Live Review: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Thursday

Live Review: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Thursday
Words: Matt Noble
Photos: Carl Battams / Joe Singh / Jonathan Dadds

My visit to the main stage of Arctangent starts this year with the dulcet tones of Chinese Football, with their delicate brand of post-rock creating a warm, happy, summery atmosphere in the tent around lunchtime on the Thursday. The audience are clearly very into it, clapping along to the rhythms and giving the band a deserved reception. With intriguing chord voicings, intricate guitar lines and a clear sense of loud vs quiet dynamism, their music really leaves an impression, with elements of Midwest emo, indie and even anime soundtracks woven into the material. The triple vocal approach makes space for some really inventive melodies and overall, the Wuhan quartet really know how to bring brightness and colour with them to a festival that mostly leans towards much darker music. Not bad at all for a first ever show on these shores.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dadds

Wallowing couldn't be any more different, effectively suffocating the audience over their set time with a terrifying aural assault. Dressed anonymously as some kind of demonic beekeepers, it's a visual experience as much as it's a sonic one. Powerful dual screams and ugly undercurrents of feedback accentuate the blackened noise that they bring with them, with even a few progressive elements as they lean into free time or moments where there isn't really a beat to nod along to. The final ten or so minutes of their set seem to up the intensity even further, before an abrupt end to the performance sucks all the energy out of the tent into silence. Though most of the crowd spend the majority of the set in a desolate haze, Wallowing leave to rowdy cheers and a clear appreciation for their challenging yet rewarding performance. Arctangent seems like one of the few places where the band really could fit in musically and the band more than step up. They've got to be seen to be believed.

There's certainly a case to be made for local-ish heroes Svalbard to be much higher up the bill, but nonetheless they make the most of their second stage slot to a packed out tent. Frontwoman Serena shows a heartfelt appreciation to the festival and their crowd, who make their presence known. After a somewhat dreamier 'When I Die, Will I Get Better?' in 2020, I'm surprised in a good way at how intense and seething their newest material is. The closing Eternal Spirits feels nothing short of triumphant, seeing off the band to a huge response. Otherwise, the 'Will I Get Better?' material does really well, with Serena light heartedly thanking the crowd for saying 'fuck off' following a cathartic run-through of Click Bait. Disparity also gets an airing, pleasing longterm followers of the band. Today, Svalbard are tight, vocally monstrous and balance the emotionally heavy lyrical messages with a warm, positive and gracious presence in the tent. Top notch!

Photo Credit: Carl Battams
Unlike Chinese Football, who are actually a Chinese band, Russian Circles hail from Chicago. I hadn't seen them since they supported Mastodon a few years prior to Covid, but today they reminded me just how important and awesome they really are. Their soft intro serves as a calm before the storm, as they lead us along a hell of a journey, rich in melody and atmosphere, with some dreamy soundscapes alongside serious moments of grit and power. They guide their audience on a wide range of moods, dictating the responses that they gain in return with what seems like ease. The sound in the tent serves the band really well, particularly the powerful drums that sound nothing short of huge. I can usually judge instrumental bands like Russian Circles by the way they capture the undivided attention of those around me as well as myself, and tonight they pass spectacularly.
Photo Credit: Joe Singh

The first main stage headliner of the weekend is Converge, who remind everyone why they're so influential. They've got everything that you'd expect from a Converge set; tightness, razor sharp riffs, and an intense chaos alongside the more atmospheric moments. They have always been very much multidimensional and they really suit the role of Arctangent headliner. Though the sound doesn't work quite as well for them as some bands before them today, Jacob Bannon's vocal performance is incredibly potent. With nineteen songs in the set, there's a clear sense that they're not there to mess around, wanting to please their fans with as many numbers as possible. Worms Will Feed, Homewrecker and Heartless are among the highlights of the main set, as well as the well-received new material from this year's 'The Dusk in Us', such as the powerful I Can Tell You About Pain starting the encore before the classic Concubine. The mosh pits really go up a notch for these two as we reach the end of the night, though when they pull out a cover of Entombed's Wolverine Blues, it makes the set feel absolutely legendary. A worthy headline performance - could anyone have followed that?

Photo Credit: Joe Singh

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