This is the end, beautiful friend…
So sang Jim Morrison back in the ‘6os, but this weekend, the lyric seems more apt than ever. See, I’m at ATP festival in Camber Sands covering the last ever weekender (End Of An Era 2. Part 1 having been held the week previously). An event which started in 1999 and fast became THE alternative festival is, sadly, not going to be appearing on our gig-going calendars next year. That means it’s back to muddy fields and tents for many of us in 2014.
Happily, the All Tomorrow’s Parties company itself is still going strong and will be promoting alternative gigs for the foreseeable future as well as weekenders all around the world.
Curated by Loop and ATP, the line-up for End Of An Era 2 is suitably strong and eclectic with ambient, drone, shoegaze, and electronica all being represented.
This is the story of how the event unfolded…..
Kicking things off are Thought Forms. This Bristol-based band have had an extraordinary year with acclaimed gigs around the country (including a show-stealing performance at Green Man Festival) and an album (Ghost Mountain, on Invada Records) that is sure to make it onto a lot of people’s end-of-year lists.
The set leans heavily on the aforementioned album, but live the songs really take off into orbit. The constant tightrope that the band walk when playing live always threatens to collapse into chaos, but just when you think that they’re about to lose it everything comes crashing back in together to reach an epic finale.
At once dreamy and frightening, Thought Forms are the perfect band to start this last hurrah.
Om are up next and it’s safe to say that the doom has finally landed in Camber Sands. Hypnotic and transcendent, Om grabs the audience by the throat and force you to listen.
The crowd slowly gets bigger and bigger as the set develops with many people passing through the venue unable to continue their original intended journey as the music and the stage performance draws them further into this, almost ritualistic, performance. Oh, and they were very very loud.
Speaking of loud, Fuck Buttons then take to the stage and the volume and heat increase tenfold. Thanking ATP head-honchos Barry and Deborah and promising a great “send off” the London duo burst into Brainfreeze, the opening track to their highly acclaimed 2013 album, Slow Focus. The track is as exciting an opener I have ever seen and it sends the crowds into a burst of rave stomping.
We also get our first crowd surfers. It’s as if the Devil himself has turned up and said “you want a party? I’ll show you how to party”. The gabba-textures of their ‘noisier’ stuff is juxtaposed beautifully with all the other elements that go into making these guys one of the most exciting live acts around.
Fans of metal, dance, ambient and even hip-hop (the electro G-Funk slouch of Red Wing is deliciously bouncy tonight, even making Andrew Hung throw some baggy dance moves) will all find something to love and admire in the music.
When they finish the crowd look deliriously exhausted and ecstatic. Outstanding.
After a quick breather, the minimalist agit-punk of Shellac instantly gets the crowd whipped back up into a frenzy. Wearing fake dinner jacket-style t-shirts (in honor of Sundays formal wear dress code request from the organizers), the band launch through a career spanning set, plus a new one from their soon-to-be-released album, which sounds monstrous in this venue.
The three-piece are humorous, edgy, and really really tight. It’s strange seeing someone who’s produced so many important and seminal albums on stage thrashing out buzz saw riffs, but Albini has so much stage presence and charisma that all of that goes out of the window and you just get lost in his demonic guitar thrashing and witty between song banter.
Closing the opening day are the hugely influential band Slint. A band whose reputation was built on only two albums and an EP (including the seminal, Spiderland on Touch and Go Records) and whose break up denied many people witnessing them play live in the UK (the anticipation for this set is palpable in the air), Slint are who a lot of people here have come mainly to see.
Bravely opening with For Dinner from Spiderland (the most doomy track from that work), it’s when the band launch into Breadcrumb Trail that the crowd give a mighty roar and the set takes off. Due to the lack of material released, it’s inevitable that the set is Spiderland-heavy, but we are treated to two tracks from their debut Tweez (which sounded great live) and ‘Glenn’ from their ‘Untitled’ EP.
The band have a weird stage presence, main vocalist Brian McMahan is stood stage left facing the band, and his vocals are so low down in the mix that sometimes they are almost inaudible, yet some mystic chemistry emits form the band when they make music together. Dave Pajo’s guitar playing is as liquid and sensual as ever and Britt Walford’s drumming is as off-kilter and original as on those first recordings.
When Walford and Pajo sit on stools facing each other for a heartbreaking version of Don, Aman there is a hushed reverence in the room that only exceptional musicians can pull off. The fact that this wasn’t even the greatest moment of a set full of greatest moments is testament to the quality of the material.
On Washer, McMahan’s vocals are turned up, exposing the gut-wrenching beauty of the lyrics and his talent as a vocalist (it’s also worth mentioning that for all his shy-demeanor, the moment when he suddenly, impulsively stage-dived into the crowd, much to the delight of everyone, he showed an edge to his stage-craft that many people would be surprised at).
The set concluded with the pure show-stopper that is Good Morning, Captain. Captain is many people’s favorite track off Spiderland and live its power is amped up to the max. The crowd’s screaming along to the songs final lyrics, “I miss you” is simply one of the greatest moments I have ever had the privilege to witness. And then, they were gone.
Slint’s set was masterful in its control of dynamics and of how you don’t need pomp and manufactured moves to perform live. Incredible.
Today starts with Lord Sinclair’s book and rock and roll bingo. Basically, people were asked to bring books that they wanted to donate, then, in between numbers being called, participants were given a quote from a book which, if we knew the title, we then had to stand up, shout ‘JUNKY’ then the title of the book.
Sadly, we did not win the actual bingo, but did very well in the book section (I was particularly proud of guessing Chris Morris’ Brasseye book correctly). The event was full of laughs and it is these little events which have gone so far to making ATP such a pleasure to attend. Bravo to all concerned.
Kicking us off musically we have A Winged Victory For The Sullen (see pic right), which is a collaboration between Stars Of The Lid founder Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Berlin based composer, Dustin O’Halloran.
Fleshed out live by a string three-piece, the band start by asking if anyone “fancies a nap?” before embarking on an hour of music so achingly beautiful that it has the strength to reduce the audience to tears. Some people stand, some people lie down, lost in thoughts and the music.
This ‘ambient’ music is a master class of restraint and of letting the music guide the musicians and not the other way round. Nothing seems forced. Notes get played when they should, and gaps appear exactly as they should as well. A fantastic set that is a perfect cure for anyone suffering from first night excess. A truly great set.
Hookworms then change up the pace with their band of aggressive lysergic shoe-gaze. The band draw in a huge crowd for their mid-afternoon slot which draws heavily from their latest album, Pearl Mystic. The band are on top of their game at the moment deliver a rip-roaring set that pleases the masses.
Fennesz (see pic right) returns us to ‘ambient’ territory, but instead of warm and peaceful, he delivers a set of drone and noise. Alternating between laptop and computer, the music is one that needs to be invested in and explored, so you can then discover the little melodies bouncing around underneath the scuzz.
Taking a break from the bands, we head to the Queen Victoria Bar to catch a bit of Stuart Braithwaite’s (Mogwai) DJ set. The set is as an eclectic as you can expect with some soundscapes kicking us off before launching into minimal tech-house and some acid-house classics (when he drops Voodoo Ray, my younger raver-self leaps with joy. From within of course, as I’m too old to do any actual leaping).
Returning to the live music, we are then thrust into the sonic onslaught of The Pop Group (see pic right). Sounding as fresh and vital as ever, Mark Stewart and the gang deliver their funk-punk with bags of conviction and some extremely tight musicianship. About halfway their set, things take a strange turn as a large portion of the crowd decide to leave.
I was baffled until I checked the set-times and realized Comets On Fire were just about to start. I decided against checking these out as The Pop Group had me by the throat and were not letting go. The crowd that stayed were getting well into things and, I’m happy to report, many people came back so the band got the audience they deserved. A skull-crushing Forces Of Oppression was a highlight amongst highlights and the band delivered what was the best set of the day.
Headliners and curators Loop (see pic right) then close day two with a set that can only be described as EXTREMELY LOUD. The bass on this band was insane and they drew in a huge crowd, however, one song merged into the next with no really dynamics and there was a severe lack of treble. Bands that deliver extremely loud sets can be good, but there needs to be more to it than just volume (MBV have lovely pop hooks, Sunn O)))) deliver drama and intensity) and Loop just seemed to be repeating sub-Stooges riffs with everything turned up to eleven. Disappointing.
Performing many seminal hits from his back catalogue, Rother delivers a storming set full of Germanic electronica and motorik pop. The large crowd responds ecstatically to the vital shot of energy that is Rother’s set. People dance like it was a Saturday night and as the set develops, more and more people swarm into the arena, drawn in by the glorious sound emitting from the speakers. Looks like we’ll be seeing this festival out in style.
All of which makes Superchunk’s set even more disappointing. The band deliver their college-rock set with great intensity and obvious enjoyment and they obviously have a loyal fan base judging by the crowd they have drawn in, however, the retro stylings of the band feel like a backwards step after the opening set and it soon appears obvious and too similar to ignite any enjoyment.
It felt like we were in The Bronze from Buffy and they were headlining an oncoming invasion from teenage vampires.
Hurrah! then for Braids. Bringing us screaming into the NOW. The Canadian three-piece suit the smaller, sweatier second stage perfectly and their glitchy electronica and drum and bass rhythms get the hyped up crowd bouncing. The ethereal vocals of Raphaelle Standell-Preston add a deceptive beauty to the chaos that lurks underneath. This band deserves to be huge and here’s hoping that 2014 is the year of Braids.
Back upstairs we go then for the second legendary act of the day, The Magic Band (see pic right). Performing the songs of Captain Beefheart, the group delivers a rip-roaring set of psych-blues and avant-jazz. Taking tracks from all parts of the Captains oeuvre, the band are as tight as ever. This is no nostalgia-fest either. The music still sounds futuristic and lead vocalist John “Drumbo” French wisely eschews imitation in favor of interpretation whilst still having enough of the gruff vocals that made Don Van Villet such a unique proposition. An intense Big Eyed Beans From Venus closes the show and leaves everyone there stunned and elated.
Up next we have one of the most talked about bands of the year, Goat (see pic right). Garnering rave reviews for their debut album, World Music the band are even more potent live. Visually arresting and incredible rhythmic, these purveyors of voodoo afrobeat really do need to be seen to be believed.
A HUGE crowd burst in to dance and crowd surf and the band keep the intensity levels up from the moment they start right through to the last note. Everyone there seems to have experienced something special.
Believe the hype.
Closing the festival, and last ever ATP weekender we have original curators Mogwai. The Glaswegian band are the perfect choice for this slot with their mix of emotions and noise and gorgeous melodies.
The band make a brave choice and pepper their set with many tracks from their upcoming new album Rave Tapes, the highlight of which being first single Remurdered. This track is an instant classic and takes the band into more electronic territory whilst keeping the Mogwai DNA intact.
The rest of the set is made up of tracks spanning the bands entire career and we are treated to the most ferocious version of Like Herod that I’ve ever heard. The band throw everything into this set making it at once intense yet spiritual. Mogwai then treat us to an encore and finish the night (morning) off with a full throttle Mogwai Fear Satan. This classic is given the reverence it deserves by the crowd as people realize what a special gig we are witnessing.
The perfect end to a perfect festival.
Mogwai Set List:
- Heard About You Last Night (new)
- Friend Of the Night
- Rano Pano
- Mastercard (new)
- New Paths ToHelicon(part 1)
- Blues Hour (new)
- White Noise
- The Lord Is Out Of Control (new)
- How To Be A Werewolf
- I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
- Like Herod
- Mexican GP
- Remurdered (new)
- Hunted By A Freak
- Mogwai Fear Satan
Then it was all over. Some people carry on the revelry with the disco downstairs whilst others retire to their chalets to party or sleep.
Obviously it is a sad thing that such a forward thinking festival is not going to be here in the UK ever again; however, like the song that it is named after, we should all be grateful that it existed at all. It was progressive and signposted to the rest of the industry what the future should be like.
Thanks then to the whole ATP crew for giving us the times of our lives.