Arctangent Festival, for 10 years now, has been bringing the bombastic joy and boneshaking bass of the heavier side of the alternative rock scene to the fairytale-like Mendip Hills of Somerset. Over its three days, it makes clear time and time again the true community feel that it’s maintained throughout its lifetime, as the camping sites sprout tents and friendly chatter floats through the air. Over a hundred acts grace the stages of Arctangent, spanning genres from post-hardcore and progressive metal to ambient metal and experimental rock, and the diversity of the line-up is reflected in the diversity of attendees, with families with young children in their wellies to the older crowd sat in camping chairs at the edges of the stages screaming and boogying as hard as the crowd at the barrier.
The food options on offer at Arctangent are just as wide as the musical offerings, with vegan and gluten free options and a veritable smorgasbord of foods from all over the world, from pad thai to jerk chicken, with all the vendors well educated on allergens and happy to help ensure the safety of any attendees with allergies. On top of this variety, the bars located all over the site provide not just the expected spirits and mixers but also award winning eco friendly beers from Warwickshire based Purity Brewing. To match the wide array of food and drinks, the festival site had well spaced out bins to provide both general and recycling, and the site even by the final day had next to no littering visible, showing the high standard that Arctangent maintains as an eco friendly and genuinely pleasant site to visit.
A further joy of Arctangent was a real surprise to me. As any festival-goer knows, the toilet facilities are usually a minorly terrifying thing with queues and inescapable empty toilet roll holders haunting each festival. However, Arctangent flipped that expectation on its head for me. Not only were the queues few and far between, but the portaloos themselves were well-maintained and clean, and across the whole festival, I didn’t encounter a single toilet bereft of toilet roll or hand sanitiser.
With the energy of the crowds, and very British rain, mud was inevitable and expected. For me, it surprisingly truly made the experience, as it proved time and time again that the reputation of unkindness that dogs the heavier side of the rock scene is entirely unfounded, with any slips in crowds from the mud leading to multiple people making sure you get back on your feet safely. As my first festival since being diagnosed with a disability, I had some worries, but Arctangent proved to be a truly welcoming environment, where ear defenders were as common as can be, and, for those who had accessible tickets, the team at Arctangent had considered every aspect of the festival experience carefully. Not only were there accessible viewing platforms at every stage with an accompanying disabled toilet, but they had provision for free Personal Assistants tickets for anybody who would have struggled to attend without the assistance of another and an accessible campsite close as possible to the main festival entrance ensuring the ease of access for the attendees who needed it.
Across the many acts to perform at Arctangent this year, a few truly stuck out for me. The first band I saw at the festival was Bristol based post-hardcore band Svalbard, on the Yokhai stage. They gave the crowd a true wall of sound, with haunting melodies, fitting right into the fairytale-like fields of Somerset. The crowds swayed and screamed and moshed with every song's vibrations, and the band acknowledged the fantastic engagement they were getting. Later, on that same stage, Brutus, a Belgian post-metal band, thundered through their newer songs and older favourites, led by the awe-inspiring vocalist and drummer Stefanie Mannaerts whose voice cut through every boneshaking bass riff, and set the whole crowd into a headbanging and moshing that pounded the ground and could be felt all the way through you.
Liverpool’s metalcore offering, Loathe, fresh off supporting Spiritbox on their first UK tour, drew in crowds and set them all screaming to the bass and scraped raw vocals their vocalist Kadeem France sent echoing out.
The true highlight of the many bands I saw however was definitely Heilung, an experimental folk band who draw their members from across Germany and Scandinavia. Their Nordic inspired work was a real breath of fresh air, as they sang, it felt as if they had truly opened a door into the past, with Viking like chants and performance that was almost ritualistic; an experience that is difficult to put into words with how huge and awe-inspiring it was, as they drew in the crowd with their fans marking themselves out in furs and antlered headdresses. They truly live up to their name’s meaning of healing in German, as I was left at their sets end with a real sense of contented peace from the magical journey they had led the whole crowd on.
Arctangent 2023 was truly an experience well crafted by its organisers, from the real dedication to accessibility to the fantastic and diverse line-up they created, and the three days felt like they passed in no time at all, filled as they were with the beautiful music and ever tasty food offerings. Beyond even that, the factor that I know will draw me back again and again to this independent behemoth of a festival was best phrased by the Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs frontman, Matthew Baty midway through their mad and mosh filled stoner metal set: Arctangent is simply ‘one big community, dedicated to riffs’, and that community feel will always raise it up, as a fantastic and beloved fixture of the UK’s thriving metal and alternative scene.