Now in its fourth iteration, Arctangent Festival is quickly consolidating its status as a Mecca for fans of all things post-, math- and alt, as well as one of the best guitar music festivals in the UK. 2016 may be the soggiest year yet, but the grey skies do little to dull the draw of yet another eccentric line-up, with breakthrough acts sharing the stage with the godfathers of the genre.
Bodyhound are first up to chase out the last of the weekend’s sun in a bewildering display of instrumental prog. Those resisting the time signature calculations are busy in the circle pit. Polymath are equally as tight but with a panoramic scope to their sound that strains the confines of the PX3 tent. The glitter cannon finale gives Alma’s Pete Lambrou a sparkly beard makeover which he’ll wear for the duration of the festival. Talons’ appearance signals a shift in tone as we head into Thursday evening. Their ominous violin sweeps and searing tremolo could only be more effective if the broiling black clouds in the distance would hurry up to the campsite, but they’re an excellent warm-up for a weekend bill that will see Mono and Godspeed You! Black Emperor treading similar, epic ground.
Rolo Tomassi are old hands at Arctangent these days but repeated appearances have done little to dull their viciousness. Eva Spence’s monstrous vocal transformations from syrup-sweet to animal fury are still as wonderfully jarring as ever, and the steady shift in recent material to twinkling math rock with a hardcore undercurrent has given allure to a sound that could have been mired in curio territory. Still, it’s Three Trapped Tigers that deliver the first haymaker blow of ATG 2016. Their Yohkai performance is a tour de force. Adam Betts is one of the most sonically-creative drummers working in the industry right now, and his catalysing rhythms drive the set. The synth work on ‘Kraken’ and ‘Engrams’ meanwhile are solar-flare intense against the falling night, searing together an absolutely blistering set. They’re a weird counterpoint to the subdued introspection of Mono, who feel more effective on the smaller Yohkai stage than their appearance on the Arc stage in 2014. Here, their painterly soundscapes feel more personally powerful. ‘Ashes In The Snow’ is a monolith of mature post rock, the first of many atmospheric peaks in this year’s post rock-leaning line-up, and is the highlight of a set that rewards your attention.
Friday morning brings with it the staccato patter of heavy rain on nylon-polyester blends, probably in 7/4 time. New Jersey’s Vasudeva are first up on the Arc stage this soggy Friday, but their reverb-soaked set feels bright and uplifting. There’s an easy cool about their sound, even if the bass backing track feels a little light. Arcane Roots are note perfect, if clinical at times. Andrew Groves has one of the strongest voices at this – albeit mostly instrumental – festival, and the appearance of ‘Sacred Shapes’ is a treat. Heck meanwhile are their own worst enemies. Having spent years smashing up their gear and clambering around in the rafters the gimmick is beginning to wear thin. Half the people crammed into the Yohkai tent are here to witness the chaos, but what they get feels like by-the-numbers crowd-pleasing acrobatics. It’s difficult to escape the feeling at a show like this that the antics are really there to disguise the fact that they don’t have much to offer musically.
Over four iterations the Arctangent line-up has evolved to shine a light on the different corners of post rock, guitar and instrumental music, and there isn’t a band on the bill that demonstrates this progression more than La Dispute. Festival organiser Goc O’Callaghan stated earlier in the weekend that it is the aim of the festival to avoid the pigeonholes of genres and bring together bands and acts from across scenes, and the angular and emotional post hardcore of La Dispute fits perfectly into the ATG ethos. Jordan Dreyer is a captivating frontman whose heart-on-sleeve delivery is completely disarming, and it helps tracks like ‘Stay Happy There’ and ‘Extraordinary Dinner Party’ land with heavy blows. ‘’King Park’ closes, cementing one of the most emotionally raw performances seen at ATG, ever. Cleft’s set is emotional in a different sense. It’s the duo’s final performance before they head their separate ways, and they’re having a blast. Cleft have been a staple of the festival since the very beginning, so it’s fitting that their swansong – a set chosen entirely by fans – takes place ankle-deep in the mud of Fernhill Farm. ‘Alec Baldwin’s Hair’ is jubilant, the stage chat is hilarious, and the final medley of Motorhead and David Bowie classics brings the party atmosphere to a fever pitch. A fitting send-off. Godspeed You! Black Emperor don’t know it yet, but they’ve found a new spiritual home. For most fans of the genre, Godspeed are the first and last word in post rock, and having them appear at Arctangent is a real stamp of legitimacy. In the frigid winds and pale light of the Arc tent ‘Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ (their latest album, played from beginning to end) is a haunting and powerful construction, even if their usual projections are obstructed somewhat by the tent supports. ‘Mladic’ is the real highlight, though, with its tumbling strings and barrelling momentum. It’s a track made for the open air.
Day three, and for most that means pulling on your last pair of dry socks, splashing out on a gourmet scotch egg and finishing up the last of the Imodium. The site is a mire of rainwater, macs and band shirts. This should be the time to wind down, or burn out, but no one’s told Raketkanon, who unleash half an hour of turbo-weirdness at the bleary-eyed crowd. Their heavily treated vocals and squealing keyboard carry serious impact live, and the driving stomp of ‘Florent’ and ‘Mathilde’ makes for some of the most fraught head-bobbing of the festival. Black Peaks run a more predictable line but are technically impressive, even if it all feels like they’ve done this a hundred times already this year. ‘Saviour’ and ‘Say You Will’ sound huge. mewithoutYou are gifted by the subdued atmosphere of Saturday afternoon, the muted sun through the rain clouds providing a fitting backdrop to their candid indie storytelling, and Aaron Weiss’s charismatic presence makes the Arc stage feel intimate.
There’s always one band with gremlins in their backline, and this year Caspian draw the short straw. Just a few minutes into their intro the power cuts in a deafening silence. They take the technical issues with good humour, though, and once normal service is resumed their set is given a new sense of urgency and aggression; difficult to pull off given the scale of their arrangements. Across the way on the Bixler stage, Enemies’ fun and fresh riffage soundtracks the first pangs of festival melancholia as Saturday afternoon starts to draw in. But it’s not over yet; AndSoIWatchYouFromAfar are back on the main stage for their most unrestrained Arctangent appearance. The perennial party band, tonight ASIWYFA deliver an irresistible wave of good vibes. Opener ‘Search:Party:Animal’ is explosive, and the energy level doesn’t drop from there, with ‘Wasps’ and ‘BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION’ sounding recklessly fun. “This is our own weird little corner of the world. People come from all over to Arctangnet. No one needs to explain it, we all know why we’re here,” Rory says, bathed in a sea of white light, before launching into ‘Set Guitars To Kill’. Like Cleft, ASIWYFA are ATG mainstays and have become something of good-luck totems for the fest. On this evidence it’s easy to see why. A no-brainer viewing and probably the set of ATG 2016.
After that sensory overload the subdued emo of American Football might seem like an underwhelming end. But, given the rareness of their appearances on these shores in the last decade and the enduring loyalty of fans to their classic 1999 debut, the show feels special and weirdly fitting. ‘Five Silent Miles’ is tight and melodic, and their subtle post rock leanings on-record feel more pronounced in front of this specialist crowd. The band haven’t been resting on their laurels, and years of playing the same materials has their performance polished mirror-bright. ‘The One With The Tambourine’ and ‘Never Meant’ are gentle anthems to close out ATG 2016. And, with the announcement of their first album in 17 years who knows, maybe next year could see AF back on this stage with some new jams for their track-hungry fans.