ArcTanGent is a fairly fresh face on the festival scene, established only a couple of years back as the weird little sister of 2000 Trees. Somewhat unlike the latter, as the trigonometric name suggests, it caters towards the confines of math rock, post rock, and general out of the left of field kind of stuff, well outside the peripheries of mainstream music.
Last summer I fell head over heels with the whole atmosphere of the thing, being something like a pilgrimage for devotees and aficionados; bringing in cult classic, big names in small scenes from all across the world. ATG has quickly risen to the fore as the annual epicenter of the so called ‘art rock’ movement as the only event of its kind around. I know I fit right into that crowd as one of the typical audience.
This year’s motley host of a line-up includes headliners Cult of Luna, The Dillinger Escape Plan and a number of bands from US record Sargent House; such as Deafheaven and Marriages. As usual, the Thursday is for returning acts, so this time around that means 65daysofstatic, Lite and Mylets. There’s tons more up and coming acts from the down low on offer though, be it Body Hound or Pocket Apocalypse; the ties with the Bristol scene are easily apparent. It’s a real assortment of unusual stuff on offer that you just can’t possibly find in this kind of concentration anywhere else. Regardless preconceptions and vested interests, you get out what you put in, so it pays off to open your mind with it. Since before I found half the fun in the unexpected discoveries, new found favorites and the like, I’m making a point of leaving some surprises in store.
No strings attached
ATG sticks to the same simple stripped down formula as its elder sibling with the bands as the be all and end all of it. The whole affair is fixated upon its four stages, so besides the music, there’s not much else around on offer that’s anything like the novelties associated with elsewhere that I’ve come to detest. There are installation art pieces that litter the site, but they’re by no means a major feature of the thing, rather just bits of a backdrop. The minimalism of it works out well since it’s appeal lies in being such a niche event. So suffice to say, it’s not the place for poetry and reiki. The only real diversion is the silent disco that takes over the site after the stages finish, but there’s nothing wanky about non-stop Mars Volta after all.
Further in keeping with Trees is the same shared philosophical rationale behind the whole of it. Besides besides just the bare essentials, the first and foremost ideal of it is a drive to provide proper value for money, which is music to my ears as a skint student. At under a hundred for the full weekend, it’s a welcome break from the eye-watering price tags attached to the usual staples on the seasons calendar. There’s also an open bring-your-own-booze policy to help keep your costs down, although since the site is out in the middle of nowhere you’re best off to come prepared save sticking to the bars, which is always a pain if you’re trekking it on public transport. The rest of the schtick really just concerns eco-friendliness and local food and drink, but that still makes all difference since the toilets are clean and the beers are half decent for a change.
Keeping it niche
There’s a kind of fuck-you, DIY attitude about ATG, but it doesn’t come across as amateurish at all. A proper math and post rock festival is an out there idea, but it’s one that’s paid off as the organisers capitalised on an apparent gap in the market they noticed from the demand for these sorts acts growing out of Trees. They’ve combined their established no-nonsense recipe from Trees with these underground styles, and brought in already existing sizeable scenes. But I can see a broader sense of attraction to it than just that.
The likes of the corporate heavyweights have a bad reputation for unimaginative bills which Trees responded to in kind, but ATG takes that sentiment to the next level. The two do share a lot of similarities, and you can’t talk about one without the other in some senses. But that doesn’t mean they should be judged on the same terms. It probably goes without saying that it wouldn’t be up your street if you’re not that way inclined towards the styles, so you’d probably be better off with Trees. If you’re an adventurous type though, then you’ll gorge yourself with a feast for that appetite for intrigue. Partially out of solitude within my social circle as an ‘art rock’ fan, I’ve made it habit to bring along fairly clueless companions without much familiarity with the stuff. Despite the obscurity and occasional absurdity though, that’s worked out well so far.
ATG pulls right at my heart and purse strings with a slew of my favorite bands on the billing, so I guess I’m biased. But even if curiosity is all that it’s about, you’re sure to get your money’s worth at least since it’s dirt cheap anyway.
ArcTanGent 2015 takes place at Fernhill Farm near Bristol between the 20th-22nd of August. For tickets and more information see our ArcTanGent guide.