A dense blanket of fog had descended upon the hilltop, reducing visibility to only about fifteen to twenty yards or so around. Roaming through the campsite on the way back alone was a eerie thing, dead silent and all at some time between two and three in the morning. Finding where I was camped at was a challenge at the deep end of my fourth plastic bottles worth of cheap wine. I punctuated the silence of the early hours of the morning with trips over guy ropes and accompanying profanity. One day down, two more to go. The prospect of the going back to routine afterwards set in; back to work, the impending start of my third year of university and dreading my dissertation. I was going to make it count.
ArcTanGent is like nothing else you’ll ever experience elsewhere, whether that’s a positive thing or not of course depends on your character. As the UK’s only festival dedicated to post-rock, math-rock and noise rock, suffice to say it’s a niche affair, but one without the pretentious hipster connotations that label would suggest. This year for me it meant bonding over bands with my estranged best friend who I used to go to Reading with, and haven’t seen hardly enough since moving away back in 2013. She only came for Cult of Luna, so that left me free to finally share all the kind of stuff I’m so engrossed in with someone that would actually appreciate it. As a lone post-rock fan amongst my social circle I’ve gotten used to the difficulty in getting company to go along to gigs with, so it made for a welcome change from that frustrating and often inconvenient sense of solitude. I’ve spent a while now trying to sell it as something accessible for anyone adventurous and open-minded like up for for a break from the norm, and my experiences over the weekend only further backed up that view.
Thursday kicked off the revelries with returning acts Mylets, LITE and 65daysofstatic. Out of the crowd I was surprised to find the couple who camped next to me at Trees, having got tickets working behind the bar the next day. Like us they didn’t really know anyone else though, so of course I latched on to them. The weather took it’s first turn for the worst which cleared out the hammocks, caked in mud but I was well beyond caring by then. The forecast was dire out atop the Mendips with a storm due on Sunday. It didn’t matter yet though, since it’s fair to hack a day or two sodden in a cold field provided you stave off sobriety right?
Come Saturday we were anticipating the arrival of Drew, the third of our group. Having spoken a day or so beforehand we hadn’t made a time or place to meet besides what coach he was supposed to get. After all too soon we’d given up searching for signal since it was shit out this far in the sticks. Eventually I stumbled across a bar or two and managed to make a call, finding him expected to arrive at five, late as ever. So we carried on with our plan delving into the days acts on offer with little knowledge about any until Her Name is Calla for an afternoon of curiosities, the downright weirdest of which being Trojan Horse. I still haven’t been able process it since, besides from their eccentric style as the show descended into what resembled some kind of mental breakdown climaxing in guttural screaming of the three piece in a trance like state, with guitars against amps and knelt heads down on the stage. Also of note were Body Hound as a highlight we hadn’t had on the cards.
It’s a thing I admire that so many small-time bands and the headliners are given the opportunity to share the spotlight on the main stage, and it works out for the crowd too in the afternoons. There’s the same kind of understated air to the art stuff on too, purely a side show or rather scene setting for the main event. I’m something of a philistine, so I appreciate keeping it low-key and bullshit-free. Apparently there was a stone circle too, although I didn’t see it.
A fleeting moment
The peak of weekend that was reached for me was without a doubt Maybeshewill, backed by brass and strings including violinist Sophie Green from Calla. They’re a big name on the scene and have become something of a staple having played each year running so far. Asking around everyone seemed to either be there for them or had already seen them a dozen times before already. What made it though was the encore, a rarity at festivals after all but one they probably saw coming since they’d left out fan favourite Not for Want of Trying, aptly described as ‘the heavy one’ with the “mad as hell” monologue from the 1976 satirical film Network.
A festival probably isn’t the best time and place to have an existential crisis, but it meant catharsis after a shit year since last time. The nostalgia of it couldn’t help but make me contemplate the rest of the calendar to which leads up to that apex of the summer. Mistakes I’ve made and my looming 21st birthday leave me in disarray as still nothing close to a grown up, closer to a glorified child let loose with an overdraft, that I’d promptly max out. There’s a liberating quality of it though, a kind of release when you’ve been in a rut and escape from the real world, even just for a little while, to immerse yourself in hedonism, self-indulgence and belt your heart out. Even if you might lose your shoes.
By Fall of Troy the night had become a blur between drinks and Drew’s arrival. As The Dillinger Escape Plan took the stage, he turned to my side asking as to whether it was worth taking off his glasses, to which I replied indifferently. Turns out it would have been, as the front of the packed out main stage opened up into utter chaos. I dived right in to the writhing mass of bodies not to find him again until the morning. Then without a doubt the ‘rockstar moment of the weekend’ came when vocalist Greg Puciato surfed the crowd, scaled up the scaffolding. As far as stage-presence and ego goes it made for a spectacle.
The wine was long gone by this point, and my face had been smothered with gold glitter by one of my neighbours, so we made headway to the silent disco. At some point I left myself flat broke going for more of those pocket sized Pistonhead tins I’m a sucker for. At least I wasn’t down and out since I had alcohol, shrapnel and the ten pounds saved on the deposit for my headphones would cover the train back from Bristol come Sunday. It came close to call, but I was fine for another days overhead.
A difficult decision
The next morning felt as terrible as anticipated, but at least I had enough to eat, so we went back to the Fernhill Farm stall that we’d be frequenting thus far. By this point the lows had set in, largely since I was dehydrated that meant the nasty tasting water. The same issue had arose last year, but this time around it had a much worse, over-chlorinated aftertaste to it that I wasn’t alone in complaining about, finding others at the tea room atop a double decker bus searching for something else besides bottled stuff. We ended up searching through the bookcycle shelves there and I ended up with a copy of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, mostly just to use a table for rolling but making for a souvenir.
The schizophrenic weather changed its face from flushed humidity to sudden downpour at about 5pm catching me in the campsite. What started out as a relief turned into a drenching and legged it back to the comfort of my towel. It didn’t stick around long, after about twenty minutes of mulling over whether it’d be worth going to PG.Lost or not, but it turned out alright in the end in time before them and Marriages.
In the biggest upset of unintended festival clashes came Cult of Luna having their flights delayed which messed up the stage times and left me with a god awful choice between them and Deafheaven to mull over. Adjusted stage times were handled out by the fistful but I managed to wreck mine by getting it wet. I chose the latter and stuck through the rain, but probably because of the clashing it wasn’t the same as the night before. I didn’t even stick around to the end, drenched and tired I crashed out early.
Come Sunday we woke to pack up and get out on first bus as soon as possible. The weather was not conducive of a hangover to say the least, after sleeping in what was essentially a puddle. There was a good five minutes that followed of panicking after apparently losing our coach tickets only to find them soaked but still just about intact in a crumpled Sainsburys bag.
Clambering into the same old Routemaster that took us there, out of the rain we sat in silence. Probably because we were sleep deprived and sodden, we didn’t need to fill the time with small talk after three days going all out. Maybe I’m just looking back through those rose-tinted glasses that are post-festival blues, but I reckon Paul Russell from Axes aptly summed up the feeling of the weekend when he asked the crowd “does anyone else feel like they’ve come back home?” Because I did.