As a Manchester resident for just shy of 10 years, i’m used to a drop of rain. As someone living in our year of the lord 2019, where the ice caps are melting and the Amazon is burning, i’m also familiar with random weather events – blazing sun one minute, freezing sleet the next. But man – the shift in weather at this year’s ArcTanGent Festival took some patience. The award winning three day festival that takes place every August usually puts mud on the line-up (in small print, mind you) but it was more than full on this year.
Whilst moaning about the weather is a very British cliche and yes, one revels in being negative, recent life changing events put things into perspective for a great number of those in the ArcTanGent scene, on and off stage. As it turns out, a bit of mud isn’t the end of the world. ArcTanGent for us started out in the most special way this year (besides the journey prior and figuring out how to set up the tent), with a tribute to the late Dan Wild-Beesley. It’s hard to believe nearly a year has passed since the tragic loss of the former Cleft/GUG guitarist and with ArcTanGent being so close to his heart, a celebration of life was held via a special performance from some of those closest to him.
It’s always nice to start with a bang and Alpha Male Tea Party (with the help of Cleft sticksman John Simm and former Oceansize bod Mike Vennart) did so as THE BEFT, all double drumming and double guitars, knocking out Cleft mega hits in a medlee stylee. Sounding giant on the main stage, they had a few secrets in store, including a newly penned song between them and guests galore, kicking off with the arrival of former GUG shouter Ben reprising his ArcTanGent 2016 rendition of ‘Elephant In The Bar Room‘ and followed at the end of the set with the stage chocka with guitarists playing out a wall of noise (the louder equivalent of a minute’s silence). With the help of players from the likes of Wot Gorilla?, Axes, Memory of Elephants, Poly-Math and even Dan’s wife Jess, it was really quite touching to be a part of – a fitting tribute.
There were further touching tributes throughout the weekend, with The Physics House Band dedicating set closer ‘Titan‘ to Dan and draping a Cleft shirt over the drum kit. They were their usual mesmerising selves when they rocked up on the last day of the festival, drummer Dave Morgan up on his feet after one ear-splitting solo, eyes wild and motioning like a lad on the terraces giving it the come on.
Elsewhere, Nordic Giants appeared on the main stage hours after THE BEFT, putting together a near enough unrecognisable version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘. A collage of photos featuring the late Cleft guitarist appeared on screen behind the band (eliciting big cheers with each clip and a lump in the throat for yours truly). This was built up following a number of powerful short films soundtracked by the duo, who have a great knack for disappearing into the background whilst the films are on, even though they’re head-to-toe in outlandish garbs and playing the most powerful music.
Another nod to Wild-Beesley came in the form of a new festival stage, lovingly named ‘The Elephant In The Bar Room’, where one could find themselves pints, merch and even more bands. No Violet and A-Tota-So were two major highlights across the weekend on this new stage, hopefully leading to bigger slots for both at next year’s festival.
Early Thursday afternoon, a quick pit stop on the way to the other side of the festival found rock hard punk from Belgium’s Cocaine Piss, whose yelps you could hear for miles! Name of the festival secured, they perked things up with speed-freak punk as their vocalist Aurélie Poppins worked her way around the stage, screeching and mincing about, proper theatrical in facials, whipping her hair about like a Valley Girl.
Not long after, the noise continued but in more drawn out, crushing fashion as Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs really stuck the boot in. Vocalist Matt Baty came festival ready in his Nike shorts and sparkly stage jacket, hood occasionally up like a boxer as he stalked the stage, bellowing across the tent. Last year we found Pigs’ in the dark, glowing under bright red lights, conjuring up something dark and evil from below the depths. Thursday found them in a slightly different setting in the mid-day sun…
Baty told us that if he blurred his eyes, he could see the crowd stretching on forever! After something new towards the tail end of their set (which was thunderous and sounded like death), Baty gave us a glimpse into their collective psyche, telling us that in their imagination, this isn’t 2019 – it’s 1979, Castle Donnington for Monsters of Rock! In this timeframe, Status Quo have just been on, with Judas Priest for afters – making them Twisted Sister! The pit appropriately opened up and became lively on closer ‘A66‘, the other Pigs blasting through the near ten minute thrill-ride as Baty howled and melted into the front row.
Manchester’s Pijn were across the field, now with what looked like even more violin. Crushing from start to finish, a particular highlight came in the dominating ‘Denial‘ from 2018’s ‘Loss‘ LP. The dynamic they create works so well, with the shouting used sparingly, making it really cut into you when it is utilised. Festivals of this nature can occasionally become familiar territory music wise, so it’s good to have bands like Cocaine Piss, Pigs and festival favourites Pijn knocking about to provide a noisy palate cleanser that’s a bit different to the norm.
Our first proper event of the festival came via Rhode Island noise outfit Daughters. One word? Brutal. Vocalist Alexis S.F. Marshall is notorious for on-stage theatrics, and early on he’s swinging the mic cord wildly. On occasion they sounded like Protomartyr (if the latter really went for it). An intense half an hour came to a close in deafening fashion as Marshall is out into the packed crowd, shirt off, thumping his chest raw and leading the band into a dramatic crescendo.
Having lifted us up considerably, Thursday night headliners Coheed and Cambria were nothing to write home about or very much our cup of tea, much like the weather all day Friday. A total washout, unfortunately the rain took hold of the day from light until dark, making it a pain to move from one tent to another. There were of course a number of highlights to be found (should you have been able to pull yourself away from the board game tent, where rumour has it there was a cat in attendance!)
A number of artists made use of their surroundings and backdrop, A.A. Williams bringing things to a stand-still in the late morning, creating a particularly atmospheric and dramatic sound under the big tent. As the wind howled and the rain poured, cuts from her debut EP captivated. Later on, Russian Circles (who Williams has accompanied on a number of UK dates) equally carved out an atmospheric soundtrack for the rotten weather, theirs more heavy, booming and full on doom and gloom.
A trade off was made and unfortunately, we did ended up missing Colossal Squid in favour of Russian Circles, though fast forward to early Saturday afternoon and thankfully we did catch Adam Betts, joining fellow Three Trapped Tiger(s) Matt Calvert for a more subdued affair. A pleasant soundtrack that one might hope for following a night getting mashed in the rain, the eight strong on stage (including upright bass, violin and all sorts) crafted an array of wonderful sounds in what would end up being quite the jazz odyssey.
“Bit of a stress getting this together…” We’re told by Calvert, acknowledging this was only their third ever gig. It clearly did the trick however, as we left the tent to overhear an excited reveller suggest to a friend “I’m so glad I got to listen to some progressive jazz!”
Just prior to that, queing up for a sausage sarnie in the morning was beautifully soundtracked by the closing moments of Gender Roles (and Fall Out Boy from the Pad Thai stall next door…) Equally as euphoric, whatever I was on the night before started to kick back in during Aiming For Enrike, the duo blasting out a mega dance-a-thon over their half hour Saturday afternoon set. The guitarist disappeared out of shot almost immediately, fiddling with his pedals to concoct a proper dancey bit of noise with his partner behind the kit. Offering hardly a moment to breath, it felt like one continuous mix – cherry on top being the Tekken 2 soundtrack that is ‘Hard Dance Brainia‘!
Back on the very same stage later on that afternoon, from our vantage point we heard a shout of “I came from Taiwan to see you!” Inside the tent, Elephant Gym were putting smiles on faces for the huge crowd that had gathered. As the sun shone, swell math-rock vibes poured out of the tent and the congregation before the Taiwanese trio lapped everything up, offering big clap-alongs and copious amounts of applause for everything they offered up.
Back to Friday and Toska frontman Rabea Massaad calls out “Fuck the rain, let’s carry on” in the midst of multiple power-cuts, the band unfortunately suffering at the hands of the weather, which stalled their set early on. A big cheer went up for the call of Massaad, but there was less of a cheer for the 65daysofstatic vocalist, who made a few misjudged, snarky comments during their set that missed the mark and probably sounded much better in his head.
Before all that though, Leeds outfit Cattle put on one of the performances of the weekend. Gathered on a stage (which seems very unusual if you’ve seen them before), the five-strong outfit were shrouded in a cloud of smoke and flashing lights, the band making themselves heard rather than seen as everyone got locked into a thunderous, teeth-clenching groove. Shouter Chris Jacobs downed what looked like the entirety of his beer before yelping into the microphone. Later he’s a blur behind it as the others laid down a pulsating, dirty rhythm. Brick-shithouse drummer Steve Myles whipped his top off three songs in, the heat rising as the tent began to fill up. Chaotic and hypnotising, it was particularly enjoyable seeing unfamiliar punters have their minds turned on to Cattle. Whilst it rained sideways outside, the Leeds lot sent heads west inside.
Scottish hardcore lot Frontierer pulled Friday evening in with their brand of heavy, shouting being provided by the brick lad up front, following a tradition of heavy bastards in the rain late on at the Bixler (Pigs, Ho99o9). After that came BATTLES, legendary instrumental New Yorkers, split in half and now working together as a two-piece. Whilst there were rumblings of on-stage issues following their set, it was personally something we got much pleasure from – BIG single ‘Atlas’ being a life highlight.
With Cattle securing a podium spot as one of the performances of the weekend earlier in the day, leave it to Jamie Lenman to secure himself equal plaudits fronting Black Peaks. Having just released his latest effort ‘Shuffle’ (a record we called “an exciting, interesting and genuinely refreshing new concept“) and historically fronting cult heroes Reuben, the crowd were double-happy to see Lenman take over as striker, leading the charge up front in place of regular vocalist Will Gardner. Whipping the crowd into a frenzy real horrorshow, he snuck a few Reuben numbers in for good measure and set up himself up for what will surely be his third year in a row at the festival for 2020.
Was it wet? Yes. Were there moments we questioned our life choices during the Friday afternoon? Yes. Would we miss ArcTanGent Festival because of all this? That’s a big no from us! Whilst it’s highly likely that the weather next year will be just as bad, ArcTanGent Festival has become a staple of our calendar year and it’s award winning ways keep us coming back with each new line-up.