ATP Festival LogoThis year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, dubbed the “Director’s Cut” in honour of its 5th year anniversary, invited Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Sonic Youth, and Foundation each to set the line-up for a day.

All Tomorrow’s Parties was born five years ago from the loving muso mind of Barry Hogan. Each festival is curated by a notable band, the first in 2000 done by Mogwai. Since then, acts have been arranged by Tortoise, Sonic Youth, Shellac, Autechre and Matt Groening (to hell if I know what the creator of the Simpsons has to do with all this). Moreover, the festival has expanded to an L.A. incarnation.

Rundown

ATP 2004 turned Pontin’s family resort into a hipster paradise. The tacky and pathetically-rendered kiddie murals on the sides and insides of the resort buildings provided a strangely appropriate backdrop to the hordes of music fans entering the gates each Friday (everyone loves kitsch, right?), and were a surreal accompaniment to the alternately danceable and hypnotising music that dominated Weekend 2. A good time could be had just lazing on the playground in the sunshine, watching all the hipsters arrive with their bad haircuts and dye jobs, plastic frame glasses, pointy flats and obscure badges. Add to that one guitar per chalet, a couple turntables for post-concert bopping and several Frisbees to go around (not that any of these non-athletic types can actually throw a Frisbee) and you get the picture. Despite this initial chill towards my new neighbours, I was itching to meet some of these crazy kids. Recognizable were a few notable small concert organizers and DJs, including the crew from Upset and Rhythm and a few from Artrocker. Since many of the bands came from the States and the continent, one could always hear several American accents and sometimes a German or Spanish voice thrown about the venue.

The facilities were fantastic for such an event. One humongous ballroom-sized venue upstairs with lounging steps at the back and a very long bar, a smaller venue downstairs also with bar, large arcade, pub that stayed open until 5am, counters serving Ices, hot dogs, pizza and candy galore, a makeshift ATP and band merchandise store, a fully stocked grocery store onsite, playground, and the beach not too far away. It was all one could ask for in a cheesy wannabe beach town. The chalets were sub-par, but they were going to get trashed anyway and still were pleasing in that they reminded me of American college dormitories. The only other caveat was that the indoor venues allowed no retreat from the cigarette smoke that only built up and became stronger over the weekend, so sitting through 9 hours each day of music I wanted to hear was a sizeable feat. By the end of each day, and could barely remain standing past 1am, never mind join the dance parties that rocked until 5am. I was sound asleep in the chalet every night by 2am. I can imagine the Rock Gods in heaven looking down at me, shaking their heads and disdainfully spitting out the word “amateur”.

The first band I saw inspired dreams about the past and future of experimental rock. Trad Gras Och Stenar were four greying Swedes bopping along to their psychedelic drones as if they were at a polka. Though much older than my father, these guys were playing music that he surely has never heard. They weren’t young and sexy, but they were skilled and loved what they were doing. These little known, much loved dinosaurs have been doing it since the ’70s no less. It was inspiring to see these guys still doing their thing even as Parkinson’s disease was visibly beginning to encroach upon their guitar-playing ability. To me, they were like a slogan that set the tone for the rest of the festival – something like, “more music less bull.”

As a result of my near-100% attendance to the weekend’s gigs, I have a bit to say about most of the 45 bands that performed. So hold on tight.

Friday

White Magic

A trio of woman on keys and vocals, men on Telecasters and drums. I started out interested, as I was comparing the woman to early Liz Phair, but then I realised that the band’s name probably refers to the woman’s Pagan influences that make her songs sound like repetitive, depressing yodelling. Next please. Props to the guitarist though.

The Fiery Furnaces

Fiery Furnaces
Awesome. Move over White Stripes, we’re tired of you already and this is a real brother-sister duo. Matt and Eleanor Friedberger are the core of the Fiery Furnaces, a group that ranges from 3 to 5 members and that got its start backing up The Kills, French Kicks, Spoon and Sleater-Kinney before signing with Rough Trade to release their debut album Gallowsbird’s Bark in 2003. Their gig was an oasis of solid melodies in a sea of post-rock drones. They combine bluesy piano, funky bass and rhythm guitar, and a bit of distorted guitar wandering on top with happy-go-lucky vocals. Says Matt, “It sounds a little rinky-dink, but it’s meant to.“ They’re fun and I like them.

Cass McCombs

A lame lounge singer who has managed to convince a band that he’s worth backing up. If you like this kind of thing, look to newer Adam Green and Baby Dayliner instead – unless you’re a poet, in which case you may be interested in Cass’s darkly humorous lyrics.

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse
I like this band too much to give an objective review. In my eyes, they could have been shit and I would still have been happy just seeing them live for the first time. Isaac Brock let the out-of-control crowd get on his nerves and spat out condemnations on us every once in a while, but it was good in that it helped fuel his angry rock-outs. If you don’t know them, Modest Mouse are angry, off-kilter art rock. Don’t expect your ears to be pleased at first, as they are quite abrasive. The joy comes after you’ve explored the full range of their sound and the salty, gritty ballads finally become the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard. As for their ATP performance, my only complaint is that they could have at least pretended to be happy to be there.

Deerhoof

A quartet from San Francisco with 2 guitarists, a drummer, and the cutesy female singer-guitarist Satomi Matsuzaki. It seems random that these hardcore rockers have teamed up with a pop singer who likes to crochet pillows shaped like fruit and perform pantomimes with them, but let us not ask questions when the result is so much fun. Deerhoof’s new album Milkman poked its head up throughout the weekend as filler music between gigs, chalet dance party anthems and exit music as cars rolled out of Pontins’ gates on Monday morning. All mentions of their gig were accompanied by giddy smiles. Deerhoof were the unofficial ATP mascots.

James Yorkston

James Yorkston
Scottish folkster who finger-plucked off Friday’s proceedings with his acoustic and banjo and a backing band featuring percussion, keyboards, pipes and upright bass. With a voice that mesmerises Yorkston appears unassuming and even fragile on stage but his band provided a warm comfort blanket to envelop him. Magic.

Stephen Malkmus

Hmm. I didn’t negotiate the crowd so didn’t really get into it, and from afar he was just another gaunt indie-rock genius on stage. Words were blurred, disappointingly, as they really spice the taste of the solo material. I didn’t hang around for Jo-Jo’s Jacket, but he must have played that eventually. Ho-hum. Just because he was in Pavement doesn’t make him Dave Grohl.

The Shins

The Shins
Delivered as promised. To everyone who loves their new album Chutes to Narrow, they were gods. The rest of us less-impressed listeners shrugged our shoulders and said, “Yup, those are The Shins.“ A solid band with a solid folkish rock sound, that encroaches on pop. It’s nice music that will please you and your mum on a long road trip.

Saturday

Double Leopards

When are they going on? What is that buzzing sound? Oh, they’re already on? Oh, that’s them? Oooooh. Next!

Saccharine Trust

Some old poet from the Beat Generation wearing a leather driving cap backed by a Frank Zappa cover band. Sonic Youth, what were you thinking?

Erase Errata

Girl punk à la Le Tigre, but less anthemic. Cue more guitar-playing and shouting, less singing and fancy schmancy costumes and visuals. It has the spirit of Electro without anything synthetic.

OOIOO

Pronounced, “oh oh eye oh oh”; four women from Japan. No one knows what it means except that their name is featured in one of their songs. They perform in dresses made out of paper. Psychedelic and rocking at first but then turns tribal. They shriek a lot and one of them plays the trumpet. I’m curious as to what their albums sound like.

Lightning Bolt

The magical moment of ATP 2004. Just as Sonic Youth finishes their set, we see the crowd pulled to what was before an insignificant corner of the room. Lightning Bolt has set up their equipment on the floor, allowing fans to get oppressively close. This is their usual practice, and it is surprising that they dare continue it for such a large audience. Lightning Bolt are a drummer and bassist both named Brian. Watching them play is like witnessing the musical Olympics; I wonder how much longer it will be before drumming Brian collapses and vomits on the finish line. Their sound is intensely frenetic, inspiring a friend to remark, “That is what a lightning bolt sounds like!“ It is hard to remain calm even as the gig has just started. I am imagining utter chaos and destruction on the scale that would cause ATP never to be invited back to Pontin’s, but thankfully it is only after a few songs that drumming Brian asks everyone to sit down. I am now able to look across the sea of muso-hipsters before more, and they are listening to this cacophony with smiles on their faces as though they are listening to a sweet rendition of Kumbaya around a campfire. I can articulate no more than to say that it was a beautiful moment.

Carla Bozulich / Nels Cline

Female singer with a subtle Goth look was, to my mind, completely upstaged in her collaboration with Nels Cline, despite the sensitivity of the guitarist’s fretwork. Olde worlde tunes meandered along but when Cline indulged in some virtuoso three-channel-vintage-delay-pedal action to exchange phrases with the singer during one number, it was a notable feat of skill. [

Le Tigre

more bounce to the ounce“ bellowed the ATP programme more transparently (and faithfully) than its usual cryptic stanzas (e.g. the entry for Wolfeyes: “Total fucking sickboy! Touch me I’m sick, no shit. Ultra ass blasting fuck sound for a generation spooked shitless. Mix The Stooges and Now Blockaders in a heart full of gore.” I can talk, but you get the idea.) Le Tigre were a flourescent bricolage of pop, agenda politics and gender-bending, ostensibly fronted (though all the girls have a go) by Bettie Page’s little sister. Super-heroines of synth, their videos provided a real show though due to attrition I couldn’t relate completely and scowled through what was arguably a masterpiece of entertainment. I suppose I was intimidated by how good they were. Slapped wrists and tapping feet.

Sonic Youth

I could call it chiming and shimmering but the new material from the oldest youths in rock is way too polite and devoid of energy if we’re to judge it by their only European gig this year. The album’s apparently out in the summer and (despite the occasional teenager’s tantrum routine on the ATP stage) due to the encroaching conservatism of the band I think I’m going to be longing for the days when Glenn Branca was a more obvious influence. But I’m nit-picking: Drunk Butterfly and Bull in the Heather were rocking.

Sunday

Ella Guru

After too many drone-heavy bands, Ella Guru seemed heaven-sent. A sweet country sound, complete with pedal steel guitar. Vocals are led by a male-female duo that play off each other splendidly while the rest of the outfit musically wanders around in the background and chimes in with gorgeous piano, harmonica, and the standard guitar and percussion. Very pretty if you find the somewhat off-pitch singing more endearing than annoying. An excellent opening to a Sunday full of soothing music.

Threnody Ensemble

Modern classical music that came as a welcome contrast to the mostly grungy acts, but was sadly under-appreciated by the rock-obsessed audience. Threnody Ensemble deserve to play a more upmarket venue.

Jackie-O Motherfucker

This band was highly anticipated by festival-goers simply for its moniker, but after about 30 seconds I had already chucked it into the drone bin. It’s too bad these musicians who probably have a lot more to offer listeners are stuck in a swirl that resembles a flushing toilet. I found their use of random knocking-about of bells and noisemakers similar but paling in comparison to the much more interesting stuff-in-a-bag rustling on Fridge’s album Happiness. And what’s up with the girl feigning orgasms onstage? This band is way too into itself.

Sophia

Naming your band after a girl or the mis-spelled Bulgarian capital won’t necessarily put people off but playing languid “post-rock” instrumentals at an ear-stripping volume will. Stop it.

VibraCathedral Orchestra

Soundcheck-on-the-hoof, lots of people on stage with assorted instruments. You’re all in the band? How cool. Is this still the soundcheck? Hello? Can you turn around please? Hel-loo? Oh. It’s over.

Explosions In The Sky

Hey! You lot sound like Mogwai, Godspeed… and anyone else who can’t think of any good lyrics – too Coldplay without the tunes.

Arab Strap

Arab Strap
Lovely “post-folk” (AMG’s snobby term, not mine!) crew from Scotland. The two masterminds, Aiden Moffett on vocals and Malcolm Middleton on everything else, write lyrics and music separately, then combine their forces to create sad songs that cling onto a tiny nugget of hope. That they bring a warm, pulsing electronic drumbeat into a few tracks is a catchy salvation. I was sad they didn’t do Cherubs off of Elephant Shoe, but it was an excellent gig nevertheless.

Dizzee Rascal

C’mon, give the boy credit. He’s a better rapper than half-measured 50 Cent. The decks were far too muted to big up the bass and the youngster’s antics do begin to grate after a while but “grime” or whatever it is we’re going to end up calling the new "East London-rinsin'-hybrid-The Streets-meets-hip-hop-beats-UK-garage-my-garden-shed-in-the-jungle-eightstep-'n'bass" sound, we’re bound to hear more unless it deflates upon its cockney patois declensions.

Cat Power

Cat Power
I waited patiently in the front of the crowd for Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power) to appear, but her giggly, distracted onstage antics prompted me to leave before she finished her set. While waiting for her to come on, I was informed by anxious fans that she is notoriously prone to stage fright and journalists have often questioned her sanity. I shrugged this off, not really believing that such a master vocalist and songwriter could be anything but a sage-like role model. Unfortunately, all the hearsay was ultimately true. I doubt she got through more than four full songs through the entire set. She spent the first 10 minutes giggling and stopping songs before they really started so that she could respond to the usually ignored hecklers by saying, “You guys are silly“. She was incoherent and unfocused, probably on drugs. Her performance may be construed as romantic if one buys into the drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll mentality and wants a good story to tell his mates, but Cat Power has so much vocal talent that it was sad to see her waste it. It could have been magical to see that mellow, heartbreaking voice escape from the lips of a real human being. Instead, I saw a woman who I used to admire so much embarrass herself in public. How not cool.

The Notwist

These guys have come a long way since they first formed as a hardcore punk band in Munich more than 20 years ago. Now they have it all: fierce guitar playing supported by intricate beats and balanced with quiet, thoughtful vocals. They fit well on the Domino label with other vanguards dabbling in the electronic. Their ATP gig was the best kind – it started off delivering what someone familiar with The Notwist would expect, added a few twists along the way too keep their live act fresh and different from their recorded material, and finished with an off-the-rails extended version of one of their best tunes. In this case, it was the title track off their latest release _ Neon Golden_. I also appreciated that the band looked like they were having a blast playing their music, unlike the many other bands that tried to look like mad scientists concocting a revolution. The Notwist are the down-to-earth and their music has a wide appeal. Highly recommended.

Love with Arthur Lee

Arthur Lee has been around for a long time and probably took a step down the ladder of success to play at ATP. I was put off by his (albeit good-natured) complaints that his set had to be so short, since he obviously did not care who was the next band despite it being Sunday’s headlining act The Tindersticks. Lee was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and his music would not have you forget it. Classic blue rock, the kind that I’m used to hearing at state fairs. I wonder what he’s doing at ATP. Still, after Saturday’s drones and hardcore I’m grateful to hear intelligible songs again, so I don’t complain. Sing it Lee!

LCD Soundsystem

Electro from NYC done well. The male vocalist has quite the set of lungs on him, and it’s refreshing that he’s not an in-your-face sex symbol. If I were organizing a club night or just having a private party of debauchery, I’d invite this group to play. One snazzy bass line after another made it impossible to sit still even though my feet were aching.

Roundup

Whew! A weekend of blow-your-mind music turned rough for the simple fact that there was so much to take in. The bill was a bit psychedelic and drone-heavy, but that is to be blamed on the curators who will all be different next time anyway. The only thing I’d change about ATP would be to stage it outside so as to enjoy some sunshine (after all, this was supposed to be a holiday) and not to make weak-lunged attendees suffer so much cigarette smoke. All in all a perfect venue for a gathering of music-lovers, who elsewhere do not have the opportunity to congregate en masse.

Images and Text by N.Harren, and additional text by D.Rose

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