By: Dan Salter
Photos: Ed Sprake
The weather gods hate math rock. That’s the only conclusion you can really come to after a third (out of four) successive wet Arctangent. It’s starting to feel vindictive, especially as the days leading up to and then the days immediately after the festival were glorious. To be fair, this year it wasn’t all bad, and it definitely wasn’t Glastonbury bad, Thursday was lovely and we arrived and got set up in glorious sunshine.
Weather aside, Arctangent is a special place for us. In so much as the other festivals that we go to are a gathering of our ‘festival family’ Arctangent is a gathering of all of the multifarious clans that essentially comprise the Echoes And Dust universe. We have more of our crew in attendance, we know more of the bands, we know half of the crowd (who are mostly also in bands we know, it’s that kind of place!) and there’s a good chance that conversing with randoms that we meet they are aware of what we do; it also provides the greatest lineups of ‘weird’ music in the country. One of the best things about Arctangent doesn’t actually happen at the festival. It happens in the few days after the weekend when the bands, most of whom will only generally play to 40-60 people at a normal show, get home and post their joy at having played to 1,000+ in a tent in a field. It’s that joy, that buzz, that permeates the festival all weekend and makes it such a special place.
This is also not a festival that messes about. By the time we’d got in and pitched the mighty proggsters ANTA had already taken to the stage. We dashed down to catch the last third of their set on PX3. Before we’d had a chance to say a post-set hi, Body Hound had taken to the stage on Yokhai. Followed immediately but the exuberant Poly-Math. And breathe….. It’s that kind of place.
A fortunate procurement of a bench outside the dangerously well stocked merch tent, mean that we were able to spend the afternoon soaking up the sun and the sounds from both stages that were in action on Thursday; Samoans, Talons, Alarmist, Delta Sleep and Quadrupede all impressed before things came to a rapidfire head with the 1-2-3 punch of the insane technomath of Three Trapped Tigers, the joyful jazz rock of Axes and then the emotional roundhouse to the feels that is MONO. What a way to start.
And then the rains came.
We awoke Friday morning to find the clouds had descended and that sort of fine drizzle that is usually such a specialty in Manchester in the air. We wandered between tents catching bits of Viva Belgrado, Intervals and Adam Betts (which was off the scale bonkers) before heading to Yokhai for what
was probably our only real ‘must see’ of the weekend. Regular readers may be aware that we’ve been banging on about Israel’s Tiny Fingers for a year or so now; their blend of psych, post rock and electronica pushes all our buttons. From the moment we first heard The Fall we knew we had to see these guys live but due to geography it hadn’t been possible until now. To say we were in a state of high anticipation would have been an understatement! And how they delivered. Absolutely everything we hoped for and so much more. They blasted through a scintillating, but far to short, thirty minute set that kept a packed tent captivated and grooving.
After that, duties in the press tent kept us occupied for a few hours but we still managed to take in bits of the ever engaging Knifeworld, some lovely stuff from Floral and a bit of savagery courtesy of Heck before the weekend’s other main event, Cleft’s last ever show. It seems the stories of Cleft and Arctangent have been inextricably entwined from the outset and so when the former declared earlier this year that they were calling it a day there was only one place they could bow out and that was here. And bow out they did indeed, in a blaze of glory and flailing limbs. ‘Frankenstein’ got the party
started with gusto and they bounced, gurned and grinned their way through a fan picked set that included all those sing-a-long classics, ‘Trapdoor’, ‘Chin’, ‘Hostage’ ‘Alec Baldwin’s Hair’ and ‘Gulch’, before, as has now become their tradition at Arctangent, inviting Ben from Peaks (and formerly Bad Grammar), Tom from Alpha Male Tea Party
and Nick from Trojan Horse to join them in a medleyto 2016’s fallen heroes: Motorhead’s ‘The Ace Of Spade’, Prince’s ‘Controversy’, David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ and then ‘Space Oddity’ which I have to confess had me in pieces by the end. We laughed, we cried, we danced.
After that it was going to be hard to find things not an anti-climax but Falls soon gave us the shot of adrenaline that we needed before the evening’s main event: Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Getting GY!BE (and American Football) on the bill this year was something of a statement of intent from the organisers and a definite step up in profile from previous years. Godspeed live are a thing to behold. When they are in full flight, at the climax of ‘Mladic’ for example, there really is nothing else like them in music and tonight was no different a they rattled through their greatest hits (well, about 6 tracks in 90 minutes!) with a power and awe to match the weather.
Whether or not that was what really angered the gods we will never know but the evidence is that overnight the storm came and sat on top of us for the next 24 hours leaving a trail of broken gazebos and wet tents in its wake. Undeterred, we soldiered on and headed back to the now only dry places on site, the stages. A sad piece of scheduling meant we had to choose between ALMA and Dialects, probably the toughest choice of the weekend. Not having seen them before I went to Yokhai to catch Dialects and don’t regret that decision one iota, although by all accounts ALMA were stunning, as the
boys from Glasgow turned in an incredible set of high energy math rock that bordered on psych in places. Definitely one of the sets of the weekend for me.
From then we dashed between Kusanagi, Town Portal, the splendid insanity of Chicago’s Space Blood, a bit of Mewithoutyou and Mutiod Man before ending up at Caspian. Having been kind enough to let me interview them not long prior to going on stage I discovered that as well as being an excellent band they are throughly nice chaps and so my heart went out to them that right at the first ‘loud moment’ in their first track all of the power to the stage went out; amps, lights, PA, everything! Fortunately, after a frantic few minutes of scrabbling the superbly clam crew got things going again and Caspian treated us to an astounding set of post rock the way it’s meant to be done. Powerful, intense, emotional and uplifting; they were absolutely magnificent.
How on Earth do you follow that? Well, you call for And So I Watch You From Afar, of course. The Belfast boys are without doubt one of the most exciting live bands on the planet right now and they love Arctangent and Arctangent loves them right back. From the assault that is the opening bars of ‘Search:Party:Animal’ right through ‘Beautifuluniversemasterchampion’, ‘Set Guitars To Kill’ (and I think they threw in a couple of new tunes) and the closing salvo of ‘Big Things Do Remarkable’ and ‘The Voiceless’ their set was the absolute epitome of joyful noise.
Frankly, for me the festival could, and perhaps should, have ended there. I’ve never been a fan of American Football and that brand of emo-math. I guess I wasn’t the right age at the right time or something. Either way, after the adrenaline rush that was ASIWYFA, it seemed like something of low key way to close the festival and highlighted probably the one big flaw in the set up in that if you are not in to one or other of the two bands on offer at any given time there is absolutely nothing else to do, especially when it’s wet. That’s a small gripe though against the much larger backdrop that was yet another blinding festival.