The public chose this bill at Butlins, and they chose well
When the artistes of the experimental rock underground hunker down in the studio to craft their brooding outer-limits epics, one suspects they don’t picture their dark creations roaring out across an enormous tent filled with cabinets of plush SpongeBob SquarePants, Butlins staff selling chocolate gateaux by the napkin, and something called Billy Bear’s Bungee Trampoline. Mogwai, though, have never been the sort of band to conform to all the bloodless experimental rock clichés, and as ‘Glasgow Mega-Snake’ winds its way to a mighty, tumultuous end, we must conclude it makes them the perfect band to drop the curtain on the first night of All Tomorrow’s Parties.
The weekend’s bill has been voted for by the fans, who deluged the ATP website with dream bill suggestions. Thankfully, neither this, nor the festival’s remote location – a quaint preserved holiday camp in the southwest of England – has stopped it from evolving into the ideal bluffer’s guide for anyone making like they’re down with the underground. Want hot tips? Try North Carolina’s Annuals, six handsome young things dressed in Arcade Fire finery, who craft countless hymns coloured by the roar of church organs and three-man drum salutes. Try Bat For Lashes, aka Cleopatra-like vocalist Natasha Khan, who presents her hypnotic torch songs with magic mysticism and Kate Bush eccentricity. Or how about Ghost – Japanese psychedelic crazies who give Comets On Fire a run for their money in the total wig-out stakes?
Importantly, however, ATP tempers its more experimental wanderings with flat-out fun. “I’ve seen a lot of beard-stroking this weekend!” chides The Go! Team’s Ninja, bouncing around the stage in a criminally short pink dress. And her band are no slouches; two drumkits, shit-eating grins and a stack of hits like ‘Titanic Vandalism’ and ‘Doing It Right’ from forthcoming album ‘Keys To The City’ that fuse Sonic Youth clang to gonzo-funk bounce. Primarily, you see, it’s all about entertainment. Take New York’s Les Savy Fav, a jagged post-punk act different from all other post-punk acts by virtue of frontman Tim Harrington, a pirate-a-like who starts the performance by getting a haircut, stages a mock execution on a willing crowd member, cycles through a number of costumes (Viking warrior, panda, too-tight leotard) and finishes by pasting black make-up on his face and anyone in the audience he can get his hairy hands on. And, there’s this weekend’s hottest ticket and recent Radar stars, Battles, who pack the centre stage like sardines and drop a host of brain-ache jams that send out ripples of motion through the crowd before peaking with a mighty ‘Atlas’.
Life on the reunion trail isn’t so hot. The warm light of day doesn’t do much for the eerie, tangled guitar brambles of post-rock progenitors Slint’s ‘Good Morning, Captain’, and not even a run through ‘The Killing Moon’ can wholly redeem Echo & The Bunnymen’s headline set on the main stage, which pulls a fraction of the heads that flock to Capricorns’ upstairs metal riff-out.
Punk priestess Patti Smith, however, never stopped – and while her cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is equal parts rapturous reinterpretation and fist-gnawing embarrassment, a climactic ‘Rock’N’Roll Nigger’ proves her legend remains intact. Finally, it’s down to hardy US indie perennials Modest Mouse to spearhead the weekend’s most unusual rehabilitation. Yes, that’s Johnny Marr of The Smiths on guitar. No, he’s not going to play ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’. But the likes of ‘Float On’ and a 10-minute ‘Spitting Venom’ fuse the experimentalism of the American lo-fi set to a world-conquering ambition.
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The fans picked ’em. The fans picked good. And if you missed them because you were on Billy Bear’s Bungee Trampoline, frankly, you’ve only got yourself to blame.