The idea of a “musical high” is a cliche by now and for good reason; music has an undeniably physical, unmediated, and immediate effect on us. It can lift the spirit or send it tumbling down, make you feel like a million bucks or a wet towel. But, day to day, we’ve grown used it. Sure, our hearts still catch on a line or a note but the “gap” between how we usually feel and how much makes us feel is set. This changes when something shakes up our routine and changes our starting point: if you’e sad for example, and the right song or live show comes along, you can more acutely feel your heart stirring awake and shedding its blanket of despair, if only for the run-time of said piece of music. When our base point is lower (or higher, if the music is depressing instead, grabbing us from a height and shattering us to the ground) we can feel more strongly the effect that music has on us.
I got to experience this feeling very vividly last week as I was attending ArcTanGent festival. A more formal post is coming soon, but for now let me say that the festival was very personally challenging. Even if we put the weather aside (which is a big ask, since the second day was filled with almost non-stop rain), seeing so many shows in such a short span of time is something I’ve never actually done. I thought that I had, since I’ve been to a bunch of open air festivals but in none of them was the lineup as packed as ATG 2019. Thus, the little holes in the schedule where you can catch your breath and rest your ears, guilt-free, were all but gone, almost every second of every day filled with this or that incredible, life changing set. You get tired, your body aches. More than that, you’re emotionally overwhelmed; especially at ATG, where many bands of the post-rock/metal variety played, the music just keeps evoking strong emotions within you and that can get draining even faster than physical conditions.
Suddenly, I started to feel these peaks and lows. The lows would come between sets, when I’d settle down to wait for the next one or move between stages. The myriad physical pains would make themselves loudly known and my mental disposition would plummet; why am I even here? Couldn’t I listen to all of this music at home? Was a live show really worth all that distance travelled, all this time sleeping in a tent, the noise, the mud? Even more so, am I in a headspace to listen to more? Is my heart not full? Do I not need some time to process all of this, all of these emotions and aesthetics? I’d become lethargic and, near the end of the third day where exhaustion was hitting its own peak, my eyes would start to droop. The release of sleep, where both the body and the mind can rest, became more and more alluring.
But then, the music would start playing and I would feel this literal rush, as if I was suddenly running down a tunnel. It would start in my legs: suddenly, they didn’t hurt so much and, on the second day, I didn’t even realize that they were soaked in water and caked with mud. It would spread upwards, easing my stomach and chest cavity, filling both with a certain kind of light. It was like ball lightning, pinging off the various spaces left by my organs inside my body and charging it with an energy, a force that would eventually spread to my neck and head. This is where, for me, head-banging comes from, an attempt to release this tellurian energy that seems to climb the scaffold of my skeleton when I see live music. It seeks escape and it finds it in dance (where all stages of the body move), hoarse screaming (where it escapes through the throat in vibrations), and a furious whiplash of the head (where it can often evoke a feeling not unlike being high or drunk). With this energy running through me, always triggered by the start of yet another incredible set, I was invincible; the show and crowd and music was all and there hardly existed anything outside of that.
The stage exudes an energy that speaks to the force inside of you and they both long to meet in the middle, in the crowd, drawing you towards the stage, buoyed by the music as if against your will. At some shows this force might not last the entire set; it would ebb and flow with favorite and less favorite tracks. Sometimes it would be constant, running through an entire act as some of my favorite bands performed music I never thought I’d see live.
And sometimes, twice, this energy was so strong, this bubbling of lightning so powerful in its desire to join with its sister force on stage, that all internal storages brimmed over and dance, and throat, and head were not enough to let it run its course. It seeked escape, this vigor within in and found the eyes and their tear-ducts, bursting forth from my face in a hot stream of tears, all worry, pain, fatigue, and nausea carried away by the crying, transformed into an uncanny feeling of elation and strength.
Both the times that I cried last week were at the Caspian set, the very last one I saw at ArcTanGent this year.