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Barry Hogan: Interview

ATP's founder talks about the past and present of the festival

The summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains may no longer attract the hordes of vacationing New Yorkers who were drawn to the Borscht Belt in the early to mid-1900s, but one man has found a unique use for the still-functioning Kutshers Country Club in Monticello. Barry Hogan founded the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival after he witnessed Scottish indie rockers Belle & Sebastian successfully bring together an impressive pool of musical talent to play at a Pontin’s holiday camp in the south of England in 1999. Fans stayed in chalets, artists played on indoor stages, no corporate sponsorship was allowed, and the bands mingled with fans due to the distinct lack of snooty VIP areas. The ATP organization has subsequently expanded, but those basic tenets have always remained.

Now, Hogan has put together the third incarnation of ATP New York, which is set to bring Iggy and the Stooges, Sonic Youth, Raekwon and many others to the wonderfully spooky Kutshers. The event takes place over the weekend of Sept. 3-5, with three-day passes or single-day tickets still available from this link. On the eve of the festival, the ATP organizer talked about the history of the event, Jim Jarmusch’s contribution, and his attempt to get Tom Waits and Neil Young involved.

How do you reflect on the earlier days of the festival after doing it for 10 years? It must have been more of a venture into the unknown back then?

Definitely. When we first started, if you compare it to now and then, we didn’t really know what we were doing [laughs]. It’s been a learning curve along the way. But even now, even though we’ve been doing it for 10 years, you learn from each step. We’ve always tried to strive to make the next one better, so we’re just continued to improve it.

How many people do you employ at ATP?

Myself and Deborah, my wife, we run the festival, and we have eight full-time staff. It’s a good team, but there’s just never enough hours in the day. I think one of the reasons it’s lasted so long is because of the fact that each event is a different interpretation of the festival, due to the curating aspect. I think that’s one of the reasons it keeps going and it remains fresh each year.

How did you find Kutshers Country Club when you decided to do a New York version of ATP? Were there other venues you considered?

I’d been looking around for a while, and I did have Kutshers in mind. But the real reason that we actually got to use it is because Brian Schwartz, who is the manager of Dinosaur Jr., said to me, "If you’re going to do this in America, you must do it at this place called Kutshers." He used to go there as a kid. So he set up a meeting, and we went to look at the venue with him. The minute we walked in, we thought, Wow, this is perfect. We knew we were able to duplicate what we were doing in England. Especially when we walked into the ballroom and I was thinking of all the people, from Don Rickles to Rodney Dangerfield to Frank Sinatra, who had played there over the years. I just thought it would be great to see bands like Sleep and the Stooges playing in there. So it’s down to Brian, because he used to go there as a kid and he’d been to ATP in the U.K. and I think he just thought it was the ideal place. And he was right.

The ballroom is pretty amazing as a venue.

Yeah. Wherever you are in the room, wherever you stand, there’s a bit of a slope, so you get a great view. And it always sounds really great in there. I love that venue. Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai was saying it’s one of the best venues he’s played in.

What’s your relationship with the people who run Kutshers like? Were they into the idea of staging a music festival from the beginning?

Yeah. The general manager there; she’s been really supportive since day one. Obviously they were a little bit hesitant, because when the words "rock 'n' roll" get put into the equation in a holiday resort, people start getting nervous. But they’ve been supportive all the way through, and it’s been a great relationship. They’re always saying to us, "Let’s fix the dates for next year," so I guess they want us to keep coming back. Also, the local area benefits from it. It’s good for the local businesses, for the diners and the stores, and I think they see it as an encouraging thing for the community, with people from the outside coming into their town.

After doing this for three years, do you see the New York incarnation of ATP as a regular fixture now?

Yeah, I’d like to think so. It’s difficult to say. I’ll be totally honest with you, last year the recession affected our sales. Things didn’t work out financially for us. But this year the sales are much greater, and I don’t know if it will totally sell out, but it’s done really well and it’s on track. So I’d like to keep doing it if we can. If the demand is there and people want to play it, of course, you know? Is it going to be a permanent fixture? Yes, we’d like it to be.

Why do you think the New York ATP turned out to be more of an enduring event than the one you tried out at the Queen Mary in Los Angeles?

Well, the one in L.A. had its merits, but this one is more similar to ATP in the U.K. because it has the accommodation factor in it. There was accommodation at the Queen Mary, but it was so limited that there was only a handful of rooms that the public could buy. This is more like going there for a weekend, buying a three-day pass and exposing yourself to not just bands like Sonic Youth and the Stooges, who everybody knows, but smaller stuff as well. You might want to check out Sian Alice Group or BEAK> or Text of Light. That’s why we always say it’s kind of like a mixtape. There’s stuff on there that you probably wouldn’t buy the records of, but if somebody puts it on a tape for you, you’re going to listen to it and think it’s cool. You open yourself up to stuff. The one in L.A. was good, but it was too easy for people to leave and not expose themselves to music over three days. Adding the accommodation factor into it overcomes that.

What are your favorite memories of the New York incarnation of ATP over the past couple of years?

One of the things that I think stands out for me is when the Boredoms did Boadrum with nine drummers last year. I’ve seen the Boredoms quite a few times, and we’ve presented them a lot, but that show was the one that made me go, Jesus, this is fantastic. It really was an uplifting moment. There were so many other things, but definitely seeing that show made me think, Wow, this is why I am doing this.

Jim Jarmusch was at ATP to introduce his film Mystery Train in 2009 and now he’s returning to put together a day of music. How did you get into contact with him originally?

Well, Criterion hosts the cinema, and they’ve released some of Jim’s films. Jim was there last year, and he enjoyed it so much and he was checking out so much music. I knew he had good taste in music because of the stuff he puts in his films and shows that we’ve seen him at. I was thinking there was no way he would do it, but I asked him if he’d like to come curate for the Sunday, and he jumped at the chance, which was great for us. It’s been really good. Kind of like a dream come true for me. He’s been really supportive all the way. The only thing is, he wishes he could have booked about 50 bands [laughs].

So he gave you a list of names, is that how the curators for ATP work?

Yeah, that’s how all the curators work. They give me a list and I work through the list with them to explain who is feasible within our budget, or if I know for a fact that someone can’t do it. I go and place some calls and invite them to the festival and lock them in. But the initial list is always revised, because people can’t do it or aren’t available. We’re really pleased with it. I think it’s going to be fantastic to see Sunn O))) and Boris do Altar. It’s going to be a one-time deal, apart from the show they’re doing in Brooklyn. I doubt that’s ever going to happen again after this.

Was there anyone in particular that Jarmusch mentioned that you couldn’t get?

Yeah, two people in particular: Tom Waits and Neil Young. They both said they would have done it, but the problem was their schedules conflicted or they weren’t available, which was unfortunate. But these things happen. Maybe another time.

Do you think having someone like Tom Waits or Neil Young playing ATP would cause their fans to buy up tickets and not necessarily be into the other artists playing?

Yeah, there is the chance of that happening. But then again, there would be a lot of people there who would be going to the festival anyway, who would then suddenly have the opportunity to see someone as great as Tom Waits or Neil Young. Obviously you do run the risk of some artists’ audiences…but it wasn’t to be, so I don’t know [laughs].

Kutshers would be an amazing venue for a Tom Waits show.

Yeah, it would be perfect for him. But who knows? We’ll see.

Who else are you looking forward to seeing apart from the Sunn O))) and Boris performance?

On Saturday there’s a lot of stuff, where we’re celebrating 10 years of ATP. We’ve got a lot of friends who’ve curated in the past, like Sonic Youth, the Breeders and Tortoise. Michael Rother is coming to play, he’s always a pleasure to have on. Fuck Buttons, who of course are on ATP, and Sleepy Sun. But what I really like about ATP, which we have in the New York one but we don’t have in the English one, is the comedy stage. I’m looking forward to seeing Todd Barry and Hannibal Buress. Todd Barry I’ve only seen footage of online, but Hannibal Buress we saw at the Pitchfork Festival and I think in times to come he’s going to be quite a big star. He’s really funny.

Loads of other things. I don’t know if you noticed but on the Sunday we’ve got Ricky Powell, the hip-hop photographer, doing a sideshow. That came about from a conversation I had with him in London, where we were talking about the New York edition of ATP. He asked where we did it, and I said in the Catskills. He asked where and I said it was this place called Kutshers. He said, “No way!” and I asked why, and he said he used to go there as a kid. He showed me a picture of him wearing his Kutshers T-shirt when he was 10-years-old. So I said to Jim, "How about having Ricky come up and do his slideshow?" He thought that was a fantastic idea and I’m looking forward to seeing that, because he’s a legend in that field. All of the activities outside the music, from Albini’s poker room to the quiz in the bar, really add character to the event.

Do you get time to see all this stuff or are you too busy with the organizational aspects of the festival?

I’m very busy in the production office, but I do duck out to make sure I see stuff. I really want to see Sleep and the Ricky Powell show, and things like Sonic Youth. I will try and see as much as I can, but it’s a bit tricky because there’s so much going on. The Scientists’ performance of Blood Red River, that’s the first time they’ve ever come over to the States, I’ve been told, so things like that are going to be really good.

The non-musical aspects are a big part of the appeal, such as Frankie Don, the guy who plays songs on his keyboard in the lobby. How did you find him?

Yeah, he’s coming back. We were up at Kutshers in the summer having a general meeting, just looking around and going over the plan of what the event was going to be. Frankie Don was actually there playing, and Deborah suggested to the people at Kutshers about putting him on. So we approached him and he said that would be fantastic. We were up there again and we invited him back, so he’s going to come along. That’s going to be good.

Keeping the atmosphere of Kutshers is a vital part of what makes the event memorable for people.

Yeah, I think it’s important. That’s what makes Kutshers -- the charm. The people who go up there wouldn’t normally get to see something like that and they really embraced it. I definitely think it’s really important.

Is it also important to keep evolving new ideas for the festival? Like the book club this year?

Definitely. Adding additional things to it is what keeps it evolving. We’ve done the music thing and it’s great, but I think when people are there for three days they want to do other things as well. Like the comedy or the quiz or the book club. There’s the Criterion Q&A this year with Thurston Moore and Jim Jarmusch, who are also going to be introducing some films. I think that’s what makes the New York event really special, and I think it’s good that it’s different from the U.K. one in that respect. It’s got its own merits.

After the New York event the next ATP is the Godspeed You! Black Emperor one in the U.K. Did Godspeed approach you about doing it or did you contact them?

No, that was me. I’d been badgering them for years trying to get them to do it. Funnily enough, last November I was watching a documentary about World War II and the Holocaust on BBC2 and they were using music from Godspeed’s second to last album. I was in the process of looking for a curator and I just sat there, put a letter together, and said, look, I really want you to do this. It was important to me, because we’ve been celebrating 10 years of ATP and they’re probably my favorite band that we’ve ever promoted throughout that period. I think it was just the right time for them. To be honest, what I really liked about their approach is that they’ve been so fantastic to deal with. They’ve taken a whole different lineup and it’s far more leftfield than the ones we’ve had in recent years. I think it’s good, it’s making it a complete separation from other ones we’ve done.

Weird Al Yankovic is an inspired piece of booking for the Godspeed event.

Yeah, that was Aidan from the band who suggested that. He said the wildcard was going to be Weird Al Yankovic. I didn’t think it was going to be possible for him to come and play, and when I approached his agent I thought he was just going to laugh at me. The funny thing is, he’s never been to the U.K., but he’s always wanted to come and they just thought this was a great opportunity. It should be an interesting way to tail off the Sunday evening after all the noise and extreme experimental bands that are playing.

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