Anyone who knows the county boundaries of the south-west will know when travelling from Oxfordshire to Somerset, you don’t generally go through Gloustershire. Not, that is, unless you’re desperately battling with a misfiring sat-nav and attempting to find ArcTanGent, one of the best, and most impossible to find, festivals in the UK today. Situated in the wonderful Mendip Hills, only a stone circle’s throw from Shepton Mallet, ArcTanGent embraces the edgier areas of the rock spectrum. Math, Post, Prog, Post-Hardcore, Metal; it is the niche music gathering for all with beards, dodgy moustaches and those who like to work out time signatures in Excel. Capped at a sweet-spot of just 5000 people and spread over 4 stages, ATG is in its 6th glorious year, and is still utterly impossible to locate.
Thanks to the 2 hour detour, the first band on the list on Thursday is Canadian alt-rockers Gulfer, who don’t exactly set the place alive with their durgy American post-grunge. Vocalist David Mitchell’s vocals feel like the screechy edges of Rivers Cuomo, should he have a mild cold.
Ohhms, meanwhile, are in typical amp-testing mode, smashing out their prog-metal at 120mph, sealing their position as the heaviest band with a Stephan Merchant lookalike on rhythm guitar. Their set is ludicrously tight and laden with dropped beats and more effects pedals than teenage middle-class Mogwai fan.
Hardcore Bristolians, Svalbard are a welcome sight; guitarist Serena Cherry bringing the female band-member percentage for the weekend tottering just above the one percent bracket.
If Frank Zappa and Flea opened a jazz club on a Caribbean beach, Delta Sleep would very likely be their house band. Drummer Blake Mostyn seems to have swapped his soul for Beelzebub’s knack of syncopation. It’s an especially impressive display given for the most part he has a pet sound-engineer at his ankles trying to fix his snare stand.
The Pijn (pronounced Pine, not Pigeon) set instills a slight confusion into the crowd. Listed as Pijn/Conjurer in the programme, it turns out we’re watching a band called Curse These Metal Hands, a combination of the two band’s members who have just signed for Big Scary Monsters. You can see why; their tight noise-mongering never lets up over the course of their set, and the use of Elton John masks give the whole affair a rather terrifying edge.
The biggest crowd of the day so far is unsurprisingly saved for Rolo Tomassi’s mid-afternoon set. A band that are starting to break free of the niche metal tag, they are quite rightly on the brink of bigger things. The tent is packed with only outside-standing room for any late-comers. Eva Spence was born to front a band. She goes from a mild-manned Yorkshire girl between songs to the most ferocious front-woman in the world when things kick in. She has this thing nailed, as do her band. Big things are just around the corner.
Following Rolo Tomassi was never going to be an easy thing, so it’s a good job that role landed to the ever-brilliant Jamie Lenman. If you’d not heard the ex-Reuban man’s stuff before, on appearance you’d expect some difficult experimental avant-garde. His latest look taking in a 3 piece suit, cane, wonderfully manicured moustache and Brazilian Ronaldo’s 2002 world cup hair-do. Once he’s on stage though, he ditches the whistle and wears all white with braces. Now a two-piece, he seems to have lost none of his power of delivery, getting physics-defying bottom end out of his trademark Yamaha RGX and screaming in perfect pitch. A cover of Toto’s ‘Roseanne’ is an odd inclusion but finishing with the wonderful ‘Mississippi’ whips the crowd up into a frenzy before dumping his poor mis-treated axe on the floor with a passing wave and exiting stage left.
All this fast noisy stuff works against London’s Tangled Hair, whose jazzy American indie set is tight and accomplished but the change in pace from Lenman and Tomassi makes it feel somewhat lacking. Unfortunate scheduling but watchable nonetheless.
Pianos Become the Teeth are from Baltimore yet their cinematic post-rock could come straight out of Glasgow. They have that wonderful ability to create music to fall in love to and commit suicide to at the same time. Drummer David Haik’s massive flowing locks are a plus-point too.
In some alternate dimension, nu-metal is still a going concern and Fred Durst is president of the United Federation of Planets. La Dispute seem to have come through a fracture in the inter-dimensional fabric and landed straight in Somerset. Describing themselves as post-hardcore, they certainly have a fair number of fans packed into the tent, but if it looks like a Durst and sounds like a Durst, well you know the rest.
And to complete the night, And So I Watch You From Afar play the entirety of The Endless Shimmering. A fine way of completing a wonderful first day at ArcTanGent. Stopping for a quick smoke at the on-site shisha-lounge, strangely playing a Rage Against the Machine medley (try finding that on the Edgware Road), the crowds wander back to their tents with their ears ringing, ready for the next instalment tomorrow.
All photos by Vicki Bailey.
For more shots of this year’s ATG, click the links below.