FRIDAY

Butlins again. This is the fifth time this writer has been to the tri-yearly shebang that is All Tomorrow’s Parties, and the location – Butlins Minehead –is becoming a decidedly familiar one. It’s beginning to feel like a holiday home that I’ve been to almost too many times. And I still haven’t played the crazy golf, or the go-carting. One day, perhaps.

For those unfamiliar with the ATP format, it usually revolves around one (or two artists in tandem) curating the festival. This involves the artist(s) in question choosing all the other acts and playing live themselves. Curators over the last ten years have included a role call of indie-rock legends and left-field curiosities: Sonic Youth, Tortoise, Slint, Mike Patton and the Melvins, the Mars Volta, Shellac, the Dirty 3, Explosions In The Sky, Portishead, Vincent Gallo, Autechre…the list goes on. Next week, the second instalment of ATP this year will see the Breeders adopt the curatorial crown.
This time, however, the novel concept is that it’s the fans and ATP themselves choosing the bands between them, an idea that was already used two years ago in ‘ATP vs The Fans Part 1’. When the fans vote, they receive an email that links to a page on the ATP website in which you can choose your desired acts. ATP then keep a chart, in which they attempt to book the services of the popular choices; those bands that can’t make it are then passed over for the next act in the chart. Meanwhile, the other portion of acts on the bill are chose by ATP themselves. It’s an inventive idea, if nothing else.

This leads to a rather strange experience compared to many other ATPs, where the cohesiveness of a bill chose entirely by one or two artists is replaced with a slightly more ‘random’ line-up, one that puts it more in line with other, ‘generic’, curator-less festivals.

Still, ATP always delivers with some amazing line-ups. And nothing can quite shake the surreal experience of attending a left-field music festival in Butlins, the main ‘Pavillion’ area features Pizza Hut, Burger King, a huge plastic box of popcorn, endless computer games, and – the finishing touch – some kind of bizarre plastic castle. The feeling of strange dislocation is exacerbated when the ten-minute, scream-filled sadistic grind of ‘Frankie Teardrop’ by Suicide comes on the jukebox at the Sun and Moon pub within Butlins, where I have lunch; perhaps ATP are playing a practical joke on us ?

Sadly, the ludicrously early billings of narcotic voice-effects manipulator Grouper (she has to play in America the next day, apparently) and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone ensures that I miss both sets. Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard’s set on the Pavillion stage, however, more than make up for it with a great set that incorporates bizarre cartoons drawn by the man himself (he’s an illustrator by trade) on the big screen, which he narrates a story to (one involves a man losing his arms but still being able to draw, using his head). In contrast to Lewis’ anti-folk ramblings, HEALTH on the Centre Stage are simply loud – painfully so, fusing brutal guitar with in-the-red electronics. They have a member called Jupiter Keyes, which is amusing in itself, and all band members except the drummer are listed in the program as playing a ‘Zoothorn’, whatever that is.

Back in the Pavillion, the abiding surreal memory of M83 is that of the drummer onstage playing surrounded by a plastic ‘fence’, as if he’s in one of those studio booths that vocals are recorded in. I’m assuming it’s to do with the sound configuration, or the such-like. For all the talk of the influence of My Bloody Valentine and other shoegazers on their sound, M83’s sound actually owes more to an 80s vision of the future that’s actually now happened: electro-pop, the 'Blade Runner' soundtrack, synths, and those cheesy drum pad sounds that seemed so in vogue back then. Slick and transparent, M83 feel like a permanent soundtrack to a fashion and lifestyle magazine. ‘Skin of the Night’, which may as well be called ‘Sex on Ice’, feels like the soundtrack to a soft-porn film, with it’s entwining male and female vocals. Still, when they get going, as on ‘Couleurs’, the place gets really dancing for the first time in the festival.

Devo, by contrast, are five men well into their fifties, wearing bizarre red hats (£20 at the merchandise stall) and electrician clothes, and welcoming us (decidedly sardonically) to Butlins. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that they’re legendary: Butlins is packed for their set, and their call and response of ‘Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’ has the venue nearly raising the roof. Their mean cover of the Stones ‘Satisfaction’, meanwhile, replete with jerky late 70s/early 80s funk grooves, illustrates just how taut and consummate the band can be, and when the band bunch together with disco moves perfectly in time with each other, it’s a great moment.

I miss Andrew W.K. on the Centre Stage as a result, but capture Pink Mountaintops on the Reds stage, the rootsier and more earthy-sounding solo project of Stephen McBean when compared to his day job in Black Mountain. Jesu, by contrast, project a wall of ambient metallic guitar drone, with ex-Napalm Death and Godflesh member Justin Broadrick visible through the smoke onstage.

Elsewhere, avant-hip-hoppers Antipop Consortium and ATP label signings Fuck Buttons are on the Centre Stage. Back at Reds, though, the venue fills quickly with a legion of pierced, tough-looking dudes in the audience: local heroes Electric Wizard are taking to the stage, who dissipate any Tolkien jokes with a smog of thick guitar stoner noise. Sadly, their set is just too murky to truly take off, with the drums virtually inaudible and the guitar
reduced to a never-changing mush - though perhaps that’s the point.


SATURDAY

In contrast to last December’s shenanigans (at which Mike Patton and the Melvins were curating), the sun is out and revellers are heading to the beach. Not all, though: while some kind of bingo is taking place in the Crazy Horse auditorium (where the indie club takes place after the bands finish), the Centre Stage is already packed at 3:30pm, in time to see Retribution Gospel Choir, the side-project of Low’s Alan Sparhawk and two mates. Dispelling any fears about their early stage time, the band turn out to be fantastic, with Sparhawk holding onto his guitar for dear life as he flails onstage, wailing “you promised me” and rocking out in a manner that his main band are only partially prone to.

Sadly I miss what’s next: Jesus Lizard “singer” – or rather, “grunter” would be more like it (not that this is a band thing) – David Yow’s side-project, Qui. I think I can take a guess what they sound like, though, considering his main band, and it’s probably safe to say that there’s no acoustic guitars and flutes involved.

Post-punk legends Young Marble Giants, meanwhile, are a contrasting lesson in sculpted, minimal music: at times when performing their album ‘Colossal Youth’, the music is barely there at all, its presence making itself felt through its quiet geometry.

Grizzly Bear and Beirut between them represent interesting slants on American indie rock, with the former offering a slanted, studio manipulated version of folk-rock (though single ‘Knife’, played here, is radio-friendly enough), and the latter even rejecting the guitar completely, wrapping lyrics around Eastern European gypsy instrumentation, Balkan folk, ukuleles and Mexican mariachi. In contrast, on the Centre Stage Californians Sleepy Sun ply a more straight-ahead rockin’ set, atypical of their home state in it’s relaxed stoner blues workout, bringing to mind Dead Meadow and Dungen.

The Jesus Lizard, meanwhile – reunited after nearly fifteen years – unsurprisingly go for the jugular, with a mesmerising set of punk blues that’s difficult to match in it’s sheer, pummelling extreme. Frontman David Yow, channelling the spirit of GG Allin, sets the scene by arriving onstage, spitting out beer, stripping off his shirt, and – without waiting around - surfing the audience while, amazingly, simultaneously delivering his lines perfectly into the microphone. Hoisted above the crowd for much of the audience, ‘Boilermaker’, ‘Gladiator’, and ‘Puss’ are spat out, the band onstage a taut monster of lacerating guitar and pummelling drums and bass. I look around and Lydia Lunch is behind me, headbanging intensely.

It’s difficult to follow, but stoner rock legends Sleep – including members of the atmospheric Om - have a simple formula: play one louder than everyone else. Positioned near the speaker, and with the daunting sight of many amps onstage, the sheer effect for this writer is of an unstoppable tidal wave of guitar noise, with everything onstage far louder than any other act. These dudes may sound on record like Dungeons and Dragons addicts (and with singer Al Cisneros’s slightly ludicrous lyrics like “I believe the signs of the reptile master / Sunbound spacepod rising faster / Look onto the rays of the new stoner sun rising / Sonic Titan rides out on clouds of new horizon” and “Travelling toward the atomic sky / Passing through the wall of light we fly” or some such). Live, however, they look intense and very scary, with drummer Chris Haikus and their fearsome manager (the latter at the side of the stage) tattooed and bearded, and with Haikus grimacing as he pummels his way through tracks from ‘The Holy Mountain’ and ‘Dopesmoker’. Sleep are simply an all-enveloping experience, the music hypnotic in its relentlessness and sheer extreme volume. Like early Swans, it’s such an enveloping experience in its brutal mountain of loudness and primeval sludge (a compliment, by the way), that you have no choice but to submit to it. I’m exhausted by the end, and head off to the indie nightclub at Crazy Horse.


SUNDAY

For once, I decide to check out Butlins’ swimming pool. It turns out to be a good idea, particularly the cool Black Hole ride, in which you ascend down a water-slide tunnel that swerves in all directions in darkness, except for occasional cosmic flashing blue lights.

Lydia Lunch is onstage at the Crazy Horse stage curating a mini ‘spoken-word festival’, which also features Jake Arnott and other writers/poets reading from sections of their books. Lunch’s own reading turns out to be an extract from her latest meisterwork ‘Will Work For Drugs’, a long monologue about hanging around waiting for a drug dealer and then being busted by the police (or at least, I think that’s what it was about). It contains more expletives than Snoop Doggy Dog’s entire collected works. The bar staff look baffled and frightened.

I miss the thundering noise of Lords as a result, but manage to capture the raga folk-rock workouts of Hush Arbors at the Centre Stage, featuring sometime Sunburned Hand of the Man and Six Organs of Admittance member Keith Wood. The real deal, though, comes with the following act, Grails, whose take on instrumental post-rock elects not to following the increasingly tired clichés of quite-then-loud but rather incorporates all kinds of eclectic influences, including mystic drones, Eastern modalism, Celtic intonation, dub and psychedelia. With two drummers adding a fearsome power during the climatic part of their sets, Grails are nothing short of thrilling, the dynamics of their hour-long set taking in atmospheric, ambient restraint before raging into a spellbinding climax. As powerful as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and intense as Swans, Grails are this writer’s highlight of the weekend.

While they’re followed on the Centre Stage by !!! playing New York electro punk-funk (followed by a conspicuously out-of-place Killing Joke, and then ex-Secret Machine member Benjamin Curtis’ School of Seven Bells outfit), and Future of the Left – featuring two members of the great, now defunct Mclusky - are over on the Reds stage, Spiritualized materialise on the Pavillion stage. Adorned seemingly with a minimal set-up (plus two glamorous-looking backing singers) – though not as minimal as the last time they played here, when Jason Pierce, armed with shades (remember, this is an indoors festival), ran through an ‘Acoustic Mainlines’ set - we get Spiritualized’s greatest hits once again, but this time with a full band, and with the material weighted almost equally through all their albums. Nothing changes much in Spiritualized’s world: God, drugs, fire, love and soul, and that’s about it. But it’s perfect for a Sunday night, the balloons ascending to the ceiling of the venue as they end with a satisfying segue through ‘Come Together’ and ‘Take Me To The Other Side’, the latter from the Spacemen 3 days. The applause at the end is rapt, and marks the end of festive celebrations on the Pavillion stage, which closes for music subsequently.

Over at Reds, LA’s The Mai Shi do their spasmodic rock with electronics and shouting vocals thing, not a million miles off from city mates HEALTH (and practically every visiting Californian band playing in East London these days), whose set on Friday on the Centre Stage they recall. This Will Destroy You, meanwhile, manage better, performing hypnotic instrumental post-rock that reaches an absorbing and epic finale. The comparisons with fellow Texans will probably annoy the band to hell, but This Will Destroy You’s set also has an inventiveness that Explosions in the Sky may be lacking in their recent work.

After which, it’s off to the Centre Stage to catch the second sets of the Jesus Lizard and Sleep once again. What needs to be said by the end of their sets? That my ears feel like they’ve been stomped on, for one, and prevent me from hearing anything back in the chalet. Over and out.

















Related Links:




Commenting On: Minehead, Somerset, 8/5/2009...10/5/2009 - ATP Vs The Fans Part 2 - The Fans Strike Back








ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment
 


First Previous Next Last