Live: ArcTanGent Festival @ Fernhill Farm in Bristol, 29-30/08/14

Mono

A man leaps out at me as I leave my tent for the first time, praising my Slint hoodie while gleefully brandishing the t-shirt equivalent. Turns out he’s travelled all the way from Chicago just for ArcTanGent, because “you just don’t get festivals like this in the US!” It’s an early example of how the whole weekend plays out like an ecstatic spring-loaded release; a continuous sequence of solar eruption, panoramic landscape and large-scale sonic science, pitched somewhere within the vague radius of rock music. Everyone I meet is on a hallucinatory high of reverb and head cinema.

I dive straight into the carnival of Human Pyramids, whose guitars shoot diagonally like florescent streamers. Glass bottles get into flamboyant tangos with handclaps, while violins flower from between gangly trumpet fingers. Sometimes it’s quiet and polite like a summer picnic; sometimes it’s raucous like an overdue fiesta, lit by the dazzling lanterns of xylophone constellation. Physics House Band are just as vibrant, although their riffs are more akin to luminous kraut corridors and intricate geometric shapes. Shapes and colours slur into carefully-gauged reverb, as astral projection grooves are shattered by cathartic climax. Psychedelia for heightened consciousness.

Ef splay the same level of energy over a much larger sonic space – three guitarists arrange their melodies into a tri-strand helix, intersecting eachother and then shooting upward in harmonic parallel. Emotion accumulates in a slow ascent to boiling point, and the band almost seem to twitch in the moments of restraint, eventually bursting open in radiant, all-screaming negativity ejection. Meanwhile, Tellison retain speed like rock tumbling down a mountainside, with bitter angst clinging to a core of palm-mutes and concise pop; their melodic façade is pleasant and even uplifting, although I remain aware of the aggressive trying to push its way up through the middle.

Before I know it my head is rinsed by an Americana wind, and I’m galloping across wild western plains to the tune of Crippled Black Phoenix: drums career like the hooves of horses, guitar solos hurtles into the dry desert heat. At times, it feels like a Neil Young record dragged out into a post-rock Sahara, particularly for the way the sustain on each chord is like an SOS, or a blues reverberation that fades solemnly into unrequitement. The feeling remains for This Will Destroy You, whose notes cling to the air like a lingering sense of mourning; songs explode from within a pool of drone and curled tone, spent forth from static figures that feel helplessly swallowed up by their own emission. In contrast, Russian Circles retain a muscular command over their rotary gear mesh, propelled forth by a formidable chugging distortion. Occasionally the drear breaks into stars that bleed into guitar lead delay, although the groove is constant – flying the melody like a kite cast high above, unwavering in the sideways rain.

Adding Machine

ADDING MACHINE

Luo beckon in the Saturday sun, with what sounds to me like a river running through a rainforest of robo-animal chirps and skittering insects; post rock fluid navigating a jungle of hyperactive percussive fidget. I spot the members of Physics House Band within the ensemble, and suddenly the dynamic makes sense. Meanwhile, the electro-drum explosions and mission control synthesisers of Adding Machine bring to mind the early 80s output of Talk Talk or Japan, albeit dragged into a whirlpool of feedback and guitar lament a la Cocteau Twins. Meanwhile, the bass of No Spill Blood whips the downbeat like a weaponised bicycle chain: punk in its raw attack, complete with strobing synthesiser and peculiar time signatures.

Blueneck offer a suitable contrast to a decidedly pacey early afternoon, swelling into states of sunrise and reducing toward pools of silence. Among the set are some of the quietest moments of the whole weekend, with a brittle voice clinging to a guitar chord decay that appears to slip through my fingers. In another demonstration of ATG’s dizzying polarity, Mutiny On The Bounty erupt into life like four bottle rockets, throwing their instruments above their heads as though they’ve been booted into the sky by the percussive frenzy beneath them. There is a math rock glint to the stutter and lag of the band’s rhythmic behaviour, which manages to persist throughout an unrelenting half-hour seizure of sound and body.

Jamie Lenman has clearly caught the jubilation that has epidemically engulfed the entire festival site by now, slingshotting between metallic low-end disgust, dainty daydreamer romance and a rickety rendition of “Tequila” by The Champs. I’m rendered pleasantly giddy by the constant change in pace and emotional scenery. In some senses Mylets is the polar opposite of such extroversion, and it’s funny how insular and unstable math rock can appear when sent convulsing through the muscles of a solitary person: jagged guitar lattices bounce off drum machine syncopation, and at times the culmination of loops sounds like a scribbled drawing that turned out beautiful by mistake. The tracks break down, rebuild in reverse, slide out of alignment and cough up digital glitch, as Henry Kohen’s voice wails with the adolescent frustration of emotions too complex to coherently articulate.

Over at the petit PX3 stage, Bear Makes Ninja are tangling themselves amidst pop punk glee, math rock’s pirouetting intricacy and the downward axe blows of hardcore. The end product should probably be a mess, but it isn’t; they are ceaseless and formidable in movement, pumping out positive aggression as if by water cannon. Year Of No Light are unambiguously bleak, with a sound akin to a dark matter blanket being thrown over my head. Guitars protrude from the mixture like mangled hands trying to make their escape, and inevitably they’re swallowed back into the doom. It’s slow, inexorable; a beast progressing at a steady crawl, with guitar leads glinting like two yellow eyes stranded in shadow. The whole room is lurching under the gravity at tenfold, while the melodies tilt and curl until I take too many turns to orientate myself correctly.

I Like Trains

I LIKE TRAINS

God Is An Astronaut are on hand to straighten me out. There is an elegance and ease to their execution; each member is locked in like a space shuttle component, sleek and aerodynamically shaped. Even the steel shafts of climax meet no resistance on their way through. In a type of music that often slaps a taboo upon artists visibly enjoying themselves, GIAA are having, and bringing, an unashamedly great time. I Like Trains aren’t quite as jubilant: a baritone voice mumbles and barely emerges above the music, quivering as though hitting bumps in the tracks. It’s quietly melancholic, as though addressing a sadness that hangs over the everyday like an invisible veil: thoughts of inevitable death and unshakable regrets. It’d be intolerably bleak were the guitars not so beautiful, blossoming like flowers among gravestones.

Stopping by for I Like Trains means that I’m unable to get close to Lite at the Yohkai stage, and aside from the odd glimpse of a silhouetted guitarist thrashing in the dark, I’m left to imagine what the band look like: a group a supernatural beings with elastic bands for arms, set upon a backdrop of tropical paradise in fast forward. They operate on their own plane of double-time, to the point where deliberation adopts the façade of intuitive reflex; I feel like a slow and cumbersome being in contrast, dazzled by the way Lite have snipped out all ounces of hesitation and recalibration to leave just a stream of beautiful action.

For Mono, my friend and I take along our foldout chairs and observe from afar. It’s refreshing to be able to observe the entire extent of the band’s panorama where so much of the weekend has me deserted directly within it. The band name makes so much sense in the live context – they are an inseparable surge of classical romance and botanical glow, melted into steady pulse and cymbal wash. The quieter moments showcase Mono’s affinity with opera and orchestration – with harmonies placed upon eachother with an architectural eye for symmetry and shape – and yet the points of eruption perpetuate the blaze that first started with the likes of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, with the fizz of guitars riding the strobelights into the sky. They take ArcTanGent beyond boiling point; by 11pm on Saturday night, there is nothing left for the festival to give and no energy left with which to receive it.