the world. What strikes me most tonight is how uniform their music sounds for a long while, with their unapologetic weird attitude unwinding more and more through the set. Most of their songs have long instrumental intros and feel very improvised, making the set more and more spacy as times goes on. Everything seems relatively simply set up but somehow they manage to collectively hit a nerve with their songs and transport us to what seems like a parallel time and place, slightly skewed from our regular, common world.

Shellac

The classic “Prayer to God” provides a welcome wake-up section around halfway through, as it seems to shake most of us out of the induced mesmerized state we are in by then. “Dude Incredible” soon follows with its more upbeat, mosh-able tempo but afterward, a whole new level of what comes across as unhinged ranting takes place as Albini dives into a spoken word piece about flight and airplanes, with the trio all stretching out their arms and reciting the words ”Look at me, I’m a plane”. The whole jammy session also includes a whole part of Albini just talking at the audience up front without his microphone which mainly serves to alienate the crowd who are further away even more than what is already the case. What is most clear after their performance, though, is precisely that they are uncompromisingly artistic and single-minded about their music and although they are friendly and down to earth and talk a lot with the crowd, they also don’t seem to give a damn about the accessibility of their music. The fine thing about that is that they also don’t have to because they have achieved the status of being somewhat of a cult band and that really shows here tonight as well. The most dedicated fans are numerous and engaged while most of the surrounding audience crowding the Arc tent, look increasingly alienated as the evening progresses.

Shellac

Considering their amount of goofy banter, I am reminded of bands like NOFX or The Offspring which underlines the odd contrast in their relatively artsy or indie approach to music when coupled with their open and very talkative demeanor. All this seems to culminate with “The End of Radio” as their drummer picks up his snare drum and walks around with it, playing it sporadically while Albini talks about it in various situations. Finally, he returns to his kit and for the ending song, Albini and Weston busily begin simply disassembling the drum kit while Trainer is still playing it, more and more frantically as his drums disappear before him. In the end he sits on his chair looking confused until they pick him up and carry him off the stage as well. They return but only to take their gear apart and that’s that for ArcTanGent this year. Overall, the set is impactful and I don’t think I’ll ever forget some of the songs I hear here tonight but at the same time it varies a lot in quality and accessibility which makes for an oddly disconnected experience. [7½]

FINAL WORDS

And that's it for this year's ArcTanGent Festival! We had a great time as first-time attendees and can only recommend this festival to anyone interested in the musical profile - it's relaxed and fun and most the bands that play really see it as something special too, putting that extra something into many of their performances. In short, our summary in points goes as listed below and there is only left to say: see you next year!

THE GOOD

  • Brilliant mix of genres
  • Almost always good sound at the various stages
  • Great camaraderie and overall good vibes from everyone

THE BAD

  • Lack of lighting at camping site
  • Having to pay for a schedule of the bands

THE UGLY

  • Having to choose between all these amazing bands!
  • Impossible to do anything that requires somewhat stable internet connection

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