15th-17th August | Fernhill Farm, Compton Martin
Arctangent returned this year for another three days of math, prog and grog – hold the sog. Anyone who has ever attended the festival will be familiar with the annual drubbing and drenching that patrons receive over a weekend of West Country weather, and while this year saw some notable changes, the sunshine was the most welcome.
At the conclusion of last year’s Arctangent review, I asked where the festival could go next. As becomes more apparent with each iteration of the fest, post-rock is something of a small pond of a genre, and the organisers have had to gradually broaden out the definition in order to bring in more acts. By 2018 the net has become wide indeed, and you need only look at the headliners to confirm the brave new world ATG is stepping into.
For anyone who was around for the first iteration, which put 65daysofstatic and Fuck Buttons at the top of the poster, the appearance of Glassjaw and Shellac heading the ATG bill would seem wholly out of place. Gradually, this long weekend in August is becoming a home for all fringe rock music, and you won’t hear anyone grumbling about the fact.
Thursday remained the safest day for quality music, with the Arc, PX3 and Yohkai stages opening early for proven ATG heroes to have another crack at returning crowds. This year it was a trio of ATG favourites who stole the day, with Rolo Tomassi, Bossk and Jamie Lenman sending punters from one tent to another to witness the weird DNA of this festival. Of course, each was well-practised for this audience, and the ensuing three hours of entertainment was a rush. If you were unclear what ATG is all about going in, there is little doubt after these three sets.
Thursday evening saw old dependables affirm their position at the top of the heap, and an unconventional choice putting in a day-stealing performance. Of course, And So I Watch You From Afar are here to dominate the main stage (and reviewer word counts). It’s a show of two halves tonight, with a full run-through of The Endless Shimmering before a set of the classics. ‘GANGS’ remains their greatest effort, and ‘Search:Party:Animal’ remains a prime example of instrumental music as a propulsive force.
They are irrepressible, and Thursday should have belonged to them, but La Dispute, who had a day slot on the Arc stage in 2016, put in the most emotional set of the weekend. A band who were once an odd fit for the fest, La Dispute embody the outsider ‘otherness’ of ATG, without the need to embrace the technical aspects of other acts. Jordan Dreyer is a pinwheel of energy, hurtling through cuts from their early records, and ‘King Park’ is an incendiary closer.
Friday morning starts in peaceful fashion with Seven Colour Drive. This is base-unit post-rock but the execution is faultless, and a good fit for a munch on a veggie breakfast. Modern Rituals are grottier, and could use some evening gloom to bring out the atmosphere in their melodic grunge. Conjurer, who air on the heavier side of this year’s bill along with Danish metallers møl, continued an unbroken winning streak from their performance at 2000 Trees earlier in the summer, and put in a bruiser of a set. ‘Scorn’ incited a mosh pit in the friendly ATG mould, and the slab-heavy riff of ‘Hadal’ closed the set on momentous form.
In comparison, Pelican felt pedestrian despite a five year break. Zeal & Ardour faired better as an irresistible curio. Their blend of blues and black metal was a unique prospect, and the live execution of ‘Blood in The River’ and ‘Devil is Fine’ was intense – intensity that Arc stage headliners Glassjaw couldn’t hope to match. Notoriously hit-and-miss live, their performance was a technical feat but an emotional vacuum, and the spikes of excitement caused by ‘Two Tabs Of Mescaline’ and ‘Tip Your Bartender’ couldn’t distract from the band’s awkward presence.
It seemed unlikely, but the rain held off, even for an ATG Saturday, and the vibe felt oddly cheery for what often becomes a festival of attrition by the third day. Pijn bassist Luke Rees, who had been steadily raiding the Buckfast reserves throughout the weekend – had lost his voice after three days of socialising and two smashing sets – one with Conjurer supergroup, Curse These Metal Hands on Thursday, the other an early afternoon Pijn jolt on Sunday.
Bad Sign – who really wanted you to know they are from Croydon – put in a satisfying if workmanlike set. Their enthusiasm pulled them through in spite of the tin-ear stage banter. møl, who followed, were anything but workmanlike. While their blackgaze assault certainly passed into Deafheaven pastiche at times, they had the conventions of the genre down to a fine art. Frontman, Kim Song was eminently watchable, and knew the shapes to throw and faces to pull to drive their music home, in what was most likely the heaviest set of the weekend.
On the Arc stage, the appearance of Giraffes? Giraffes! was a true instrumentalist’s treat. The sound of ‘A Quick One While She’s Away’ and ‘When Catholic Girls Go Camping, the Nicotine Vampires Rule Supreme’ in a live environment were baffling in their eminent musicality. It was a fun and humble display of skill and musicianship, which felt like a microcosm of the ATG experience. Myrkur provided a symphonic palette cleanser and brought a touch of spectacle. As did Alcest, whose brooding set heralded in the night. The wash of red light during ‘Kodama’ felt positively evil.
If Alcest brought a tinge of the arcane, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs arrived smothered in grime. Matt Baty, whose glistening belly led him around the stage, executed sordid cabaret dance moves on the tent pole before him as the band ran through extra-gnarly versions of ‘Cake of Light’ and ‘Sweet Relief’. Their set was boozy, sludgy and carnal, and exactly what is needed to round out a festival.
They would have been satisfactory closers, were it not for Shellac putting the weekend to rites on the Arc stage with an initially skittish set. At first it was hard to gauge Steve Albini’s triumvirate of weirdos. There was a sense of an in-joke happening on stage, and gradually we were brought in on the twisted laughs. This was loose, wiry alternative rock with a wicked edge. Albini was at turns uncomfortable and unstoppable, and tracks like ‘The End of Radio’ – which saw their snare drum take on a coked-up persona, to ’Prayer To God’, which viciously bisected humour and angst, was a totally, shamelessly original display.
It felt at odds with the glossy and often meticulous, machine-perfect sound ATG headliners have had in the past, but then ATG is changing. It took a while for the room to warm to them, but Shellac in the headline slot paid off as an unexpected masterstroke. This was lo-fi, high entertainment, and their success throws the doors wide open for more unconventional acts to follow next year.