ArcTanGent Festival: A different angle

arc 2 300x225 ArcTanGent Festival: A different angleEvery year a number of new, small independent music festivals make their debut in the UK, offering an alternative to the larger, more-established behemoths. Remfry Dedman went to the first ever ArcTanGent festival near Bristol and explains why it’s leaving the competition behind.

Standing at the crossroads, smack bang in the centre of the very first ArcTanGent festival is an overwhelming experience. To the north-east of me is the Arc stage, where the sound of a scatterbrain fight between a pulsing synth and feedback-drenched electric guitar seems to be resulting in no victor.

It is an aural assault that sounds like the future of music. Slightly behind me and to my right, I can smell a sumptuous feast of slow cook braised beef burritos, succulent lightly smoked chicken wraps and fish pie, consisting of salmon, haddock, pollock & prawns in a creamy sauce.

Acoustic guitars are plentiful and those brave enough to showcase their talents are able to do so in a tent dedicated to open mic, board games and the soft-furnishings of a late Sixties hippy commune. There’s even an arts and crafts tent for those feeling a spontaneous spark of creativity. Everywhere I look I see something strange, exciting, captivating or in some cases, just down-right odd. The only thing that stays the same, no matter where I look, is the sea of smiling faces.

My first forays into the “festival experience” evoke teenage memories of muddy boots, muddy sound and a muddy disposition in a vast joyless corporate sponsored arena, swimming against the tide of 80,000 feckless delinquents, who thought it was probably a good idea to spend £200 to get blind-drunk in a field. There is none of that to be found here.

The small, capped capacity (around 3,000) makes proceedings more personable without sacrificing atmosphere. The sound is loud, yet crystal clear. The three main organizers, James Scarlett, Goc O’ Callaghan and Simon Maltas, can be seen wandering the festival grounds, speaking with anyone and everyone. Even the bands are happily wandering the festival site, many staying for the entire weekend and many commenting on how this is the highlight of their summer.

arc 300x225 ArcTanGent Festival: A different angleThe real genius of this festival though is its emphasis on music over everything else. The line-up constitutes a very broad range of genre, musicianship and styles which at first may not seem to have all that much in common with each other but there is one very distinct through-line. These bands have relentlessly passionate and devoted fans.

This is not music that you idly come across on the radio or on an advert for a Toyota Prius. This is music that you search for, something that is actively sought out by a community of music fans who aren’t getting the same buzz out of music heard via mainstream channels.

It’s not elitist, not in the slightest, everyone is welcome, but it’s not for everyone either and this very fact is what gives ArcTanGent the edge over your more run-of-the-mill festivals. If you are here, you are here to listen to some of the best music this country has to offer, in a field, with 2,999 other like-minded individuals. I’ve never seen so many people literally sprinting between stages in between sets, in order to catch as many seconds of the next band as possible. The dedication and camaraderie of ArcTanGent’s punters is what makes the festival truly special.

It’s such a joy to see some of the best kept secrets in music being given the time, space and sound that they deserve, rather than being shunted off on to a tiny energy drink sponsored cubicle with a 20 minute set and a sound reminiscent of a droning aeroplane.

…And so I watch you from afar are on ecstatically life-affirming form and yet are humbled by their rapturous response, their joyful spindly guitar lines being sung back note for note as if the crowd’s life depended on it. Baby Godzilla are at once raucously fun and intensely terrifying as they practically tear down the Arc stage in a bid to get as close to their audience as possible (which they do, as this writer, at one point acting as microphone stand, can attest). Arcane Roots give a stunningly articulate and technical performance without forgetting the need for incredible song-craft and a melody that will be lodged in your head all weekend.

It all adds up to an incredibly successful first year with only a few minor niggles. Some of the tents (Yohkai and Bixler particularly) were slightly too small for bands who drew the biggest crowds. Timings between stages are staggered, which is fantastic, but a five-minute gap between sets finishing on one stage, and beginning on another would mean people wouldn’t have to miss a thing. And a few more mobile toilets wouldn’t have gone amiss.

That said, to say that ArcTanGent has been run with more care, more love and more attention to detail than any of the larger festivals is an understatement of quite staggering proportions. As I stand at the crossroads I can’t help but think, “this is exactly how it should be done.”

ArcTanGent will return in 2014

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