It’s that glorious time of year again. Since its first iteration in 2013 blew my tiny mind, I’ve marked my years in days to and since Fernhill farm’s annual celebration of strange and exciting music. I’m reticent to call it a post-rock or math-rock festival anymore, as even in its first run those terms seemed too narrow to describe the panoply of music it covered, but I suppose they could be argued to describe the scope between Shellac and Rolo Tomassi, so hey – let’s call it a math-rock and post-rock festival.
I’ve been to every ArcTanGent, excepting only last year’s on account of only having about three English pennies to my name that summer. Each edition has delivered the best array of the weird, wonky and wondrous that muddy fields can offer: from the monolithic drone-techno of Fuck Buttons to cult classic Midwest Emo pioneers American Football, the festival has been maniacally running the gamut since it began. I will always remember my first ArcTanGent as three genuinely pivotal days in my development as a person and a music fan. Fresh out of school and careering through our first adult summer, my partner at the time and I stumbled on the line-up and immediately bought tickets. We were astounded that 65daysofstatic and Fuck Buttons, bands we had thought of as completely unconnected and definitely not possible festival headliners were splashed out in massive egregious fonts at the top of the poster. At just £59 per ticket, it was an absolute no-brainer. A month later we were tearing down the Bristol country roads in a rickety old Peugeot named Sandra, Public Service Broadcasting’s joyous debut blasting from the speakers, and I’ve rarely felt a purer excitement since. The next three days delivered an awakening of sorts. Particular sets that resonated with me were Maybeshewill’s sublime ending to the first night, Cleft tearing music a new one, the lovely Tall Ships (RIP) being completely overwhelmed by the ecstatic response they received, and of course those two monstrous headliners. I had never delved into post-rock beyond Explosions in the Sky nor math past 65DoS at this point, but by the end of the weekend I’d decided that whatever this ArcTanGent music was, it was my music.
After that first contact, I was hooked, and swore that I wouldn’t miss an ArcTanGent for neither love nor money – though sadly, that oath only made it to 2016. Those next three years continued to deliver a vast grab bag of bands I already loved and bands I knew that I’d go on to love. Alpha Male Tea Party, Luo, Alarmist, Human Pyramids, AK/DK, Rumour Cubes, and The Physics House Band were all bands I fell in love with while fiendishly doing my bandcamp homework ahead of ATG 2014, and still delight me to this day. Massive headline sets from Russian Circles and Mono continued the festival’s run of nailing that end-of-day catharsis. The next year continued in style, with the Friday presenting me with one of the most excruciating decisions of my life – inimitable death siren Emma Ruth Rundle or seven tonnes of C4 going off in a maximum-security prison with The Dillinger Escape Plan. I went with Emma, as her set finished halfway through Dillinger’s, and even she herself was keen to wrap up the show to sprint down the field to watch Greg Puciato dangling from the Arc Stage rigging. 2016 saw post-rock’s holy spirit Godspeed You! Black Emperor sharing headline duties with a reunited American Football. With a fresh and garish GY!BE tattoo gracing my forearm by this point, by nature I was down at the front, weeping at the pathetic fallacy as a thunderstorm broke out during the climax of Storm. The year also saw the surprise reunion of Gallops, bursting out of their tomb wrapped in the thickest swath of hellish techno glory – a festival with two historic moments like that is naught to be sniffed at.
And so, to the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Eighteen. This year’s instalment has everything I’ve come to expect from the festival, although it is notably light on conventional post-rock. Moody cinematics are covered by the likes of the excellent Talons and Blanket, though, and those glorious plaintive textures are well represented throughout many of the other acts – for instance in Pelican’s outstanding post-metal, Alcest’s luscious blackened shoegaze, and Taka from Mono’s iridescent solo project Behind the Shadow Drops. Math has a strong showing, with Alpha Male Tea Party, Tangled Hair, Delta Sleep, Mouse on the Keys and the legendary Giraffes? Giraffes! demonstrating the breadth of the genre’s breath-taking, hesitant-foot-tapping compositions. The festival’s metallic tendencies remain strong as well, with Zeal & Ardor, Rolo Tomassi, Wren and Myrkur all flying that black flag from their various hellish vessels. Wild modern psych – a new area for the festival – comes screaming from the orifices of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Part Chimp, and Hey Colossus. More so than ever before are the hardcore and post-hardcore corners being covered – two of the central bands in America’s post-millennial ‘Wave’, La Dispute and Pianos Become the Teeth, will be tearing up the Thursday, while icons Glassjaw and Shellac hold the headline spots. Both of these headliner bookings are massive coups for the festival and a demonstration of the reputation they’ve rightly earned – the Glassjaw set is a UK festival exclusive, and Shellac, a band renowned for both the quality of their live sets and the rareness of them, are a UK exclusive. If getting the Albini seal of approval doesn’t tell you a festival is worth the punt, nothing does. There’s even the customary hair-pulling clashes, the greatest for me being Shellac and Bristol iconoclasts Scalping. The selection of bands is as excellent as always, and assuming that nothing has drastically changed on site bar the sad but necessary replacement of the Arc Stage, Fernhill Farm in a couple of weeks is set to be yet another glorious but brief musical nirvana.
To return to that first car ride to ATG #1, my teenage self brimming with excitement, seems most fitting ahead of this next iteration. They may not have played since that first weekend, but Public Service Broadcasting’s ‘ROYGBIV’ radiating from our car stereo best sums up that fateful fest and each since and to come:
“A bright new era dawning
The vivid, pulsating miracle that gives substance to shadow
Who knows what miracles are yet to come?”
See you down the front.