Hot Chip, Caribou, Les Savy Fav, Los Campesinos!, Fuck Buttons - 'GIITTV vs ATP vs Pitchfork: A Weekend of An-acratic bliss'
James McDonald 22/05/2008
Camber; a testimony to the '60s resort life, booming in it's prime along with the big-hitters of Blackpool, Brighton and Skegness. A city-slicker's retreat for long weekends and pink chests. However, since the decline of the industry (when tourists realised they could hop on a flight to magaluf for the same price as a 99) Camber has become one of those forgotten villages, over-shadowed by neighboring Rye. Not that the locals mind, happy to continue life with their quiet slice of golden sands, untroubled by the surrounding world. Unfortunately for them, and for the great benefit of others, harmony is broken a few times a year as the circus hits the town...
But before all that, lets do the whole background thing. All Tomorrow's Parties (a title taken from The Velvet Underground's ground-shaking LP) are a collective who have been running these obscure weekends since the turn of the century, collaborating with various 'curators' as they go (in the past, with Mogwai, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Potishead and, ahem, Matt Groening lending their creative minds). This year, the decision was made to couple up with Americas' pioneering zine Pitchfork, giving them full-reign to shortlist the acts from the other side of the pond, whilst it was left to ATP to provide the home grown talent. Pretty neat eh? Not quite a competition however, more a harmonious merry-go-round. This year, All Tomorrow's Parties head honcho's also chose to relocate to a Pontis' Holiday Resort housed at the sleepy seaside refuge, favoring it's retro charm and on-site pub (named the Queen Vic, naturally) to the previous, larger host in Minehead.
So then, chalet keys in pocket, beer and festival timetable in hand, it was time to sample what the weekend had to offer. I was reliably informed that there were two stages on site; simply 'downstairs', and 'the one up the octopus'. First stop was the latter, to catch around half an hour of The Vampire Weekend, a set which was essentially a warm up for their slot at Radio 1's Big Bonanza the next day (the two dates compiling a whistle-stop visit to the British Isles, on their current European tour.) The band promptly provided an eclectic and accessible collection of classical pop and happy-go-lucky punk in their brief showing, with offerings such as 'Oxford Comma' being received with smiles and hip-sways from the early birds in the audience. Overall, an unmitigating soundtrack to match the overall mood around site.
Unfortunately, less can be said of Ween (there's something about that name which evokes the reflex of pulling a face like a sour grape). Soft rock and Spanish accents did little to captivate a crowd which, if situated anywhere else in the country, would scarcely be at risk from the dispersal powers of the police. Given this, and the fact that I was immediately hindered by not being high at this point in the days proceedings, I ignored all prior journalistic obligations and opted for a pint instead.
But then to something completely different; packing into a sweltering cauldron of sweaty noise fans, hurded in like bovine to glimpse Fuck Buttons taming fx distortion with tiny children's microphones. The duet were, in musical terms at least, the highlight for many, creating the kind of sound you'd expect of Jupiter, as it spins from its' axis and hurtles progressively into a giant shield of pocket radios (a defensive mechanism dreamed up by the US military to prevent the impending armageddon.) A tactfully delivered and mastered set of distorting waves drew and crashed with repeating intensity until the band left, and we all realised an hour had passed in no time at all. Brilliant. And a well-rounded opening day was then closed by festival heavyweights Hot Chip, two members of whom span records until the early hours amidst a reflective air.
Bleary-eyed and sun-kissed, Saturday awoke to Brooklyn's Yeasayer. In mathematical terms, the band = Floyd + Queen via Billy Corgan's voice-box. Make of this what you will. Now, Metador have always had a keen eye for the new wave, and the band which stood out from their roster on this year's sampler (available for free download) were Times New Viking (see what they did there?). Although their lo-fi mantra may intrigue and delight the lowly LP listener in equal portions, recreating that charm live was a task, today at least, the band weren't up to. Instead, they came across as an uncomfortable mess, á la Be Your Own Pet on a come-down. 'This song's for Heath Ledger if he's in the crowd' a sweaty frame screams from behind the drum kit, before confessing, 'we're American, we have no taste.' That may be so, but hey, we all like indie kids who can't sing right?
And that pretentious link leads nicely to the meek rabble of Los Campesinos! coining their set on the main stage today as 'their Wembley'. Having caught these Cardiff lads and lasses a few times this year, I was reluctant as to how tired their pop-sock sound may come across, although I, along with all other attendees, was pleasantly reassured. Guitars rarely sounding spikier, vocals rarely as heart-felt, starry xylophones played at summer speed; if this was their Wembley why on earth weren't they drafted to play Croatia all those months ago? Well the simple answer is because they're Welsh, but you get my gist. Humbled by the occasion, vocalist Gareth stuttered and stumbled between songs, unable to put the event into legible prose (he has this writer's uncompromising sympathy in the area). A magical moment; personally, my summer started there.
Last year, Andrew Ferris asked 'why do they never play Les Savy Fav on the radio? The only punk band left in America!' The only water-tight explanation I can offer Mr. Ferris is that, no matter how perverse ones' mind is, merely hearing this band over the airwaves would do little in compensating being unable to witness them live. On taking to the stage, Camber braced itself for a no-holds-barred display of unadulterated showmanship, safe in the knowledge that anything could happen over the course of the next hour. An hour later of course, anything had. Relentlessly charging through 13 years worth of material, only occasionally pausing to pluck bemused audience members from the crowd and seating them onstage, Les Savy Fav added another notch to an already enviable repertoire of live performances. On this occasion, the set concluded with vocalist Tim Harrington dismantling the drum kit before leading the band off-stage and out through the crowd in a pied piper-esc manner. I'm not entirely sure on the exact politics preventing their radio play count, but the exit evoked nervous glances from promoters and security staff alike. Not that anyone else gave much fret.
So an eventful day of discordant chaos was once again sealed by a triumphant return from indie-electro darlings Hot Chip, shining through school-disco smoke machines on a now blistering furnace of a stage. With a narrow emphasis on this year's smash 'Made In The Dark' , the troupe rallied through 90 minutes of songs which sounded strangely, then unmistakably familiar, before concluding with their own take on Sinead O'Conor's tear-jearker 'Nothing Compares To You'. In retrospect, it was an aptly disjointed close to what had been another eclectic day of noise.
Hung-over and incredibly sunburned from the previous day, the final leg of the weekend crept up swiftly on the wristband wearers, a noticeable number of whom had left mid-day with the reality of real-life shifting from the back of the mind to the front. I managed to last, albeit after chasing enough paracetemol to sedate a small zebra with around a gallon of apple juice, and belatedly made way up the octopus to catch Of Montreal. To be perfectly honest, all I can really remember were a lot of vibrant colours and chord sequences which didn't seem to fit. However, I also recall walking away with a smile on my face. The two events could quite possibly be linked, although it could've just as easily been the meds.
An equally disorientating experience was Harmonia, a trio hailing from Deutschland no less. Having collaborated with Brian Eno within their extended life-span, their minimal ambience echoed that of Xanopticon and Sanso-Xtro, which was an intriguing sound to behold indeed. Although, with my feet itching for a beat, and the sight of three middle-aged men fiddling with macbooks on white-clothed desks becoming increasingly banal, it was time to travel the octopus for the last time and catch the final half of Caribou's set downstairs. A decision well made, as I was greeted downstairs by crunchy snare drums and vocals mimicing the Stone Roses at their prime. Fitting perhaps that it was a Canadian collective who had the final say on the weekend, their sound whirred around like a satellite on meth, much to the delight of the hardcore who had stayed to witness the event's close. Much dancing was done, many more drinks consumed, and before we all knew it the sun was rising on a new working week.
Of the people I spoke to over the course of the weekend, many were attending ATP for an average of 5 consecutive years. Having experienced the 'festival' for the first time this was completely understandable, working on the mantra that "if it 'aint broke then by all means keep attending until it is." Fortunately, based on this year's evidence, that won't be for some time to come. A highly recommended start to the summer for those of us who are looking for well measured levels of excitement and innovation, a blend with which ATP are currently unparalleled, until next year that is...