ArcTanGent 2022 — Riotous Madness from the UK's Best Small Festival
ArcTanGent | Fernhill Farm
The sky is a bright cerulean, still clinging to the last few weeks of summer, when my taxi driver pulls up on the side of a narrow country road and tells me I need to walk.
We’re somewhere to the south of Bristol, still a few miles out from Fernhill Farm, where the UK’s biggest and best experimental rock festival is soon to properly kick off. I point at Maps on my phone, which reads a 50 minute walk, and after a lengthy back and forth about missing a diversion turning, he finally relents.
It’s been a long three years since I last found myself in the muddy fields of ArcTanGent, a niche festival catering for all things prog, metal, math-rock and everything in between. Situated in Somerset’s Mendips, it’s grown to a capacity of 10,000 with 5 covered stages across the site, and after its COVID-induced hiatus, this year’s lineup promises to be a memorable treat.
Manchester instrumentalists Pijn are an unassuming group, taking to the Main Stage with a captivating surge of post-rock that leans irresistibly on the heavier side. The tent is filled to the brim, yet the audience are left in a haunting quiet. Coasting through a sombre set, their outpouring drifts one song into the next with ease, finally greeted by a welcoming eruption of shouts and cheers.
A fairly new band to the hardcore scene, though boasting members of Black Peaks and Memory of Elephants, Skin Failure’s stage presence is undeniable. With a guitarist on a power trip — Def Leppard tee, bandana, flipping off the audience — I watch as a tech comes running out on stage to pour beer down his throat, quickly joined by a group armed with water pistols. Dodging the shots, the smell of beer fills the air. The singer leads the crowd in a singalong, but amid the sludge-esque noise of their thrashing, it’s difficult to make out more than the rising ‘woahs’. The crowd parts for a wall of death, and I duck out the way before bodies crash into the midst.
This year’s ArcTanGent saw the introduction of the ‘Elephant In The Bar’ Room, a new stage lined with a bar along the tent wall, and a long heaving merch table at the back. In the centre, crowds gather to see the silhouettes of instrumental act Coldbones delivering a mix of prog-rock and shoegaze against a smoke-machine-filled backdrop. Atmospheric and mesmerising, the group are met with applause and beer cans raised in the air. As I dash towards the Main Stage, the tent is rapidly filling before much-anticipated Brighton quartet Delta Sleep have even finished soundchecking. As rain threatens outside, the crowd erupt with cheers as the group confidently stroll back out. “It’s so nice to be up here,” they start, before launching into a math rock-tinged indie number from their latest album Spring Island. Closing with fan-favourite El Pastor, the audience are fizzing with energy as cries fill the tent walls.
The return of post-rock act Maybeshewill has been much-anticipated since the Leicester-hailing group first announced their reformation back in 2020. Eager to catch a glimpse, fans are spilling out the sides of the tent as blue lights glisten across the stage and, somewhere in the crowd, someone starts a chant of ‘Les-Tah’. Their performance is a cinematic display of post-rock at its best, coasting through ambient warmth and escalating into harsher, icy territory. As their instrumentals fill the tent, the quintet are in high spirits.
The energy radiating from Brighton's El Moono is enviable. Armed with an arsenal of heavy yet melodic post-hardcore-leaning tracks, the group lead the crowd in a mexican wave before a visceral onslaught ensues. Donning a long red dress and glistening pink eyeshadow, their lead singer appears like a force to be reckoned with, guttural vocals glancing off sonic waves as the crowd beneath them laps up every second.
In search of a quieter moment, the stage for Covet is swelling with bodies before the group has even begun. A member down, though searches on Reddit and Twitter bring no enlightenment, the usual trio are for today, a two member act. Clearly a fan-favourite of the festival, the US-hailing math-rockers put on a dazzling show of technical skill. As they offer up some new, unreleased tracks they’re working on, the crowd’s cheers and shouts suggest the new material is going to go down an absolute treat.
In what might be one of the most surprising and impressive sets of the weekend, newcomer STRAIGHT GIRL takes over the Elephant Bar stage with a life affirming raucous madness. “I am STRAIGHT GIRL,” they bark as an introduction, “I am not straight. I am not a girl. If you call me a girl, I’ll fucking kill you”. With a riotous display of Electropunk, their set concludes with a conga line weaving its way back through the crowd and out of the tent. As the sun begins to set on the Friday of ArcTanGent, Japanese instrumentalists Mono are kicking off with a disarmingly quiet xylophone solo. With layers building, they explode in a heavily cinematic post-rock thrall just as rain begins to fall outside the tent. As fans cluster further in, escaping the downpour, it’s a perfectly suited atmospheric addition to a heaving set.
If I were to pick a highlight of the weekend, Japanese math-rock trio Paranoid Void might just be it. Hypnotically intricate and melodically spellbinding, the group’s technical skill leaves me dumbfounded in admiration. (I spend the rest of the weekend singing their praises.)
The sun is once again shining on Saturday morning as I sit outside the Yokhai tent with a coffee and slice of watermelon for breakfast. Soundtracked by Argentinian group Tots, their intricately tapping guitars, light keys and delicate melodies are a gorgeously mathy start to the final day. Feeling ready for something on the heavier side, I catch the wild antics of Heriot, who storm the PX3 Stage in a blaze of screams, dashes of melody and full-frontal metal.
Although starting with a few tech issues, when Japanese trio Mass of the Fermenting Dregs get underway they go in hard. Drums explode as the barefoot bassist slams down on the strings. The crowd are teeming, hands in the air amidst clouds of smoke, as the echoing cheers resound off the tent walls.
Saturday’s chaotic highlight comes in the form of Pupil Slicer who, as singer Kate Davies admits, have only recently played their first ever tour. Hitting hard, the crowd and band go wild, surfing over the audience and ascending the poles of the tent. “Pupil Slicer is all about love and inclusion,” Davies cries out, as she introduces Vilified and demands to see a circle pit. Not one for breaking a limb in the crashing bodies, I instead climb upon my partner’s shoulders for the best view in the house.
Closing out the festival weekend, I linger at the PX3 stage to see Her Name Is Calla deliver a very special, one-off reunion show. Punctuated by the singer persistently wondering aloud why they’re even here (you accepted the invite to play, right?), there's a warmth radiating through the crowd as the tent fills to the brim — an impressive feat when clashing with metal titans Opeth across the field.
After the long weekend, exhausted from 3 days of dashing between tents, late hours at the silent disco and some uncomfortable night’s sleep in a tent barely long enough to fit my sleeping bag, Sunday morning has come around all too quickly. Reflecting on the last few days, ArcTanGent has truly proven itself once again as one of the UK’s very best small festivals, and a true haven for rock music in all of its forms. I’m already counting down the days till next year.
Bolt Taxis: 1/10 ArcTangent: 10.
ArcTanGent is back 16 Aug - 20 Aug 2023. Find tickets here.