Atom Smasher had the absolute pleasure and honour of being invited to cover ArcTanGent 2018. It was our first time attending, but always a festival we’ve been dying to explore. ATG has a reputation for eclectic line-ups as well as a cosy, friendly atmosphere, and luckily we even had spots of good sunny weather to boot!
After setting off from Manchester we make it just in time to dash over and catch the last song of our city brethren BOSS KELOID, which is a spectacular way to ease us into the festival. It was lovely to catch people in the crowd singing along and swaying to their alien grooves. Bearded ATG regulars ALPHA MALE TEA PARTY bless the Yohkai stage with a set of jaunty and exhilarating math rock, feeling much heavier in person than on record. The Scouse trio put the fun into instrumental post rock with the hilariously titled ‘You Eat Houmous, Of Course You Listen To Genesis’ being particularly well received.
SVALBARD are always a band that like to challenge their listeners, and they are on fierce form today, offering such an intense performance. The dual vocal tradings of guitarists Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan shine over their ferocious, yet emotive blackened post-hardcore. Serena dedicates their set to the women, thanking ATG for giving such a great platform to creative females. This made their performance of ‘Revenge Porn’ particularly more touching, and the open minded ATG crowd let out an electrifying cheer in their support. DELTA SLEEP travel a more traditional indie rock path, but the rousing gang vocal sections in ‘El Pastor’ can’t be ignored. Tracks from their recently released ‘Ghost City’ opus are greeted as favourably as the older material, which whilst not remarkable, posses an undeniable charm.
Holy Roar label mates PIJN and CONJURER cook up something really special with the very first performance of their collaborative band CURSE THESE METAL HANDS! After a comical, warped intro sample from Peep Show, the band kick into gear. Though moments of the performance are a little shaky, the tunes completely win over the crowd. They somehow manage to combine the shimmering, uplifting melodies of Pijn with the gruesome, chugging barrages of Conjurer. In particular, the duelling three guitar harmonies bring a surprising touch of class to the proceedings, sounding like post-metal’s answer to Thin Lizzy! The band members wearing each other’s band shirts is a lovely touch, making this a very special and memorable ATG exclusive! One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend comes from ROLO TOMASSI, who showcase songs from their fantastic new album. Opening softly with the ambient synth intro of ‘Towards Dawn’, leading into the glorious pop-punk inspired ‘Aftermath’, with lead vocalist Eva Spence’s clean vocals soaring across the packed out tent.
The pit goes fucking crazy as Rolo Tomassi’s darkest song yet, ‘Rituals’ tears up the crowd. Eva dances across the stage possessed and hypnotised, her vicious vocals on top form. ‘Alma Mater’ provides one of the most crushing moments of their set, inviting keyboardist James Spence to come away from the keys and go nuts with his sister. Rolo Tomassi just get better and better at what they do, and their evolution in sound only gets deeper and more astonishing.
The hypnotic strains of ‘The Reverie’ announce the arrival of post-metal collective BOSSK, who hold the PX3 stage in the palms of their hands with a set full of lingering beauty, contrasted with crushing heaviness. Sam Marsh’s wounded screams on the bruising ‘Atom Smasher’ (hey that name sounds familiar) compels the audience to fling themselves in reckless abandon at the front of the stage. Last album ‘Audio Noir’ was a triumphant return for the Kent based act. Hopefully a new record is not far off! JAMIE LENMAN‘s set is a resounding triumph! Cuts from last year’s ‘Devolver’, as well as choice cuts from his former group Reuben see the audience go postal, pogoing and screaming at the top of their voices. Accompanied only by Dan Kavanagh behind the drumkit, Lenman beams with confidence, even having a cheeky dig at Weezer for covering Toto mega hit ‘Africa’. “It’s not the best Toto song! That’s fucking ‘Rosanna’,” before launching into a splendid cover of the latter number. An insanely brilliant marriage of metallic riffs and glorious pop hooks!
As darkness starts to fall on ATG and a cold chill begins to bloom, Michigan’s LA DISPUTE warm up a packed out tent with a performance of supreme confidence. The powerful, chiming guitars really hit hard as vocalist Jordan Dreyer pours his heart out with a commanding stage presence. In particular, closing with emo anthem ‘King Park’ is a chills down your spine moment. The band pour out such a passionate and heartfelt close to their fantastic set. Clever musicians though they are, AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR are a rather dry choice of headliner. Performing latest album ‘The Endless Shimmering’ in its entirety, the Irish quartet draw a big crowd but feel like an exercise in technicality over delivering an emotive performance. Certainly, clever patterns and bouncy riffs are present, but so is an abundance of seemingly aimless tremolo noodling that outstays its welcome as a headline act.
Bristolian indie rock quartet MODERN RITUALS provide the breakfast sermon, perking us up after a horrible night’s tent sleep. Their vibrant, punchy post-punk has a pinch of Bloc Party. The lead vocals feel a bit washed out, but the moments where they add dual vocals work a treat, giving that much needed oomph. Rousing math rockers CODICES are warmly received. Drummer Alex Mann looks overjoyed to be playing the event on his birthday. The energetic fervour with which they attack their instruments is infectious and compelling to witness. Brighton’s ORCHARDS highlight just how diverse ATG can be. Amongst all the horrible metal and noisy math rock, there can still be a fun and breezy indie pop band like Orchards. They run with it, feeling comfortable in their own skin, providing blissful, bouncy sing-a-longs. Vocalist Lucy Evers shares a memorable bond with the crowd, with the tight rhythm section’s jangly guitars getting the crowd moving. But those happy vibes are soon crushed by the menacing sludge onslaught of WREN. The London quartet batter the PX3 tent with patient, lumbering sludge riffs and pained, feral screams. Sadly an unexpected rush of glorious sunshine leaves their projector visuals lost in the glare, but it’s their monstrous riffs that leave heads exploding!
The Arc stage may be experiencing some sound issues, but nothing can stop TALONS from delivering a splendid performance. Clad head to toe in white, the Hereford sextet produce a spellbinding performance with the duelling violins of Reuben Brunt and Sam Little rightly claiming centre stage. Hot off a career defining Bloodstock performance, CONJURER are one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend (so much, they played twice)! From the off, Conjurer suffocate the packed out Bixler tent with colossal riffs that are constantly changing up. Blackened blastbeats weave into funeral paced doom drops with true precision. Their manic energy eventually rubs off on the crowd who get swept away into a circle pit. Conjurer truly leave ATG in awe with a masterclass in total brutality! JO QUAIL is truly astounding. Performing as a solo cellist in front of a more rock minded audience could be daunting, but even a tactical mid set shoe change can’t knock her flair and wonder. Modest and charming, Jo’s virtuoso prowess is truly bewitching. Thanking the crowd and looking genuinely surprised at the rapturous applause she receives is one of the weekend’s greatest moments. Her ability to create looped beats and exquisite melodies is phenomenal, with unreleased new track ‘Gold’ going down a storm.
Chicago based post-metal instrumental masters PELICAN go down a treat today, delivering their trademark escalating palm-muted chugging riffs. Around half of their set today is dedicated to brand new, unheard material. A risky choice at a festival, but the open ears of the ATG crowd don’t seem to mind, giving the legends a warm reception with plenty of heads-a-banging! Switzerland collective ZEAL & ARDOR prove to be one of the most outlandish acts of the weekend. Z&A combine elements of slave spirituals and gospel music with black metal. They perform today with two backing vocalists, emphasising band leader Manuel Gagneux’s soulful wails even further. The way Z&A manage to switch between stomping, bluesy guitar licks to icy tremolo riffs, blastbeats and ripping screams is awe inspiring. Truly an act like no other. One minute the crowd are circle pitting, the next they are dancing and swaying. It’s truly a bizarre spectacle to behold! ‘Devil Is Fine’ goes down as one of those magical festival moments where the whole tent sings their hearts out.
ATG should be an event tailor-made for an act like ANATHEMA, yet it is abundantly clear from the offset that all is not well on stage, with Danny and Vincent Cavanagh both complaining about the poor sound mix they’re afforded. It’s a great shame because what could have been spellbinding is relegated to a merely decent performance. Lee Douglas’ haunting siren song excels on ‘Endless Ways’, but the group are clearly less than happy with their lot. The majestic ‘Untouchable Part 1’ closes a frustrating performance which could have been so much more. Norse progressives LEPROUS restore order with a rousing performance on the Yohkai stage. Their uplifting melodies and the gravity defying vocals of Einar Solbergh sending shockwaves through the audience. The chorus of ‘Stuck’ has the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands with its beautiful, ethereal melody. No longer just the prodigies of Ihsahn, this nuanced and talented act go from strength to strength.
Those who forsake the post-hardcore angst of headliners Glassjaw for BEHIND THE SHADOW DROPS are provided with a far more nourishing and immersive experience. Featuring drummer Howard Kennedy and Jo Quail (her second performance of the day) bringing driving rhythms and haunting strings respectively. Mono guitarist Taka Goto leads his collaborators through compositions for his compelling ‘Harmonic’ release. Mono may see Taka opt for the classic quiet/loud post-rock dynamics, yet BTSD incorporate simple, delicate piano parts, glistening synths and pulsing electronics. Jo Quail’s delicate, melancholic string parts add more than just replicating those performed on record by Helen Money. A truly beguiling and heart stopping performance rightfully deserving of the thunderous ovation delivered as the last lingering note fades away. Closing out a wonderful Friday night are New Yorkers GLASSJAW, who have been off the touring circuit for quite a while now. For many crowd-goers in our age bracket, Glassjaw evoke a perfect nostalgia trip. The band roll through as many songs as they can pack in, only occasionally stopping to chat to the crowd. The sound on the Arc stage is perfect for them, with the noisy ferocity of tracks like ‘You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)’ and ‘Tip Your Bartender’ igniting the crowd. More sombre moments like ‘Pink Roses’ go down a treat, with their most well known epic ‘Ape Dos Mil’ being this ATG’s truest example of a flag waving festival anthem.
Bizarrely, on the rare occasions that Daryl Palumbo does speak to the crowd, it’s to ask who will be attending their Brixton Academy show on Saturday (which he did three times). Erm, no Daryl! We’re here to enjoy ArcTanGent Festival! Other than that though, his voice is on top form and full of diversity. Glassjaw deliver a truly mind-blowing and spine chilling headlining show!
An odd and tame act to begin Saturday, THE BIG MASSIVE ORCHESTRA bleat and whimper with their ineffectual math rock on the PX3, claiming influence of post-rock royalty such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Bath trio resemble the odious wailing of acts like Snow Patrol with their jangly and forgettable songs. I think we preferred Shellac’s early morning alarm clock soundcheck, with Steve Albini yelling “WAKEY WAKEY” to the hungover ATG campers! Over at the Arc stage, HEY COLOSSUS gather a large early crowd. Their bare-bones, scuzzy garage rock gives us that jolt we need to perk up for the last day. Especially after that hefty 3am stint at The Mars Volta Silent Disco! Irish mathcore unit ILENKUS bring mayhem and true grit to the Bixler tent. From the very first song, they play all over the stage, with their vocalist frequenting the pit and crowd surfing. Their off kilter, jagged rhythms and primal energy is certainly reminiscent of The Dillinger Escape Plan. Parisian electro-prog act JEAN JEAN are enigmatic on stage. Their shimmering synths underpinned by a strong back-beat before encompassing waves of soothing ambience. A more elegant and understated interpretation of the math rock genre, which works a treat for tired ears and eyes on the final day’s festivities.
The anticipation for Danish quintet MOL is huge, and rightly so. The band not only deliver hard hitting emotive hardcore riffs with touches of shoegaze, but know when to unleash furious barrages of blasts and high intensity. In particular, their wild frontman Kim Song Sternkopf proves to be magnetic, with such a bold presence on (and off) the stage, leaving the crowd unable to take their eyes off him. ‘Bruma’ hits hard with the crowd, visibly leaving people’s fists punching the air. TELEPATHY arrive to dispense dense slabs of riff driven post-metal. The Colchester mob flex their muscles with brooding ambient passages, punctuating vicious, crushing riffs with the weight of a typhoon. This leads brilliantly to another post-metal lot, COLDBONES, who light up the PX3 stage with their hard hitting emotive, epic soundscapes. Recalling the heavier, climactic parts of Mogwai, their combination of soundtracky atmosphere and strong melodic leads works wonders.
BLACK PEAKS own the Yohkai stage with a set of commanding confidence. It’s obvious they’ve come to ATG with something to prove, and their performance is full of sweat and vigour. Frontman Will Gardner packs in a versatile vocal, aiming for the heights of Mike Patton. But it’s the unpredictability of the rhythm section that sets off the crowd into a moshing frenzy, playing with jagged dissonance, leading into catchy and anthemic riffs.
Danish chanteuse MYRKUR is simply stunning. Dressed in white, flanked by her band of black-hooded gentlemen, Amalie Bruun is a prodigious talent calling forth the mystery and captivating wonder of her heritage. ‘Dybt I Skoven’, ‘De Tre Piker’ and the masterful ‘Ulvinde’ are all delivered with the effortless confidence of an artist that is reaching the peak of their powers. Bruun is a compelling figure on stage with a jaw-dropping vocal range encompassing banshee shrieks and delicate falsetto in a masterful fashion. The next album from this talented multi-instrumentalist promises to be something very special indeed. As darkness starts to fall for the last time on this incredible weekend, PART CHIMP deliver riffs galore! Certainly the loudest set of the whole festival, their huge, noisy tones swallow up the crowd into a swampy haze. Their pummelling, mean guitar attacks and pounding drums are just exquisite, settling for no nonsense, just massive, massive riffs! ALCEST arrive with the haunting strains of ‘Kodama’ drifting over the audience, easing them into a trance-like state. Neige and company are majestic tonight, luring us with elegant melodies and seductive vocals before shattering the reverie they create with harsh screams and savage blasting. Alcest
perfect combining the most potent elements of shoegaze, dream pop and icy black metal. Typically soft spoken, Neige explains that the airline lost their gear in transit, leaving them to play with Codices gear. The mishap has no impact with the Frenchmen delivering a confident set full of pensive beauty, epic melancholy and triumphant glory! As the final chords of ‘Delivrance’ fade, Alcest disappear as if from a dream.
Closing a truly transcendent and eclectic ArcTanGent Festival are American noise rock and hardcore pioneers SHELLAC. Naturally their sound is pitch perfect, and being in the presence of such legends fills the air with excitement. Shellac are in a very chirpy mood tonight, working spontaneity to their favour. The first half of the set sees them reeling off deep cuts, with the fearsome ‘A Minute’ packing a huge punch, and ‘Wingwalker’‘s chorus of “I’m a plane” managing to entice the crowd-goers into spreading their arms like wings. Even their between song banter is hilarious, with Bob Weston involving the crowd in question time! As their magical set winds to a close, things take a more deranged and unhinged turn with Steve Albini screaming “FUCKING KILL HIM” on ‘Prayer to God’ The set ends with what seems like a 20 minute improv hanging on one twanging bass note, and Albini reciting a bizarre spoken word dirge told from the perspective of Todd Trainer’s snare drum, as he wanders around the stage beating it. The set ends on a playful high note, as
Todd’s drum solo is thwarted by Steve and Bob disassembling his drumkit whilst he is still trying to play! Shellac’s live show becomes a weird and theatrical act of performance art, gradually collapsing in on itself like a neutron star. Ultimately, Shellac’s headlining show is risky and unorthodox, but visibly leaves ATG in awe and wonderment. Sure a set that will hold a special place in ATG history forever!
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French and Ross Baker
Photography: Ian Percival @trashmonkeypics
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