As the only UK festival dedicated to showcasing the very best in math rock, post-rock and noise rock, the award-winning ArcTanGent festival was back again for its third edition in August. TPi rolled out in force to brave the wilds surrounding Bristol and discover why more and more people are flocking to this boutique event.
Despite capacity being strictly limited to 5,000 attendees, word hasn’t stopped getting out about what ArcTanGent has to offer. The event has gained the backing of a powerful sponsor in Orange Amplification, and continues to see fresh recognition – namely its appearance on the shortlists for Best New Festival, Grass Roots Festival and Best Small Festival at the 2014 UK Festival Awards (winning Best Toilets) as well as this year’s AIM awards for Best Independent Music Festival.
Following on from sister event 2000trees, ArcTanGent was set up to provide an intimate festival environment, focusing almost entirely on the music itself, while attempting to cut out many of the negative aspects usually found at larger mainstream events. With four stages for festivalgoers to choose from, this year’s event offered three days of pure math-rock indulgence with bands on show such as 65daysofstatic, Alright the Captain, The Dillinger Escape Plan and Cult of Luna to name but a few.
Perhaps as a result of ArcTanGent’s focus on experimentation and musicianship, the event has tended to draw a slightly older demographic than some of its more conventional rock and metal counterparts, with very few of those in attendance falling below the age of 23.
Although many of the faces behind the scenes at the festival would have been familiar to those who attended 2000trees, there remains the conviction that ArcTanGent upholds its own, distinct ethos.
The initial idea behind of ArcTanGent came from Festival Director Goc O’Callaghan along with two fellow business partners James Scarlett and Simon Maltas. O’Callaghan talked about how ArcTanGent found a niche within the already saturated UK festival scene: “We were very conscious of not just putting on a generic indie rock festival. We have seen a lot of those sorts of festivals go bust over the years, so we specifically looked for a very niche corner of the industry to create something that hadn’t been done before.”
O’Callaghan saw that there were no other festivals dedicated to this genre, with its closest competitor being ATP festival – an indoor event that recently went bust. She also went on to state that ArcTanGent has found a home in Bristol: “The fact that Bristol didn’t really have an outdoor camping festival, as well as the city having a great music scene, meant it made sense that ArcTangent should be based there.”
Over its three years in existence, ArcTanGent has seen significant growth – with this year exceeding the 4,000 mark for festivalgoers and organisers predicting it reaching 5,000 for next year’s event.
“We do have the capacity to grow to 20,000 if we wanted to,” stated O’Callaghan. “But we have discussed that we will not go any bigger than 10,000.”
It is clear that ArcTanGent is keen to hold on to its independence. O’Callaghan added: “Keeping the festival smaller means we create an intimate vibe that attracts a certain type of crowd. We have had so many compliments on how friendly the crowds are and what a nice environment it is. I don’t think that you can really do that with a big festival.” It is clear that the organisers behind ArcTanGent are passionate about keeping the festival relevant and it is very much ‘all hands on deck’ for all aspects of the festival; from initial set up to pack down. However, it is also not uncommon to seem them in the crowd with the rest of the fans. As O’Callaghan said: “We are making our dream event to attend. It just so happens that we are running it rather than buying a ticket.”
The festival is based on a farm a short drive from Bristol city centre and, although exposed to the elements, the site has proved to be perfect for holding the annual event.
“One of the main reasons that we chose Fernhill Farm was that there are hard standing roads throughout the site,” commented O’Callaghan. “Apart from our smallest stage, the PX3, every single one of our stages backs on to a hard standing road. This was very much a tactical move on our part so that, if we were to get even more apocalyptic rain than we did this year, we are still able to drive trucks in!”
Just as with any festival, health and safety is always a concern. However, as well as the usual festival concerns, ArcTanGent also has the added issue of catering for acts renowned for the energetic live performances. The Dillinger Escape Plan, New Jersey heavyweights of the math rock world, have made a name for themselves over the last 20 years as having one of the most intense and death-defying live shows within the alternative world. Their ArcTanGent slot was no exception as they entertained the crowd with their usual antics of jumping off guitar rigs and crowd surfing, reaching a climax as their singer, Greg Puciato, scaled the centre king pole and launched himself into a sea of brave fans below.
On the subject of preparing for their set, O’Callaghan commented: “Security was important to us. Not necessarily from the perspective of controlling the band but more from the stance that we wanted Dillinger to do what they do best, put on their live show and therefore make sure our security were briefed accordingly. This is probably not apparent to many people on site but there was a team of 30 people overall that made sure Dillinger were kept happy.”
This involved a great deal of communication between artist liaison teams as well as ArcTanGent’s stage managers.
O’Callaghan added: “Credit to ESP, who are the security company we use. They are very much on side with the festival. I think in three years they have begun to get a good grasp on what our crowd is like. The crowd are not at all troublesome and security is also aware that we are going to book these extreme bands that are going to do some slightly obscure stuff. For them it’s a nice development in their opportunity to act as security for something that is slightly out side the norm.”
Dave Fuller and the team from G Stages has worked with ArcTanGent from its inaugural year in 2013, providing all the staging for the event. Fuller explained: “We first met as they were looking for a unique main stage option. We liaise with A&J Big Top Hire on load in and load out, and also with Peak Hire to make sure everyone is happy.”
G Stages starts its building process with three staff on site, though this increases to a team of five when it comes time to sheet the main G2 stage. According to Fuller, it usually takes six days to build and three days to de-rig and clear the site.
He continued: “We provide three small tent stages and the G2, along with a deck and FOH. The main challenge is building the G2 on such a slope as the framework is ground-mounted and each arch base needs to be level.”
The G2 Stage, which also serves as the Glade Stage at Glastonbury Festival, is a hexagonal arched structure 28 metres in diameter, with a seventh arch stage pod. The arch can accommodate a 10 metre by 10-metre stage and any configuration of stage deck can be built inside the main structure. The side arches are over seven metres high and, despite being partially enclosed, offer good site lines for large audiences extending well outside the structure. To secure it, the structure is ground-pinned or ballasted on base frames.
Just as ArcTanGent’s health and safety team prepared for all manner of stage-diving and truss-scaling, Fuller and his crew were sure to maintain their usual level of attention to detail in securing the G2. He said: “Although ArcTanGent is a relatively small event, the team that put it on are really professional and do all they can to make it easy for us to work. As for the bands performing on the stage, we always try to build each of our structures to the highest possible standard so, hopefully, there is no problem with whoever is performing.”
As a sponsor of the event, Orange Amplification supplied the main backline for each stage, with London-based John Henry’s acting as facilitator for a lot of its loan stock.
Endorsement Manager at John Henry’s, Jamie Henry, explained: “We hold an awful lot of Orange stock, and they took the request to supply each stage with a set of amplifiers and cabinets. We were obliged to prep it all, load it onto our trucks and deliver it to each of the stages on site.”
The ArcTanGent Orange backline consists of 17 amplifiers and 23 cabinets, which serves as gear for all of the stages and a supplement of back-up gear in case anything fails during the festival.
Henry continued: “We did the same thing for the 2000trees festival, in that Orange sponsored it and we provided 20 amplifiers, 25 cabinets, and trucked them to and from the site. This is the first time ArcTanGent has been on my radar, but it worked so well for Orange at 2000trees that they asked us to get involved again.
“Its difficult juggling events at the busiest time of year but Orange stockpile so much gear at John Henry’s that we are flexible to supply anyone at any time. I’ve got other Orange endorsees coming to collect gear in dribs and drabs while we are loading trucks at the same time.”
John Henry’s is also the main supplier for major summer events like V Festival, Reading and Leeds, as well as having an involvement with Glastonbury, Bestival and Latitude. Where these mainstream events require a backline tailored to each individual performer, rock and metal-based festivals such as ArcTanGent or 2000trees can be attacked in more of a blanket fashion.
Henry said: “The bands will obviously bring their own gear when needed, but as soon as they see the festival rider listing so much Orange backline, they know they just need to rock up, plug in a guitar, and they’re away.”
Aside from the Orange backline provided by John Henry’s, any ArcTanGent artists that have either other branding commitments or further requirements are covered by Complete Tours. Managing Director of the company, Nathan Clark, explained: “We used to supply all the backline for both ArcTanGent and 2000trees, but then Orange came in with a sponsorship offer that the ArcTanGent organisers couldn’t refuse, meaning we moved into a more organisational role. We coordinate the backline, along with the Natal gear from Marshall, from set up to breakdown and supply the additional equipment the bands need.”
While Natal provide a drum kit per stage at ArcTanGent, there are further requests from bands such as Cult of Luna, who need two drum kits and have very specific requirements in terms of size. Clark commented: “We will find out before what gear will be available, but you will always have to accommodate bands that have very specific needs.”
As well as seeing to these requirements, 2015 will also see Complete Tours running the press area at ArcTanGent for the first time. Clark said: “Last year I spent two days in the press area and I noticed nothing was happening there. I brought this up to the organisers and they were good enough to entrust it to us this year. We are trying to get as much coverage as possible for all the bands as well as the festival itself.”
On top of branching out into PR, Clark revealed that Complete Tours could also move into providing merch services at the event in the future.
If that was not enough, he added that warm up rooms akin to the ones Complete Tours used to run at the Download and Sonisphere festivals could also make an appearance at ArcTanGent 2016.
Clark said: “We used to take a varied backline and set up so that bands could come in and jam – it was really good fun. The ArcTanGent organisers liked the sound of this and are seriously considering letting us do the same kind of thing for them next year. The bands at this festival will get more out of it than most, as they are all phenomenal musicians and so serious about their jobs.”
Whatever Complete Tours’ involvement is in next year’s edition, you can be sure that it’ll be present, as the relationship forged three years ago is going from strength to strength.
“The people that run it see it as less of a money making scheme and more a way of promoting and supporting the music. You can quite often find the organisers in the crowd, just watching the bands. It is this kind of attitude that makes ArcTanGent one of my favourite festivals,” Clark added.
Taking on the task of supplying sound, lighting, power and rigging was Cheltenham-based Peak Hire. The company has been with ArcTanGent from the beginning supplying gear for all four stages. Director of Peak Hire and the festival’s Project Manager, Karl Ashman, was on site to talk through its involvement with the festival: “We have been involved since the festival’s first year in 2013 and have been with them ever since.”
Having already worked with some of the festival’s organisers on previous events, Peak Hire has become one of the main cogs in the ArcTanGent machine and were once again present in force with a team of 16, as well as several drivers.
Ashman mentioned that many of the Peak Hire crew were alien to the genres of music that ArcTanGent specialises in: “We were introduced to the term math-rock by one of the organisers and we didn’t know what it was several years ago. We are extremely familiar with it now but in the beginning it did throw up a few challenges as it requires a certain treatment on the sound front. Often we had to add a bit more sub here and there to provide the needed coverage. The artists, the promoters and the punters alike are very astute listeners to this genre of music. It could be construed that it is fairly sort of brash and loud but in actuality, they are surprisingly attentive to the nuances of what they are hearing.”
For the three larger stages (Arc, Yohkai and Bixler) Peak Hire provided various Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW) speakers while providing Mach speakers for the smaller PX3 stage. It is perhaps slightly irregular to see EAW stacks at a UK Festival but for Peak Hire there is no question of using another system. Ashman commented: “We are fond of EAW and we have a good working relationship. The brand is perhaps not quite as high profile in this country as it once was but I think it is making headway now, especially with its new Anya system, which it hopes to audition in the UK soon. It is testament to the quality and popularity of a line array model, which was first produced in 2003, and still being made today. EAW don’t forget that either. Just recently it tweaked the Resolution software of the KF730 and KF740 line array models, so are always improving.
“We like the features EAW designs into its boxes and our clients like the sound. It is very encouraging when an artist’s engineer comments that they like the system. The aim is to make the devices between the artist and the audience as transparent as possible and EAW has always allowed us to get as close to that as possible. Our stock profile means we can suit a variety of applications with the right cabinet, all scalable to the requirement.” For the main stage eight KF740 ground stacked line array along with eight SB1002 subs, two KF730 front fill and 10 MW15 monitors. All sound was headed up by Soundcraft MH3 (48 channels) for monitors and a MH2 (48 channels) for FOH.
It was not just sound that required Peak Hire to utilise different techniques at ArcTanGent, lighting also requires a unique touch. Ashman explained: “At more generic festival stages you’ll have some good colour and some good movement. But with this particular crowd they are much more into the sort of flash and bang impact as opposed to other sites.” For the main stage system, Ashman used 12 Robe Pointes, eight Robe Robins, a 600E Spot, four elumen8 2 cell LED Blinders, 16 Robe Robin LEDs, a Wash 600s, 12 ETC Source4 PARs, two Martin Professional Atomic Strobes and 12 LEDJ colour blocks.
One of the highlights of this year’s festival was a closing set from Sweden’s Cult of Luna who, due to flight delays, had to play at the later time of 10:30pm on the secondary Yohkai stage. Despite this setback, the stage show was transposed seamlessly – a testament to the the professionalism of both the band and crew.
The use of back lighting meant that the band played virtually their whole set in silhouette to the audience, an atmosphere carefully crafted by LD Alexis Sevenier. Two ETC source 4 Bar6s, four 2 cell LED blinders, four Martin Professional MAC 700Ps, two Martin MAC 700Ws, 12 Cameo 600 LED battens, and two Studio Due CS2s made all of this possible.
Tom Campbell, LD for British band Vennart, was behind the lighting desk of the Yohkai stage on the Friday night. “I went to ArcTanGent in its first year with one of the headliners and was happy be back this year with Vennart. Everyone from Peak Hire were great and catered for our extra package including some additional Robe kit.” He went on to state that: “I personally think ArcTanGent and its sister festival 2000trees are two of the most important UK festivals out there, allowing artists whose genres may not fit into other festivals play to a good-sized audience.“
With ArcTanGent being situated at the top of a hill, one concern for the festival owners when bands run late is sound leakage. Peak Hire was on top of such issues. Ashman commented: “Sound leakage on that site its pretty well policed. They have several events on the same site in an average year and they are pretty much on top of it. We have monitoring at FOH positions so that we can adhere to whatever we are given and when we have visiting engineers we can lean over their shoulders to make sure they are complying.”
Ashman and the whole Peak Hire team seem more than prepared to return for round four of ArcTanGent as the director spoke about plans to perhaps make better use of vertical space at the Arc stage.
As well as being the third year for ArcTanGent, 2015 also marks the third year of its cooperation with the British & Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM) – a relationship that was strengthened from the beginning by the festival’s close proximity to BIMM’s Bristol campus.
Suzi Ireland, Artist Promotion and Festival Manager at BIMM Bristol, said: “In the past we have had around 25 students working backstage in a variety of roles. These range from artist liaison and stage management roles to backline teching, stewarding and everything in between. Students can decide which avenue they want to take and hopefully we can help them out. This year we have worked across quite a few festivals but ArcTanGent was one of our first.”
Ireland and her colleagues assess the students throughout the year in order to ascertain who is ready to step up, and which opportunities they would be best suited to. More practically inclined students like engineers might even get a full summer of experience by working on a succession of festivals. There is also varying levels of responsibility for the students from shadowing roles to more hands-on involvement.
These introductory experiences can ultimately lead to full-time work for the students. Ireland explained: “James Scarlett, one of the festival’s organisers, saw some really good work from our students at 2000trees and ArcTanGent last year and has now got them into paying roles. If you show that you are willing to go and learn and offer your skills for free, then people will quickly notice if you are doing a good job. It is a nice model that seems to be forming quite naturally as the years go by.”
Perhaps due to the fact that it caters to something of a niche in the rock milieu, BIMM’s students are not breaking into ArcTanGent’s line-up in the same way they have at other festivals. The 2015 incarnation of the event will only host one act from the BIMM stable, Patchwork Natives, but Ireland does not see this as a problem.
She said: “We do have a few bands in development but I need to be careful of putting people forward when they are not quite ready. While the festivals are a good incentive for our backstage students, they act as a powerful driving force behind our artists and bands. The first year students are now seeing more established bands from various BIMM campuses getting festival slots, which directly inspires them to up their game for next summer. We see it as a healthy form of competition, and one that ensures BIMM and ArcTanGent go from strength to strength.”
Words courtesy of TPi
Header photo credit: Joe Singh of snaprockandpop