If you are reading this then congratulations. You are digesting the words of the only person in history who has been kept awake all night by a silent disco. Your humble scribe’s neighbours stretched the wireless signal of the Thursday post-live music event’s headphones to their tents and spent all night screaming the words to the silent-instrumented Bon Jovi and Coldplay. If you are reading this you swine, one day I will find your home and park a locked tank in your driveway belting out Bryan Adams for the rest of your sorry lives.
Luckily, first band on the main stage were the wonderful Seven Colour Drive. Their fierce post-rock has tinges of King Crimson and Yes but they resist the temptation to go full on prog. They seem almost apologetic at the mass crowd they have attracted from the local vegan breakfast vendors at such an early hour. ‘We’re really nervous’ they whimper between songs. No need to be lads, you rocked our arses off.
If you like your post-rock in the more traditional Mogwai vocoder-led, sphincter-rattling intensity and have Glasgow Mega Snake and Bat-Cat on repeat on your favourite streaming service, then Blackpool based Blanket are your thing. What they lack in originality, they make up in spades with intensity and effects driven wavelength filling commotion.
Orchards appear around about the time most people (and silent disco camping-based bastards) are getting out of bed and serve up a lovely hangover-calming set of math-rock, switching between the more complex areas of the genre while slipping in some more easily-digestible poppy Foals and Everything Everything. At the same time Godmother are blasting the braver people’s faces off on the other stage.
Polymath are here for their fourth appearance at ArcTanGent and you can see why they keep getting asked back. They take everything we’ve seen before, spread on a thick layer of At the Drive in, sprinkle some Eagles on top and smash through a set that seems far shorter than its actual length. Ever the great frontman, Joe Ranton has the crowd in his hands throughout, throwing dozens of inflatable bananas into the audience and getting us all to sit down towards the end of their set. That does all sound a bit Slipknot but trust me, it worked.
One criticism sometimes levelled at festivals serving a niche audience is that the whole is lesser than its parts; that it’s all a bit samey. Well, let me ask you a question ladies and gentlemen, when was the last time you saw an incomprehensible drunken naked Frenchman playing thrash metal on a cello? Ok, it’s a pre-requisite at some of the smaller stages at Glastonbury, but apart from that? I’m guessing a while ago. Well, here is Mr Marcaille to give you what you never knew you always needed. Admittedly the novelty wears off after 3 or 4 songs, but there were very few bands that loaded as many mobile phone’s SD cards as this maniac. He talks to us. No-one understands a thing. We clap.
The Mike Patton of Manchester is back. And if that doesn’t give you a warm fuzzy feeling then chances are you’re a little dead inside. Singer and guitarist Mike Vennart, previously of the unbelievably underrated Oceansize, is now rebranded, in traditional South America footballer style, as simply Vennart and continues to bring us his unique mix of Jane’s Addiction laden style post, prog and alt-rock. The problem here is that, with his inimitable vocal style, it’s difficult to not make Oceansize comparisons, and given that it’s almost impossible to hit the heady heights of the now-defunct majestic Mancunian’s composition and dynamics, it all feels a little like a band trying to be Oceansize but not quite nailing it. Only when they really slow down do they get anywhere near the expected power of previous incarnations.
Halo Tora meanwhile look like the band you’d least like to meet down a back-alley in Govan. Their Ibrox firm authority is instantly defeated with a display of wonderful 3 piece ethereal vocal harmonies. They are a band who sound nothing like they appear. Damn, they’re heavy in places yes, but offer up a lot more to the front than simple noisy post rock.
Next up are Black Futures who are surprisingly the first band to blend serious electronica into their clatter. Mixing up Nine Inch Nails with aspects of Chemical Brothers and Prodigy, they quite literally smash through a half hour set. Their two-piece line-up is augmented with a series of static medical-swab clad figures who eventually find their way into the unsuspecting crowd to get a bit of industrial boogieing going. They do steer far too close to the Reznor borderline throughout, and lyrics about darkness enveloping the soul and the world being doomed do little to hide it, but hey, taken at face value and ignoring the blatant Trent-bastardising, it’s a great set.
Zeal and Ardor are a strange one. More difficult to pigeon-hole than the King of Rome on his return from the Italian capital, watching these guys is like leafing through a friend’s Northern Soul collection before having an Opeth explode in your face. It kind of works, but in a way it really shouldn’t. On the other stage however, Strobes know exactly which side of their math-rock is buttered. They say that a truly special math-rock band make awkward time signatures sound like 4/4. Strobes don’t give a shit about that, they make 4/4 sound like the drum solo from Keep It Greasy. Unadulterated, unashamed technical wizardry. The keyboards alone sound like Ray Manzarek after he’s raided the lizard king’s medicine cabinet. The crowd, all wearing ‘Math Rock Sucks’ t-shirts – that’s irony guys – are in raptures.
Zeal and Ardor
Some bands are designed purely to piss off sound engineers. Anathema are top of the premier league of bands in this category; 2 drum kits, a percussion area, 2 keyboards, an electric piano, 3 mics, a laptop, one guitar and one bass amp. Not bad for a 5 piece. Weirdly every instrument is sound-checked with Fade In/Out by Radiohead. It all sounds very polished, as you’d hope with over a hundred grand’s worth of equipment on stage, but it’s all too predictable and derivative. Commercial classic rock can push the barge out; Led Zep were the perfect example, but they didn’t try and sound like the type of band you skip on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny. Anathema unfortunately come across as the kind of cover band people who liked Motley Crue have for their wedding to be a bit edgy but not to confuse the grannies too much.
Meanwhile on the PX3 stage, it’s all going wrong for Blueneck. After initial technical difficulties, their guitarist is playing ‘how to alienate the audience in 2 easy steps’ by initially joking he has cancer before telling the whole crowd to ‘Fuck Off’. It’s difficult to see where you can go from there and the rest of their set is grumpy and beset with awkward apologies and knowing glances between band members. Their last song, of which they declare is the last time they are ever going to play, is a few minutes late and is overshadowed by the intense metal starting up next door. Sometimes it just isn’t your night. We’re all glad we weren’t backstage after that.
Finally, we are torn between Glassjaw and Behind the Shadow Drops but decide to lump for the Japanese instrumentalists, and within 5 minutes are very glad at the decision. It’s an easy, and some might say lazy, comparison to mention Mono, but it’s more than just a country-based similarity. BtSD’s set is simply beautiful, the layered keyboards and strings over cyclic drum patterns suck you in for every blessed moment, and when they hit the heavy pedal, it’s mind-blowing. A fantastic way to finish a wonderful second day at ArcTanGent.
Industrial-level ear plugs purchased, we’re off back to the tent to hopefully have a Jovi-free sleep.
All photos by Vicki Bailey.
For more shots of this year’s ATG, click the links below, and check out Colin’s round-up of Thursday, here.