20 bands you need to watch this weekend at ArcTanGent

A decade since it first arrived on the festival calendar, Bristol’s ArcTanGent has become an essential destination for fans of alternative music from far leftfield. Beyond headliners Converge, Heilung and Devin Townsend, and there are a whole galaxy of sounds to discover...

20 bands you need to watch this weekend at ArcTanGent
Sam Law
Alexis Gross

We might be rolling towards the end of festival season 2023, but before we hit the long nights and countless club shows of autumn and winter, we’ve still got to survive the weirdest, wildest weekend of them all. 13 miles southwest of Bristol, Fernhill Farm has grown into something of a Mecca for lovers of all things prog and post-rock, psychedelic and sludgy. Having welcomed heavyweights like Meshuggah, Opeth and Cult Of Luna, as well as cult favourites Leprous, Amenra and Zeal & Ardor in recent editions, the bar has been set stratospherically high for ArcTanGent Festival.

But expect 2023 to top it. Massachusetts hardcore legends Converge (who previously defied stormy conditions to own ATG in 2017), enigmatic Scandi folk experimentalists Heilung and Canadian prog-metal overlord Devin Townsend will headline proceedings, alongside a host of other big names at the top of the bill. From Norwegian prog-metal icons Enslaved and infamous New York experimentalists Swans to Simon Neil’s grinding new project Empire State Bastard, Chicago post-metal heroes Russian Circles and San Francisco blackgaze masters Deafheaven – who’ll be marking 10 years of 2013 classic Sunbather by playing it in full – there’s no shortage of abstruse quality.

At this festival, perhaps more than any other, though, one of the biggest kicks has always been combing through the undercard to discover those outfits who’re still hauling themselves out of the underground. With the likes of Cave In, Loathe, And So I Watch You From Afar, The Ocean, SikTh, Bell Witch, Rolo Tomassi, Igorrr, Brutus and The Fall Of Troy also in attendance, there are simply too many legitimately great acts to fit on a list like this. But to help maximise your experience, we’ve torn the line-up apart to identify 20 lower-billed sets you definitely cannot miss...

Aiming For EnrikePX3, Saturday

How expansive can a band sound when they’ve got just two members, one guitar and a drumkit? Pretty damned expansive if they’re Oslo duo Aiming For Enrike. Having made their name with a singular brand of energetically ambient post-rock, Simen Følstad Nilsen and Tobias Ørnes Andersen expanded into even more experimentally electronic territory with January’s fifth album Empty Airports. We’ll see how songs like Slopes and Feel No Threat/Absent Lovers translate to the live arena when they hit the PX3 tent on Saturday evening.

AshenspireBixler, Friday

For underground metal aficionados, Ashenspire’s savage second album Hostile Architecture was one of the finest of 2022. Declaring that latest offering to be a ‘sonic exploration of the ways that subjects under late capitalism are constrained and set in motion via the various structures that uphold stratification and oppression in urban contexts’, the Glasgow collective mightn’t be the obvious choice to delight beery festival fields. To the contrary, expect the righteous miserabilism of bangers like Tragic Heroin and Mariners At Perditions Lighthouse to make for a lovely time.

Birds In RowPX3, Thursday

Awkwardly-named French hardcore punks Birds In Row certainly aren’t a new band. Indeed, the enigmatic Laval trio (identified only by one-letter initials) have been around since 2009, with three albums you really should’ve heard already. But they have a way of always sounding fresh and unexpected. Last October’s Gris Klein marked a shift towards (slightly) more accessible songwriting without losing too much of their trademark technical edge, and cuts like Cathedrals, Confettis and Trompe l'oeil should rip Thursday evening apart.

The Callous DaoboysBixler, Saturday

As with their incredible second album Celebrity Therapist, The Callous Daoboys’ Saturday afternoon set at ArcTanGent is guaranteed to make you feel something. Equal parts chaos, catharsis and intense confusion, the music made by the Atlanta collective will be too extreme for some; too weird for others, but songs like Violent Astrology and A Brief Article Regarding Time Loops will be manna from heaven for open minds with a taste for the truly unhinged. Get silly.

Chat PileYokhai, Thursday

When Chat Pile played The Netherlands’ revered Roadburn festival in April, it was their first-ever trip overseas. With most of the red-hot Oklahoma City noisemongers’ membership in their later thirties, and only now being able to scrape a living doing what they love, they’re ravenously making up for lost time. Between last year’s sublime debut God’s Country and the Brothers In Christ split with Kansas City’s Nerver, which dropped back in March, their catalogue’s already bursting at the seams with abrasive quality.

ConjurerBixler Stage, Wednesday

It’s probably fair to call Conjurer ArcTanGent favourites at this point. The hard-grafting midland extremists have only been to Fernhill Farm a couple of times – ripping it up in 2018 and 2022 – but their playful attitude and sludgy, unapologetically brutalist sound just connects with the ATG faithful. As a treat, they’ll be rolling out Curse These Metal Hands – their Peep Show-inspired side-project with the guys in Pijn – at high-noon on Friday, but it’s Wednesday’s prime-time showing where we’ll see prime cuts from last year’s Páthos unleashed in all their dark majesty.

Dawn Ray’dPX3, Friday

Music festivals have historically been hives of righteous thinking, existing in the sweet spot where fighting the good fight coincides with cutting loose. Dawn Ray’d deliver the sharpest, most anarchic version of that experience. The violin-inflected black metal ferocity of songs like In The Shadow Of The Past and Go As Free Companions sound like they could cast a cloud over the Friday afternoon sun. Instead, expect them to ignite the crowd with the incendiary energy of a Molotov cocktail.

DvneBixler Stage, Wednesday

Offered an unlimited budget and unrestricted availability from their favourite bands, it’d be easy to speculate on who ArcTanGent might book. Atlanta prog-metal monsters Mastodon would likely make the cut. As would Californian alt. icons Deftones. And, oh, go on then, they’ll have Tool, too. Originating from much closer to home – sure, Edinburgh isn’t exactly nextdoor to Bristol – Dvne offer the same grandiose sweep and outside-the-box heaviosity as those acts... and so much more.

ElderBixler, Thursday

Veterans of nearly two decades, some would’ve regarded Elder as potential peers of Mastodon and their ilk back in the day. The Massachusetts-formed, Berlin-based prog-doomsters haven’t reached anything like the same commercial heights, but they’ve justifiably become critical darlings. Expect songs like Catastasis and Merged In Dreams – Ne Plus Ultra from last year’s excellent sixth album Innate Passage to showcase a staggering balance of earthy weight and cosmic possibility.

HEALTHBixler Stage, Saturday

HEALTH are a difficult band to pin down. Last year’s collaborative album DISCO4:: PART II, for instance, saw the Californian cult heroes collaborating with everyone from Nine Inch Nails and Poppy to Lamb Of God and Ho99o9. And, whether powering through tracks of defiantly discordant noise-rock, or dragging listeners into a nightmarishly dystopian electronic hellscape, they are never less than thrilling. See for yourself as they smash the Bixler stage at sundown on Saturday.

LLNNPX3, Friday

Existing in a sort of sonic black site between the worlds of post-rock, industrial and hardcore, Copenhagen collective LLNN have created and honed a suffocating sound all their own. On record – as evidenced by 2021 opus Unmaker – their mastery is manifested in the layering of fathomless atmospheric textures: a delicate balance between glassy beauty and serrated brutality. Conversely, in the live environment songs like Desecrator, Forger and Obsidian can be utterly overpowering.

Mountain CallerArc Stage, Thursday

Like turning up with a blunderbuss to a knife fight, Mountain Caller’s irresistible brand of old-school, instrumental prog should stand out brazenly against ArcTanGent’s assemblage of the cutting edge – and blow away anyone who’s there for their midday main stage slot on Thursday. Between Claire Simson’s guitar, El Reeve’s bass and Max Maxwell’s thundering drums, the London trio command elemental force and scale. Compositions like Feast At Half-Life City and Journey Through The Twilight Desert deserve to be experienced in a setting like Fernhill Farm.

NAUTPX3, Saturday

ArcTanGent has always been famous for its outstanding silent disco, but those looking to throw shapes without a pair of flashing headphones covering their ears should get down to NAUT. The Bristol post-punks are fascinated by the teachings of Greek philosopher Heraclitus, but their live shows are far more interested in pulsating beats than big brains. Imbuing the dark swagger of goth-rock legends like Sisters Of Mercy and Fields Of The Nephilim with the uncompromising stomp of Motörhead and the steely industrial edge of Skinny Puppy, the dark magic of Dissent and All The Days should get everyone moving.

OHHMSPX3, Saturday

Have you ever thought about what it’d be like if your favourite scary movie was actually a song? Well, that’s kinda the idea effortlessly consistent Kent metal mainstays OHHMS seem to have been toying with of late, as frontman Paul Waller pours expertise amassed through his excellent podcast A Year In Horror into cracking compositions like Blood Feast, Body Melt, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death and Eaten Alive. Count on their PX3-closing set on Saturday night to be crunchily spooktacular.

Other HalfPX3, Thursday

“Nasty music for nice people.” That’s how Norwich alt.punks Other Half describe themselves, and it’s pretty hard to argue. Last December’s superb second album Soft Action felt like the work of lovely folks grown livid at the endless swell of bullshit that’s part and parcel of modern life. Songs like Trance State and Slab Thick might be far less feral than the work of Britain’s trendsetting punk leaders like IDLES and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, but they’re often far more incisive for it.

Pupil SlicerBixler Stage, Wednesday

When Pupil Slicer took to Download’s Dogtooth Stage earlier this summer, their scintillating severity grabbed punters’ attention despite the galaxy of stars performing elsewhere onsite. The scene will be different at ArcTanGent, with their slot on the Wednesday affording them the undivided attention of everyone who’s shelled-out for early entry. With Kate Davies’ ferocious delivery, and an arsenal of songs like Stabbing Spiders, Martyrs and Wounds Upon My Skin, their gruesome, gut-wrenching live presence just keeps reaching new heights.

SCALPINGBixler Stage, Wednesday

The placement of SCALPING as de facto headliners on the Wednesday at ArcTanGent 2023 might’ve raised a few eyebrows amongst the proggy faithful, but we doubt there’ll be many complaints come showtime. The Bristol techno-metallers, who combine their hometown’s off-the-wall EDM with the scourging textures of noise-rock and extreme metal, bring exactly the energy needed to get this kind of party started. And, in the thumping likes of Monolithium and Chamber, some of the most interesting compositions of the whole damn festival, too.

SvalbardYokhai Stage, Thursday

Svalbard already proved that their frosty post-hardcore is a perfect fit for summer fields at ArcTanGent’s sister festival 2000trees back in July. Expect their murkier shades to get more emphasis this weekend, though, as Serena Cherry and co. work to make the subtleties of songs like Throw Your Heart Away and The Currency Of Beauty stand out against the more similar sounds of the wider ATG line-up. By the time we get to Eternal Spirits’ scourging swirl, mind, we reckon they’ll be standing head and shoulders above.

WallowingBixler Stage, Thursday

Even by ArcTanGent’s esoteric standards, Brighton sludgecore collective Wallowing are pretty ‘out there’. From the colourful sci-fi concepts behind their songwriting to the outlandish beekeeper outfits they wear onstage, every element feels geared to generate intrigue. Hell, they even managed to pull off a gig at Waterstones recently, to tie-in with their work with comic book artist Luke Oram. What nuttiness will they bring to the Bixler stage on Thursday afternoon? Pull on your most impractical protective clothing and go find out!

WiegedoodArc Stage, Thursday

'Wiegedood' is the Dutch word for 'cot death'. Somehow, the misanthropic, blackly metallic music made by this Ghent collective is even more brutal and more uncompromising than that name would suggest. After the completion of their De Doden Hebben Het Goed (‘The Dead Have It Good’) trilogy, last year’s fourth album There’s Always Blood At The End Of The Road confirmed they would not be moving into lighter territory. Thursday’s set on the Arc stage should be absolutely horrible. Be there.

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