ArcTanGent: day one
A year ago, after visiting several tiny festivals outside of Sweden, I discovered I had been bitten by the small-intimate-festival bug. As a result, I was on the lookout for more similar events to satisfy my restless nature and passion for music when I came across Simon’s report from the first and very successful ArcTanGent last year. The unusual name was an eye-catcher in itself, and upon reading about how incredibly well organised it had been, the friendly atmosphere and the impressive lineup of bands I had never heard of (this always excites me), plans for the upcoming summer formed in my head. When Nordic Giants were added to the bill there was no doubt in my mind: I was going to post-rock heaven in Bristol.
The festival has quickly gained a stellar reputation and they’ve certainly lived up to it by booking some of the most popular bands in the genre. This year approximately 4000 visitors would be treated with live shows from the legendary MONO from Japan, Russian Circles from the darkest corners of Chicago, Ireland’s space-rockers God Is An Astronaut together with the epic shoe-gazers This Will Destroy You from Texas. My knowledge of this style of music was pretty much non-existent before attending – I’ve never been very keen on instrumental rock – but it was my intention to change that.
Arriving at Bristol station on the Thursday I failed to find the shuttle buses provided by the ArcTanGent crew and headed for a taxi instead. The address to the festival site was unknown to the driver, but it proved to be an enjoyable ride with a fantastic view and beautiful scenery up in the hills outside Bristol. I spotted goats climbing a rocky hillside, we stopped for ducks to cross the road, and admired the endless rows of hedges creating patterns throughout the green, lush landscape.
Around noon, Fernhill Farm was already getting crowded with happy early festival goers, buzzing with anticipation. It was a splendid idea to wholly dedicate the first day to the most appreciated sets from the previous year (as voted by the visitors themselves) for old and new fans alike, and to serve as a fun little ego-boost for the bands. The tedious activity of running between stages was saved for the next day as the red circus-like tent covering Yohkai stage was the chosen ground for Thursday Returning Bands:
The first act marked on my schedule was The Physics House Band, a young math-rock trio from London playing modern instrumental jazz-fusion. Behind keyboards and drums they started off calmly, but the engaging music soon accelerated and the sound of the moody guitar raced through the tent, full of energy. A vast, cheering crowd was building up and it was a highly enjoyable performance, especially during the rhythmic, bass heavy “Teratology” which is a brilliantly written, standout song of their only release Horizons/Rapture. The bassist informed us that this was not their only appearance of the weekend, as they were going to backup Luo on the main stage on Saturday morning and also show off some DJ-skills at the silent disco.
It was a bold move to choose a front row spot for hardcore band Baby Godzilla‘s impending chaos. I was aware of that. But tall people always emerge from nowhere and block my view when I’m at concerts, plus I wanted to get some good photos of the action. As soon as the first noisy note was played, two of the band were off into the crowd with microphones, cables and guitars, climbing daringly onto everything they could find, whether it was a human being or a pole holding up the tent.
A sweaty guitar-playing babezilla with flailing arms and legs landed on my head a couple of times, but I was not the only victim; fans were laughing as they moshed around, the guys in security shaking their heads and smiling nervously while standing prepared for the next crazy move. A dearly beloved amp was happily crowdsurfing on its own in the middle. Was there music? I can’t remember. Was there fun? Oh yes!
Impressed by the number of people turning up for their set, the cute and talented TTNG started off with the delicately sweet song “Cat Fantastic“, immediately putting a smile on everyone’s face. The smooth melodies are driven by the friendly vocalist’s fair, melancholic voice, constantly bouncing and flowing between high and low notes, which was nicely complemented the airy guitars and thoughtful drumming.
To our delight they had a new track up their sleeves and during the sing along of the last song they hurried to squeeze in a game of “pass the parcel”, throwing around packages filled with various gifts for the fans. This band made a very good impression on me and I’m now spinning their albums, which boast the most hilarious song titles, at home.
Standing in the crowd waiting for the majestic Nordic Giants to sort out their sound issues, I overheard several conversations from fans saying that this band was going to put on the best show of all bands this weekend; many talking about how exceptionally good they’ve been during the past year. This was the performance I was looking forward to the most too – and it was spectacular.
They present their captivating music – which comes accompanied by mood-setting and sometimes disturbing short films while they play – decked in feathered costumes, which makes it a full experience that appeals to all the senses. Asymmetrical laser patterns were drawn in the ceiling between the flickering strobe lights as we quietly watched two bird-like creatures with a bowed guitar and trumpet, seemingly coming from another world, giving us the most beautiful, thought-provoking and colourful music I’ve ever heard in my life. Nordic Giants’ show was truly fascinating and the amount of cheering after their set was overwhelming.
By now I was starving, and on an empty stomach you do not make good choices. I stood in line for a late dinner during Three Trapped Tigers so I could be rested and ready for the last act of the day. Hearing the Tigers’ fun, glitchy songs and intriguing drum work was still a great pleasure a way away from the stage, but next time I’ll choose differently and eat during And So I Watch You From Afar instead.
The Yohkai stage was packed and overflowing with happy fans for ASIWYFA’s set. I spent a couple of minutes in the front rows, but soon had to move out into the cold night; the dancing crowd was pushing hard in all directions and the music was too upbeat for my taste. However, I understood that this was what it was all about; it was like an ArcTanGent-tribe was forming (if it didn’t already exist) under ASIWYFA’s vivid lightshow and huge sound. For the first time I heard people sing along to instrumental songs and the positive energy this band brought to the festival warmed my heart.
A great start to the weekend, and a fantastic primer for the first full day…