Pontins, Camber Sands, Friday June 21–Sunday June 23
There are rumours circulating at Pontins that Deerhunter have been rehearsing all week in the local church. This is funny, because Camber is the kind of place where local cafés display UKIP signs, and Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox is the kind of man who recently threatened to “sodomise mediocrity”. Quite what the village makes of him is unknown. But this weekend is the best intro to the Atlanta band any local could hope for.
When Deerhunter’s ‘Cryptograms’ was released in 2007, it heralded the band’s ambition to hybridise European and American psychedelia. Compared to the raw sounds and crude references of 2005 debut ‘Turn It Up Faggot’, it was sophisticated, with nods to Brian Eno. Live, this stuff is risky, and there’s a fine line between finding ambient nirvana and nodding off. There are 14 people lying down, eyes closed. Are they meditating, or are they having a kip? Who knows, but formless synth jams like ‘White Ink’ are difficult listening. Sounds swirl and the guitar sustain is massive, but Bradford’s vocals make everything work, especially when singing about his “greatest fear” on the album’s title track.
Tonight is one of misfortune. Firstly, a broken effects pedal delays the band’s performance. When they make it onstage, tracks like ‘Microcastle’ and ‘Green Jacket’ are dream sequences. Others, such as ‘Calvary Scars’ and ‘Never Stops’, are trad psych. Then disaster strikes again: their amp blows. More delays. They return defiant, whereupon ‘Nothing Ever Happened’ and closer ‘Circulation’, from 2009’s ‘Rainwater Cassette Exchange’ EP, explode into hard, nasty wig-outs. ‘Microcastle’ was Cox’s attempt at a garage album that honoured European avant-garde principles, and while the record sounds like dream-pop on a stereo, over the Pontins PA it’s a raging leviathan, smashing eardrums and dropping jaws. Not since My Bloody Valentine’s five nights at the Roundhouse in 2008 has there been so much feedback in the UK.
‘Halcyon Digest’ (Sunday)
So how to top last night? Answer: by amping up the emotion. Cox’s intention with 2010’s ‘Halcyon Digest’ was to explore the bittersweet boundaries of memory. As such, tonight is gentler, completing a narrative arc that began on Friday with hallucinatory anxiety, progressed to psychotic rage, and has now ground to a halt in exhaustion and nostalgia. Early numbers like ‘Earthquake’ and ‘Don’t Cry’ are quiet affairs, with ‘Coronado’ dedicated to Cox’s friend Jay Reatard, who died in 2010. After the album is done, Cox gushes that ATP has been the greatest weekend of his life. Moreover, he’s proved himself the author of one of the most challenging rock bands of the 21st century.