Friday, December 27, 2013
Seasonal greetings, all. Apologies for the lack of posts, which has been down to work, the inevitable busy period before Christmas, and generally feeling shitty.
Earlier this month I attended the final three-day UK festival of All Tomorrow's Parties, which took place at its original stomping grounds of Pontins Camber Sands. ATP will carry on going (including hosting a two-day fest in Iceland next summer), but have announced that it will no longer be hosting the regular three-day festivals in the UK which became its trademark.
I've been to a fair amount of the ATP UK festivals over the years (you can view pictures here from it here on Flickr - more will be added), so this really did feel, as the tagline put it, like the 'End of an Era'.
For those not acquainted with the ATP three-day music festivals which have just ended, they usually took place at a British holiday camp, with at least one band 'curating'. Said band headlined the festival and chose the other bands on the bill, as well as the films in the cinema and on the TV.
The festival began at Pontins holiday camp in Camber Sands, Essex - a desolate coastal resort with even more desolate Dungeness, famous for its bleak-looking landscape and power station, just nearby. It then moved after a few years to Butlins holiday camp in Minehead, in Somerset, a tiny town with an estuary facing the Welsh coast across the water. The first ATP at this site was the first one I went to, thus sadly missing the magic of those first ATPs in the early 2000s, which really did sound special.
Over the last fifteen years, ATP's roll call of curators is as close to comprehensive in left-field music as it's possible to get: Belle & Sebastian (as curators of the Bowlie Weekender in 1999, which morphed into ATP), Shellac, Mogwai, Slint, Sonic Youth, Vincent Gallo, Thurston More, Mike Patton & The Melvins, The National, My Bloody Valentine, The Mars Volta, The Breeders, Portishead, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Animal Collective, Pavement, even the ticket-going public themselves (with 'ATP vs The Fans'), and a ton of others...the last of which, which took place at the beginning of December, was curated jointly by ATP themselves and Loop – a band slightly before my time, but whom I've discovered subsequently while checking out the late 80s UK scene of bands such as Spacemen 3, A.R. Kane, Bark Psychosis, etc.
Unlike the hardcore ATP fans, many of whom have been to something like thirty ATPs, I have only been to a couple (well, about ten). The first was curated by Thurston Moore, at the new site of Butlins Minehead. I think the year was about 2007 or so, possibly earlier. My recollection is of the insanity of that first ATP, at Butlins with its abrasive line-up of power electronics, noise, punk, out-there rock and free jazz outfts. There was Nurse With Wound's barrage of post-industrial noise, with David Tibet (of Current 93), the latter screaming “I'll see you on the dead side of the moon!” to a stunned bar staff more used to Steps tribute bands; My Cat Is An Alien playing a two-hour long drone while I chucked chairs around the room with my pals (it was that kind of weekend); Iggy & The Stooges live onstage at Butlins, almost like a dream; The New Blockaders, a group of men in radiation outfits with a bunch of power tools onstage, much of which they revved up to a background of deafening power electronics while a front row of beards watched on, the security men looking disctinly uncomfortable (it was 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, after all); Sunburned Hand of the Man crowding the stage on Sunday night with about twenty band members, one of whom spent the entire time blowing bubbles at the audience while dressed in a Victorian outfit and oversized pink sunglasses...then there was the procession late at night with people with sheets on their head, circles cut out for them to see.
Subsequently ATPs that I've been to have been no less insane, including a 10-hour set by Oneida, the Wu-Tang Clan's GZA queuing for a hotdog, and spontaneous concerts by Lightning Bolt everywhere in the holiday camp but the stage. But going a number of times has meant that I've been able to check out delights too, such as the cinema showing ATP documentaries, the swimming pool (with underwater sounds broadcast as “Wet Sounds”), and (ahem) crazy golf.
The genus of ATP wasn't just the idea of curation by a band or individual, which hadn't really been done much before at a three-day festival. It was the setting in these faded British holiday camps such as Butlins and Pontins, with the public staying in chalet accommodation, which lent the whole atmosphere a surreal kitsch when juxtaposed with the frequently experimental nature of the music. ATP pioneered a whole other kind of festival, one smaller-scale and free of corporate sponsorship, in contrast to mega-fests such as Reading and Wireless; at ATP, a lack of VIP areas meant that bands and the public converged together in the on-site pub (literally – I was standing next to Michael Rother from Neu! at the pub counter queuing for drinks at the event this December). This smaller scale model of a festival can be echoed in festivals such as Liverpool Psych Fest, Supersonic, Supernormal, Colour Out Of Space, and others, which will be the festivals of choice for yours truly in the next few years, in the absence of ATP – who will themselves carry on with boutique festivals abroad, in exotic locations from Iceland to New York and Australia. Just not Pontins Camber Sands or Butlins Minehead.
So au revoir ATP, it was nice knowing you. Here's to the last fifteen years of mayhem and fun.