All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Animal Collective, May 13-15, Minehead England. Day 3 performers included Group Doueh, Deradoorian, Prince Rama, The Entrance Band, Orthrelm, Oneohtrix Point Never, Tony Conrad and Jennifer Walshe, Ear Pwr, Atlas Sound, Micachu and The Shapes, Gang Gang Dance, Khaira Arby, Teengirl Fantasy, Animal Collective. Click the links for photos from Day 1 and Day 2.
Having been to the last three US-based ATP events held in the far reaches of the Catskills, I figured it was time to venture out to the ground zero of the event. After an overnight flight to London and three hour car drive to the western reaches of England (and braving the stretch from Reading to Swindon that for unknown reasons was littered with roadkill pheasant in impressive numbers), we arrived at Butlin's. The scale of the events here is much larger than what Kutsher's was capable of, and this was even without using the spacious tented area as the main stage area. ATP had previously announced this was the last Spring event, and as ticket sales were down from capacity, the primary room used was Center Stage, a spacious, very wide performance space, with secondary room Reds downstairs holding up to 1700 people. Nearby Crazy Horse was the third space, utilized for some performances, but also hosting the trivia contest, bingo, and late night DJ sessions. ATP made use of Butlin's cinema space, with programming mainly handled by the excellent world-ranging Sublime Frequencies imprint.
As any ATP veteran knows, the festival is a plethora of riches, with something for everyone, and this would be no different. Obviously Animal Collective
would be bringing along some of their friends and label mates (seven Paw Tracks artists in total), but the worlds of hip-hop (Big Boi), classic reggae (Lee 'Scratch' Perry), metal (Mick Barr, both in solo and Orthrelm forms), dream pop (Beach House, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti), avant/drone (Tony Conrad with Jennifer Walshe; Terry Riley, Onehotrix Point Never), African (Group Doueh and Khaira Arby), house (Omar-S), psych rock (The Entrance Band, Turkish band Hayvanlar Alemi), and even unclassifiable (The Brothers Unconnected, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282) were fully represented. Hell, they even brought a sister (Drawlings) and an ex-wife (Kria Brekkan).
The Thinking Fellers were a major draw for me, but sadly a lot of gig goers were not familiar with them and their Saturday slot was not nearly as full as it should have been. Perhaps it was a generational thing; the Fellers made their mark on rock from the late '80s through the '90s, and a lot of the attendees likely have parents younger than Terry Riley's beard. Still, they played some of their most gleefully abrasive ("More Glee") and sublimely beautiful "Cup Of Dreams") songs to an actively appreciative audience, including the young children of Mark Davies and Brian Hageman, who had never had the chance to see their fathers on stage.
The best surprises of the weekend were the beaming, beatific performances of Mauritania's Group Doueh
(a highly danceable mix of traditional music with flahes of classic US-based funk and rock) and Khaira Arby, who hail from Morocco and had not only the Crazy Horse dance floor filled with booty-shaking punters but also performers (Group Doueh, and the dancer who performed with Prince Rama). Trying to capture the entire weekend is an endeavor fraught with danger and ultimate failure, but here are some random points that stuck.
Most physically energetic performance (on-stage):
This has to go to Jennifer Walshe, the vocalist who accompanied Tony Conrad's sawing drones and ghostly pedal steel notes by a full sixty minute onslaught of chirps, howls, pleads, and otherworldly noises that she continually forced from her diaphragm and through her larynx.
Most physically energetic performance (on-stage by a non-performer):
The dancer who was at the edge of stage right for Gang Gang Dance's set, who I'd originally mistaken for Beach House's Victoria Legrand. She was a non-stop whirl of arms, legs and hair, but to be fair the band's set had that effect on pretty much everyone in the main room.
Most physically energetic performance (off-stage):
Paz Lenchantin, the bass player for The Entrance Band, who somehow managed to clamber up to the ladder of one of the pavilion truss supports (the bottom rungs are at least 10 feet from the ground) and make her way to the top of the dome. It's unclear what her motives were, but apparently she couldn't get down on her own and the fire brigade was called in to rescue her. They were not impressed, and only impassioned negotiations on the part of ATP staff kept her from deportation prior to the band's set the following day. Which, after they finished playing, was what happened.
Best performance, old guy division:
Lee Perry's a legend, and rightfully so, but the title goes to Tony Conrad's incessant violin sawing, a set whose entire 60 minutes veered from bliss to endurance test, and oscillated between those ranges for the entirety of the performance.
Most dancing to a set that seemed willfully against it
Black Dice laid down a punishing set that somehow people figured out a way to dance to. I'd heard an account that the synth part that Pete Townshend created for "Baba O'Riley" was based on the Meher Baba's heartbeat. Black Dice's performance sounded more like it was the electronic synthesis of his death spasms.
Best performance by brothers
This was a heavily contested category (The Frogs and Black Dice also qualified), and while Meat Puppets did a great job to dredge their memory banks and play 1985's Up On The Sun, the clear winner were Alan and Rick Bishop, who played as The Brothers Unconnected. The duo brought the songbook of Sun City Girls back to life, following the tragic passing of their friend and drummer Charles Gocher four years ago, and they successfully fused inter-song wry commentary, bawdy tales of Kennedy sexual encounters (the song title from which their stage name was derived), Thai musical form appropriation and great comedic timing like no other.
Biggest draw, second room
Reds was below center stage and functioned as the second room. With a pretty roomy capacity of over 1700, one could always wander in and find a good sight line, but that wasn't the case for either Spectrum, or Kurt Vile and The Violators, with both acts cramming the far reaches of the venue.
Best approximation of a celebrity actor
Dennis Flemion of The Frogs took the stage dressed as Patti Smith, but beforehand he was having some difficulties with the sound mix, and his wiry build, bushy gray sideburns, choice of footwear, and most of all mannerisms and gestures could have been pulled straight from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Jay Paget of Thinking Fellers gets an honorable mention, and his uncanny physical likeness to Bill Murray spurred tweets that Murray was on-site and buying a hot dog in the main room.
Performance that moved the main floor the most
This would be a tie between Big Boi and Animal Collective, as both acts got the packed room actively involved enough so that underfoot, one could feel the entire floor section move up and down like a trampoline with two inches of throw.