ArcTanGent Festival 2016 live review - Somerset

Post-rock fest ArcTanGent goes forth into new musical realms!

Long shot of Knifeworld on stage at ArcTanGent Festival
(Image: © Ross Jennings)

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Cementing its reputation as one of the summer’s most unpretentious and musically rich connoisseur festivals, the fourth annual ArcTanGent brings around 5,000 freaks from across the globe to rural Somerset for three days of all things prog, psych, post and beyond.

The twin peaks of Thursday night are Three Trapped Tigers, whose sci-fi electro rock rips up the larger Yohkai tent, and math punk quartet Axes, whose mix of noisecore with shimmering high-life guitars brings an incongruously joyful energy to the smaller PX3 stage.

Three Trapped Tigers

Three Trapped Tigers (Image credit: Ross Jennings)

Early on Friday, Three Trapped Tigers drummer Adam Betts is back again, demolishing PX3 with a machine gun blast of slick electronica and driving rock beats. Always good value for money, Knifeworld bring their kaleidoscopic psych prog steampunk surrealism to the Yohkai tent before Arcane Roots arrive on the main stage, warming up the mid-afternoon crowd. The highlight of their set is an electric take on If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves from their last EP, though with an album on the way as a follow-up proper to 2013’s Blood & Chemistry, no doubt big things await.

Arcane Roots

Arcane Roots (Image credit: Ross Jennings)

Cerebral jazz fusion meets post metal shredding on Friday when Animals As Leaders pack out the Yohkai tent. They make their virtuoso twin-guitar tapestries look deceptively effortless, but the super-complex sound they make could be Pat Metheny jamming with Miles Davis and Metallica. Sublime stuff.

Animals As Leaders' Tosin Abasi

Animals As Leaders' Tosin Abasi (Image credit: Ross Jennings)

Meanwhile, on the smaller Bixler stage, Cleft’s final show is a cause for much outpouring of grief. Having graced every instalment of the festival so far, they are virtually the house band. Playing a mix of tracks like Frankenstein from this year’s farewell LP Wrong, alongside a fan‑voted setlist, it proves to be the highlight of the festival. Closing on a medley with help from members of Trojan Horse and Alpha Male Tea Party, they leave the crowd tired and stunned in the early evening rain.

Multimedia soundscapers Nordic Giants grow grander and weirder by the month, but they really need a bigger screen for their cinematic extravaganza at Arc. The surging instrumental swells in this show sometimes veer a little too close to Coldplay-style inspirational uplift, but their accompanying short films are as dazzling and darkly dystopian as ever.

Cleft

Cleft (Image credit: Ross Jennings)

Arc is not a festival built on big brand stars, but this year’s most noteworthy major-league players are Montreal post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who headline the main stage on Friday. Midway through their interminable widescreen tantric drone symphonies, it starts to feels as if this particular Black Emperor is wearing no clothes. However, they redeem themselves with a late run of super heavy sea shanties that sound like Black Sabbath playing at half speed. Awesome, in other words.

Godspeed! You Black Emperor

Godspeed! You Black Emperor (Image credit: Ross Jennings)

Blowing the Saturday morning cobwebs away in appropriately riffy fashion, Denmark’s Town Portal mix Swervedriver-esque shoegaze with a progressive metal-inspired rhythm section that recalls Meshuggah. Likewise, the stunning crescendo of Black PeaksSay You Will, from their debut album Statues, provides another early‑afternoon standout.

Black Peaks' Will Gardner

Black Peaks' Will Gardner (Image credit: Ross Jennings)

And So I Watch You From Afar were a highlight of the inaugural ArcTanGent, with frontman Rory Friers telling Prog last year that their set here was a career peak. If any single band can challenge Cleft on raw power and crowd reaction, it’s this Belfast foursome. Heavily trading in early material like Set Guitars To Kill, Search:Party:Animal, Beautiful Universe Master Champion and Gang, they stir up so many crowdsurfers that the security guards become completely overwhelmed. After three days in Arc’s mind-bending musical hall of mirrors, we know exactly how they feel.

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