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Wednesday 30 August 2023

The View From ArcTanGent: Day 4 (Live Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen)

ArcTangent Festival Review By Ben Baljak & Maria Owen

Day 4: Saturday 19.08.23

Ben - Towel or not, I’m having a shower! Hot water and substituting body wash for Colgate 2in1 icy blast toothpaste and mouthwash is an experience reserved for kings let me tell you! Putting original source tingly mint and tea tree to shame, ones nether regions have never felt so fresh. Highly recommended 10/10. The beer holder on the camping chair is now delegated to pot noodle holder and life is good.

Ben - Domkraft (7) Melodious sludge metal that ticks the perceived requirement for playing at Arctangent; a colourful drummer. It’s impossible not to bang your head or sway your hair. Regrettably the band seem less interested in their own music than the crowd and appear to be superglued to the spot. Strong in riff and groove but lacking in stage presence. If you go to Elysium in Swansea when a band is playing, you should be able to find a band of a similar genre who will actually give you a show. Perhaps they were hungover. 

I leave the Bixler Stage and walk into the Yohkai stage to find Standards (7) A two piece math-rock band engaging the audience by making us vote on our favourite fruit. When I later looked them up I found out that this wasn’t a random bit and the band describe their melodies as “fruity” and guitarist Marcos Mean has an album called Fruit Island. Having never heard of this band before I was surprised by some real musical mastery. Vocally they’re not my thing at all, but the technique, skill and presence are all very satisfying things. 

Plenty of engagement and the audience love it! Giving back equal amounts of excitement and energy. Summer funk vibes and comedic quips by the singer make for a positive experience. A great pallet cleanser considering a lot of bands at arctangent focus more on brutality and darkness. Standard honestly let us know they’re living their dream and loving life. Some more string acrobatics and I’m satisfied.

Now to walk into another tent to be shouted at in the face. But first, over to Fried Guys for some dirty stodge in the form of chips topped with cheese topped with cajun chicken. Perhaps a little pricey for the portion size but that’s to be expected with festival food. It filled a hole and now I can differentiate between the noises coming from my stomach and the noises coming from one of the stages.

Maria - The K (6) Straight in they start the set sprinting with great raw quality. Screeching vocals with undertones that at times drop into a Metallica-esque vox but only momentarily The music has a fizzy quality. They have a 90s alternative rock element to them with a bit of a pop-punk cherry on top. They put effort into the performance. Although their music is not for me it is simple yet doesn’t lack colour or zeal. I think they are on the better side of average regarding songwriting. But maybe I’ve been so spoiled with the insanely high calibre of bands/ music at this festival. Later in the set they bring forward a little Slint, Shellac influence. But unfortunately, I’ve heard it all before.

Maria - Rollo Tomassi (7) Missed the first half due to overlaps with another band. Walked over to hear delicate piano and tonally beautiful and delicate vox. These are soon interrupted by satanic screams as the music kicks in with sounds similar to the shrieks of Danny Filth. Back and forth between sickly sweet toned vocals a little too sugary for my savoury tastes. However, the songwriting is beautifully dynamic and the energy is undeniable. It’s hard to get a visual on the band as the tent is packed inside and a mass has formed outside. The gratitude expressed by the band is lush. Some of the songs have the goth, metal horror element . Again … C.O.F spring to mind. I find them a little dated but also very “now”. So I suppose it’s nothing original or really new but nonetheless their talent is indisputable . Regardless of the grand stage setting , sound and lighting. I found them underwhelming

Ben - Deafheaven (7) Shoegazey post rock with black metal drumming and vocals. It’s a construct few have dared to mix. San Francisco’s “blackgaze” inventors mess with muscle memory leaving the body in a state of stasis as it decides whether to lay back and enjoy the sooth or headbang. Somebody is blowing bubbles and the crowd smell like patchouli. The senses welcome the confusion. The music is moving, but in which direction I do not know. The beauty and danger of taking the picturesque scenic route with a poor sense of direction. 

The band are playing their second album 2013s universally critically acclaimed Sunbather in it’s entirety. I’d imagine for longtime fans of the band this would be the equivalent of Mastodon touring Leviathan again … A man can dream. It’s a groundbreaking album that can’t be pigeon holed by vocals due to it’s more extreme metal influences riding the more cinematic soundscape waves of bands like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky dynamics. The performance is met by a stream of technical difficulties as this singers mic pops, cuts in and out. George Clark continues to perform giving it plenty of gusto but now the screams are dead silent. This doesn’t prevent the fans from continuing to crowd surf to the now instrumental version of the set. Once the mic issue has been solved a loud cheer brings band and fan together.

Personally I think the more segue like songs drawl on a bit too long. The sound mix isn’t the best for the main tent this time around. Some really nice haunting yet catchy motifs mid set and some classic post rock make for a relaxing interval but the drums and bass feel too loud in the mix. Not much more to say; Dreamy post rock + black metal. Regardless of the sound troubles the artists are inventive enough to pull off a great show. The indulgently long segues ruin the flow for me personally and I notice I’m not the only person deciding to leave the tent during these sections.

Ben - IGORRR (10) Brain child of polymath Gautier Serre and named after his childhood pet gerbil. IGORRR combine black metal, baroque music, trip hop, chiptune, breakcore, opera, dub, polka, traditional metal, cinematic scores and sometimes chickens (to name but a few) into the avant-garde sound that’s probably best described as simply IGORRR style. The stark contrast of Marthe Alexandra’s mezzo-soprano operatics as she dances and headbangs in a flowing red dress and JB Le Bails harsh screams as he stands in all black, death staring into the audience is an experience in itself. Martyn Clements aggressively attacks the black metal guitar sections with hair in full swing, Sylvain Bouvier manages to keep up with the ridiculous programmed blast beats whilst Gautier conducts the organised chaos from behind the decks occasionally picking up a guitar himself. 

I’m not sure where the bassist is and it would be nice to see Patrick the chicken preform, but I’d imagine pulling off the logistics of a live chicken on stage would be an absolute nightmare. Downgrade Desert and Cheval will always be highlights for myself and the light show is exquisite. Big up to the security team who had to deal with wave after wave of eager crowd surfers. At one point I’m sure they had to catch five at once and somehow a woman with green hair managed to pass over my head twice in about thirty seconds. I later found out that someone’s sons standing at the front side counted 61 crowd surfers. Now there’s some figures that aren’t usually available. I was surprised not to hear Very Noise but as the audience were already contorting as erratically as the lump of animated meat in the music video it’s probably for the best as it could very well have brought the tent down.

Ben - Devin Townsend (10) having last seen Heavy Devy when he was sporting a magnificent skullet whilst supporting Arch Enemy with Strapping Young Lad in 2005 (possibly more recently but Hellfest does bad things to one’s memory) it was about time I caught him properly. Naturally the tent is packed fifteen minutes before the set even starts. The stage is littered in plushy octopuses…octopi or octopodes (octopuses - Greek Ed) if you want to be pedantic and plectrums are being thrown into an excited crowd like candy. Score ! Also bagged an empath pick *smiles in smug. 

Devin has flown in from Canada for this one-off headlining show, bringing with him Mike Keneally (who’s worked from Zapper to Dethklok ), versatile drummer Darby Todd and bassist James Leach. For a self proclaimed socially awkward person Devin has bags of charisma! Such a humorous bloke, who after all these years still clearly loves what doing, and it’s contagious! My cheeks genuinely hurt from grinning throughout. 

The set is split into three parts; Part one - familiar Devin stuff. Part two he announces that he expects to lose between 30-50% of the audience for his weird experimental musical theatre phase and that we should just pretend we’re enjoying ourselves. And part three - “Some heavy shit, because, uh, that’s what I promised” which includes Strapping Young Lads Aftermath. Balloons are everywhere and Devin even collects some of them continuing through one of the song now holding a newly acquired blow up unicorn under his arm whilst sporting a chuffed child like grin ( Devin and the Unicorn).

Introducing the theremin with the line “We used to have giant monsters and video screens. Now I have a 400 dollar machine that goes ‘woooo!’’ . The machine is then used to prompt audience. When the machine goes “woooo” the assembly go “woooo”. Give a madman full control of a crowd and you’re left with comedic genius. Half of the set is played in an audience members rainbow tux because … why not. And the engagement with singing along, waving arms and lighters is just a warming experience and a great way to end the festival on such a high note. of course then an encore is demanded and the band return with Strapping Young Lads Love? It’s probably all the energy in the room but to me, as a showman Devin could be the Freddie Mercury of “Lower Mid Tier Prog Metal”.

Everyone I asked whilst here said that ArcTanGent was their favourite UK festival, be it to play in or to watch bands and after being here it’s not hard to see why. This is definitely the place to discover new music, and the amount of skill on display is inspiring. Seamlessly/ meticulously planned and organised. Each band seemed to somehow start their sets to the minute. And the staff, crew and punters were all so relaxed, friendly, considerate and just enjoying themselves. Great vibes

Thank you ArcTanGent!

And see you next year!

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