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Arc Festival 2013

In its inaugural year, Arc promised much for the ardent west country fan of House and Techno. Situated under cover in a city park, running all day but closing early enough to allow for full after-party madness or a reasonable bedtime, with the first rays of summer on the horizon and a pretty reasonable ticket price to boot, it was somewhat surprising to come across a statement from the promoters over a week beforehand that suggested they were struggling to sell sufficient tickets. In fact, such was the expected shortfall that anyone who had already splashed out would be able to bring along another punter and get them in free, all in the name of ‘a good rave’. Noble perhaps, but after last year’s Bloc debacle in East London, the potential threat of another overpopulated and under-organised event might worry even the most optimistic raver.

Fortunately, when the day came, all concerns dissipated. A typically friendly Bristolian welcome to the site and a fair smattering of sunshine which bathed a compact site populated with several dome structures and two larger marquees – what was there not to like? Even the usual scourge of an outdoor inner city event – the dreaded council-imposed volume limit – appeared lax, as the plentiful rigs thumped out all manner of afternoon bass. And what’s that in the corner of the site? A caravan? A cocktail caravan? Serving Wasabi Bloody Mary’s and a whole menu of other delicious boozy treats…. things were beginning to look very much up.

So to the music and the first draw of the afternoon was Youandewan, who treated the sparse early crowd in the largest of the three dome stages to a solid set of deep and throbbing warm-up house, including Alex Danilov’s ‘White Smoke‘ – the repetitive sonar pulse of the track very much at home with the murky underwater vibe being pushed by the overenthusiastic smoke machine operator.

As the site started to fill up it was clear the balance of facilities and crowd was going to be just about perfect – I suspect if the whole site had been full to capacity it would have felt a little cramped but the promoters loss was the punters gain in this respect as it was a breeze to get around. Only a five minute shower threatened to dampen the mood but it was soon on its way. A lively and sizeable crowd went up to the top of the site for Bass Clef‘s live horn and laptop improvisation, which was well received but for some reason very few of them stuck around for the ensuing set by another local boy, October. It was very much their loss as he effortlessly weaved classic house and techno grooves into a finale which paired Air Frog’s bassbin troubling ‘Bon Voyage‘ with Underground Resistance’s anthemic disco banger ‘Transition‘. It was the highlight of the day for me and deserved more attention, something he may have got if the schedule had been a bit more favourable.

Surprisingly neither Marco Bernardi nor Roman Fluegel grabbed my attention for long so it was back to the main stage to check out an artist I’ve always been a little wary of – Martyn. It’s probably just a taste thing but I have rarely found his music to be particularly exciting so I didn’t have high hopes but backlit by swirling projections and framed by some astonishing lasers, he got my full attention for an hour or so. Whilst he wholly succeeded in getting a groove going that may have been better suited to late night surroundings than tea time, it did feel slightly one dimensional, an effect not helped by the fact that he didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic on a stage which totally dwarfed him. In spite of that he held the attention of the crowd for what was one of the longer sets of the day.

A brief sojourn to check out the Border Community contingent of Nathan Fake and James Holden confirmed that they both very much retain their signature sound of slightly woozy psychedelic techno, then it was time to catch main stage headliners The Black Dog. Nowadays comprised of founding member Ken Downie and Richard and Martin Dust, the trio worked their way through a suitably northern selection of re-edited techno including Warp classics such as Aphex Twin’s ‘On‘. Possibly because of local noise complaints the volume at this point appeared significantly reduced which lessened the impact, and the crowd started to disperse. A number of high profile acts were missed due to the tightness of the scheduling – I certainly regret not taking the opportunity to see Skudge – which left the impression that the promoters had perhaps tried to cram too much similar stuff onto the bill over the last few hours. Despite the inclusion of DJ Die and Pinch, drum & bass and dubstep were barely represented as genres – not really a problem if you love house and techno but a strange decision for a festival in a city more closely associated with other styles, particularly when you have multiple stages to program. Whether or not this was the reason for the low ticket sales, I hope Arc can retain everything that was good about their first festival and return to kick off the 2014 season in equally fine style.