It’s August people, August. Someone doesn’t seem to have told Zeus, Thor, Jupiter, Michael Fish or whoever is to blame for the absolute torrid conditions ArcTanGent wakes up to this morning. As I open up to brave the onslaught, I notice the massive 10-man Decathlon affair next to me has taken off and is currently flapping about near the showers, who knows where the occupants are. It’s going to be a tough one, but we’ve got plenty of great bands to get through, so soggy socks back on and time to hit the stages.
The obscene weather doesn’t seem to stop the hardcore ArcTanGenteers getting up early to see AA Williams’ slice of cinematic post-rock on the Arc Stage first thing. Good on Everyone. Linking up mid-career post-OK Computer Radiohead with the best of early Sigur Ros, they lay out the best start to a second day you could ever imagine.
I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of CltDrp before ArcTanGent and wasn’t particularly impressed with what I heard when trawling the internet beforehand. But damn, what a surprise. Imagine Drenge with a serious staccato fixation and you’re getting close. They drill through their set like a band set on destroying their crowd, and they do it perfectly. I once had an argument with a friend that you can’t scream in tune, but Annie proves me very wrong. Surprisingly great stuff.
If you had any cobwebs left after yesterday, Cattles are here to blow them away. There seems to be a new habit among ArcTanGent bands this year of having two drummers. Maybe this is down to the decreasing cost and neighbour-friendly introduction of Roland kits or maybe there are just too few bands who need drummers these days. Either way, using two drummers needs a lot of musical planning, and Cattles use both well. The soundcheck sounded like a b-reel from Hostel and we subsequently find that the vocalist has more effects pedals than your average guitarist. Nice early morning noise.
One of the standout surprises from last year’s ArcTanGent was the wonderful Seven Colour Drive who opened the Arc Stage on Friday. They return this year on the Bar Stage, delivering a semi-acoustic Americana-tinged set to the early drinkers in the Bar Stage. It is always interesting to see how a band who rely on pedals and a cinematic sound can strip down to something more intimate, yet Seven Colour Drive give us all something quite special. A wonderful performance.
Slow Crush win the most ironic band name of the day award as we all attempt to brave the moat around the PX3 stage and squeeze to find an acceptable vantage point to see them. At this point, the wind and rain are becoming excruciating. Maybe there is something written in the bible of festivals that Somerset is a place in which you are simply not allowed to spend 3 days without extreme weather. However, Slow Crush serve up a dish of Slowdive with a side serving of Kevin Shields at his most annoyed to keep the spirits alive.
By this time things are getting a bit grim for everyone. The 30mph swirling wind combined with the sheeting rain are not really combining to make for a pleasant viewing experience. A kind man in the tent next to me supplied me with a plastic poncho which I unfortunately managed to destroy the moment I tried it on. Damn it all. Whatever, Toska don’t care. Any band playing under a cover is now getting a huge crowd and Toska are loving it. Their complex Oceansize arrangements sit back to assist beautiful singalong choruses.
By now everyone is incredibly pissed off with the weather; the busiest area is the merch stall. For those of us either brave or committed enough to cover such things, the PX3 stage supplies us with a chunk of emo in the form of Palm Reader. They’re heavy and jump around a lot and sound much better than your average Emo fodder. Lightshow-wise, epileptics should not apply.
You could watch 65DaysOfStatic (no spaces remember) a hundred times over and never quite nail their prime influences. At times they sound like Mogwai or Sheep on Drugs, at others Sigur Ros, then Oceansize, Tool, Caspian, Young Gods through to Front Line Assembly and Front 424. However you box them, they’re a fabulous live band and continue to surprise.
How many bands can you name which consist of a bassist, a drummer and a saxophonist? I’m guessing not too many unless you spend a lot of time in a Chelsea underground jazz club, yet the awkwardly named Zu manage to make it work wonderfully. Zu are heavy, far too heavy for the sum of their parts and make instant converts of people worried about the onset of saxophobia.
The bar stage then welcome Soeur who take us on a French-tinged journey through everything Nirvana Unplugged, and that’s no bad thing. Stripping down their normal grunge-pop into an acoustic set works surprisingly well, although grunge will always feel a little dated, certainly for those of use who were there first-time round. There are moments of the poppier poles of L7 and Veruca Salt here too which manage to transcend the passing decades. Good stuff.
Black Peaks have had a torrid year. Vocalist Will Gardner’s serious illness with sepsis has forced them to cancel most of their summer dates, but with ever-welcome Jamie Lenman standing in on the mic, fortunately for us, they manage to put together a set for the die-hards at ArcTanGent. The weather is beyond grim but a good number of us brave the sheeting rain, wind and sludge to see them crank out a great set, albeit a little close to the Emo totem-pole at times. Get well soon Will.
Sometimes you’re at a festival and think the bands are all great until one come along and make you realise that they have suddenly taken things to the next level. Today that band are Russian Circles. Taking math-rock, layering it on top of Oceansize’s Effloresce then smashing into the heaviest parts of Caspian, Russian Circles are less interested in the cinematic approach to instrumentalism and more about the dynamics of the second circle of hell. It’s not easy to define a unique sound to stand out from the horde of dystopian post-rock wilderness but Russian Circles manage it, and mange it magnificently.
By the time awkwardly named Frontierer take on the Bixler stage at a quarter to nine, the mud has started to become its own stage. It’s probably the best slot for them as no-one wants to spend any longer out in the rain than is humanly possible. The moment the Arc Stage has finished therefore, the entire throng of soggy musos head straight over to see them. Frontierer are probably the loudest band of the day, taking Enter Shakari style post-hardcore and added the complex elements of System of a Down. Cobwebs well and truly blown. Just as an aside, the Bixler stage is named after big-haired Mars Volta lunatic Cedric Bixler-Zavala, not sure why, it just is.
There are many one-man bands out there these days, Mister Quacker outside C&A in Stoke for instance (although Potteries gossip says he’s now gone to the big duck in the sky). Not having other musicians pissing on your new song in the studio has to be a good thing right? Cheaper technology, loop pedals and laptops has made it easier than is was a few years back, but even the hardiest of singletons must be a bit nuts to try and do Math-Rock on their own though, surely? Well, up step Steve Strong who does exactly that, and without a duck. Playing drums, guitars and bass and mixing them up with pedals and effects units, he creates an almost impossible set of songs on his todd. Audentes fortuna juvat and all that.
Battles are an odd one. In many ways, what they do shouldn’t really work. Their odd electronica/math rock mix on paper would most likely convulsions in any hardcore fan of either genre, yet the accessibility of the songs and, damn it, just foot-tapping fun of the set whips everyone up into a frenzy. In many ways they are the archetypal ArcTanGent band, mixing everything they can into something uniquely Battles.
Meantime out in the warzone that was once the PX3 stage pre-storm, Brutus are closing procedures. If you were to take some Slowdive shoegazing, sprinkle some Mogwai on top then stick it in a blender with a dash of Emo, you’d end up with a smoothie named Summer Fruits Brutus. It’s incredible how much energy the crowd have left after a day of such will-sapping rain but Brutus are a great way to finish the day.
Somehow five thousand people have survived and enjoyed a second great day at AcrTanGent. The tent is seeming extraordinarily welcoming at this point and even the mad bastards who brave the silent disco cannot stop this sodden old bugger snoozing off tonight.