The third and final day of All Tomorrow’s Parties broke as usual. Dazed attendees futilely shaking off hungover cobwebs and massaging aching joints from the corporeal, and rising to greet the overcast English day in an attempt to reinvigorate the spiritual. (If you missed the photos from the previous days, here is Day 1 and Day 2). Billed as the last UK holiday camp event ever (though curiously a few days before this started, ATP announced another event in Iceland), the collective community took on the air of a spirited Irish wake instead of a doom and gloom occasion. This being my eighth event, it’s a pretty bittersweet farewell. No other festival quite captured the breadth of acts the way ATP did, while keeping production values high and crowd sizes very reasonable. A weekend wasn’t a portable city like the massive festivals of Glastonbury, Reading, Coachella or Bonnaroo; instead, this was more of a collegial village with Barry Hogan and Deb Kee Higgins acting as elders, making every effort to keep a strong, shared spirit amongst the collective.
The wide-ranging music on offer was once again an embarrassment of riches, honoring the early pioneers of various genres (Michael Rother playing the seminal music of Neu! and Harmonia while the remnants of Don Van Vliet’s Magic Band kept the off-kilter spirit of Captain Beefheart alive), nodding to the stalwarts of post-punk rock (Shellac, the default ATP house band by virtue of playing 20 events and curating a handful; Slint, who mapped out this territory when it was just a blank page; and Mogwai, who has taken the work of their forebearers and splintered it into new directions) and various facets of metal (OM), power punk/pop (Superchunk), hipster noise (Fuck Buttons), white hot psychedelia (Comets On Fire, White Fence, Föllakzoid), 80s UK legends of agitpop, industrial funk, and drug-fueled neuroses (The Pop Group, 23 Skidoo and Loop, respectively), chamber pop (Braids), chamber music (A Winged Victory For The Sullen), and as they say, much, much more. It was very fitting that Mogwai would close out the music portion on the main stage, as they were the curators of the very first ATP weekend at the very same location long ago in 2000. Cast a glance of the myriad of bands that ATP’s booked over the years, it’s staggering in breadth and quality.
The music is a crucial element of the proceedings, but not the only one. If one was on the verge of a live music overdose, screenings of highly regarded films are always present, including an ATP channel one could watch via the room TV. Lord Sinclair proved to be a most hilarious host of the music trivia game once again (full disclosure – this writer’s team was thwarted from winning a second time, losing by a mere point), a whiskey tasting, and various DJ sets by the likes of Stuart Braithwaite, Bob Weston and of course the closing event by Hogan himself.
It’s fruitless to try to recap the hours of heart-stopping and hair-raising performances in a narrative, so instead here are some category winners (and a loser or two).
Best gig of the weekend:
Comets On Fire shook off a seven year hiatus like a great white shark shakes the living hell out of a seal and stormed the second stage until ear drums were left hanging and tongues hit the dirty carpet. A furious storm of molten guitar and clouds of dangerous electricity via an echoplex, the band absolutely took no prisoners and continually skated the fine line between total chaos and keeping it together. This wasn’t just the show of the weekend, it was the show of the year for me (and that yearly total is easily over 200 different bands).
Toughest scheduling decision:
On the final day, the matchup was between the heady Afro-via-Sweden informed tribal psych of Goat and the frenetic garage rock stuffed to the gills with hooks of Ty Segall. A cloning machine wasn’t available, so I opted to wrench myself from Goat in order to secure a rail spot at the second stage (no photo pit in that room) for Segall. It started out a bit slow as Ty and his crew of three worked through the mostly acoustic material of Sleeper and left me second guessing my thought process until a curious thing happened. A momentary power outage left the band unarmed; undaunted, Segall led the rest into a quiet passage, and the crowd reverently hushed to hear the unamplified guitar and lightly struck drums gradually pick up momentum until a perfect merge with restored power hit the entire room over the head. The rest of the gig was a bachannalian orgy, with crowd surfers floating over and back and one young lass deciding she didn’t need her top or bra anymore.
Best Snape impersonation:
Christian Fennesz is a formidable sound sculptor in his own right, and nailed the foreboding look of the Hogwarts wizard while conjuring the perfect mix of noise and melody from his guitar and patchworked network of electronic devices.
Best (known) veteran performance:
Mike Watt, rightly so, is a true punk icon. Having cut his teeth with the earliest stirrings of American punk (not many people can say they were on SST 002), he’s currently working with two Italian musicians in a project called Il Sogno Del Marinaio (The Sailor’s Dream) and worked up a delicious bouillabaisse of free jazz and rock, with Watt’s ever present tone of insistent and inquisitive bass anchoring the trio.
Best (unknown) veteran performance:
The Heads are a cult psych band in the UK, contemporaries of Loop and with almost two dozen releases of spaced out bliss and skronk. Kandodo is the new project of Heads guitarist Simon Price, who blew the shoes right off my feet with a potent mix of sounds aimed equally at the head and gut.
Best line check:
This award certainly goes to Slint’s David Pajo, who ripped through Van Halen’s “Eruption.”
Best use of minimalism:
Considering the presence of both Krautrock founder Rother and Al Cisneros’ spiritually-splattered metal/dub project of OM, it was a total surprise to see Chilean upstarts Föllakzoid take this category, stoking motorik rhythms and washes of guitar and boiling them off straight into the Andean atmosphere.
Second best welcome back:
With Comets having taken top honors, it’s a bit of surprise to not automatically hand this over to Loop. But to be honest, Girls Against Boys really impressed the hell out of me, with their two bass attack and insistent throb of 90s noise rock sounding like you just tore the cellophane from it.
Worst aspect of the festival:
Avoiding the obvious that there will be no more of these, the venue itself unfortunately gets this award. Unbearably slow beer lines, lack of modern plumbing amenities in the rooms, and generally poor sight lines in both of the rooms were very much out of the ordinary from previous events I’ve attended at Kutsher’s, Asbury Park, Butlin’s, Alexandra Palace and even the semi-atrocity of the last New York event which was held in a massive basketball complex and under the FDR Expressway.
Best aspect of the festival:
Again, avoiding the obvious answer of the music, it’s the people. Artists are routinely milling about and checking out other bands, and the fans are there because they are truly interested in listening to a wide range of music rather than just necking down liters of lager and vomiting down your back. One of the stated ATP policies is ‘no assholes’ and it’s remarkable how well people adhere to it. It’s the best vibe ever, and I’m sad to see it go.