From the brink of the apocalypse to the cusp of Heaven. From the headiest of highs to the most punishing of lows. From glistening sunshine to torrential downpour. This is ArcTanGent Festival in Bristol, and it is absolutely brilliant.
In the middle of August and the middle of nowhere, about 16 miles outside of Bristol City Centre to be exact, something magical happens. A community unlike any other comes together to celebrate music unlike any other. The extreme and distasteful coexists alongside the beautiful and inspiring. That’s ArcTanGent, a festival crafted for the music fan with the more adventurous and refined palette. A festival made by the people for the people. You can feel it in the air. There’s an energy. A thirst for noise. For something familiar but also something brand new and exciting. The only way to do it is go in headfirst and stay under for as long as possible. Dive in.
Thursday eased things in slowly but in no way quietly. Talons (4/5) dramatic take on post-rock took the crowd before them to the edge of devastation before post-whatever legends Rolo Tomassi (4/5) brought the heat and delivered a set of crippling brutality and bubbling tenderness that showed why are one of the most laundered names in the extreme music community. Young guns Delta Sleep (3.5/5) bring in a crowd that spills out of the tent and with their precise and heartfelt take on math rock have every single head nodding happily. London based riffers Axes (5/5) really steal the show though. Raucous, unrelenting and raw as fuck, the band put their all into a set that sees crowd surfers, disco dancers and smiling faces in abundance. Headlining the night is the untouchable Mono (5/5), who send the congregation before them into a whirlwind of emotions. From the most beautiful to the most soul crushing, the band’s hour in the spotlight sees heads in hands, tears on cheeks and rapturous applause for each intoxicating composition.
Friday followed the same high level of inch perfect performance with the tech tinged hysterics of Intervals (3.5/5), the desolating sadness of Fall Of Messiah (4.5/5) and uniquely consuming noise of Mhmm (4/5) all taking the festival by storm before 2pm. The more unique offerings of the day include La Dispute (4/5) whose poetically honest slabs of emotion have the everyone in attendance grabbing at their hearts through their shirts and Animals As Leaders (4.5/5) who with Tosin Abasi at the helm have one of the most experimental, effortless and suave guitarists in the world. For those who like things epic Nordic Giants ticked all the boxes with their extravagant and beautifully choreographed live show sending shivers up the spine with every blow of the trumpet or rumble of guitar strings. It’s the pioneers of all things bleak who headline the day though with the legendary Godspeed! You Black Emperor (4.5/5) bringing their intoxicating, hypnotizing and uncomforting sounds to a crowd completely infatuated by what they see. A full moon rises from behind the trees as the apocalyptic drone pulses across the field and everybody in attendance gawps in complete awe at how beautiful the world can be if you step back and take it in.
By Sunday the ringing in your ears has made itself firmly at home but there’s still plenty of wonderful music to uncover. The sporadic yelps of Let’s Talk Daggers (3.5/5), beautifully dulcet tones of Alma (4/5) and smile-till-hurts-a-bit enthusiasm of Bearded Youth Quest (4/5) blow away the cobwebs and refresh the mind. Though the rain inevitably comes in abundance, sprits are never low. Laughter still rings throughout the site and feet continue to tap and stamp to whatever beat is playing. It would be fair to say that Black Peaks (4.5/5) are one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend and their show does not disappoint. Jam packed with sporadic riffing, goliath sized screams and plenty of pulsing mosh pit action, the band prove why they are not only gaining the admiration of the community before them but also the wider mainstream market. A total contrast but no less heavy the building euphoria of Caspian (5/5), sentimental and deeply moving delicacy of Yndi Halda (4/5) and all out battery and headfuckery of instrumental legends And So I Watch You From Afar (5/5) help wind things down into the grand finale. Tonight belongs to American Football (4.5/5). The pioneers of emo tinkle their way perfectly through a set of songs that may be 17 years old but still sound as fresh, intricate and loved as when they were first penned. Friends hold each other close and expel the demons of past loves as Mike Kinsella croons over ‘Never Meant’ and ‘The Summer Ends’ with as much sincerity as when he first wrote them in his bedroom all those years ago. Then everything goes black. It is allover.
What ArcTanGent have created is a safe space for the weird and wonderful, the brave and the baffling, the inspiring and the indulgent. It is a festival where boundaries have no place and anything is possible. It is a festival where you walk away revitalized and brimming with life and feeling like you could do achieve anything if you just set your mind to it. It’s rare to find such a place in the modern world, so we have to hang on to it while it is there.
Here’s to 2017, cause this year will take a lot of topping.
Words by Jack Rogers (@JackMRog)