Field Studies | Ten Years of ATP
Photography kindly provided by Shannon McClean
It was almost a month ago to the day, writers spanning the vast and varied breadth of musical fields are united in the frenzy of constructing lists to decisively summarise the last decade – here’s a song about that very practice.
Admittedly, I too played party to this orgy of archive, and while I do not claim to offer a watertight compilation, there is at least one name I’d call out as synonymous with recent musical history. For me, it’s impossible to imagine the shape of today’s indie music scene without the nurture of one core collective: this last decade may surely belong to All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Pontins holiday resort, Camber, 9th April 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 among others) invited Mogwai to select a line up for the first weekend under the banner All Tomorrow’s Parties – the idea behind the their 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, And You Will Know us By The Trail of Dead, Aphex Twin and, erm, Snow Patrol to name but five.
A (conscious or otherwise) reactionary movement to its bloated contemporaries – the Vs and Carling Weekenders which so ominously 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 a myriad of ‘I was there’ moments directly to the fans. A free sample CD was handed out on that dawning weekend, now worth somewhere in the region of one million bragging rights, while also crowning the birth of ATP’s record label. Their most recently acclaimed release was the cunning alertness of Fuck Buttons’ ‘Tarot Sport’, one of 2009’s shining albums.
All of which leads nicely to the now. Given the success of ATP, 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 (all of whom, conveniently, happen to be highly-respected musicians).
Here, then, are a selection of sets which (for me at least) applied the candles atop the cake.
FRIDAY 11TH DECEMBER 2009
Thanks entirely to a mammoth cross-country train expedition during the dawning Friday of this year’s event, I arrive late on site around 9pm, before frantically setting about dumping my backpack at a friend’s chalet.
Fortunately for me, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have also arrived half an hour late for their headline slot (and reportedly disappeared 10 minutes after the show), so I enter midway through the opening thrash of ‘Rich’.
Tonight was something to savour, as the band are playing the entirety of debut smash ‘Fever To Tell’ in the order it was documented, leaving everyone weak at the knees during the likes of as ‘Y Control’ and ‘No No No’. They even included ‘Our Time’ from their ‘Master’ EP all those years ago, with ‘Cheated Hearts’ and ‘Heads Will Roll’ the only latter-day saints in the set.
The icing on this particular cake is when they plough through the opening four bars of ‘It’s Blitz’ lead single ‘Zero’, before the lead O abruptly states, ‘forget it, lets do something else’.
An unrivalled razzmatazz of glitzy outfits and confetti snowstorms underpins the magic throughout, before Karen blares ’We love you, and we hate you’, and the night is left to a variety of disc jockeys.
SATURDAY 12TH DECEMBER 2009
Múm, freshly deplaned from Iceland, whirr and whistle with an array of implausible pitches come stage time on Saturday, clearly enjoying themselves as much as those who also couldn’t pass up on the rare opportunity to see them in the flesh. One of their beauties is a seeming immunity to the scenes and conventions that so often condition the musical outputs closer to home, and so it is 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 are as abrasive and bitter as one may expect, pausing from a breakneck onslaught only for an impromptu Q&A session with the crowd which quickly descends into an incomprehensible rabble, before Albini tires of the exercise and bursts into Prayer To God.
Modest Mouse offer a diametric opposite, barely interacting with onlookers and finishing seemingly minutes after they start. ‘Dashboard’ is a momentary relapse, encouraging a caboodle of swaying hips, however it’s a rare high in a rather tired set.
Fuck Buttons regain the pace, however, bobbing amidst a labyrinthine sea of patch leads and pedals to deliver a well-honed set of material new and old. They appear on hard-fought merit, offering one of the most exciting sounds of this last decade I’d argue, and this set underscores their achievements with rich aplomb.
Battles also carved a name for themselves by defying conventions, and tonight they too perfect a harmony between now classic material from the definitive ‘Mirrored’ LP and brave new offerings from an as-yet-unfinished follow-up.
For me, it is deep within staples such as ‘Race In’ or ‘Tonto’ where the band come goodest, feeding off an electric energy from the amassing thousands in front. The new tracks dropped tonight (of which I count five or six) seem to be conscious of the original blueprint while exploring the sickly sweet electromelodies that have become a prominent feature of their sound.
The unknowns are great to sample live, and leave me looking forward to the new record – a mutual feeling among those I speak with afterwards.
SUNDAY 13TH DECEMBER 2009
Afrirampo offered just the morning tonic; a Japanese whirlwind in leotards engaging the earlier risers in a seven minute vocal warm up before relentlessly thrashing punk for a further thirty. This is exactly what I love about ATP – we’re fed, always, with brave and unique acts from all corners of this rotating rock, each playing like it is their last.
Another case in point: Sunn O))). They offer two indelible sets over the weekend, the stages for each completely shrouded in smoke to allow for only a glimmer of the four hooded silhouettes providing the wrath from within.
We are awash with wave upon colossal wave of noise, awe-inspiring live in a way that something so comparatively disposable as a plastic compact disk could never truly replicate.
I’d been anticipating the Mars Volta‘s set for months since it was announced, and it was probably that hype that deflated me on the night. Bixler-Zavala missed more than a couple of those ridiculous vocal highs, and there was a tangle in the instrumentation that you don’t actually hear on record. But it’s not every day, is it?
Fellow Texans Explosions in The Sky closed proceedings with soothing sheets of shimmering reverb in the way that only they could, something that lingers long in the soul as the echos fade.
ATP has induced countless musical highs over the past decade, either through these festivals or via their ever expending release catalogue – something I’ll always be grateful for. This weekend’s jubilee, then, served as a richly deserved pat on the back for all those who have made it happen, and it was joyous to witness each second for sure.