ArcTanGent Festival 2014 - Thursday | Live Review

ArcTanGent Festival 2014 @ Fernhill Farm, Bristol. 28-30.08.14.

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As people queued, pitched tents, and explored the humble campsite, true festival spirit was in the air.

With festival season now drawing the shutter for another year, memories of ArcTanGent will remain some of the freshest, most positive and vibrant this year had to offer. In an increasingly crowded festival market – one which saw the dissolution of three major festivals; the ill-fated Camden Crawl, Alt-Fest, and the mysterious Jabberwocky – ArcTanGent rose above the competition with an impressive and surprisingly varied sampler from the worlds of math and post-rock.

Early entry on the Thursday meant last year’s patrons could revisit and indulge in acts they’d perhaps already seen, but no doubt were keen to see again. It’s a special thing to witness, that for the most part, people revered the music above all else and had been awaiting the festival’s return all year. As people queued, pitched tents, and explored the humble campsite, true festival spirit was in the air.

Now I’d like to introduce the not-so-original festival rating system:

(0) Awful, (1) Bad, (2) Not Bad, (3) Good, (4) Very Good, (5) Amazing

The first return act was one-man math-rock machine Theo, who from a distance sounded like a band of five in number as a mighty sound emanated from under the shadow of the Yokhai tent. It’s the sort of thing ArcTanGent is all about – heavy riffs and jaw-dropping surprises – but if you were still in the process of settling in, wasn’t totally upsetting to miss. (2)

Next up, local boys, the St. Pierre Snake Invasion. Highly confrontational but extremely entertaining, St. Pierre are a band that set the standard early on. If their song titles don’t grab you (‘If The Only Way Is Essex Then You Can Kill Me Now’), their antipathy for David Icke surely will. (4)

The Physics House Band followed with mathy brilliance. Technically exquisite; the trio performed a set demonstrating their instrumental range – from rhythmic ambience to colourful erraticism – in time signatures that’d make Tera Melos blush. Tracks such as ‘Teratology’ sounded vastly improved in the live environment, touched up by a delectable sonic palette and expanded upon into a colourful, twisted trip. (3)

Baby Godzilla marked a return to ArcTanGent’s heavier side. Besides giving the stage crew something to worry about, the band put on an absolutely mental show; they jumped from amps, hurled themselves into the audience, incited mosh pit violence, climbed the tent’s scaffolding, yet still found time to strum a chord or scream down a microphone. The music sometimes suffered in favour of their antics, but Baby Godzilla still sounded half-decent overall. (3)

This Town Needs Guns were the first mid-name band to perform and were by far the most disappointing band of the entire festival, despite great expectations. After taking too long to set up, their banal indie rock proved exhausting. To their credit, Chris Collis on drums provided some spark, but sadly it wasn’t enough to maintain any sufficient interest by this point. (1)

Everyone’s heard the one about post-rock bands scoring films that don’t exist, but in the case of Nordic Giants and their haunting audio-visual live show, they seem to have gone full circle on the idea. An award winning short film, which often deals with a dark subject matter, accompanies each track. In theory, this is a fantastic idea, but when you can hardly see the screen from a distance, let alone read a film’s subtitles, it becomes more problematic. However, taking the music at face value, through dreamy piano swells and epic tumults aplenty, the anonymous duo sounded quite unlike any other act on the day. (2.5)

London-based Three Trapped Tigers were our penultimate act of the evening with the largest crowd the Yokhai tent had seen all day. Defying easy classification, TTT dabble in a broad sense of Math Rock; at times reminiscent of the ambient glitches of Aphex Twin, at others evoking the mighty noise rock of Lightning Bolt. Their set, a mere nine songs, was exceptionally well-rehearsed, energetic, fun and just the perfect fit for a festival like ArcTanGent. When an audience sings back instrumental lines, you know things are going well. (5)

Finally, our Thursday headliners And So I Watch You From Afar; a five star band all round, but one of the least enjoyable sets of ATG ’14. There’s something really off when audiences ruin a show with reckless and ignorant behaviour. We’re all aware that festival drinking attitudes are poor, but to get so hammered you’ll barely remember a fragment of a band’s performance seems more than unusual. It’s even worse when loutish behaviour endangers people there simply to enjoy the music. What could have been a spectacular end to the first day was tainted by unnecessary aggression. Everyone wants to find a release at a festival, but if people won’t acknowledge the limits of those around them, things can become very sketchy indeed.

Eyes peeled for the roundup of day two, but in the meantime check out Three Trapped Tigers here:

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