Battles, Sun O))), Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fuck Buttons, Modest Mouse - All Tomorrow’s Parties – A Decade Under The Influence
James McDonald 08/02/2010
It was almost a month ago to the day; writers spanning the vast breadth of musical fields, nay, the vast breadth of our globe, are united in the frenzy of constructing lists to decisively summarise the last ten years. Defining the decade and whatnot. Admittedly I too played party to this orgy of archive, although whilst I do not claim to offer a watertight compilation (despite many peers coming close), there is at least one name I'd class as synonymous with recent musical history. For me, it's admittedly insurmountable to imagine the shape of today's indie music scene without the nurture of one core collective. This last decade may surely be defined by All Tomorrow's Parties.
Pontins Holiday resort, Camber. April 9th 2000. A small group of music lovers, inspired by the Bowlie Weekender (a 2000 capacity festival dreamed and designed by Belle And Sebastian, featuring Camera Obscura, Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips and Godspeed You! amongst others) invited Mogwai to select a line up for the first weekend under the banner All Tomorrow's Parties (the idea behind the Glaswegian involvement being that it would 'be akin to dipping into the curator's record collection'). Over the weekend of April 9th, Mogwai's collection, played live by the artists, featured Sonic Youth, Sigur Ros, …Trail of Dead, Aphex Twin and, erm, Snow Patrol to name but 5. A reactionary movement to its pigsick contempories, the bloated Glastonburys and Carling Weekenders who so proudly leech the market - the core of ATP is a united autonomy; music for music lovers. On this mantra they have continued throughout the last decade to bring music to the fans, and visa versa. A free sample cd was handed out on that dawning weekend, now worth somewhere in the region of one million bragging rights, whilst also crowning the birth of ATP's record label. Their most recently acclaimed release was the cunning alertness of Fuck Buttons' 'Tarot Sport', accepted by myself and many others as one of 2009's shining albums.
All of which leads nicely to the 'now'. Well, a month and a bit ago. Given the success that ATP has received, entirely on that initial mantra, it seemed only right and proper for them to hold a 10 year birthday celebration, inviting some of the closest friends they've made over the course of the journey, most of whom conveniently happen to be respected musicians and the like. The venue this time around was comparatively gigantean to the initial host in Camber, however needs must. So here then are a selection of the acts, for me at least, who applied the candles atop the ATP cake.
Thanks entirely to a mammoth train expatiation during the dawning Friday of this years' event, I arrive at the venue around 9pm, before frantically setting about registering at the press office and dumping bags at a friends' chalet. Fortunately for me, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have also arrived a full 30 minutes late for their headline slot on the mainstage (and reportedly disappeared 10 minutes after the show) so I enter the vast arena midway through the opening thrash of 'Rich'. The YYYs are possibly the only band on any ATP roster you are able to name drop to work colleagues without being met with a genuinely perplexed glare (depending entirely of course on the company you keep). Tonight however was a break from the norm, with the band playing the entirety of debut smash 'Fever To Tell' in the order it was documented, leaving fans like myself weak at the knees at the prospect of hearing now overlooked gems such as 'Y Control' and 'No No No' through a weighty stack of speakers. The scamps even included 'Our Time' from their 'Master' EP all those years ago, with 'Cheated Hearts' and 'Heads Will Roll' the only other notable additions. A unique compilation from their sizable back catalogue, the likes of which would be though inconceivable in this day and age. They even managed four bars of 'It's Blitz' lead single 'Zero', before the lead O abruptly states, 'fuck that, lets do something else'. The usual razzmatazz of glitzy outfits and confetti snowstorms was to be expected, however the reception from those in attendance was less grandiose, with the majority of the contingent seemingly in consternation than ecstasy. 'We love you, and we hate you' Karen blares before the trio leave the stage and the night is left to varying DJs. Closing duties on the main stage come Sunday were left to Texan instrumentalists Explosions in The Sky, dismissed by the uncouth as a trans-Atlantic Mogwai, but here maintaining a stature they can unarguably call their own. They provide sheets of shimmering precip with ambient guitar moan, cymbal whisper and bass fountainhead, all of which renders me with an ache of a grin.
Mum, freshly deplaned from Iceland, whirr and whistle with an array of implausible pitches and wonderful tones come stage time on Saturday. I indulge in a rare chance to see them in the UK, but the band evidently enjoy themselves as much as, if not more than, those who also took the oppourtunity to see them in the flesh. The beauty of Scandinavian acts must surely lie in their immunity to the scenes and conventions that so often condition our musical outputs closer to home. It is then fitting that the purity of this band amounts to an ever-memorable 40 minutes today. We are also offered a unique chance to catch ATP standard bearers Shellac later in the day; they sound as abrasive and bitter as one may expect, whilst earning kudos for attempting a Q&A session with the crowd, despite the fact it descended into the inevitable incomprehensible rabble before Albini tires of the idea and breaks into another number.
Conversely Modest Mouse, who also occupy the smaller of the two stages this weekend, barely interact with onlookers and are finished seemingly minutes after they start. 'Dashboard' is a momentary relapse, encouraging a caboodle of swaying hips, however it's little pride in a rather lackluster set. Fuck Buttons however regain the pace, the duo bobbing and bopping amidst a labyrinth of cables and pedals whilst delivering a well-honed set of material new and old. They definitely appear on merit this year, one of the most exciting and contemporary offerings of the last decade I'd argue. Battles also carved a name for themselves by defying conventions, and tonight on the main stage they too aim to perfect a harmony between now classic material from the definitive 'Mirrored' LP with brave new offerings from an as-yet-unfinished follow-up. Needless to say it is deep within beats such as 'Race In' or 'Atlas' where the band come good, feeding off an electric energy from the amassing thousands in front. The new tracks which are dropped tonight, of which I count five or six, seem to be conscious of the original blueprint that put them on this stage in the first place, whilst simultaneously exploring further the sickly sweet electromelodies which have become a prominent feature of their character. It's interesting to sample live, and the unknowns dotted throughout the setlist offer respective respite when needed. The new record will be worth a listen indeed - a mutual feeling among those I ask afterwards. The band would ask for little more after their whistle-stop visit to our isles.
And with Battles having set somewhat of a benchmark the previous evening, it was with great disappointment that I found the Mars Volta leaving an awful lot to be desired come Sunday night. Bixler-Zavala couldn't quite grasp those ridiculous vocal highs, and the reinforcing instrumentation, even to a fan like myself, sounded disjointed and sloppy overall. Still, you don't get to see the Mars Volta everyday do you?
Afrirampo had been a complete head-fuck that morning; two Japanise chicklettes in leotards engaging the earlier risers in a seven minute vocal warm up before relentlessly thrashing punk for a further 30. This is exactly what I love about this festival - allowing attendees to sample brave, unique acts from all corners of this rotating rock, all of whom are unwavering in the passion of their trade. Another who I can thank ATP directly for subjecting me to are Sun O))). They, personally, are the icing on the cake. They perform two EPs in separate sets over the course of the weekend, the second of which I was fortunate enough to partake in; fortunate as given my ever growing lineage of neck straining at assorted live shows, the experience I'm subject to here remains something entirely new and painfully exciting. To set our scene; the stage is completely amerced with smoke which allows for only brief snatched glimpses of the four hooded silhouettes providing the sound from within. Naively classed as drone by one new to the genre until tonight, I am awash with wave upon wave of colossal noise. Within minutes I venerate a group of performers who encompass the rare pedigree of an awe-inspiring live set that could never be replicated on something so comparatively disposable as a plastic compact disk. Admittedly they're not to everyone's tastes, but that never really put me off marmite either.
It is with the last two acts documented in this crude summary that I hope to properly convey how sui generis All Tomorrow's Parties are in what they do. They are two of countless musical talents the collective have introduced me to over the past years, be it through events such as this or via the medium of their ever expending release catalogue. As I alluded to at the top of this article, the achievements of ATP during their ten year lifespan have been pivotal in the perpetuation of our neoteric, flourishing musical landscape. The weekend's jubilee served as an apt pack on the back for those who have, and who will continue to make it happen. Triumphant in this then, long may they continue, unflinching, into the next decade.