I am continuing to tell the exciting tale of my trip to the last ever UK All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Camber Sands. Part one can be seen here.
Saturday began with the traditional walk along the beach, after which we went into Rye. There we bought things and met my beloved who was only now arriving off a train thanks to the ministry of Satan. We went for lunch in the Mermaid, that olde worlde pub & hotel that everyone who goes to Rye loves. We thought about coming back to Rye and staying in the Mermaid, which would probably be amazing.
Back in Camber Sands the first band I saw on this memorable day was The KVB, playing on the downstairs stage. They were a duo, with a bloke who did vocals (and played guitar) and a woman who did stuff with synthesisers and keyboards. They both wore black and looked pretty goth. The music was a bit goth too, calling to mind the claustrophobic gothgaze of bands like Curve, though the programmed beats had a certain glitterband quality to them. They are apparently supporting the reformed Loop on their UK tour, so if you are going to that I recommend catching them.
Also playing downstairs were Dirty Beaches. They were three guys playing somewhat avant-garde music that was still beaty enough that they could jump around and dance to it. They were alright, but again I thought they were maybe not as cool as they thought they were.
Hookworm upstairs were being done no favours by the ropey sound, but even with that I think they were not really that good, for all that they seemed to be a band playing the kind of music I ought to like (muscular end of gaze music, can you dig it?). I did like their star struck story of having previously come to ATPs as punters and now getting to play the last one. Even my not liking them that much will never take this away from them.
23 Skidoo playing downstairs were one of the bands of yore who had been added to the bill. I think now I will discuss them together with another olde band who played upstairs, The Pop Group. They are both reformed bands from the post-punk era, and both in their heyday were a bit avant-funk. There was a tendency to compare them, with most people seeming to prefer The Pop Group, with partisans of 23 Skidoo sounding a bit defensive. The Pop Group’s secret weapon was their frontman, Mark Stewart. On record he has failed to impress me, coming across as some annoying shouty man, but live he provides an energetic focus for the audience. Conversely, 23 Skidoo do not really have a frontman. They do have a bloke who does whatever vocals feature in their songs, but he also played other instruments and did not serve as a focus in the way that Stewart did. He seemed in fact to be deliberately anti-charismatic, remaining quite static and affecting an aloof demeanour. It could be that he was just *shy*, but I think there was a different aesthetic approach on display here, something designed to be less populist. I suppose what I mean is that the superficial avant-funk similarity of the bands masked a deep difference in approach that made it possible to like one without thinking them better than the other.
And then there was Loop. Old-timers may remember Loop, they were contemporaries of Spacemen 3 and the other proto-shoegaze bands. I mansplained them to Irene by saying that they sounded not unlike Spacemen 3, but only like their more rocking songs (i.e. not the smacked out tunes where the Spacemen get all god-bothery or start extolling the virtues of a romantic other who is clearly just a metaphor for heroin). They were playing upstairs, as befits the headliners of the festival.
With the passage of time I had somehow let myself develop the idea that Loop were a bit second division and nothing like as iconic as their contemporaries. Thus I was a bit surprised to see them headlining the last ATP – it would be like a Britpop festival headed by Menswe@r [sic]. Yet Eoghan’s enthusiasm for seeing Loop again swept me along and I found myself towards the front of the venue getting ready for them to come out onstage. When they did, two things immediately struck me. My memory of Loop back in the day was that they were a bit hairy-beardy, like a lot of bands back then, but tonight they were all clean cut and nicely dressed, as is so often the case with people when they have moved on from their youth. The one of them who did vocals and seemed like the main guy in the band looked less like a dirty drone-rock boy from the early 1990s than as the kind of guy who might show up at one of those retro events Mark goes to. That is what his hair and nice shirt said to me, anyway.
The actual commencement of the concert cast aside rapidly any nonsense about Loop somehow being a second division outfit. They rocked like a train and I found myself transported back to the happy days of the early 1990s. The crowd went batshit crazy and started acting like they too were remembering the early 1990s or wished they had been there. So the powerfully muscular sounds of Loop were immediately responded to by the most full-on moshing I have ever scene yet an ATP, which is just what you would have got in days of yore. I could not hold myself back for long and soon threw myself into the fray, albeit engaging in a short mental debate about the potentially problematic gender politics of moshing and its possibility for creating an exclusionary male space at the front of concerts; seeing that in fact there were people of both genders being thrown around satisfied me this was an affair with at least some pretence towards equal opportunity. At the front I was continuously thrown about by the roiling sea of people, forever on the lookout for crowdsurfers, of which there were many. And there was music, music, pounding music. Small wonder I came away from this determined to dig out all my old Loop vinyl. Small wonder either that the next day saw me buying a triple CD compilation of music by this amazing band. I hope they come to Ireland on their reunion tour.
KVB image source
An inuit panda production