Join me, gentle reader, as I tell the tale of my trip to the last ever All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the UK. I have been to a fair few of these over the years so I felt I had to see them out, making my way back to Camber Sands (near Rye) for this festival, curated by the reformed Loop. Camber Sands was where ATP started so it was fitting that it ends there too. Returning there I found that things were largely unchanged — the chalets are slightly less pokey than they used to be (with new floors preventing the night-time slug invasions that could often prove problematic) but they still have that annoying fold out bed in the living room that stops you having somewhere in your chalet that isn't a bedroom. But hey, we weren't there to hang out in our chalets.
This is one of those festival write-ups where I chug through the artist I saw without trying to arrange things thematically. Be prepared for lots of yap about people you have never heard of before and possibly never will again.
The first people I saw were in fact Les Colettes, a French trio all of whom were women. Because I am very sexist I somehow developed the idea that they would be three glamour girls trading on their looks. This proved not to be the case, as they were musically interesting. They played music that seemed to owe debts to Irish or Breton folk music, but also with drone elements (the one who played the violin did so far more to add drone than to add diddley iddley noises). The instrumentation was quite minimal, with the only percussion coming occasionally from the singer. The most conventionally “rock” element to their sound was probably the guitarist, but overall their Spartan musical approach reminded me the most of the Young Marble Giants. They mostly played original songs, but they did also play an intriguing version of the woman-in-the-radiator song from Eraserhead. I think they would be worth further investigation.
I saw a couple of minutes of Om, before registering that despite their impressive drone rock name they are not really my cup of tea. The weedy sound in the upstairs venue did not do them any favours either. So I made my excuses and left. Later I returned to see Fuck Buttons. They are one of those bands who seem to play at every ATP but whom I have somehow never managed to see. Previously I have avoided them because of the gratuitous swearing in their name and people telling me they are not up to much, but as this was to be the very last ATP I decided to check them out for myself, as otherwise I would never get to hear them. And I am glad I did, because they are amazing.
I had previously made the acquaintance of Fuck Buttons offshoot Blanck Mass, purveyors of dark ambient sounds used to great effect in that film A Field in England. The music of Fuck Buttons themselves is curiously like that, except that it comes with added big chunky beats you can dance to, which makes them sound a bit avant-garde and dancetastic at the same tyme. Live they had a great stage set up – the two of them playing strange synthesiser things facing each other, with funny visuals behind them onto which silhouettes of them playing were projected.
So yeah, they were great and people in the crowd were really getting into them. I do not know if it was the power of their music or excitement at this being the last ATP, but for some reason there was a sudden outbreak of mass crowd surfing at Fuck Buttons. And a surprisingly high proportion of the crowd surfers were women (like at least a third, possibly as many as a half). In some ways this seemed strange – one associates crowd surfers with punk gigs rather than electronic dance outfits – but it seemed to fit the kind of ecstatic abandon the music was trying to engender.
I mentioned that many of the crowd surfers were women, but the most noteworthy was a man – a man who was crowd surfing while holding a half full pint of beer in one hand. He seemed not to spill any of the beer, at least until he fell down himself.
After this awesomeness, self-described “lean, loud, retro-futurist party-band” Civil Civic had a lot to live up to, and they largely failed to do so. Their retro-futurist party music turned out to be basically an evocation of certain types of music from the 1980s that are best left un-revived. That said, I cannot fault their musicianship and should admit that they won over the crowd in the downstairs venue. But I think they could have done with a vocalist and even if they had one they are just offering an art-ponce version of what local covers band Spring Break do far better.
I was feeling a bit tired when I went up to see Shellac playing upstairs, which may have been why my initial impression was that for all their reputation as stars of the alternative scene they were just treating us to unexciting cock rock. But I warmed to them somewhat when they played early Shellac classic ‘Wingwalker’, which features a strange playful moment when the three band members pretend to be aeroplanes while still playing their instruments. There should be more of this kind of thing.
As the evening wore on I was feeling very tired indeed (having had to get up early to catch flight after a busy week at work and being late to bed the night before blah blah blah) so I decided to catch only the first couple of songs by Slint as a way of investigating whether this other band of ATP stalwarts have anything going for them. I found them a bit dull, but this may be the tiredness speaking. More annoying, though, were the noisy drunken cockfarmers my friend E— and myself found ourselves standing near. When I left after a few songs it was partly to get some sleep and partly because I feared that a fight would break out between E— and them (which I realise means that I was leaving a friend to face the drunken gobshites on his own, but he is a lean mean fighting machine and I would only have held him back). Did a fight break out? Only E— can tell you. And only my other friend N— can tell you of the downsides of being at a concert with loads of crowdsurfers.
A Field in England
An inuit panda production