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FESTIVAL REVIEW: ArcTanGent 2019 – Thursday

ArcTanGent has been a haven for fans of math-rock, post-rock, post-hardcore and all the weird, noisy spaces in between for seven years now, and with each passing event it gets bigger and better, making it one of the highlights of the UK festival season. New to this year’s event is a stripped-back stage at the bar, plus a showcase tent for guitar demonstrations and presentations; just two more examples of the festival’s ever-growing ambition and drive to please their audience. 

Kicking us off at the Yokhai stage is California duo Floral, who cover all bases of any good math rock set: superb musicianship, jangly riffs, an array of time signatures and tempo dynamics, and an audience trying hopelessly to dance to jagged rhythms. The pair stick to what they do best, offering little by way of variation as the set goes on, but what they do is summery, uplifting and a pleasure to witness. For song two of their set they’re joined by a friend who performs a mesmerising hat juggling routine, which ups the ante on stage presence for all following acts of the weekend. As confetti flies from a bowler hat to settle on guitarist Nate Sherman‘s spangly American flag jacket, it tops off a memorable and enjoyable opening to the weekend ahead. 7/10

Things get much heavier at PX3 as London-based metallic hardcore quintet Ithaca take to the stage. The intensity of guitarist Sam Chetan-Welsh‘s stage presence and Djamilia Azzouz‘s bone shattering vocals get the audience’s blood pumping, and as double bass blasts mix with churning riffs, the weekend’s first mosh pit erupts at the front of the crowd. The quality of the band’s debut album The Language of Injury has put them on the map, and with live performances this devastating, you can only see their empire spreading and growing over time.  7/10

We’re only three acts into the festival and already the scale of diversity at ArcTanGent is plain to see. From instrumental math rock, to hard hitting metal, to a soothing acoustic pop session courtesy of Covet guitarist Yvette Young. Young’s beautifully finger picked chords are a delight, and the wonderfully placed finger tapping gives a lilting flourish, creating enchanting melodies that capture the audience. Sadly, her seated position on a low stage means that most of the crowd are unable to watch her play, but the delightful sounds are enough to leave the crowd satisfied at the end of the set. 7/10

Nordic Giants get a much deserved upgrade to the main stage this year, having performed a cramped and stifling set in the cosy PX3 tent on their last visit in 2017. The Arc stage allows them access to a massive screen and more capacity for noise, providing them with all the ingredients they need to produce a fantastic set. The duo combine post-rock with cinema to stunning effect, providing moving, instrumental scores to a series of short films. The imagery is just as captivating as the music, holding the audience’s attention from start to finish and offering a unique live experience. The two musicians, clad in their signature stage attire of feather headdresses, put keyboards, a trumpet, drums, electronics and guitars to great use, adding variation to their musical palette throughout. The set finishes with a unique cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, featuring a guest appearance by Evi Vine on vocals, played as a touching tribute to Dan Beesley who lost his battle with cancer towards the end of 2018. The pictures of Dan on screen are a reminder of the everlasting impact he made on this scene, and as Nordic Giants produce yet another fantastic set, it’s clear they’re having quite the impression themselves. 9/10

Yvette Young hops over to Yokhai to join the rest of her band in Covet for another round of highly impressive guitar work. In full electric splendour, and with a much higher elevation on stage, the crowd can witness her mesmerising finger picking skills as she caresses her way through jagged riffs and rhythms. The level of musicianship in the band is undeniable, and on any individual song, Covet tick all the boxes of beautiful math rock, however as the set wears on you’re left wishing for a bit more variation in their songwriting. That said, with bassist David Adamiak‘s loud jumper and drummer Forrest Rice‘s constant beaming smile, it’s hard to not be swept away by the feel good vibes of the band’s set. 7/10

The theme of guitar virtuosity at Yokhai continues with Polyphia, who take the level of musicianship up yet another notch. Tim Henson is captivating to watch, playing his guitar with an effortless ease that seems out of place with the number of notes that cascade from his fretboard. Playing a mixture of old and new tracks, the band stay seamlessly tight, thanks in no small part to drummer Clay Aeschliman, who expertly manages the unenviable task of navigating the constant rhythm and tempo changes put forth by two extremely talented guitarists. Instrumental bands often abandon attempts at verbal rapport with the crowd, but bassist Clay Gober bucks the trend with constant waves of encouragement, firing up the audience and inciting an uprising of crowd surfers. It’s a good addition to the live set and brings the band closer to their audience. “I don’t want to ever forget this performance” says Gober at the end of the set, and it’s unlikely most of those present at Yokhai will either. 8/10

Amazingly, Coheed and Cambria have been around for almost 25 years now, releasing nine full length records during their time. Though they’ve toured the UK many times, this marks their first appearance at ArcTanGent, and they draw from all corners of their back catalogue for an end to remember on the opening day. Iconic frontman Claudio Sanchez cuts an unmistakable silhouette beneath the atmospheric wall of smoke, his signature frizzy hair and power stance ready to unleash a carousel of catchy progressive rock anthems. The Dark Sentencer, The Gutter and True Ugly from latest album Unheavenly Creatures sound huge live and receive praise from the audience, but they’re overshadowed by the reaction when the first notes of In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth III kick in. Complementing it with the upbeat Favour House Atlantic ensures the satisfaction of long standing fans, before more cuts of new material play through to the end. The band’s experience and talent ensures a flawlessly executed set and when Welcome Home plays out to close proceedings, it brings a delightful end to the first day of the festival. 9/10

Written by: Mark Johnson